Opinion: Don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do, let them tell you

In this article we look at creating a superior level of bike shop service where customers are valued and where the level of service is second to none. Sales trainer and hand for hire Colin Rees explains why sensible recruitment and training is crucial to profitability…

In an earlier piece I said that it is quite easy for anyone running their own business to ‘think’ themselves into a bad place. I have spoken to owners strongly concerned they wouldn’t still be in business in a year or two’s time, but logic defies this if one is willing to recognise where advantageous changes can be made. This means not getting upset when people use the Internet to shop, because we want to cherish those who love us so much they simply would not go anywhere else.

Facing reality when running one’s own business is a fact of life because the buck stops with you. Two things are happening that people may not be taking in fully. The first is, our High Streets are changing. The number of big names disappearing is becoming scary. The second is, the traffic on new estates is changing. There are delivery vans dropping off Internet purchases every day of the week and this is a growing phenomenon. It tells us the pace of change in customer behaviors is picking up and the head in the sand syndrome or wishing it wasn’t happening is not an attitude to follow.

Customers are fickle, but there will always be those who want to see and feel products they are thinking of buying. Human nature, the subject of the next article, figures here. Once a buying decision has been made, people want it yesterday and want to talk about it as much as possible because they are excited to be getting it soon. So I contend that all other things being equal, I cannot envisage a time when retail stores disappear.

Customer care is one factor the Internet cannot replicate. Teamwork is another. A close team, properly working together to help each other, well trained, motivated and paid who share in seeing the business prosper, is a group of people that cannot help but succeed.

So, what is the third area the Internet cannot reach? Your staff have hands-on product experience, and this practical expertise is not offered by the automated Internet as it does not give the opportunity for a customer to ask questions. So this has to be a significant area, your product knowledge and experience but also, how you use it.

The experience of riding different types of bikes enables sales people to relate personal experience, good and bad, to a customer. In turn, this gives them a unique sales tool the Internet does not have and could move a customer into a higher price range. I accept, we’re now talking modules of the advanced sales course as opposed to the basic one, but experienced riders are always more likely to be successful in selling than a non-rider.

Presenting training courses, I try to make the guys see they have the propensity to be the most boring people on the planet, especially using their technical knowledge. When a customer asks, “how strong is this bike”, they do not want to know all the details down to the name of the chap who welded the frame to understand its strength.

It is critical for staff who have the technical knowledge to be trained properly and just answer the question rather than trying to impress people with their superior knowledge, and herein lies the problem in the basic recruitment pattern.

On training courses, product knowledge always appears in strengths as well as weaknesses. I challenge those who feel weak as everyone works in a store with often a number of mechanics that can answer any question a customer might ask. That is another reason why recruiting a sales person rather than a ‘bikey’ person will increase sales with no disadvantage.

In the UK, recruitment is an area where owners and managers need to review their store’s needs. Just because someone loves bikes, does that automatically mean they will be able to sell them? No. What that applicant needs is discernment not to show off their knowledge and the personality to make people love them immediately; I have met many staff like that. Personality only goes so far, you have to know the basic skills to sell. It is a skill and applied in proper measure, the question an owner should be asking is, “do I want a person who loves bikes or do I need turnover”.

Recruitment, to my mind, never stops. When I started a retail business, the first member of staff heralded the first problem I had and it never went away, because everyone I hired did not ‘do it’ the way I did. So I spent time training those people with new skills and performance improved. The trick is to examine what skills the person does have and where you can use them in the business. Better still would be assessing the skills you need and recruiting them.

At times it can never work. Weakness outstrips strength so they may not enhance the team.

That may be seen as harsh, but building a store team needs strong members with varied skills and building that team is a central task of any manager. Some readers might be wondering what this has to do with competing with the Internet. The simple answer is you need skills, intelligence and knowledge to be the team to win and most stores have issues with staff they appear to tolerate for a long time before taking the necessary steps.

I mentioned recruitment before, but taking the thinking to a different level, staff in a bike shop need intellect as well as product knowledge, personality and selling skill. In the advanced training course, we examine the four basic types of human being, the Q’s. Examples would be the Q1, dominant, knows everything and his needs are very different from the Q3 who talks a lot, goes off the point, is full of stories better than yours and needs help to buy something.

If we are able to identify each type, know how they will react and know how to deal with each behavior, how much more successful would sales staff become because that knowledge puts them ahead of the curve? Being able to be subservient to a dominant person satisfies them. There are degrees, of course, but it is said that a successful salesman becomes a different person with each sales conversation. They agree with each viewpoint and act the way the customer needs them to and overall, the rapport level becomes extremely high.

So, they don’t miss a trick. They sell profitable goods because they have researched what is profitable. They can glibly recite four associated products for every one of the top twenty accessories, they call all of their customers once a month in the evening to ask if they have been on any good rides recently, and tells them what is new in store that customer might like. That means the filing system is immaculate, there are record cards on the computer for every customer and your store has created a core of people that simply wouldn’t go anywhere else.