|Serving Bible shoppers—it’s all about them|
|Written by Doug Lockhart|
|Wednesday, 04 February 2015 03:59 PM America/New_York|
How to best help your store’s customers as you put the Scriptures into their hands
After rejoining the commercial Christian publishing industry for the second time recently, I was excited when Christian Retailing asked me to write an article about selling Bibles. It has been striking to see how much has changed and yet how much has remained the same.
In the nearly seven years since I stepped out of the industry, I’m surprised to see that many of the top-selling Bibles from 2007 are still the top-selling Bibles today. And the order and ranking of the top English-language translations has stayed consistent.
Similarly, many of the challenges we faced in selling Bibles a decade ago are still being addressed today. With the number of different Bibles and the multiple features to consider, too many people walk out of a store without making the Bible purchase they had planned when they entered the store. A recent survey again confirmed this finding: Nearly 50% of people who enter a store actually planning to buy a Bible walk out without making a purchase. They exit overwhelmed and confused by the choices.
END THE CONFUSION
I’ll never forget during my early days at Zondervan in 2003, visiting a store and watching a retail staff person masterfully help a Bible shopper find a Bible. The worker was careful to ask a few open-ended questions and then listen. “May I help you find a Bible? What are you looking for?”
I was encouraged as I listened while the consumer explained who she was buying for. As she talked, she identified several features as being important. I wondered how the staff person would handle the need for additional information and was happy to see that she deftly employed a combination of education and questions to give the consumer several options. She pulled a Bible off the shelf and opened it, showing the buyer the type size and red-letter print. Instead of asking multiple closed-ended questions, she continued the ongoing education/dialogue strategy.
Her approach was effective. Yes, the conversation resulted in a Bible sale, but it also ended with a customer who felt like the staff person was on her side. I could see that the customer had a warm feeling about the store and the process. I was pleased to see the store get the sale through great customer care, but I was most happy for the consumer.
In retrospect, I recall that the store itself was well-organized and that the Bible section was placed in a strategic location. It was clean and well-merchandised, but the major differentiator in that sale was a knowledgeable staff member who knew how to come alongside the buyer and walk her through the decision-making process.
MAKE AN INVESTMENT
For most consumers, the purchase of a Bible is much more than a simple transaction. People buying a Bible, whether for personal use or for someone else, are making an investment in life improvement; even life transformation. This investment may be about an entry point into a faith journey, a resource that fosters frequent reading, notes that help give context/perspective or small-group-type questions designed to foster community and encourage rich dialogue.
Bible publishers have done good work to help make the Bible accessible. From clear and accurate translations to fonts and paper that are easy to read to notes that explain what it was like in Bible times and covers that are durable and beautiful, the state of the Bible market has benefited from the insightful and hard work of industry experts.
These companies have also developed Bible packaging that calls out key features and improves the decision process, some using color to differentiate versions. Retailers have also invested heavily in making the consumer-shopping experience a positive one. Whether in-store or online, Bibles are most often featured where they can easily be found.
And while Bible publishers continue to develop great tools to help someone purchase the right Bible, a face-to-face interaction remains optimal for understanding.
I’ve been on both sides of the process as a consumer and as a seller. As a consumer, I know quickly whether a retail staff member is knowledgeable about the product. If not, I’ll likely either not buy or buy elsewhere.
I’ve also been interested to see how staff members who are not knowledgeable often avoid approaching a potential buyer and shy away from asking those good, open-ended questions. When the retail staff member is knowledgeable, consumers will likely take more time to shop and reveal more about their needs, vastly improving the chances for the sale and the win for both the store and the consumer.
Can a well-trained, caring, knowledgeable staff person make a positive difference in selling Bibles? Of course, we all know it. But does that person make enough difference to justify the investment in training and coaching? I suggest that the investment in training and coaching will pay off.
Once trained, the staff person will gain confidence and be excited about the chance to help put God’s Word in the hands of their customers. Those who receive this training will also likely become a Bible adviser for life, whether in Christian retailing or outside of the industry. People at church will ask their advice, and they’ll likely have the passion and the knowledge to help the Bible cause for years to come.
While product knowledge about Bibles is a key factor, one cannot overlook other factors as well. Does the staff person have a certain level of confidence and solid people skills to engage potential buyers in a conversation? Can they be taught to ask good, open-ended questions and then listen? Does the staff person regularly read the Bible? These and other factors should play into whom to train and how much time to invest in Bible training.
USE AVAILABLE TOOLS
Perhaps the most technical need within Bible training is product knowledge. Defining features, explaining translation philosophy, discussing cover options and the like is where we as publishers can help.
HarperCollins Christian Publishing (HCCP) has recently launched a new and innovative web-based training program designed to educate retail staff members in product knowledge and Bible-selling techniques. This program details the various translation philosophies, and participants will gain a broader understanding of how study Bibles, devotional Bibles and specialty Bibles all play a role in the faith-journey of their customers.
The program is divided into three learning modules with a fourth in development. They are:
• Bible Translations: Offers a basic understanding of translations, why we need them and how they are crafted.
In addition, HCCP will soon release a resource portal to facilitate additional tools and material to continue the learning process for participants. As we hear from participants about what works and what can be improved, we can then continue to invest and modify the resources available to make it the best program possible for learning how to effectively sell Bibles.
To date, more than 1,500 retail staff members have completed the training program, and we’ve received very positive feedback. As an encouragement for investing the time to complete each module, all training participants receive a $90 grant to select Bible products of their choice from HarperCollins Christian Publishing. What’s more, participants can take advantage of the online training 24/7/365—anytime they are available.
We’re confident that as you implement this training program, you’ll see the benefit from increased sales, higher conversion rates, improved customer loyalty and a more consumer-focused staff. We’re passionate about more sales for all of us, but we’re most passionate about making sure that consumers find the right Bible.
Will you and your staff members log on and participate? We invite you to do so at bibletraining.harpercollinschristian.com/catalog
Christian publishing veteran Doug Lockhart is senior vice president, Bible marketing and outreach at HarperCollins Christian Publishing.