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Sales teams are at the core of your customer experience

29th August 2017

There is something funny I experience quite often when I visit stores: I enter, browse around, and nobody talks to me. After a few minutes, I start to get bored to be alone, and I just leave the store…and when I do, the sales advisor looks at me with a big smile and tells me “goodbye and thank you for coming”, and he seems very happy to see me go…And that makes me wonder: why are salespeople so happy to see their customers walk out the door? After all, the brand most likely spent millions in advertising to get me there, they even opened a store in an expensive part of the city to welcome me there, and there are beautiful products for me to choose from…So what’s going on here?

I am pretty sure that if I speak to the CEO of this brand he would tell me how much he cares for his clients and that customer experience is at the heart of his strategy.

Yet, here I am, feeling more welcome to leave the store than to stay inside.

Why? What’s going on?

We have a people problem.

At the end of the day, any strategy depends on the employee’s willingness to execute it, with enthusiasm. The decision to become a customer experience centric company is an excellent one, but it cannot be a top-down decision, it’s a transformation that needs the sales advisors to be on board. They are often the “forgotten ones” when we talk about customer experience. And yet, they spend most of their day in the store interacting with clients. My guess is that they know a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. However, what we have seen here and there are brands who design a new customer experience without even talking to the sales people and then come to the store once it’s all done to tell them what they need to do from now on. Let’s read between the lines:

•  You (the sales advisor) might be spending thousands of hours per year with clients. We (the managers who spend most of our time in our office) know better than you when it comes to what the customer wants and that is why we did not consult with you to design this approach.

•  What you have been doing until now was wrong, how could you not even realize it?

•  Here is the new way to do things the right way. Just do it.

What are the odds to see this new customer experience initiative succeed? I would say it’s quite unlikely.

What is missing?

As I said before, the execution of any strategy depends on the willingness of the employees to execute it. Some might think that this is easily solved by spending a little bit of money to incentivize people to adopt the behavior you expect them to have. It only works for a while. Like caffeine, this approach doesn’t last long and you always need more.

The missing component is the emotional part of the strategy. Unless people understand why they need to do something, they won’t do it or won’t do it well.

For example, you can request your sales advisor to smile at every customer who enters the store, which is indeed very important. But they won’t do it or do it well unless:

•  They understand why it matters (because it creates value for the customer)

•  They believe it matters

•  They agree it is their responsibility

•  They know how to make it happen

•  They want to do it

•  They are proud to do it

If you throw money at the problem, you will get more people to comply for a while but you will not reach their heart and soul, you will most likely get a fake smile… and the client will feel it.

Unless you have sale’s teams that are empowered, happy on the job and engaged, you will not be able to deliver a unique and memorable customer experience.

Why does it matter so much? After all, we have lived most of our lives with a rather average customer experience everywhere, and many brands did well for themselves despite this.

Well, things have changed. Customers are now well informed, connected, aware and most importantly, they have a choice.

Because of that, customer experience is the new battlefield. It is where brands will keep, win or lose their customers.

In this context, the traditional transactional model appears to be broken. A store is a place where a transaction must take place, nearly at all cost. The sales advisor either ignores you or pushes you to buy, he thinks short term. Everything is designed around this ultimate objective: KPI, commissions scheme, selling ceremony…For the brand, it’s all about being consistent by delivering a steady level of service to avoid complaints. In a nutshell, it’s pretty annoying.

I say it is broken because this is no longer what the client wants. Actually, when we think about a conversion rate of 20% we often say it’s good. Well, I have a hard time understanding how failing 80% of the time represents some sort of success…So long for the transactional model, rest in peace…

The new model is based on emotions and relationships. In this model, a store is no longer a place where the transaction needs to happen no matter what. The role of the sales advisor is no longer to close the deal at all costs but to build a relationship with the customer. Obviously, I’m not saying that the sales team should no longer sell, but the act of selling is the result of having established a relationship with the customer, not the other way around.

Coming back to our conversion rate, in the transactional model, we look at the 80% we didn’t sell. We should see if we have the customer contact information and can continue a conversation after he or she left the store. This is what matters. In this model, the store is a touch point, an important one, but not the final one. The transaction might be taking place later in that same store, online or at the duty-free store at the airport. It raises questions about recruitment criteria, KPI, commissions schemes. It forces us to ask ourselves what kind of emotions we want to deliver at every touch point, and how we keep the conversation going.

Moving forward, chances are that there will be fewer stores than today. Brands will have larger stores in iconic locations delivering an immersive experience to the customers. It means that brands will need to sell as much, I suspect it will be more, with fewer points of sales, less square meters and fewer sales people. How? By selling online for sure but also by selling differently, leveraging on the relationship their teams have developed with their customers.

Remember that this is a long journey. It will require patience, dedication, and commitment. Throughout this journey, we will sometimes have to un-learn what we know, before we can learn again and move forward. Let’s also remember that nothing can be done without the sales advisor. Our success depends on them."