Nurturing Relationships

There’s something about the end of the year that inspires many of us to become a bit more reflective.
    As we think about the nearly 12 months that have just gone by, we may assess the goals we set and any progress made to achieve them. Or we might look more closely at how we improved as bridal sales consultants. We might also think about the people in our lives and at work, those we’ve interacted with often or simply on occasion.
    It’s a good time for thinking not just about our past but also the future, looking at what we can do to better ourselves and our relationships throughout the year ahead. Why relationships? Because relationships – particularly healthy ones – matter. In fact, we need them. When we have solid relationships, we’re more productive and happier in general. And that same truth applies to our relationships at work, which is why nurturing these connections also matters.
    Going forward, challenge yourself to get more intentional about your relationships. Here are three ways build such value with your customers, your co-workers and your boss.

Build Value With Customers
    Be genuine. Customers can spot a fake from a mile away. And today’s consumers, who are so skilled at going online to research all their options before shopping for anything wedding related, tend to be wary of salespeople. Come across as anything but honest and real, and you’ll struggle to build meaningful, effective connections. This can put your selling goals at serious risk.
    Definitely remain professional, but always be yourself. This will send the message to customers that what they see is what they’ll get, putting them at ease amid what’s already an emotionally charged selling situation. Being authentic will also demonstrate how you’ve got nothing to hide, no tricks or antics up your sleeve.
    Take the time to greet people with a warm, friendly smile. Look people in the eye when they’re talking. Make a greater effort to listen more and talk less. Ask good questions of others, digging a bit to learn more and preventing the tendency to make dangerous assumptions. True, these are all little tactics, but, used consistently over time, they can speak volumes about your ability to really connect with others.

    Share your knowledge. With a big purchase such as a wedding gown, brides often need vital insight into what they’re buying and why they should feel good about that purchase – and buying it through you!
    For example, if a bride tells you she’s considering purchasing her gown online, don’t dismiss her as a “lost sales cause.” Instead ask questions about her thinking, then use that opportunity to engage and educate her.
    Pull out dresses and teach her about the differences in gown quality, look, feel, design and price. And then capitalize on the moment to outline the services your store provides, such as alterations, and how they’ve helped brides in the past.
    Of course, don’t forget that while any bride can buy a gown online, only you can provide the experience that makes it magical and memorable. In short, you offer the intangible yet valuable opportunity to transform from a customer to the beautiful bride-to-be.
    There’s no need to judge your customers or be angry with them for considering an online gown. But since you’ve got important knowledge around this topic (for instance, gown quality, the designer behind the line, the timeline for a particular customer order, what’s possible in terms of personalized changes to a particular style), don’t hold back.
    Sharing what you know is all about the giving the precious gift of expertise to others. And it’s a powerful way of building rapport and trust with customers. Customers generally want to learn all they can about a purchase to reduce any risks, feel connected to their purchase, and simply justify and feel good about it, particularly if price or quality is a concern. You have the power to give them that  – so give it!
    Help them solve a problem. Rare is the wedding that’s free of hiccups of some sort. And sometimes weddings face massive challenges.
    Solving problems is all about making something simpler, less stressful, more appealing or simply better. It’s about meeting needs, including the emotional. For instance, if you ordered a dress for a bride and something wasn’t fitting quite right, you’d find a way to make it look right and exhaust all your talents and perhaps time in doing so. The same thinking goes for addressing other challenges or problems that may surface for your brides. Even helping them solve what seem like minor issues (or even something unrelated to selling them a gown) can mean a lot to a stressed-out bride.
    Be on the lookout for opportunities to demonstrate your value by helping her with such needs. Always be thinking, “What else can I do to serve?”

Build Value With Co-Workers
    Teach them what you know. Are you particularly great at closing a sale? Do you have a knack for managing conflict? Is your eye for quickly matching body types to dress styles super sharp? If so, these are strengths. It may be that your strengths are learned. Or they may be innate. But whatever they are, they certainly play a role in the success of your sales goals.
    And here’s another certainty: Strengths can be shared – even taught to others. You can bring significant value to the talents and abilities of your co-workers simply by teaching them those things at which you excel.
    One way to teach others is by spotting opportunities on the floor for quickly telling helpful stories or showing a co-worker how something works better. (Keep it light and fun so no one gets defensive!)
    Another great way is to suggest an agenda item for “continuing education” or “tips and tricks of the trade” in your weekly or monthly sales staff meetings. Everyone can offer something of value, be it a skill, a lesson, a tip, or a “trick.” Sharing what you know helps the greater good. Knowledge is power!

    Commit to being a team player. Your co-workers are going to be a lot more receptive to and respective of you if you can demonstrate you’re a great team player. How can you do that?
    For starters, don’t talk about yourself all the time, particularly when it comes to group or collective wins. Instead, put your teammate in the spotlight.
    Also pay attention to the language you’re using with fellow staff members. Note the words and stories you’re choosing (even out of habit) and look for habits around using more words like “we/us” instead of “me/I.” Ask more questions of others, too, so to discover more about them. Then let them do the talking, resisting the urge to interrupt and turn that attention toward you.
    Being a team player also requires celebrating the wins of others and not leaving this job solely to your boss. After all, there’s no need to feel threatened by your fellow co-workers’ success. If you’re dedicated to your job and have a boss that supports your goal potential, there should be plenty of opportunities for you to succeed as well.
    Manage gossip. We all know it’s easy to get caught up in gossip. Wherever there is human interaction, gossip just always seems to manifest and, left unchecked, can seriously damage the culture. So do your best to avoid it, removing yourself from gossip-prone situations or conversations that can erode morale and/or productivity.
    No doubt, this can be easier said than done. For example, do you know someone who is in the habit of saying things like, “Don’t repeat this but so and so…” or “I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I heard so and so. . . ”?
    Pretty much the only way to avoid getting caught up in such an uncomfortable talk-trap is to role model to your co-workers the behaviors you wish to see in them. Have the courage to state that you won’t engage in the talk because it’s unproductive. Or, depending on the nature of the rumor, have the courage to uncover the truth and bring transparency into the situation.
    Your co-workers will come to respect your communication skills, your position and the fact that you’re protecting and reinforcing the health and wellness of the entire team. In other words, they will come to respect you.

Build Value With Your Boss
    Manage up. One of the common traits of a successful professional is the ability to manage up, as in manage the relationship you have with your boss. This isn’t something that happens by chance. It’s a proactive strategy that can differentiate you from others and even land you in a management position, should the opportunity arise.
    Managing up is all about taking the initiative to manage your boss’s expectations of you. This starts with being clear about what is expected of you. Outside of your normal performance review, periodically set up times to meet with your boss and discuss goals and strategies for achieving them.
    In addition, managing up involves adopting the behaviors and mindset that will ensure those expectations and goals will be met without your boss even having to ask about them or constantly monitor your performance. The key is to always be proactive rather than reactive. Be one step ahead, demonstrating your passion for professional accountability and excellence.

    Provide solutions. It doesn’t matter where you work: problems and challenges are going to surface over the course of your professional career. However, the way in which you manage these issues is vital. In most workplaces, when something uncomfortable or downright ugly crops up, everyone looks to the boss for solutions. And quite honestly, this does nothing but create more problems for the boss.
    Truth is, it’s far more effective and empowering when employees take it upon themselves to bring solutions to the table before asking the storeowner for help. And here’s a great rule of thumb: Develop three solutions for every problem you’ve got to solve. This way, when you sit down with your boss to discuss, you’re not only demonstrating initiative to solve it but you may actually suggest the best or most practical solution.
    Your storeowner will love this. It can be hugely beneficial from the standpoint of saving your boss time, energy, worry, etc. It’s also a fabulously effective way to stretch your own comfort zone. It will enable you to exercise your curiosity, push yourself in the creative problem-solving process, and develop your professional potential. It’s a triple win for you, your boss and the business as well.

    Communicate with competence. It’s no secret that communication skills are essential to a sales career. But the value of being a powerful, effective communicator doesn’t stop there. It’s valuable – even vital – for you to communicate with competence, honing a sense of confidence, clarity and consistency because it will support your relationship with your boss.
    If you’ve felt some challenges or growing pains here, start taking baby steps to address any weaknesses and better prepare your communications. If the message is important, plan ahead for it, thinking out the goal, any supporting points or key facts, and how you’ll build buy-in or greater understanding in your closing remarks.
    Also consider where, how and when you choose to communicate with your boss. If it’s a particularly sensitive or tricky issue, ask for a face-to-face conversation as opposed to handling it via e-mail.
    Finally, after you’ve had that conversation, always circle back to ensure what you intended to communicate is clearly understood. Just saying to your boss, “I want to make sure I’ve said this all correctly and clearly. Can you please tell me what you think you heard me say?”
    A great boss will recognize this as a perfectly reasonable request and value you all the more for it. After all, communication blunders can really suck up a lot of time and energy. Make the effort to ensure yours are polished and professional, and your boss will thank you for it!

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