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Sales Leadership
Sep 16, 2016 | Bob Phibbs lock

The CPSA is lucky to have many of the top Sales and Leadership experts as guest bloggers and supporters. One such well-known thought leader is Bob Phibbs, commonly referred to as the Retail Doctor.

Let’s hear from Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor.

Question 1: Tell us about yourself; your career path and expertise.

Answer 1: My first job was as a custodian after school. Before that, I sold Christmas cards and solicited for donations for the Boy Scouts door to door. I put myself through college to get a Bachelor of Music degree and minor in Business working in a retail department store with the blue haired ladies. They taught me it was all about the customer. That all else stops for the customer. The best advice I ever got. Next, I managed a shoe store in a mall. I did my student teaching at Irvine High School in California with three classes as a conductor and 2 beginning guitar. After two months I realized I didn’t want to continue so when I graduated, I stayed in retail for a very small regional western wear retailer in Los Angeles. I grew the retailer to 55 locations across the nation and received the Highest Increase in Sales from South Coast Plaza, at the time, the highest grossing mall per square foot in the world and against such retailers as Nordstrom, Sakes and Macy’s. One day the owner asked at the meeting, what is a company’s greatest asset? I immediately answered, “That’s easy. It’s employees.” Wrong. Wrong? He went around the room as everyone failed and he finally answered. "It’s customers." After the meeting I went down to his office and after 14 years told him “Customers can go anywhere. The only way we have built this business is on the loyalty of the employees. I can’t work for a company like this. I’m out in 2 weeks." After moping around for a few weeks, I went to a Tony Robbins seminar and took away his advice: you have to create your own brand. Something no one else can do.” I filed the ™ for the Retail Doctor a couple of days later but didn’t know what to do. I consulted for a few years and then struck it with a small coffee house battling two Starbucks I did everything from firing the staff who called me El Diablo to changing the lighting, moving counters, creating an entire marketing strategy walked his trade area personally introducing his brand to new clients - the works. If I were going to fail - it would all be on me - not him. Sales went up 50% the first year and 40% over that. I pitched the NYT, “Would you be interested in the story of how the little guy beats the big guy?” They were, and they did a profile on me which led to speeches, business makeovers for the Los Angeles Times, two books, interviews and the brand of the Retail Doctor was fulfilled. I now work with some of the best brands and their dealer networks from LEGO to Yamaha.


Question 2: You’re quite popular within the sales community, and you write some great content. How long has your blog been going now?
Answer 2: I’m in my fifth year, and I regularly get over 120k unique visitors a month. To those of you just starting out. Be patient and consistent. And relevant. It’s not easy - sales never is. Find a new way to tell your truth - not someone else’s.

Question 3: What’s the biggest reason companies/salespeople reach out to sales coaches?
Answer 3: What made them big isn’t working anymore. Or perhaps they had a popular product or location, and it took off without any sales process. But now, when things aren’t as popular, or you aren’t as fresh, it exposes the fact there was no process, no skeleton if you will for a sale to hang on. Therefore the need for a sales coach. These companies have employees’ hit-or-miss sales from laziness “What are you looking for?” “Do you have a budget” or they try those 50’s closing techniques “If I show you the answer, will you be ready to commit today?” I hate that fluff. Same with the forced handshake at the start of a sale, “I’m Bob, and you’re?” It just doesn’t work and these tactics do much more harm than good.

Question 4: Is there any difficulty trying to coach a multi-generational sales force?
Answer 4: It’s easy to say Millennials are entitled and quick to dismiss any information without a comment how it could be better. Just like it is easy to say Baby Boomers are stuck in their ways and jaded. The biggest challenge we have is Millennials who are fundamentally thrifty - cheap if you will, native to the ‘net, so they know a million places to buy what they are supposed to sell, cheaper, they buy based on price and feel people who pay full price are generally fools. 72% of purchases are still made by Baby Boomers who have an idea of what customer service should mean. Those Boomers are willing to be entertained and educated as long as you respect them. This is really important in luxury goods with a survey just released that Boomers and Gen-Y are responsible for 4.5 times as many sales as Millennials. Couple this with the trend to rent not own and you have a big training challenge. Unless you can bring those Millennials on board with your way of selling, they will often pour water on the interest of the Baby Boomer either by ignoring them or treating them as a Google Search” What are you looking for?” We have it right over here. If it’s not a human to human connection, Boomers are not opening their wallets. Boomer employees, however, tend to look down on Millennials, yet they are the brightest and most hopeful generation. We can learn much from each other because at the heart of it; we’re all more alike than different.

Question 5: With the rise of social media in the last decade and many salespeople are using social media as a sales tool, would you say the retail salespeople use social media in the same way?
Answer 5: The challenge we have now is many companies coming into the space telling retailers to pay their employees extra as “ambassadors” to tweet and post about their brands. The trouble is it often doesn’t come off genuine. Give me a great salesperson who can see the possibility of a live Facebook video or a personal blog that shows their personality while still focusing on making sales to readers and I’ll show you someone happy working retail.

Question 6: How important are sales incentives to developing a culture of performance?

Answer 6: For a Driver personality like myself, we love incentives. Tell me how many widgets I have to sell to get the trip or bonus and I’m there. I’m so there I’ll probably look at ways to fudge it or steal it from someone else. Weaker friendly salespeople won’t want to play that game as they “never win anything anyway” and they give the sales to the other guy. If incentives are short time limits, very clearly thought out - is it all sales or just profitable sales? Is it over a goal that has no relation to reality?  - They can boost performance. Frankly it is much better for a sales manager to make the crew’s day. To inspire and encourage them to do better. To review every sale to see how many stories the salesperson collected from the exchange, not just whether they made a sale or not. They need to go out of their way to encourage because frankly unless you inspire and add hope to your crew, no incentive will work and, you’ll be a ballbuster with a reputation and high turnover of salespeople which is expensive.

Question 7: What’s the best advice you can give to someone starting off in sales?

Answer 7: You don’t have the luxury of a bad day. Everyone has promise. Everyone can achieve more if they try. Get a good group of friends who want to go somewhere with their lives. I had a CEO tell me the day he got serious about being a salesman was when he found himself at a party and 1/2 the guys were laughing about how their cars had been repossessed. At that time, he left the party and them and never looked back. For me, a friend who was on Broadway in A Chorus Line gave me the book, The Magic of Thinking Big. It is my go-to book to this day. And you have to hit it out of the park if you want to go somewhere. For me, that was routine, day in and day out doing my best and not taking the easy way. Studying people. Studying when things didn’t go well and what responsibility I had or what I brought to the situation and correcting the next time.

I had no idea retail would be my life forty years ago. I thought I was going to be a music teacher. Retail allowed me to meet people far more interesting than myself. It is still the path many CEOs today have in common - putting someone else before themselves. I think it is the greatest training anyone should have. It’s not all about you. And you know what? When you make it about everyone else- the world can beat a path to your door. I’m living proof of that.

About the Author: 
Bob PhibbsSince 1994 companies worldwide have turned to Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor® for the proven expertise necessary to grow their sales. An American retail expert, Phibbs has been engaged as a motivational speaker on retail, a luxury retail sales trainer, author, franchiser and customer service champion.He is frequently called on to provide commentary on Marketing and Branding for MSNBC, FOX and others. His clients include some of the largest retail brands in the world including Bernina, Caesars Palace, Chopard, Hunter Douglas, Lego, Omega, Hearts on Fire, Husqvarna, Tommy Bahama, Vera Bradley and Yamaha.

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