Keeping Good Salespeople

Good help is not only hard to find but also hard to keep. Most jewelers (54%) polled in a new JCK national survey say they’ve lost good salespeople in recent years, often for reasons over which the jeweler has no control, such as health or family issues (e.g., having a baby, relocating) or getting a job in another industry. But two out of five (38%) cite two reasons jewelers can control.

Almost one-fifth of jewelers polled said that in the past five years they had fired a good salesperson “for cause.” Experts say there are a few ways to prevent such a situation, or at least reduce the chances that it will happen.

One is better scrutiny before hiring, says jewelry job recruiter Suzanne DeVries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions. She does credit and background checks and drug tests “on every single candidate we interview for our jeweler clients, something all better retailers do. I tell applicants during interviews that we do this and ask their permission. Of course, if they refuse, that tells you something right there.” A number of companies are available to run such checks for jewelers, she says, such as Security Services of America in Raleigh, N.C. Background checks usually take three day and cost about $150 per candidate—”a small investment to avoid a big problem later,” DeVries says.

DeVries also advises paying more attention to character—only one in 20 jewelers polled listed “honesty” or “integrity” as a prerequisite for salespeople—and intuition. “If your gut feeling about someone is uncertain, but you hire that person anyway, you’ll probably pay for that later,” she warns.

To prevent problems, jewelers also must enforce their own polices, says Dave Richardson, head of the Richardson Resource Group. “Any salesperson, no matter how good, is part of a team,” Richardson says. “If a top salesperson is often late coming in or makes too many personal calls, many jewelers ignore it because they don’t want to lose that person. But when other staff people see that, they start doing the same things. So the jeweler must bring [the offender] in and say frankly, ‘These are our policies, and I need you as a leader in this store to follow them.’ “

Better jobs. Almost one in six jewelers (18%) have lost good salespeople because they got better jobs at another jeweler. “That’s a management problem,” Richardson says. “Why would people leave if they’re happy working for you? Review your policies.”

Develop a compensation structure for great salespeople. Most jewelers don’t pay full commission, just flat salary. But good salespeople need to be motivated and paid for what they sell, says Richardson. A “team bonus”—i.e., everyone gets extra money if a store or department quota is met—isn’t enough, he says, “because often someone produces 200% to meet the goal while others hold back or don’t produce. Good salespeople should be paid for what they do,” he says. “That doesn’t necessarily mean straight commission, but it does means paying commissions to those who do their jobs well.”

DeVries agrees, noting that commissions not only motivate but also spotlight a store’s top salespeople, “separating the girls from the women and the boys from the men.” She also suggests keeping people happy by paying salaries that are commensurate with or better than those of competitors. “A jeweler should know what the competition is offering,” she says.

Give people recognition for their work. A good salesperson wants to be recognized—especially in front of co-workers, says Richardson. Praise should be specific. Don’t just say, “Good work,” but point out what they do well, such as, “I like the way you made that watch sale by telling him the weight of the watch will help his golf swing,” or “I liked the way you helped that man looking at a diamond for an engagement ring come up with new ways to propose.” If you pat someone on the back for specific actions, they’ll do the same next time for a similar sale—and so will other salespeople who hear your praise.

“Constantly reward top performers with spiffs—dinners out, trips, gift cards, or cash perks,” DeVries advises. And show good salespeople you value them and what they do for the business, says Richardson, with a promotion, a title, or additional responsibilities—for example, making them an assistant manager or floor manager. “Employee loyalty is earned; it’s not a given,” he says. “Give your people reasons to be loyal to you.”