Product and promo knowledge won’t make the sale
Excluding grocery and convenience stores, think of your most common shopping experience.
Here’s mine: upon entering the store, a sales professional is positioned behind the counter, on the point-of-sale computer. In my experience, half of the time, the sales professional looks up and provides some form of acknowledgement of my presence in the store. Next, comes the beloved “brand introduction” with questions like, “Have you ever visited _______ before, etc.” Some take the promotional approach: “Just so you know, _______ is 50 percent off today.”
Retailers need to ask themselves if canned talking points require a human to utter them? Are we developing associates to be chatbots or true retail sales professionals that have the ability to connect with customers and solve problems?
In his book, “The Four,” Prof. Scott Galloway highlights one of the outcomes of being globally over-retailed, combined with the rise of Amazon: “Consumers no longer go to stores for products, which are easier to get from Amazon. They go to stores for people/experts.”
As consumers have little reason to drive to their nearest shopping center for a purchase that Alexa could fulfill, why is product or promotional knowledge the primary form of training that associates receive? One could argue it’s another form of business school thinking gone bad: products and promotions generate revenue, so therefore — “Duh.”
That false equivalency, as I see it, seeks an outcome without any consideration towards the drivers of said outcome.
There’s a reason why developed sales professionals can jump from selling high-end chocolate to fine jewelry to high fashion without missing a performance beat. They have either the natural talent (unscalable art) or have been developed with the scalable science of selling to connect with customers on an interpersonal level. They have the nonverbal and verbal communication skills that build trust and positively influence a customer’s experience. Neither Alexa or an in-store robot can do that. So, why aren’t building these skills on a retailer’s education curriculum?
The future, Prof. Scott writes, requires retailers to zig as Amazon zags. There are plenty of examples of retailers doing so via the deepest engagement channel that exists in retail: the store.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Where does the development of interpersonal skills (e.g., picking up on verbal and non-verbal cues) stand with the training of sales associates at retail? Are there retail chains you can point to who organizationally “get” the need to hire and develop associates who understand the role of interpersonal skills as part of the job?