Photo Courtesy Tague Design Showroom, Malvern, Pa.

Previous posts on design centers have talked about products and place. In this installment, we’ll talk about personnel. If you assume that a design consultant’s primary job is to simply document cabinet and tile selections after the sale is closed, think again. The best of the breed are skillful salespeople, knowledgeable design experts, and seasoned at building rapport. Today’s forward-thinking builders hire design consultants to do more than ever before.

Maybe you have one consultant who works alone, three who split the workload, or a design studio manager overseeing consultants and staff. Any way you slice it, that’s a design studio team. Progressive builders recognize that the design team is an extension of the sales team—critical to customer satisfaction, essential to the bottom line, the hub though which all departments connect, and a sophisticated retailer.

Consumers can get their hands on a wealth of information about trends. They watch design shows on TV and they spend hours on Houzz and Pinterest. They actually can walk into your sales center knowing more than your staff—and that’s something you don’t want to happen. Here’s how you can avoid it.

Start by inviting your design team to the next sales training. Sure, the subject matter is a bit different, but the skills translate directly—building rapport, answering objections, offering clear and useful information to customers. Plus, getting the two teams together is great for overall team-building.

Bring in a trainer specific to design centers. Perhaps your staff members love working with people, have a passion for design, and have been in sales for years. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re proficient enough to sell to today’s super-informed buyers. Train a design team through internal or external resources so they’ll be able to speak with authority about design trends, connecting product solutions to buyer needs. They’ll be able to discuss the technical benefits of each product (to increase perceived values). And, of course, they’ll get to sharpen sales skills.

Here are some opportunities design training might offer:
1. Gain product knowledge. Every design team member needs to be an expert on products in a few dozen categories. That’s a lot of stuff—and a lot of information. Break it down like this:

—Identify all product categories and subcategories
—List products in order of sales priority
—Schedule supplier and manufacturer visits so staff can get training on each product
—Beef up training with homework assignments so staffers can do online research. Some manufacturers know how to give top-notch presentations, but it’s important to incentivize your staff to go above and beyond. (Ideally, they live and breathe this stuff.)

2. Craft knowledge into compelling scripts. Write scripts that help your team impart knowledge via meaningful statements that resonate enough to influence buyer behavior.

3. Spend time on memorization and practice. Once information is crafted into scripts, the team needs time to memorize and practice them in the form of role-playing. Not allowing time for this is one of the biggest mistakes I see builders making.

4. Implementing, measuring, and refining. Of course, there has to be a return on your investment. Set goals, measure the impact of training and preparation, and refine. Then do it again—and be sure to reward those who excel.

Our industry should be leading the pack, not falling short.  Step up and staff your company with people who can give buyers a great experience personalizing a home. You have everything to gain, including a better bottom line.

Jane Meagher has trained more than 1,000 sales and design consultants. She’s president of Success Strategies a design center consulting company serving builders throughout the country.