When I interviewed Chris he had the look of a person who was genuine and friendly. He had an inviting smile that customers would melt for, and I knew he had the job before even asking my first question. His answers were confident and he spoke highly of his achievements at past employment, jobs that most people would typically only have negative insights on. Now I was extremely sold, not only did he have the look but he was appreciative and seemed to have an extremely positive outlook.
His first day on the actual floor he seemed to have some hold backs but I couldn’t quite place what they were, but I felt in time as he got his feet wet and the water warmed he would feel more comfortable diving in. My assistant’s patience for him was not as kind as mine own and I felt her negative feedback was only refreezing the water.
A month passed and he seemed to start to get the hang of things, he knew to greet people, his sales although not spectacular were not the worst I had ever seen. I could not see past the blinders of his hidden potential to expect the next call. My District Manager came in on the morning of his opening shift, I wanted her to meet him, to help me find what I was lacking in his training. I let Chris know she was coming, and in the excitement and nervousness he ended up only staring at her as she wandered the store, waiting to see how he truly worked without my direct supervision. The results were terrible and almost detrimental to my efforts and his career. She urged me to terminate so many times, she urged me to give up, but I just kept saying, “I just haven’t found what’s missing in his training.” I was an educator for God sakes, if I couldn’t help this individual oozing potential then who could I help?
Almost on a weekly basis I would ask him why his performance was dragging, what more did he need form me? Where internally was he struggling? He would shrug, I never knew if it was for lack of his own knowing of his roadblocks or if I was not asking the right questions. Either way, time was of the essence with my own supervisor breathing further and further down my neck. The pressure began to fall on him, and he started shouting out poor excuses, such as a lack in traffic. A lack in traffic does not explain poor sales qualities I would only think to myself.
Finally, our string wearing thin I held a team meeting in my home. I decided the pressure at work was inhibiting our abilities to keep up momentum, that as a team we needed to step out and relax together and then regroup. I spent the day making spinach dip, gourmet finger sandwiches, and scrumptiously crafted sweets. All of my employees were college students and home cooking was such a rare even for them considering they lived so far from their families. Everyone poured in, stuffed their faces and began visiting, relating, and rediscovering our team spirit. I then took everyone’s attention to give a specific step-by-step instruction on how to create value in your customers, followed by a fun game of Product Scattegories. I opened the floor to questions, and I felt a tinge of success when I saw Chris’s hand raise. The true moment of success to me is when the student is finally confident enough in me to reach out and ask how to improve themselves. I called on him, and his question was so incredibly simple. I had just the same question when I was first starting in sales, why hadn’t I thought of it?! Because it is the only question that is impossible to directly answer. “But, What do I say?”
“What do you mean Chris?”
“Like I say ‘hi, hows the weather’ when a customer enters the store, but how do I make conversation? What do I say?”
I didn’t have a specific answer, I gave him some random tid-bits that had been fed to me when I was in his shoes asking the same questions. His face looked at me to implore further, but I had nothing more to offer and I felt again like a failure.
Everyone went home, dishes were washed and I laid down with his words repeating in my head. My husband was deployed, and the isolation and silence only made the question resonate louder. Night time is always my time of creative solutions, the time I craft out my thoughts, and I felt a solution block as I tossed and turned.
The next morning was Monday, typically a day that I had a load of paperwork due to my DM, the day the store was slowest, and this was the day I entered the store’s gate with a resolution. I walked directly to the computer, turned on the word processor and just wrote. From 9 a.m.-5 p.m. I never stopped typing. My fingers blazed at my average typing speed of approx. 60 wpm for eight straight hours, never hesitating, never taking a break. My employees worked the floor around me and at 5:30 I had six copies printed and bound. It was a book of three possible conversation topics to begin with customers around each and every product in our store. Three possible conversation topics to make upon greeting each customer in our store. Three possible conversation topics upon closing each sale with a customer. And a list of additional conversation topics that will help you in finding what the customer is searching for without sounding like a a sleazy salesman.
I handed the books out to each employee, and stats slowly rose. The change was not over night but by the time I departed (bigger things were calling me away from my team and my original store) Chris was consistently highest in sales, his hidden potential and natural talent accompanied by the boost of knowledge on how to unleash that talent made his reach for success limitless.
That is the importance of asking those “stupid” questions to your supervisors. That is the importance of listening to your staff in order to make a difference. That is the importance of breaking away from the trend to create security in a team.