Don’t Swim With Sharks

Set up your store so that customer service—not making the most sales—drives your sales team. Commission-heavy remuneration plans tend to breed sharks—in fact, it’s the environment they thrive in best.

Your main goal should be to provide the best possible experience to customers. That will bring more business and more sales. You should still set sales goals and reward the team for achieving them, but it’s better to reward the entire team rather than individuals. Team members should not “own” customers but share them, so shoppers feel comfortable working with any sales associate. It also makes sales easier to turn over and encourages associates to ask for help from a more experienced colleague if the sale is out of their area of expertise.

Pay a Living Wage. Don’t pay sales associates substandard salaries and expect them to meet financial obligations with commissions. This creates an unhealthy, shark-breeding environment. Bonuses and commissions should be discretionary income, not for paying the mortgage. Commissions should serve as an incentive to sell more, not to sell, period.

Many jewelers pay substandard salaries but expect their sales staff to deliver the sun, moon, and stars—and then don’t understand why they can’t keep good people or why they have only one or two people who are selling well. The jewelry industry is losing good people to other industries because of substandard pay, but fine- jewelry sales can be a rewarding career—if it’s remunerated like a career position.

Divide and Conquer! A lone sales associate, no matter how good, can’t fulfill the needs of all your clients. But a great selling team can anticipate customers’ needs. Assign each associate a department—watches, diamonds, colored stones, etc.—and empower them to become its specialist. Each can share his or her knowledge with one another and with your customers. Make associates responsible for keeping their areas stocked, neat, and well merchandised. Introduce them to the sales representatives from the manufacturers that supply the category and encourage regular conversations between associates about stock levels, best sellers, and new products.

Share the Wealth. Set team goals and bonuses based on team objectives. You’ll end up with larger increases across the board for everyone instead of incremental sales increases for one or two players. If the team goal is to increase diamond sales by 10 percent, the diamond specialist or specialists should help educate their fellow associates and help design a strategy. Their efforts will be repaid in kind when next month the watch specialist wants to increase sales by 15 percent—and everyone gets on board.

When a supplier offers a spiff or reward for selling the most of an item or category, turn that into a team effort. Instead of offering an expensive item to one sales associate, ask the supplier to offer a moderate prize to every team member for beating a sales target.

It’s up to you. The spirit of team culture starts at the top, so lead by example. It’s your responsibility to treat your sales associates as a team and eliminate shark behavior. If you have sharks and their behavior doesn’t change even after multiple performance reviews or warnings, let them go. Dynamic growth comes not from poaching sales but from creating an optimal environment dedicated to giving your customers the ultimate shopping experience. Create that environment by encouraging a team culture in your establishment.