As I was shopping the other day I had a floor salesman approach me at REI asking if needed help with anything. I proceeded to tell him that I was interested in a backpacking pack and the respective brand that I was interested in. As our conversation went on we talked about my trips I had done and where I was heading next, all the while he was continuing to help me get fitted and sized for my pack. After the sizing was complete he told me how to purchase my pack online as they did not have my size at the store, and then he sent me on my way. This experience solidified the way I believe we should sell in retail, focusing on people not products. Let’s talk.
I work for an electrical distributor in which we offer different products and services to our customers through branch locations all over the world. We continually focus on how to improve these services and how we can beat our competition, some of whom are other distributors while others are retail locations such as Lowes or Home Depot. I think the problem that we face is that not only are we focusing on how to beat the competition; we are not focusing on our people. I think the main difference between a Lowes and our company is the way that we sell. We utilize our people as technical resources that have an in depth knowledge of our product and applications. While in a retail store such as Home Depot, the average employee is an hourly teenager that knows locations of products, but not an in depth look at a specific product family.
This is what happened at REI and why retailer’s such as REI are so successful. Their people are what they focus on. The sales force within the company does not just push a product line or something that we do not want as a customer. They align with what you are saying and adjust accordingly. Their sales teams are knowledgeable in products, but also in experience. They use this experience to guide your buying decision to the best fit for you, and not just a specific brand. Good retailers sell their people, not their products. This is why retail still exists in a world of online and virtual selling. As a company you must not forget that what separates you from an Amazon or EBay is the people in your store, not the products on your shelves.
We often lose sight of this in sales and sales management. We have management continually driving down specific vendors to sales teams to push for some type of bonus or kickback to that manager. Instead we need to be focusing on how we can improve our experience for the customer through our people by giving them the proper training and development that they need. Products are just accessories to our people.
In the book The 12 Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James Harter they talk about a survey given to companies surrounding employee engagement and satisfaction. They pull our 12 major themes for managers to work on with their employees. I have been reading this book and I can see that it has a great outline for managers. I think it could be a great foundation for companies to start giving to their managers to stop focusing on products and start focusing on people.
In our everyday lives we are all in sales, whether you’re selling an idea to be implemented internally or out talking to customers in a retail setting. We need to begin to push our people in retail. As the physical store becomes obsolete, the only way we can grow our respective businesses is to acknowledge our difference, which is not the products we carry it is the people we employ. The sooner we can invest more time and money into our people, the more optimistic we can be about our future.