BY GERRY MORRIS
Different expectations of RSA performance and customer buying behavior can spur or squash mattress sales
The Pygmalion and Golem effects have nothing to do with pygmy animals or Gollum, the ring-bearing creature in “The Lord of the Rings.” Rather, these two terms refer to psychological phenomena that relate to human performance in general and, for the purpose of this article, to retail mattress sales specifically.
The Pygmalion effect is the phenomenon whereby higher expectations lead to an improvement in performance. A corollary to the Pygmalion effect is the Golem effect, in which low expectations lead to a decline in performance. The origins of both have no relevance for our purpose, but anyone interested in learning more can check them out online. What’s important is how the effects themselves can be interpreted and used to increase mattress sales.
According to Wikipedia, expectations expressed toward employees, or in our particular case, retail sales associates, can affect the behaviors of the employee in favor of the manager’s expectations. The more an employee is engaged in learning activities, the higher the expectation is from the leader. In turn, the employee participates in more learning behavior. Leaders will show more leaderlike behaviors, such as leader-member exchange (trust, respect, obligation, etc.), setting specific goals, allowing more learning opportunities for employees, and giving more employee feedback.
Both the Pygmalion and Golem effects are considered self-fulfilling prophecies—predictions that directly or indirectly cause themselves to become true by the very terms of the prophecies themselves due to positive feedback between beliefs and behaviors. Our beliefs and behaviors align.
Boiling them down, these psychological effects simply mean that people who are expected to do well actually do well and those expected to fail tend to fail. This is true whether the expectation is internalized or comes from someone else. It’s the gray area in the middle that tends to cause the biggest problem—mediocrity and underperformance resulting from either a lack of expectations or expectations that aren’t clearly defined, expressed or considered.
What’s most interesting about both the Pygmalion and Golem effects is that they can be based on false realities, meaning that people with strong capabilities will likely underperform in the face of low expectations, while people with more limited capabilities can exceed performance levels, simply because of the high expectations of a person in authority.
Expectations are manifested in self-held beliefs. People tend to see themselves as being what they are expected to be and, consequently, behave in that manner. Self-held beliefs can become reality, positively and negatively confirming and reinforcing expectations.
Let’s consider how these effects can apply in relationships between store managers and RSAs, as well as in relationships between RSAs and customers.
Managers and RSAs: Knowing that expectations can have dramatic effects on RSA performance, the application seems obvious: Placing higher expectations will result in higher performance. But those expectations must be more specific than pats on the back and “I know you can do it” prompts. Managers must engage each RSA individually and accept them all at their current performance levels. From there, the focus must be on individual improvements quantified by sales performance.
Once a benchmark is established then realistic goals must be set and monitored. Keep daily records of the number of sales opportunities, percentage of sales closed, total sales dollars and average ticket price. They are the tell-all indicators.
Along with increased training in products and selling skills, daily encouragement is key. Encouragement isn’t a one-way conversation; it also involves listening. RSAs who feel their voices are heard and believe their improved performance is acknowledged, validated and rewarded tend to take ownership of their responsibilities because they feel they are more a part of the company and part of something bigger than themselves. Continued increases in performance most always follow.
Managers who see their employees as having unlimited potential to improve their abilities and increase the revenue they generate for the company create their own self-fulfilling prophecy of a highly effective sales staff.
RSAs and customers: While RSAs shouldn’t verbally express that they expect shoppers to buy, certainly treating them in that manner can make all the difference. Imagine the interaction between the sales associate and shopper when the RSA expects her to make a purchase. Applying the Pygmalion effect sets a positive tone that most shoppers respond well to. They become more engaged and, because the RSA is anticipating they will buy, the language they use tends to reflect that: “I know you’ll really enjoy your quality of sleep on these models.” Shoppers tend to start nodding favorably to affirmations.
Obviously, applying the Golem effect means assuming shoppers won’t buy. RSAs end those interactions with, “Oh, well. Here’s my card that entitles you to buy a mattress elsewhere.”
Helping customers set expectations
Helping customers to have realistic expectations for their mattress is a worthwhile endeavor.
The first expectation to address is the idea that there is a perfect or best mattress for each person. While many stores and RSAs make a goal of helping shoppers find the ideal mattress on the sales floor, in reality that’s setting the bar too high. With the idea of the “perfect” mattress out there somewhere, shoppers wonder if that mattress is at another store or worry that they won’t know which is ideal because they don’t take time to rest-test every floor model. They may doubt an RSA really is up to the task of helping them find the best bed.
It’s better to set an expectation of finding a few models to choose from, giving each shopper the reassurance that any one of the mattress sets would be a good choice. Unless a mattress doesn’t offer enough support or is dramatically too firm or soft, most people adjust to their new models in 30 days or so.
The other important expectation to set with customers is how a mattress will perform over time. To prevent unnecessary returns and unhappy customers, it’s crucial to take the time to explain how mattresses conform to body weight. In this case, discussing body impressions, normal wear and adjustment periods doesn’t mean applying the Golem effect, or setting low expectations. It means giving correct, useful information so customers will be more satisfied with their choice.
As you can see, expectations can play a vital role in helping RSAs perform at higher levels, making sales managers more useful to their sales staffs and stores, and aiding customers in being more satisfied with their purchases.
Gerry Morris is an author, consultant and training coach with more than 20 years of experience in the mattress industry. To learn more about him and to buy his books, including the new “Mattress Matters,” visit SellMoreBeds.com. Morris’ Inner Spring training company has a strategic partnership with The Furniture Training Co. to offer a premium online training course, “Sell More Mattresses with Gerry Morris.” For more information, check FurnitureTrainingCompany.com.