Are your sales staff ready for the smart home?

Confident, knowledgeable staff are essential to sell smart products, as are demos that immerse the customer in the experience, says Paul Laville, group chief executive of training specialist T21


Over the past year or so, T21 has been running sales training programmes with a few retailers starting out on the smart home.

And written upon the face of every salesperson who stands up to tell us their name and do a little dance (kidding!) we’ve seen every emotion: from unbridled enthusiasm to expectant curiosity to outright fear. Smart home technology, it seems, always provokes an emotional response.

The enthusiasm usually comes from those who’ve had some experience of smart tech previously, either in-store or at home, possibly both. The fear comes from those who have somehow managed to steer intentionally clear of it. “I’ve only ever done appliances,” is the standard refrain from the abstainers, but the irony is that if you’ve been selling appliances, you’re probably better equipped to sell the smart home than those more used to selling boxes of gizmos. There’s a real need for solution-selling and project-management skills when selling bits of kitchens, so if this you, you’re part-way there already.

Anyone can pick up the techie detail.

You need to know the tech and how it works. There’s no escaping this, but selling the smart home successfully is also about having the skills, disciplines and attitudes required to juggle a multitude of objectives.

Firstly to offer credible, authoritative advice to curious or sceptical customers, then to identify problems and sell bespoke solutions, blending your technical knowledge with the imagination to create an incredible customer experience that resonates powerfully. And finally, the commercial wit to achieve sales at full value and ensure that relationships with customers buying into the smart home are maintained at the highest level.

If you’re thinking “that’s what I do already”, then excellent. We hear that a lot…

However, our experience shows that it’s maybe only one, or possibly two salespeople per branch who breathe the rarefied air at that high level. What about the other two, three or four people lurking at the back? Are you just dabbling in the smart home or are you serious about it? Consistency across your staff is critical if you’re going to establish your business not only as the go-to place for customers seeking answers to all their burning smart-home questions, but as the commercial sales success and centre of excellence in all things connected that everybody is raving about.

Every retailer is different. Every smart-home solution is different. Every customer is different.

Despite this, there are key elements to achieving high-quality sales through the smart home that are universal. To my mind, success is dependent firstly upon how your sales staff take consistent actions to see a sale through to its happy conclusion (and beyond), no matter who walks in through the door. It’s in recognising that every customer is unique, not just with regard to their age, gender, family circumstances and disposable income, but also their preferences, behaviours, and of course their needs.

Paul Laville, managing director, T21
Paul Laville, group chief executive, T21
There ought to be a law that states ‘every customer should get hands-on in every demonstration’ – the smart home is ideal

So it’s not only what your smart-home experts do to understand those needs that counts, but how they adjust their own behaviour to build bridges of empathy and trust. It’s about how they advise customers on the best-fit technology, how they construct a compelling case for each unique solution they want to propose and then how they show it.

It’s about taking a more consultative approach to every customer interaction, putting a plan together and maybe – yes, I’ll say it – giving people time to think about it. After all, if the total value of a smart-home installation is on the high side, then it’s a considered investment, and therefore unlikely to be something that can be rushed.

Can you guarantee that customers will return if you let them walk away from the shop for a day or two?

No, but you can increase your chances of them returning in a very simple way: by giving your customers an experience they’ll remember, and that other retailers can only look upon in envy. That ‘first impression’ you heard about way back when you started? Today, it’s about more than just making sure you’re well-dressed and have a lovely smile. First impressions are all-encompassing, they run throughout the business. So if your customer walks out and raves about what you showed them, tweets about it and dreams about it, then yes, they’ll be back all right.

Demonstrating is something every retailer can do, but demonstrations are largely underused. There ought to be a law that states ‘every customer should get hands-on in every demonstration’ and smart home is the ideal technology to demonstrate and generate some theatre and interaction.

If your customer interacts with the technology in a way that sparks an emotional connection, then you’re more than halfway to a sale

It can be simply pairing up their phones to a multi-room speaker system spread throughout the shop, sitting on a sofa in a room glittering with technology, controlling the lighting with their voice or taking a selfie with a mixed-reality widget and posting it to the social platform of their choice. If your customer experiences the technology through a jaw-dropping demonstration, sits inside your smart-home zone and interacts with the technology in a way that entices them and sparks an emotional connection, then you’re more than halfway to a sale.

But if all you’re doing is telling your customer how it all works, and in a smug know-it-all kind of way full of techie jargon and barely credible hearsay, well… good luck with that.

You need to think about the long term.

There are plenty of other things we haven’t talked about here, such as the delivery, the installation and the after-sales experience, which is arguably more important than the in-store phase. After all, you want your customers to buy from you again in the future, right?

In my opinion, if you’re bringing the smart home into your retail business, you have to get every element ready, and if you don’t include your sales staff in the plan, you’ll be wondering why it didn’t work. So, are your sales staff ready for the smart home?