opinion

To Increase Retail Sales, Product Training Can Only Go So Far

Mark Espinosa

Have you ever been standing around when a random, uneventful memory from your childhood suddenly pops into your head? One particular instance from my childhood has been burned into my brain. Burned and properly stored in an air-tight plastic container. I remember this one time that my mother hosted a Tupperware Party at our home. I can’t tell you anything else about my life from that time, yet, I remember this instance as clearly as the breakfast I had this morning. (I think I had a bagel with cream cheese?)

I remember a bunch of neighborhood mothers coming into our house and sitting around a stranger while she demonstrated the benefits of these small, “miraculous” plastic containers. Truly we were living in a Golden Age of plastic container technology! What really stood out the most for me was how badly this woman fumbled the entire situation. At the time, none of this really registered with me. As I think back now, I can’t help but cringe dramatically. She kept going on about all the amazing features each particular piece possessed, but, couldn’t really list off any of them. She kept trying to regain control of the room by attempting to relate to one person in particular and it kept going completely sideways. She asked one woman what ‘”the man of the house did for a living” and was met with a “my husband is no longer with us.” She kept assuming the household situation of everyone in the room and continued to be completely incorrect. The “party” was eventually transformed into a bunch of random women sitting in a room, quietly and repeatedly popping and un-popping the clear lids their containers. It was a train wreck that I will never forget.

Like a wonderful snowflake made out of dildos, every individual retail shop is unique in it’s own way.

As I reflect upon it now, I can’t help but wonder how that negative experience with those Tupperware products, that one time, impacted the purchasing decisions of everyone in that room?

It’s a lesson I still reference to this day. When representing a line of products or one particular product, that first impression is powerful enough to make or break your entire business future.

It’s fairly commonplace for manufacturers and sales reps to stop by their retail partner’s locations and demonstrate the functionality of some of their featured products. These types of visits can have an extremely positive impact on a product’s sales. Besides the obvious excitement of establishing a direct line of communication between the assembly floor and the sales floor, demonstrating a product to sales associates can create a strong connection between the two. Having a greater understanding of something will make one more likely to recommend it. Sales associates tend to gravitate towards the items they completely grasp and endorse. The benefits of a successful “product training” can be seen for a long time following, which makes having them a very smart decision for everyone involved. But with most great things, there’s a risk. As beneficial as the positive can be, simultaneously, the aftereffects of poorly received product training can be equally harmful.

Like a wonderful snowflake made out of dildos, every individual retail shop is unique in it’s own way. From the types of customers they assist, to the employees themselves, there will always be factors that greatly distinguish one shop from another. A common thread they all share is the expectation that any outside rep visiting their location will be able to fully demonstrate the features and functions of the product they are displaying. This is especially important if the product is a completely original and unique design. (When a new product hits the market and makes claims that it is going to revolutionize the toy industry, you sort of expect the salesperson to be able to back up those claims.)

There is an unspoken understanding that the outside sales rep has access to privileged information that the sales associates do not have and vice versa. One of the biggest mistakes that a sales rep can make is to assume they have a complete understanding on what elements make up the shop they are visiting. (As well as assuming you know what’s better for business than the people actually running the business). If the store caters to a larger diversity of genders or orientations, the store training is going to be incredibly different than a store that boast a more “heterosexual demographic.” Something you wouldn’t really know unless you ask. One way to avoid such awkward situations is to begin to train yourself to use gender neutral pronouns when describing a product’s intended uses.

Not all boys have penises and not all girls have vaginas. Before any training session commences, I think it’s important that the store manager and the sales rep communicate the important fundamental differences that make up their store and the community around it. A good rule of thumb is to let the store staff educate you more than you educate them. Describe the product completely and follow up with “who do you think will gravitate towards this product” or “given what you know about this product, what are some of the sales points you’re going to use to sell it?” Yes, there will always be bits of information that the sales rep will have that one wouldn’t have known otherwise, such as: product materials, manufacturing information, ingredients and product warnings.

But, let the sales associates guide the conversations about who they believe will be using the product and how they intend on selling it. No one knows how to best sell to customers than the people already doing it.

As national sales manager of Pleasure Works Wholesale, Mark Espinosa believes that as the industry progresses alongside communications technology, it’s important that we always remember that we get to say that we “give people orgasms for a living!” So, why not have a little fun in the process?

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