Monday, February 25, 2008

The Hard Answers on the Soft Sell

The news from the massage department isn’t good. Sales are down for the third consecutive quarter. Concerned, Mary Sayles, the spa director, calls in her new massage department lead, Josh Neiderman.
“I don’t think we should use our guests’ relaxation time to sell,” Josh says, in response to Mary’s grim report. They’re seated in her small office, next to a defective mag lamp awaiting return. “I believe that a massage should be performed in silence.”
“Do you think that our clients believe that too?” Mary asks.
“Yes,” says Josh. “I do.”
“But,” the spa director continues, “Aren’t there times during the treatment that you have to communicate with the guest? You know, to let them know it’s time to turn over, or ask them if the pressure is comfortable for them?”
“Of course,” replies Josh. “But that’s important to giving a good treatment. And it’s very brief.”
“Might you also ask if a tight area you’re noticing in their body is tender or sensitive?”
“I get what you’re saying,” Josh concedes. “Of course it’s not a 100% silent treatment. But I don’t want to subject our guests to a sales pitch. I don’t think the therapists should talk about products in the treatment room. That’s sacred ground to us.”
“Don’t we use products in the treatment?” Mary pursues, attempting to sound neutral. Her eyes are not focused on Josh, but fixed on the display of beautifully displayed body care products that sit virtually untouched in the spa’s retail area behind him.
“Yes, we use a massage oil blend with aromatherapy, and we use that analgesic gel on the tight areas,” Josh says patiently. “That’s protocol.”
“But you don’t think the client should know what you’re applying to their skin? I know I’m always curious about what’s being used on me,” Mary replies, warming to the subject. “And I bet some of them are very curious about our heat packs. Do they ask about those?”
“All the time,” concedes Josh. “But my job is to help them relax and get out of their head. If we spend the whole treatment talking they’re not going to unwind.”
Mary sighs softly. This is familiar ground for her, after ten years of operating spas. She’s freshly back from a trip to the local mall to inspect the latest lines at Bath and Body Works, where she witnessed a bustling trade in “professional” spa brands that had recently gone to the Mass Merchandised Dark Side.
“Why,” she asks herself, “can everyone but a real spa therapist sell spa products? No wonder these companies are abandoning us. We can’t seem to sell our way out of a wet paper bag.”

Does this scenario sound familiar?

Underlying Josh’s concerns about the client are some larger fears. The assumptions he makes about the client, which he’d likely represent as “intuiting” their needs, are based on his own personal limitations and anxieties. First and foremost, the social style of most spa therapists is not naturally given to perform the act we commonly call “selling.” This is because nurturers, healers and caregivers gravitate toward their work to enjoy a very different interpersonal dynamic. In the case of many massage therapists, their social style led them to a career that would enable them to avoid the kind of stresses, discomforts and conflicts that are common in the world of business and commerce. (Or what many second-career massage therapists call the “rat race.”)

Ask most people what “selling” is, and the terms you’ll hear are negative ones. Try this word association game: ask a few people to associate a word to “Salesman.”
The most common response you’ll get?

The predominant social style among massage therapists has been tagged by one popular categorizing system with the moniker “Amiable.” Amiables are relationship-driven and thrive as part of a team. Some of your therapists have a pinch of “Analytical” in the mix. These are the ones who are studying to become physical therapists, and are interested in the mechanics of the body. The friendly and voluble ones have more “Expressive” styles, perhaps garnering the occasional complaint from clients about chit chat in the treatment room, but logging the best retail ratios. You will rarely find the Type A “Driver” in a massage room. (At least, not for long. They’re the ones planning to open their own facility.)

Why does social style matter?

When trying to encourage sales-averse employees to talk about home care with their clients, not to mention long-term programs and other opportunities, it’s important to understand what motivates them, deep down. Mary Sayles is a veteran spa director, which means she’s more results-driven than the people she supervises. While relationships are important to her—the spa industry would have driven her completely around the bend by now, if not—her job depends on delivering measurable results. As well, Mary is probably more willing to take risks. There’s a good chance she views herself as a peer of the spa’s clients, even accomplished, assertive and affluent ones.

Our friend Josh is another story. As a care giver, he may be intimidated by the stressed-out Type A’s that frequent the spa. Like most of us, he projects his own beliefs, fears and limitations on the guests he works with, and overvalues his intuition, or ability to “read” people, in order to justify his reticence. He believes that Mary doesn’t understand what it’s like in the treatment room.

How can Mary meet Josh halfway and accomplish her goal of ensuring that there is a dialogue about home care in the massage experience?

1. Demonstrate viscerally “why” home care supports the therapeutic experience. The Amiable employee must understand how the relationship will be enhanced by this behavior. Mary knows well that handing her Amiable massage therapists a piece of paper with their sales goal on it and declaring “make it so!” is the quickest way to incite a stampede for the exits. Not much more effective is the exhortation “You need to educate your clients!” An effective learning modality is to give the employee a treatment and demonstrate the desirable behavior. The employee will have an opportunity to experience how good it feels when it’s done properly. Give a role play demonstration of what to say and when to say it, during a massage session. Demonstrate what it means to “educate”, then have the massage therapist switch roles and do it themselves.

2. Make the scary familiar with role playing. When law enforcement officers are being trained, they go through intense role-playing exercises called “scenarios” that enable them to experience the scariest, most heart-pounding situations they’ll encounter on the job and rehearse them. Mountain climbers practice on climbing walls. Include role-play scenarios in your training process.

3. Narrate. Mary has already included a variety of home care products in the massage treatment, the first step. It is the therapists’ responsibility to introduce the formulas being used and explain their purpose and benefits. This is a natural entrĂ©e for opening up a discussion of home care rituals at the end of the session. Josh quietly says, while applying the product, “This Sage Analgesic Balm will soothe these sore muscles.” Then, after a moment, he’ll check in and ask softly, “How does that feel?” It would be a curmudgeonly client indeed who’d object to this type of benefits-driven and personalized interaction.

4. Automate the process. Good design supports good salesflow. Mary can add tantalizing visual merchandising in the service areas to stimulate the guest’s shopping urges. A checkout “lounge” would ensure that her guests pause before departing, enabling the spa to present the home care and rescheduling opportunity while giving them a gentle way to transition from spa mode back to reality. Sampling, custom blending and play areas encourage even more engaged interaction with the spa’s products. The longer guests stay in the spa, the more money they’ll spend—and the more value they’ll feel they got from their experience.

5. Get everyone involved. Most therapists are receptive to the idea of a split commission with the front desk staff if they know they’ll be getting a piece of a larger pie. Getting the support team on board increases their income and job satisfaction, too. Most spa software enables you to create customized split commissions.

6. Find the words. Excessive reliance on scripting has gotten some luxury properties a bad rap lately, but if Mary doesn’t offer a “lexicon” of great words and phrases for her team to use, they may not be able to extend the invitation persuasively. After all, they weren’t hired on as copywriters. People that are wonderful with their hands are often a bit less wonderful with their mouths. Mary can provide a valuable service when she helps them overcome awkwardness with helpful phrases. If she’s smart, she’ll post them in her prep areas so they’re easy to master.

7. Encourage the team to share success stories. Mary probably has therapists on her team that have some wonderful personal “scripting” that would work for Josh, with perhaps a tweak or two to make it his own. Round table conversations at team meetings are one of the most valuable forms of training. Mary “can’t be a prophet in her own land”—in fact, it’s more like being the invisible adult in the Charlie Brown cartoon. All employees hear from her when she tries to explain “how easy” it is to recommend home care is “Wah wah wah wah wah.” When another therapist offers a tip or technique it’s much more likely to be accepted and adopted.

8. Inspect what you Expect. Mystery Shopping is an indispensable tool for monitoring performance. Mary must make sure she devotes plenty of energy catching people doing things right, too.

9. Value sales behavior appropriately. Since home care is significantly more important to an esthetician’s success than a massage therapist’s, it’s important for Mary to pick her battles. We’ve all been taught since childhood that we need to devote most of our time to fixing our weaknesses, and managers invariably spend the bulk of their time dealing with the shortcomings and issues of their poorest performers. This is one of the biggest productivity traps in any business. Our highest return comes from increasing our strengths. As Jim Collins points out, it’s not just important to have the right people on your bus, but they need to be in the right seats. If Josh is fantastic at retaining customers for the spa, Mary might just find someone else on the team to ensure that they get the opportunity to learn about and buy the spa’s fabulous home care offerings.

It’s six weeks and two coaching sessions after Mary and Josh’s frustrating exchange; the spa director stops to congratulate him on his increased retail ratio as well as his higher client retention ratio. Josh feels less harried by Mary, who has stopped issuing vague exhortations to “sell more,” in favor of supportive coaching and improved salesflow processes.

Josh seems to be blossoming. Mary has observed that the front desk employees are more attentive to the therapists and the clients alike, and truly acting like teammates. By pooling the concierge team’s sales commissions, she’s been able to keep their eye on the customer service ball, and not let their new incentive devolve into an overt competition with one another for sales.
“Yeah, Jennifer likes to joke that we’re “in business together,” says Josh, referencing the engaging spa concierge who has been racking up “assists” for him at checkout. “Splitting my commissions has actually doubled them.”
“That’s great,” she responds. “You deserve it.”