We All Need a Mentor

As flooring retailers continue the seemingly never-ending task of replacing and upgrading their sales personnel, there will constantly be new hires to blend into our staffs. My experience tells me that many managers put considerable time and resources into the recruitment process. Understandable. What I don’t understand is why when new staff members come on board they are too often viewed as a necessary evil. From the day they first walk in the door, too often all management seems to see is the amount of time that will be required getting them “up to speed”.  Then, when faced with what are perceived as more important daily tasks, these supervisors too often will pass training duties to another more senior salesperson. The conversation usually goes something like: “Just shadow Joe for a few days. He’s been in the business for over 20 years and has seen it all.”

There are several problems with this scenario. Often Joe is a commissioned sales person who understandably has his own agenda. Does Joe welcome this staff addition, or does he view it as him being forced to split the “commission pie” unnecessarily? In either event, how long do you think it will take for Joe to begin to influence the new hire with his prejudices? Does Joe have any experience in properly training, or was he largely self-taught when he began? Remember that too often 20 years experience is just one ineffective year repeated 20 times!

Then, predictably, management will complain when this recent hire begins to flounder, just as the ones before did. Then comes staff turnover. Next comes the manager complaining that you can’t find good people to hire today. Then the process is repeated. Why? Albert Einstein was right – this is insane! 

Remember that we all had a first day on the job – just as we had a first baseball game or piano lesson when we were young. Many of us had a teacher, or a coach, who believed in us and encouraged us to practice and improve. If you didn’t, you probably soon lost interest and gave up. The same is true when building sales knowledge and ability. The successful sales trainees have a mentor who monitors their progress, offers encouragement and celebrates their victories as their careers grow. All too often, though, many novice sales people are shoved into the deep end of the pool and told to swim. Most drown. It is not realistic to expect people to self-train in this, or in any industry. The success rate is simply unacceptable when doing so.

 In addition, when training is offered, my observation is that the majority of the time the primary emphasis is initially placed upon product knowledge. While expertise in this area is required, I feel that it is secondary in initial importance. I believe that the most important task for management is making sure that the new employee understands the organization and his/her role within it. They must know the firms’ mission and develop a belief in it. It is imperative that they be able to connect what they do with why they do it. In short, they have to first believe that what they sell, and what they do, are important and matter.

Remember to put the initial emphasis on the person doing the work, not the work itself. As Mary Kay Cosmetics founder Mary Kay Ash famously stated, you must “praise people to success”. She realized that she wasn’t merely selling lipstick. She was selling her associates on the concepts of beauty and self confidence.  Once her staff believed in their mission, the cosmetics sales would follow. Selling beautiful flooring is no different. With each new associate come fresh ideas. Welcome them! Celebrate incremental improvement - just as the piano teacher or coach did in our youth. While time consuming, having the opportunity to build a better staff is exciting! Don’t waste the opportunity. 

Friday, November 17, 2017