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THE SOFT SELL

This year’s big staff training guide unpacks exactly how (+ why) to school your staff in the art of sales

INTEL ON STAFF TRAINING IS MORE COVETED THAN EVER BEFORE.

In recent, exclusive reader research conducted by EB, 51% of ECP respondents said staff training needs the most attention at their business right now (even more than the areas of managed care, social media, and practice management).

Think “sell” is a four-letter word? In today’s uniquely competitive market, empowering your staff with a bit of sales expertise can go a long way in building your business.

International retail authority Harry J. Friedman explains why. “A lot of people struggle with offering both retail and professional services,” he says. “But a switch needs to go on that says, ‘The survival of my business depends on converting the people who ask me about my services into sales.’”

How can that conversion impact the bottom line? The Association for Talent Development found that companies training staff to sell show a 24% higher profit margin than those who don’t.

Where does optical fit? “As an industry, we haven’t trained well,” says Mary Schmidt, ABOC, trainer and president of EyeSystems in Pleasant Hills, CA. “However, the more we can duplicate a structured training program versus a crisis management style, the better our industry will serve patients.”

To find out how to provide training to optical staff on the art of selling, EB checked in with training authorities inside optical and out. Here, they share their strategies for sales training success.

TEAM EXERCISE

“Create a journey map,” says Justin Jones of Somersault Innovation. As a team, plot out all the customer touch points and what each person is doing to contribute to that experience.

“For each touch point, consider where you delight customers and where you let them down. Then come up with things you can try over the next month to improve a few friction points. Keep experimenting together as a team.”

THE STARTING POINT

Begin by reviewing what “selling” actually means to your team—and your business. Once you define that, you can form a training plan.

Here’s the highly modern definition of what selling means to our experts:

It’s Noble. “ECPs may not want to use the word,” acknowledges Justin Jones, co-founder of Somersault Innovation, which provides critical sales-enhancing training to companies such as AT&T and Salesforce, “but sales is, in fact, a noble profession because we are all trying to help people.”

Have Empathy. “It’s about connecting to people through empathy, and shifting from the traditional seller/buyer dynamic that nobody likes to collaborative problem-solving,” adds Jones.

Transition to Interaction. To better define selling, “Replace the term ‘transaction’ with ‘interaction,’” says Shep Hyken, chief amazement officer at Shepard Presentations in St. Louis. “A transaction is something that starts and ends. An interaction is part of an ongoing relationship.”

Foster Trust. “Sales is about building trust and establishing rapport,” adds Patti Thomas, a Clarks Summit, PA-based industry consultant who is currently working with Opti-Port.

Positively Influence. “It’s the difference between influence and manipulation,” explains Jones. “It’s helping someone achieve something (see better) vs. getting them to do something (buy glasses).”

Think Solutions. “What we sell is optical solutions,” says Gwen Gnadt, O.D., FAAO, an optometrist with Eye Vision Associates in Nesconset, NY.

PROGRAM PARAMETERS

One critical mistake eyecare businesses can make is having a relaxed attitude toward training. “Some just think that simply by virtue of participating, magic will happen and we’ll be great salespeople,” says Jones. “In fact, it’s all about your mindset and curating a team dialogue around your customers’ experiences.”

To make sure you get the most out of training your staff to sell, here are some basic points to ponder.

Define It. “A company training program should always include the preferred sales process, customer service, values, and branding,” says Thomas.

Be Flexible. It’s also a balancing act. “Create a process that works for your practice, but also gives the salesperson the freedom to let their personality show,” she adds.

Be Mindful. Understand the difference between transformational and transactional. “Transformational training inspires the trainee to think about what they are learning,” explains Ginamarie Wells, Ph.D., MCC, and senior director, team development at Cleinman Performance Partners in Oneonta, NY.

Repeat It. “The process should be very structured and repetitive,” adds Schmidt.

Make It Personal. The biggest mistake some companies make, explains Jones, is attitude. “It’s your mindset and then curating what you learned.”

STEP BY STEP

#1: Define where the “sale” begins. “At the patient’s first interactions with your office,” says Dr. Gnadt. “Maybe that’s your website or a phone call. Everyone is selling the practice. That’s why we encourage all-office training, including providers.”

#2: Begin by teaching. “Teach how to be self-aware, establish a connection, and build relationships and a support network; how to respond to objections to provide a service; and how to ask powerful and insightful questions to get to the underlying need (pain points),” says Wells.

#3: Follow with the solution to the need. And, that is communication, says Wells. “Be knowledgeable about the product, but be just as knowledgeable about the customers/patients and how/what they buy. Also, be organized enough to elicit an answer and follow-up with clients.”

#4: “Teach staff how to create or follow a process, do their own metrics and analysis, and follow a system,” concludes Wells.

#5: Train to tell a story. “We underutilize the power of storytelling,” says Michael (Mick) Kling, O.D., owner of Invision Optometry in San Diego. “Whether it be about a patient who benefited from something we provided or about a brand, we love stories. Share them.”

VENUES + FORMATS

Don’t use just one training format—experts suggest combining them.

Dr. Gnadt, for example, “uses some scripted questions, but also role-play so opticians learn to listen, not just talk.”

Create a Checklist. “Mine is 27 pages long,” says Schmidt. “It should include a designated trainer and a learning timeline.”

Book Workshops. “Consider public training workshops, and everybody has to go,” suggests Jones. “That’s because you need a shared vocabulary in order to reinforce/support each other on the customer buying journey.”

Look Outside. “Live training is best,” says Schmidt. “Non-optometry-related programs can be very helpful. Acting classes or public speaking, in particular...it really challenges people to grow new skills. Also, state and national association meetings.”

Utilize Staff Meetings. The experts at Cleinman Performance Partners advocate for weekly staff meetings, with one meeting each month addressing training.

Include role-playing, but only with the most experienced people. “This will give a visual clue to trainees on ‘how’ to do it,” says Schmidt. And, don’t be too scripted. Encourage individualized styles of communicating to patients, as long as the correct information is getting through.

Look to Vendors. They can be a great resource. Dr. Gnadt has vendors present product information, and training in dispensary-only meetings.

The bottom line?

If you don’t train to sell, now is the time to start. And, if you already do, now is the time to review, reinvent, and reinvest.

BABY STEPS

When it comes to newbies, don’t confuse training with onboarding.

“They are two different things,” says Ginamarie Wells of Cleinman Performance Partners. “They should be coupled, but onboarding is broader and encompasses more than just training. Small businesses forget that.”

Check out training apps and software, too. “We now have a fairly organized method for onboarding employees, which involves online software to help track the progress of the process,” says Mick Kling, O.D., of Invision Optometry in San Diego.

As for sequence, “Online modules, manuals, reading, anything the practice has to onboard a new employee, is first,” says consultant Patti Thomas. “Then, it’s best practices in skills training.”

Wells shares a small part of that onboarding...how to train a new hire to sell:

STEP 1: The process for selling a product is demonstrated by a skilled practitioner.

STEP 2: The process is deconstructed—in slow, small chunks.

STEP 3: The trainee walks the trainer through a complete sale.

STEP 4: The trainee executes on their own, with the trainer often observing/helping.

STEP 5: The trainee teaches someone while the trainer observes.

FOR MORE: Check out our Staff Training>Tactics column in the next issue of EB.