In the last blog (titled Shark Theory) we discussed the difficulties of driving customers to your store and the fact that increasing customer traffic requires using a multiple media approach for reaching and attracting new clients. In this blog, we’ll look at another important ingredient in the recipe that is your “Store as a Retail Experience.” That next important ingredient is of course, your staff, or as I like to call these invaluable players in the “Store as a Retail Experience,” the Brand Advocate!

It really is all about People

Just like in designing your store and developing a marketing strategy, the way you staff your store and who you choose to be on your team, has to be done with the customer in mind and, as much as possible, from the customer’s perspective. Because just having a cutting edge, inviting design isn’t enough in today’s competitive, consumer run environment. Even the best designed stores cannot overcome poor staffing and poor staff performance. And, just having great marketing strategies that drive customers in droves isn’t enough either. In fact, the right team of people can, to a great extent, overcome a poorly designed and inventoried store and make “sales magic,” while a poor performing staff will cancel out a great floor plan, good marketing and all of your efforts at differentiation and delivering an amazing customer experience – that’s what I call “Sales Prevention!”

It would be easy at this point to beat the proverbial dead horse that passes for today’s average (defined as “terrible”) retail experience. I could describe the events I have seen, re-tell the stories I’ve heard and even confess to that one time I was an active contributor to a poor customer experience – hey, I was young and inexperienced! I could do that and we would all get a good chuckle and say “that would never happen in my store,” but I won’t put us through that. I want you to keep coming back for more, so instead…

I’d like to talk about something positive. I want to talk about the type of staff that makes the experience “irresistibly different,” keeps your customers coming back to you and more importantly, turns those customers into promoters that are constantly telling all of their friends, acquaintances and everyone they meet all about the great time they had in your store. Let’s talk about what all of these folks, these “Brand Advocates,” have in common.

The Brand Advocate

As a business improvement consultant, I’ve spent lots of time “profiling” the best sales people to determine what is in their make up that they all share. The best sales people all make sales (a Captain Obvious moment – sorry), but it’s not just closing ability or aggressiveness. Today’s customer doesn’t take kindly to “being closed.” The profile I am talking about includes a combination of learned skills that are applied almost like a job description coupled with an innate ability to read the customer and act on the messages they are receiving.

Learned Skills: The Job Description part of it

The Experience Engineer is highly successful by focusing on 4 primary functions. These functions are:

-Product Knowledge: Technical expert, Product story-teller, Inventory Knowledge and Selection Specialist

-Romance Enhancer: Keen to learn their customer’s story and then can re-tell in a way that gets their customer to see the magic of their own fairy tale romance (this is cool stuff)

-Selection Specialist: A true matchmaker, finding the right item for the customer in front of them

-Customer Relationship Guru: Long before computer technology, the rolodex, the card file, heck the Dewey Decimal system (look it up), Brand Advocates have all been able to maintain a loyal customer base by simply staying in touch with their customers not only when it was time to buy, but especially when it wasn’t.

The Innate Nature of the Brand Advocates: The stuff that’s tough, if not impossible, to teach

Near equal amounts of Drive and Empathy are central ingredients that the very best sales people possess. These folks have the “Drive” to deliver the Ideal Experience and the “Empathy” to understand the customer’s version of what that Ideal Experience should be. While “drive” can be tested for – and there are many predictive indexes out there that claim to do so – no test that I know of exists to measure Empathy. The way to get a gauge on a potential staff member’s level of empathy is at the behavioral phase of the interview process.

Finally, we come to Chemistry. You can teach your team to build rapport, but Chemistry goes far beyond the “rapport” the typical sales trainer talks about establishing. While rapport is formal, “Chemistry” is a “state of being” between people. It’s an effortless harmony where the flow of the conversation is unrehearsed, unscripted and totally satisfying – without even noticing it. It would be irresponsible of me to say that Brand Advocates can create chemistry with everyone… that’s just not true. However, the true Brand Advocate seems to “match” more people than the typical sales person and “chemistry” just seems to happen almost every time they get in front of their client.

So there you have it. Your store design has to be crafted using the customer’s desires as the lens. Your marketing efforts have to take place where the customers are and speak in the language they speak and now we know that the staff you put in your store should be more than just a sales staff… they need to be “Brand Advocates!”

Thanks to everyone that has supported the “Store as a Retail Experience” project and for all of the kind words and helpful feedback. If you have suggestions or you would like to hear about specific topics, please e-mail me at Until next time, run your “Store as a Retail Experience.”

– John