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5 Secrets to Making Your Sales Associates Care About Their Training

Life is full of excuses to call it quits once you’ve achieved “good enough.”  Who hasn’t punched off the treadmill the second after you hit your goal distance, even though they could definitely make it another couple miles? Or given up on a diet early because Thanksgiving arrived and no one diets on the holidays.

We see the same thing happen all the time when retailers adopt a new training program.

The decision-maker will spend months, maybe even years, researching training solutions, negotiating with other departments, developing a curriculum, and rolling it out. So it’s understandable that they’ll want to slump back on the couch on the day the whole thing launches. It’s time to tackle the next challenge, they’ll think, or maybe just take a nap.

But the retailer that succumbs to this temptation is doomed to fail in their effort to better train their employees for one simple reason – they’re not checking to see how trainees are engaging with the content.

It’s impossible to know for sure, but it seems likely that millions of dollars are wasted every year by retailers to promote training that falls flat and never helps budge the needle to create more sales. Some of it’s irrelevant to the real challenges faced by retail employees. Some of it is never completed because it’s easy to ignore. And some of it’s so boring that nobody can stay awake to finish it.

That’s why we think that one of the most critical steps in developing any kind of training or knowledge sharing program for retail employees is to check the design to make sure it engages trainees and encourages them to care.

Whenever a new retailer starts using Myagi for the first time to share knowledge with their sales associates, we tell them about these five keys to creating training programs that get their employees to care.


1. Make it easy


The quickest way to convince an employee to shirk on their training is to make it difficult for them to complete.

We don’t mean in the “these questions are really hard, my brain hurts” kind of way, because you hired some smart people. We mean in the “the only way to complete my training is to log into this 15 year old desktop computer in the broom closet with a 20 letter password” kind of way.

I think Muhammed Ali explained this phenomenon best when he said:

Often it isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out, it’s the little pebble in your shoe.”  –Muhammed Ali

It’s the same trap companies often fall into when they buy flashy B2B software products but never check to see if they’re easy to use for the employees. Just because you’re paying someone doesn’t mean you can force them to muddle through a confusing and annoying process.

That’s a sure fire way to convince them to find a way out of completing the program.

So it’s your job to make it easy–practically effortless is better– to complete your training program. There are some critical things you can do to get started.

First, encourage your employees to complete their training during work hours. It’s the policy of some companies to require employees to read training documents or perform training courses on their own time.

Not only is that a little smarmy, but you’ve given them a strong incentive to skim through the training in a context totally outside the workplace. You made it difficult.

Another common blunder is to restrict training materials to a dense training booklet, or some in-store PC. We live in an age when all your employees have a media streaming device in their pocket at all times (yes, even if you told them not to), and you’re trying to speak to them with booklets? You’re just making it difficult.


2. Performance incentives


You, training director at a major retailer, spent dozens of hours convincing your boss and executive board to adopt a new training program. So why do you turn off your persuasive brain when you inform your employees about it?

We’re still amazed how often announcements about new training programs boil down to: We made this thing. You have to do what we say. So do the training.

That’s not a justification, that’s a threat.

The quickest way to get an employee to care about completing their training is to make it clear why it’s in their best interest to do so. They need an incentive.

No, not cash bounties and special trinkets. Clear explanations about how they stand to benefit.

This is easiest to do with employees who already earn commission. Your training program ought to improve their ability to make the sale, which will increase the number of commissions they’ll earn. And it’s pretty quick and easy to run some tests to find out by how much.

If you find that putting a sales associate through a new training program doesn’t increase sales, then you have a very different problem on your hands.

For non-commission employees, you’ll want to use other strategies. How much time will completing the training save your cashiers? How might it reduce the amount of folding or restocking your stock managers need to do? How can it help the whole store meet its goals for the year?

Remember always that your retail employees are your teammates and not your lackeys. You can ignore that advice all you want, but don’t come crying to us when your fancy new training program has a completion rate hovering around the single digits.


3. Involve them in production


We’re not sure if it’s preordained that every retailer will face the “corporate” vs. “branch” friction that’s every retail worker knows, but we do know it’s something worth keeping in mind.

And one great way to make sure that your training updates get ignored is by leaning into the corporate power angle too strongly.

Your training program is not the Ten Commandments, delivered from on high and intended to be followed under penalty of death. It’s advice. It’s a set of guidelines meant to help all your employees perform better.

One great way to get that message across is by involving retail employees in the production of your training content. We’ve seen this work wonders at a wide variety of specialty retailers.

It might even be easier than whatever your plan was before. Creating frontline-led training might be as simple as identifying the best salesperson in your stores and bringing them into HQ. Point a camera at them and ask them to start talking about what they’ve learned about selling your products that led to their success. Then text the video to everyone in the company.

Okay, maybe it’s not that simple, but we’re not far off. Involving your top-performing employees in the development and production of training content creates a more relatable product for the end-viewer, and might even uncover some hidden insights that you would never have thought of.

4. Encourage personal development in addition to product development


Next time you walk through one of your retail locations, take a look at the employees around you. If you’re an average retailer, two-thirds of them will be gone next year.

Yep, that’s right, hourly retail employees have an astonishing annual turnover rate of 67%. And every time an employee leaves to find another job, you’re left to find and train a new one.

Perhaps that means there’s normally not a lot of loyalty from frontline employees to retail companies. But isn’t that just a natural reaction when retailers don’t show much loyalty and support for their in-store employees?

We often find that retailers put a lot more emphasis on product knowledge than personal development in their training products.

In other words, the vacuum company is way more interested in telling their sales staff the ins and outs of their vacuums than in ways to be a better salesperson. Why waste time teaching them universal skills that they’ll just take to their next employer in three months, right?

And that’s how you end up with a fleet of sales associates who know nothing about selling and have very little incentive to take your training program seriously because it just teaches them about vacuums and not selling vacuums.

Product knowledge is important, but we also believe that any training program lacking in personal development opportunities for employees is not complete. If you don’t give your employees a way to pursue better opportunities while at your company, they’ll just go somewhere where they can.


5. Don’t waste their time


I want you to flash back to the last pointless meeting you were in.

You know the type. It was something about a new product development in a different department that had nothing to do with you. Or, worse, compliance. It left you glaze-eyed and day-dreaming. And you swore to avoid any follow-ups to that meeting at all costs.

Now imagine if your training program always started by shoving your employees in that meeting.

That’s what happens when you build a training program that’s filled with too much fluff. The second you give your watcher an excuse to believe the rest will be a waste of time, they’ll be looking for every opportunity to skip it. Or just mute the sound and watch Youtube on their phones.

The most common problem we see, other than long-winded diatribes on the history of the company and its “values,” are programs that make the whole company sit through the same course. Even though you know full well that the knowledge your shoe department needs is absolutely useless to the electronics department.

This sort of problem is exactly why we put so much energy into making sure the Myagi product could easily set up different training programs for different teams. You should avoid keeping your trainee for one second longer than necessary to impart the knowledge they precisely need. This demonstrates respect for their time and fights off “boring meeting” syndrome.

Resist The Temptation of Good Enough

It’s true. Taking the time to measure and analyze how your employees will respond to your training program might add months to the length of the project. It’s extremely tempting to ask yourself if it’s really worth all the trouble.

After all, your boss might not even blame you if completion rates are low. They’ll just pass the blame on to in-store employees.

But if you really want to create an impact for your business with quality training, it’s critical that you go the extra mile and persevere for that extra day to build a training program that makes frontline staff care about completing it.

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