Today's episode highlights the challenges and potential solutions for training sales staff in the toughest category we face : lighting & fan technical expertise. We explore the importance of effective training, discussing the balance between overwhelming information and insufficient training and how we can optimize this for maximum effectiveness.
The episode takes a deep look at the difficulties of training salespeople in specialty businesses like showrooms. It's a delicate balancing act of providing enough information without drowning the trainees. I share some strategies to better position your sales team to provide expert advice and how to equip them with the right resources. As we navigate the challenges, we'll also talk about the importance of staff feeling confident enough to engage customers with new or challenging topics, thereby maintaining trust and providing a superior customer experience.
Many thanks to this week's sponsor Lights America for their unwavering support of Lighting with Lisa and the entire lighting industry. Be sure to listen to the episode for their special offer for new and existing customers!
Hello and welcome fellow lighting nerds and friends to another episode of Lighting with Lisa, the podcast this week sponsored by Lights America. I'm super excited for this sponsor. I'm going to have more details about the benefits of working with Lights America and their exclusive offer for Lighting with Lisa listeners, whether you are a new or current customer, which is extra fun, so stay tuned for that coming up. Just a little housekeeping at the very top of the episode. If you're not already a member of the Fixture Finder group on Facebook and you are a showroom listener to this podcast or a manufacturer's rep, if you're trying to find a product for a customer, it's a super useful resource, so be sure to join up to that group. The link is in the podcast notes and also there is a residential lighting job board, also on Facebook. It's kind of small right now, but the more of us that join and can share potential opportunities, the more it'll grow and also for future Lighting with Lisa podcast content. I am putting a message out to y'all to reach out to me via my email address. It will also be linked in the show notes, but it's Lisa at lightingwithlisacom and I would love to hear from manufacturers, reps, manufacturers, showroom owners and managers, anybody that has a passion about the industry, with a particular win that they want to share. Now I'm not talking like a job, like hey, we got this job, we're really excited about it. I mean a program you've implemented, a business decision you've made that you would love to share out to the industry as a potential for good, a successful operation, something that you would just really love to shine a light on. Please reach out to me via the email address and I can either interview you or we can air it as a podcast. Or, if you just want to talk to me off the podcast and I'll re transcribe it, can. You can either be identified or I can keep you anonymous. It really doesn't matter. Whatever works best for you. I just think sharing stories of success in the industry is super inspirational. It's motivational. I know it helps me rethink my business hearing about what others have done. Even if somebody is successful in an area of the business that isn't like a core strength for me, it definitely gives me a reason to rethink things or maybe potentially restructure some areas of my own business, just knowing what can work for other businesses. So if you're interested at all or just have a story to tell and want to send me an email about it again, it can be as anonymous as you want it to be. I would love to discuss those topics on upcoming episodes of Lighting with Lisa, the podcast. So again, the email, lisa at lightingwithlisacom. This week I want to talk a bit about training staff. Okay, so I always say like we talk a lot sometimes in the industry about how to hire for a lighting showroom what you're looking for, what you're not looking for. Do you want somebody that's like got excellent sales experience? Do you want somebody with industry experience? What are the keys for hiring a great member of your showroom staff? And honestly, the answer really varies, I think, by what you're strongest at training in in your particular business. Maybe your sales skills training isn't super high in your business but you're really good at the technical training. It's always like a mix and match Oftentimes. I think the most common answer is that sales skills can be taught and we'd rather kind of collectively have somebody that has a little bit more lighting technical industry background and I know that most showrooms struggle the most teaching the technical side of the residential lighting and fan industry. It is an experience I personally went through when I started in this industry I did, was not born and raised in it like many people were. I actually came into my job from a marketing standpoint in terms of database and website, so it's not like I started out in a showroom like hanging fixtures or putting together displays, like all of this stuff came eventually, but it wasn't how I entered the business. So I had a tremendous crash course in the technical side of lighting and fans and it was intimidating to me and so I'm always very sensitive to that when I hire or I'm interviewing for new staff members for my showroom, that this technical skill component is the hardest part of the initial, like professional development and training for sales staff, and it's also the hardest like ongoing especially so, like I would say, for even my first 10 years in the industry, by and large things stayed pretty stable. We had the incandescent, we had the fluorescent, we had the compact fluorescent, like ballasted, self ballasted fluorescence basically and there was a little bit on the edge with LEDs. Lighting controls were a thing low voltage, line voltage but all that was relatively static the first 10 years or so I was in the business and then everything changed as the price of LEDs dropped and they became more pervasive in the marketplace and then I feel like everything I thought I knew was wrong it all changed and it was always just an ongoing learning process for me to even keep up with that change, let alone try to make sure my staff was well versed in these things, and especially when you were hiring. It's not as much a challenge right now, but when I was hiring staff members while we were still dealing a lot with the old and the new wasn't quite here, there was even much more to learn than I would say there is today. Like some of my newest hires might be speaking of lighting controls like glancingly aware that there was a lighting control type called magnetic low voltage or electronic low voltage, but it's just not something that comes up in years, often today, so they don't have as much in depth knowledge about that kind of tool as like we had to be, and then in the transition you had to know everything about everything. So, yeah, so I would say in some ways things are easier now, but they're not easy. There is still so much variation out there that makes training for the technical skills part of this job so much harder. When I am hiring somebody to be a salesperson, I always disclose in the interview because I really try to be upfront about what the challenges are with the position. I always say that the pretty stuff is the easy stuff. If this business could just survive selling the pretty stuff right out of the box nothing, custom, no, whatever this would be like actually not that hard of a job. The pretty stuff is a good portion of what we do, but it's just a small portion. It's all that other stuff that's so much more challenging and necessary. Especially if you're a specialized business like a lighting showroom. You need to be well versed in all of the intricacies of the business. You need to be expert in all of these different areas, because why else would somebody come to you? There are so many other places that you can just get the quote, unquote, pretty things. So we have to really be developed in our expertise as lighting showroom owners, operators, employees and that is it. It's challenging and it's so hard at first. So there's like so many variables, like okay. So here's a really common example that will resonate with anybody who's ever worked in a lighting showroom for any period of time. Take something like obnoxiously deceptively simple like track lighting, like it's pretty low budget. There's nothing particularly remarkable going on about it. But if you didn't know, would you know. But there's three different types of standard track. Setting aside all the proprietary ones, there's three different types of track that could be found in any single person's home in the country. And like, how would you know that? So, like, is it H, J or L? And then how do you identify the difference? Like, it's so kind of mind boggling how common and pedestrian some items appear to be but are actually extremely complicated, especially when you're dealing with not the initial install. Like if everything was new construction, life would be, in a lot of ways, way easier. It's because not a lot of what we do, not a lot a lot of what we do is new construction, but also a significant portion of what we do and where we really really add value for many of our customers and get their repeat business in the showroom is by being experts on their remodels, on being experts on the challenges that they're facing. So maybe they moved into a home and they had track lighting in their den and it worked fine for a while and they were all right with it, but then something went out about it and they realized they needed new fixtures or new lamping for that track, and then we have to like, and maybe they just take a picture of it from the floor and it's, you know, 12 feet in the air. Well, I can't identify what kind of track you have from a picture like that's that distance away. I need one of the heads, I mean, you know, if there's just more information required to be able to answer this question. And so then you know, we get the lovely customer that comes into the showroom and has their picture of their track and just thinks that like we can solve all their problems off of this picture. And it's certainly a start. I was telling one of my employees recently like it's so much easier with the ubiquitous of like cell phone cameras and pictures than it ever was, because even like in the early days of cell phones, if you did take a picture with them, the resolution was terrible. And you know, most people just didn't operate that way like we do now, and so it was so much more having to go out to a customer's home or giving them really specific instructions about what they needed to do or bring to us so that we could therefore help like solve their problem or or whatever the case may be. There's just so many variables for even deceptively simple items that it is a real training challenge from a management standpoint and I have come at this problem from all different ways. Don't worry, I'm going to leave us with some keys at the end of this podcast of potential solutions, but I just kind of want to talk through the challenges here at the first part of the episode. So I've tried the info dump method. Let me throw everything I can think of at you and hopefully some of it sticks and good luck. So what I found is with info dump method, it's so easy for the individual to become overwhelmed and then they forget what they learned, or they become frustrated or because, like they knew that they saw this but they didn't retain it, and then they just like I know I should know the answer, but I don't know the answer, and so it just becomes like an overwhelming frustration and just quite honestly, there's so many different random instances of a question that you really cannot prepare for that. While I could info dump, like this particular answer, a customer is going to come in from left field which is a slightly different twist on that question that I didn't go over, and a salesperson might feel like overly empowered because they thought they had all the answers. But then this question was really out of left field. But they couldn't identify that it was out of left field, so they thought they knew the answer. And then you just get into this whole like giving unintentional bad advice If you don't give enough information to a salesperson. On the flip side of that, if you just say, here's your computer, let me teach you our showroom processes and procedures and we'll learn a rest as we go along, that also leads to frustration from a lack of feeling like you can do anything at all to help customers. And then I found that salespeople will kind of like isolate themselves and really only want to talk to the people about the pretty decorative things that are easy, because that's straightforward and they can follow that, and then they really become like averse to dealing with the more technical things. And again, it is, I think, critically important for any specialty business to be experts in the harder parts of their business. Why else would somebody come to us? Just truly, it is really where the secret sauce of lighting showroom lives. It's in that expertise of being a resource for our customers and you have to prove yourself as that resource and those customers will come back again and again because they know this is the place I can go to get an answer about this kind of weird lighting electrical issue, that I can't go anywhere else to get this information. Maybe Google, but Google needs to be verified and the internet is not always correct, as we are all well aware, although plenty of people believe that it is. It's just, it's really where the magic of a lighting showroom really comes to life is in these areas of demonstrating our expertise and being a reason for customers to shop with you. So therefore, we circle back to the challenge at the top, like how do you get a salesperson in the right position to be able to do all this, to able to be the expert, to have the technical lighting and fan and controls skills needed to really effectively perform their jobs, to answer questions, for consumers, to upsell effectively? That's a big part, like knowing the product at a baseline is really required in order to even think about upselling or adding on a dimmer or swapping out the lamping or whatever, whatever your upsell opportunity is. So I'm going to take a minute here to thank our sponsor of the episode and then at the tail end of the episode we're going to talk about some solutions to the presented problem of training. So Lights America is the sponsor of Lighting with Lisa for this episode and they want all of us to know that they're proud to support not only the podcast but the lighting industry as a whole. Lights America is the leading data provider in the lighting industry for fans, lighting and home decor, with more than 250 brands in their database, with information that is sourced directly from the manufacturers themselves. The Lights America website, catalog and dealer tools platforms was built specifically for lighting distribution. They have exclusive tools like the IMAP holiday system, pro tools, and they have taken over the 3D image and augmented reality program originally brought to market by the Lighting Show Association, which is something I'm super, super proud of and excited for to see how they're able to grow that program, which was really a labor of love for the LSA. So if you're a showroom or electrical wholesaler, lights America is a dependable data resource. It's a platform built specifically for your team and they offer all of these tools that allow you to close sales faster and quicker, which we know leads to more profitability, because you're able to, in theory, process more sales, the quicker it can go If you're a sales rep listening to this podcast, which I love it. Listen more. Give me your feedback. You all have a lot of information that you could share with me, so send me an email. If you're a sales rep, that Lights America has a free website program just for you, so it's super easy to sign up with them. Give them a call and find out about that. If you're a manufacturer listening, lights America does free data collection, offers your data only to your sales reps and your qualified showrooms, and there's no better way to get your information out to your customers in a timely and correct manner than by using a service like using partnering with Lights America. So if you haven't already asked for a free demo of Lights America and you fall into any of these categories, make sure to go to LightsAmericacom, request your demo and remember to tell them that I sent you Lisa from the Lighting with Lisa podcast, and here is your offer. So the just for Lighting with Lisa listeners. Here is their promo. Current customers Can get a free banner or email blast done for your business or website. So that's really, really great. You don't have to have any of the design fees. So do reach out to the team at Lights America If you're a current customer. They want to thank you for your business and they want to offer you one of these free add ons for your website or to reach out to your customers. So I would definitely take advantage of that offer. If you're a wholesale customer, new to Lights America you're getting a 15% discount on setup fees of premium or data 52 services. 15% discount that's huge. So if you're not already a current customer of Lights America, sign up for a demo. Tell them you came to it through the podcast and be sure to take advantage of your offer, whether you are a new or existing customer. And thank you all so much and thanks to Lights America for your sponsorship of the podcast. All right, so moving on to solutions for training, I'm open to learning more from y'all, but here's what I've come up with over my years of doing this. For me, the best solution I have found is to team staff members up. The downside I have here is that it's not always immediately clear who you should partner a new hire up with in terms of their personality and fit with your existing staff. Sometimes you have to give this a few weeks to see how things play out and relationships grow between employees. Sometimes that's okay because you can spend the first couple of weeks of their new hires time with you getting them trained on your ERP software, your systems, your processes, the very basics of how to operate within your business. Then maybe by then things have become clearer about what their particular skill sets are, how those might mesh well with the skill sets of an existing employee. If you have a new hire, that suddenly becomes very apparent to you that they really are a quick study for the technical ins and outs of lighting. It's definitely a good idea to get them paired up with somebody else in your staff that is already strong at that and that way they can grow and learn together. Doing this teams approach has been the most successful strategy for me to really get people paired up with someone that can fill in the holes that they have a comfortable working relationship with. You want it to be a duo or trio or however your showroom is set up, you want it to be a subset of your entire staff, but people that can work and communicate well together. If there are staff members that just can't quite ever communicate on the same wavelength, this just doesn't work as well, because you need them to be able to trust and rely on one another to bounce ideas off of or to ask questions without somebody being snippy in their response. I already told you that. Why haven't you learned it yet? There definitely needs to be a friendliness level already built between those staff members. But once you have that and you can team people up that have experience with the new hire, it really seems to ease a lot of burden. They want each other to be successful, and so I'll find that the more experienced staff member will really go out of their way to help somebody come along in their knowledge and fill in all these holes for them as they learn the technical ins and outs. So for me that's been probably my single most successful strategy. I do have and I think we all probably do to some degree, but it's worth developing it even more like just a resource bank of general kind of tip sheets, like a cheat sheet for common issues. So I went on at length about the issues with track lighting and how challenging it can be to learn the different types of track. So even just having like a one page printout sheet that shows from the side the profile angle, the three most common types of track and where the tabs are on the track head connector that plug into the track so that if somebody walks in with their track head you can turn it to the profile, match it up with the paper and understand, oh, they have J style track or they have H style track. And then I always like to have like a little blurb, like a few sentences written out like what does the difference mean? What, like what does the difference between that third prong on H style track mean versus the two prongs on the J or the L style? Like in, in, in function? What does that difference mean? So that not only can the salesperson figure out how to identify the difference, but no, like the reasoning behind. Like, like what in function is that difference? So having just kind of a resource bank of cheat sheets of common, common issues or common base sizes of lamps, because while most lamps are pretty straightforward, you do get the random E14, you get the random E17 that walks in and like, at first glance, especially with an E14, a salesperson might just grab some E12 based lamps and like, like, this looks really close, it's got to be the same thing. And they go home and turns out it's not the same thing. So having some kind of basic cheat sheets one pagers, not overwhelmed with information, but like one pagers about some of these common, common things with a little explanation, having that resource bank on hand and easily accessible, and like there in a binder, in a folder, in a data file on their computer. I don't care how it's done, but somewhere where these people can access it and get used to it, understand that these are different things that they might see, and know where to go when that, when that question walks in the door, so that they can get a little bit further down the road of helping the customer without immediately having to turn for help. One of the most handy things we ever did in my store for new hires is to take a light bulb catalog, pick your preferred light bulb manufacturer. But we we took a light bulb catalog of our preferred manufacturer and it was like a smaller catalog of just like the led lamps, and we went through and highlighted all the ones that we have in stock and it was super, has continued to be super helpful, like, okay, a clear a lamp here's the model number. We stock a clear ctc here's the model number. We stock a frosted a lamp here's what we're stocking. The par lamps. Here's what we're stocking, and it was just a really great quick reference so that a new hire wouldn't turn somebody away who's looking for a par 20 bulb, thinking that we didn't have that you know particular lamp in stock because, like, the model number they typed in on the light bulb didn't show up in our inventory. They could just resource this highlighted catalog and kind of do that comparison and get the customer out the door with the product they need with like a really minimum of having to go hunt everything down and take minutes and minutes to make a, you know, a really quick light bulb sale. It's been a really handy shortcut tool for our team, so I definitely encourage that. And then the other potential solution I have is also the. It probably been the second most effective for me. It's something that I call smart fearlessness in the salesperson. Smart fearlessness. So it's almost like the same concept of like yes anding in in like improv theater, like yes, and so we want people to be a little bit fearless when it comes to approaching customers on topics that are new or challenging for them. I don't want them to be silly. That's why we need smart fearlessness, but they do need to feel empowered to engage to take on different difficult, potentially topics, things that seem intimidating to them, and to just push through it in a smart and supported manner so that they can like respond to a customer with confidence but also feel like they're in a good spot to go get assistance with whatever they need. So that the salesperson can like grow and learn, because they got presented this like new thing that they never had, never encountered before like a ceiling fan, remote receiver issue or something so they can get assistance on that and the customer feels like they're still getting an expert or at least expert advice, even if it's this particular salesperson's first time at engaging with this particular technical issue. So smart fearlessness is the way I frame it in my mind. I want them to feel the confidence to go up and talk to anybody, find out what their problem is, engage in a way that lets the customer know that they have the solution. We're gonna I don't like I need to go like check a couple things to make sure I have the details right, but we're gonna get this covered for you on the way, no problem, because you don't ever want to break that trust with the customer that you're the expert just because you have a new hire on staff. You don't want anybody to walk away feeling like they didn't get the support they needed out of your specialty business just because they ended up coming in and working with the newest person on your staff member that isn't as well versed in the technical side of things and I want every staff member to really have a good baseline understanding. I know sometimes a workaround is to just like have a person be the technical person, but I think that can cause a lot of like disservice to customers if you have to say, oh well, scotty is our technical person, he's on the phone right now, just hang around, I'll get him. I'll get you to him as soon as he's available, like if I'm a customer. I don't really want that experience. Maybe the salesperson still has to go to Scotty to get the solution, but I don't want to hear that I just have to kick rocks and wait until he's available. I'd like to know that somebody is proactively working on my behalf. So it's just creating this like smart fearlessness, this aura of confidence. I've kind of aware of this issue. I can get it figured out for you. Just give me a moment and we'll get you on your way with exactly what you need to fix your problem to be the solution you need to make your home the best space that it can possibly be. So those are my kind of training pins. I don't know, there's probably better ones out there. I would love to hear about them. This is like an example of a success I'd love to share back on the podcast with the rest of our listeners. What's been your training success Like? What tool have you used, whether it's an ALA certification, whether it's a National Association of Innovative Lighting Distributors training, is it ASID training? Is it just a general retail 101 training that you've done like with a whiz bang or something like that? What has been your key to success in getting people new staff members engaged in up to speed in the technical and challenging part of the residential lighting and fan industry? Would love your feedback Again. Email me, lisa, at lightingwithlisacom with any of those success stories that you want to share, or not just on this topic, on anything at all, because the more we learn from each other, the more we grow and the better we become as a lighting industry. Thanks one more time to Lights America for sponsoring this podcast. I appreciate your support not only of Lighting with Lisa, but of the entire lighting industry from all angles, from distribution to reps to manufacturers Lights, america has a solution and is a partner with all of us. Thank you all so much for listening. I will talk to you next time, take care.