What’s the problem?

Have you heard this before?: “The experience of buying a new mattress is worse than buying a new car.”

Not only have I heard it, but I have seen it show up more than once in market research. It is true that there are some pushy sales people out there who aren’t interested in helping consumers solve a problem, but are more concerned about making the sale. I have seen retail sales associates (also known as RSAs) ignore customers when they walk in, give bad information as it relates to the products they are selling, talk badly about their competition, wear crappy looking clothes and just flat out add no value to the process. Even given that, I believe that those incidences are the exceptions, and the large majority of RSAs out there are either very good at what they do already, or have the potential to be a great salesperson. Are bad RSAs really the problem or is it something else?

We make it extremely difficult for consumers to shop for our products in the market, and that lack of transparency is a real issue for people just wanting to get a good deal on a bed. Point of sale information is often not available for consumers and, if it is, it’s not written in a language that is relevant or easy to understand. It’s completely void of any information that will help consumers understand how a mattress can actually help them sleep better, which is one of the main reasons they are there to begin with.

We ask people to “get comfortable” and test our beds. That means lying down in a very public setting and using pillows that 1,000 other people have used, sometimes with lingering strands of hair from the last person that lied there. Are the RSAs really the problem? If we are going to blame the RSA for the bad marks, we can at least train them how to do their job from the get-go. That way, if things go wrong, it really is their fault.

I’ve spent a lot of time in retail in my career: I previously worked as a bedding rep, and would call on retailers every day. Many of my weekends were spent on retail floors selling beds right alongside RSAs. In my personal experience, I did a lot of training with RSAs, and in my sessions, selling skills would be emphasized first before the product. I can tell you that most of what the RSA learns in training, if there is training at all before they hit the selling floor, has to do with product and company procedure. There’s little to no training on how to approach the consumer. If that is all we are going to give RSAs before they start representing us as the face of the industry, then we deserve the low grades from the consumer.

I am tired of hearing people blame the RSA when most of them do a pretty good job, and the ones that don’t probably fail because we don’t give them the tools. When you visit a retailer that takes the time to invest in their people and coach them on delivering a fantastic experience, you can see it right away. The RSAs aren’t the main problem here. The fact of the matter is that we rate BELOW the used car experience, and there is plenty of blame to go around. I don’t believe there is a stronger indication of the success or failure of what we do than to hear from the group that determines it that they really don’t like us.

What am I missing here? What are you thinking?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not represent the thinking of the company I work for, or anyone else with whom I am affiliated. Except my wife of course, who is good at telling me what not to say.

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