The average DVD remote has forty or more buttons that may actually require more than occasional utilization while viewing movies and photos or listening to music. So? So think about Bob, the brand new consumer electronics salesperson, as he walks out to greet his first customer.
The customer asks Bob if he can show her some DVD players. Bob can do that. Bob knows where they are. Unfortunately, that's pretty much the extent of his confidence. Note I said confidence, not knowledge. That's the point.
Without confidence in a sales situation, product knowledge is irrelevant. Bob may know what the forty buttons on the DVD remote are supposed to do, but that's not the same as having confidence in the functions of the buttons. In other words, will those buttons really do what they're supposed to do when he pushes them?
This is not a fine distinction or academic question. This is the difference between product knowledge and hands-on experience — and, all too frequently, the difference between a sale and a walk.
If Bob is not really sure what's going to happen when he pushes a button, he's not going to push it. That means the woman who wants to see a DVD player is going to see a DVD player, but she's not going to get enough of a feeling for the product to buy it. Also, remember there are forty-plus buttons on all of the remotes of the other twenty-plus DVD players that are on display.
Daunting? I think so. Bob thinks so too. And Bob's been through the company product training program, right? And the training program covered DVD players along with a bunch of other products, right? And Bob even has a certificate saying that he is a Certified Consumer Electronics Sales Specialist, right? So why isn't Bob feeling more confident as he makes his way toward the DVD section?
The main and overwhelming reason that Bob is feeling unsure, apprehensive, and just this side of inept is because he's never owned or had any practical experience with a DVD player (or digital camera or Palm Pilot or notebook computer or MP3 player or lots of other things he's supposed to sell). It's sort of like being asked to sell a car without having driven one.
Is there a solution to Bob's discouraging, costly, and commonly accepted situation?
Yes. In brief: have confidence in the ability of your employees and trust them with the goods. Get products in the hands of the people who are going to sell them for you and give them some unsupervised time to get acquainted with them. Reinforce initial product training with an employee home-study program complete with workbook, set-up guide, manual, feature checklist, and the product! Do rotating memo/demo loans on representative products in all appropriate product categories. Trust your employees to learn the product with the actual product in the privacy of their own homes. (Obviously, there are size and portability issues, ruling out most white goods and big screens.) Then couple this home orientation with a generous employee purchase plan.
This will take some planning, organization, reprioritizing of demo inventory, a system for accountability, and trust (a big word in retail these days), but it will be worth it. It is something that needs to be done. A quick shopping excursion to your local CE store will confirm and illuminate the need. The people that are selling are the people that are supposed to know more than the people that are shopping.