The Selling Ceremony Has Gone Obsolete. What Now?
by Christophe Cais
Founder and CEO at Customer Experience Group and Forbes Council member
This article was originally published on Forbes.
Let me start with a story -- one that tells of changing times and practices failing to keep up.
A few months back, I was in the store of a well-known luxury brand, looking for a tie. A sales assistant approached and began telling me the brand story. I must admit it irked me since I was in a rush that day and in no mood for this particular talk. After I chose my tie, she asked if I wanted to see a matching shirt, to which I replied, “Of course. Do you have any in my size?” I’m 6’6” tall, so I knew the answer. Blushing, she answered in the negative.
This little episode is an example of a scripted selling ceremony. The sales assistant followed the rules, laying the brand story on me and attempting to sell me an additional item. What she failed to consider was who stood in front of her and the customer’s timing.
Thus, we come to the moral of this story: The selling ceremony, like many other conventions in business, served a purpose at some point but is now a thing of the past.
The Reason For The Invention
The selling ceremony came to be at a time when brands were rapidly expanding their retail footprint. In those days, it was admittedly the best way to ensure some level of consistency across all stores. What ultimately proved the undoing of this ritual was the fact that it was based on what the brand wanted to tell customers, not what customers wanted or needed to know.
The Problem With Selling Ceremonies
When luxury brand stores (or any stores, for that matter) impose a set of rules on their employees and expect them to be followed day in and day out, they should be prepared for robotic behaviors to emerge. A selling ceremony brings rigidity to the interaction and kills authenticity. Let me explain.
With a selling ceremony, you usually have a process broken down into chronologically arranged steps: do this first, then move to that, follow with a third, etc. True, some things must happen at the right time, but prioritizing chronology breaks the flow of natural conversation. Would you want to have the same conversation every time you met someone? This is what happens with a selling ceremony, as a result of which authenticity flies out the window.
Aiming for a sale is all very well, but a choreographed service leaves little, if any, place for emotions. I see the selling ceremony as the opposite of empowerment, as an arrangement that represents managing through a process.
A New Breed Of Customers
I think you will agree that words matter. When we talk about selling, most of us tend to talk about the product first. But this is the age of people first, be they team members or customers. A selling ceremony makes shifting product the objective, but a sale is only a consequence.
Speaking of people first, no luxury brand can endure unless it accepts that customers have changed, and then act accordingly. To begin with, the luxury store clientele is younger. We have shoppers who are digitally savvy, which means they have usually already done their research and know plenty about the brand and its products before they even set foot in a store. Most importantly, we have a retail world in which customers crave authenticity.
Given the profound changes in the luxury retail universe, brands should consider promoting a principle-based approach. It involves starting with what the customer wants and shifting the focus to building the relationship. This, in turn, requires selecting the way in which a luxury brand wants to stand out, which essentially boils down to how it wants to make customers feel when they interact with it.
Since the point is to do away with the rigid selling ceremony, this raises the question of how luxury brands should retrain their people to rise to the new occasion. The answer? They will have to focus on teaching the core skills and behaviors needed to build relationships with others.
The main thing to remember is that business is driven by emotions and relationships. Let your people deliver an experience based on who they are. Authenticity and genuineness will win the day for any luxury brand.