The Sales Staff as Marketing Tool
By Lew Brown
With the recent move by Circuit City to eliminate commissioned sales people, the third largest CE retailer has joined the rest of the top 10, as well as the majority of our industry, in selling products at retail without the aid of commissioned sales people. As non-commissioned selling becomes standard industry practice, the specialty dealer's emphasis on knowledgeable sales help — usually commissioned — has become an increasingly important point of differentiation.
Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Sears and other giant retailers have publicly announced their desire to sell the higher-end products and services that are currently the mainstay of the specialty retailer, like HDTV and plasma. To sweeten the deal for their customers, they're gearing up to full in-home delivery and installation services. When these amenities are no longer protected turf for the independent operator or regional specialty chain, how can they profitably compete? By protecting and building on the last bastion of differentiation, one that the mass merchants have clearly given up on — the investment in high quality, well paid, well-trained sales people.
With the bulk of the industry moving away from investing in people, and moving instead toward investment in fixtures, signage, display, and in-store marketing vehicles to facilitate the purchase process, the human connection becomes the remaining value differentiation that the specialty retailer can consistently deliver. These retailers must not only market to and service customers that expect this level of service, but also use this unique advantage to create the interest, enthusiasm, education and excitement for products and technologies.
What are the key elements that specialty dealers must teach their team to create a great consumer sales experience?
1. To truly engage and care about customers. This has to translate from rhetoric to reality. You cannot always teach people to care, but you can recruit with that in mind and set the example, and communicate the standard by how you treat personnel and all of your constituents.
2. To take the time to listen and learn as much as possible about the customer and their lifestyle. For virtually everyone, buying consumer electronics is not about hardware and price. It is about a Friday night movie with friends by the fireplace, a romantic dinner with a significant other, memories of youth and children, a motivating workout, and all of the other life experiences that we associate with entertainment. By connecting with customers at this level, the purchase transcends the boundaries of price and product, and becomes an enhancement to the customer's lifestyle.
3. Show solutions, don't talk about them. Pointing to merchandise and telling a customer why it will fulfill his or her needs, is not even half the job. What the specialist is selling can only be truly appreciated when they give their customers the experience through demonstration.
4. Inspire the imagination. Customers frequently either don't understand or have never been exposed to the potential of what new products and technologies can deliver. Don't short-change them. Show them the possibilities in terms how those technologies can fit into their lives and their aspirations.
5. Never talk jargon! Features must always have a direct real-world benefit to the customer. Rattling off specs and technical terms to sound like an "expert" might titillate some customers, but will likely alienate many others. Let the product's ability to fulfill the customer's lifestyle needs be the key driver in the sales dialogue. Once these essentials are adopted they need to be reinforced with the ARC support program — Access, Respect and Communication.
Training is not just a matter of product information, but actual sales training. Its the skill of teaching your team how to open, qualify and ask the right questions to make the customer happy and make the sale. Role-playing, as well as sharing techniques and best practices, are all fundamental tools that sales people should be able to access. There has to be easy access to infor-mation, both for what the store is selling, as well as what the competition sells and what neither sells. Put processes in place for easily retrievable, updated product and technology information.
It's essential that the business nurture a culture of respect — for customers, for the brand, for competitors, and for the job that the salespeople are doing. Institute dress and grooming standards, because the number one marketing vehicle is the sales person. Your store has a brand image, and the salespeople have to represent your brand. It's also important to respect the competition. Disparaging them puts a salesperson, and by extension, the store, in a bad light and erodes credibility with a consumer.
Communicate clearly and often. Even the best staff can flounder without direction. The clearer the business is about its mission and goals, the easier it is for salespeople to execute to that vision. Listen to the staff, too, as communication is a 360-degree process. The staff is talking to the customers every day, and have a lot to teach those who are willing to pay attention. Ensure there is an on-going mechanism for feedback that is acknowledged and rewarded.
Reputation, brand image and referral are all cornerstones to successful marketing. The well-rewarded sales person is the most effective tool you can develop to deliver your message and increase your sales.
Lew Brown is a Principal of Percipient Solutions LLC, and has worked on projects for Safeway, Gemini Industries, Monster Cable, Sharp Electronics, Best Buy and others. He can be reached at email@example.com