Know how it feels to have been somebody’s #1 and find yourself sliding out of sight, out of mind? If not, just ask a luxury retail sales associate.
The #1 influencer in customers’ decisions used to be the knowledgeable, assured sales associate. Suddenly, the sales associate is #3. First is the inner circle: friends. The second ring? Social influencers’ reviews. The average sales associate is losing influence. And there’s no room for average in high-end retail.
That doesn’t mean luxury retailers can’t reclaim influence. Many, though, are trying to reclaim it through in-store technology, celebrity endorsements, and joint venture co-branding.
Those are short-term solutions. Loss of influence is the cause of retail’s long-term challenge: attracting new customers to luxury stores and bringing them back again.
That takes extraordinary sales teams. It takes relationship expertise. In a world where the power has shifted almost entirely to the customer, it takes the ability to connect on a deeper level. To be influencers, sales associates must be perceived by customers as helping them find things they could not have found on their own.
Customers come into stores today thinking they don’t need sales associates in the same way – if at all. The currency has changed, and many salespeople have not noticed. This is less about product knowledge than social and cultural acumen. Developing these capabilities takes work.
On selling floors in the U.S., Europe and Asia, where I train and coach sales teams for premier luxury brands, I see salespeople miss social cues as they download “product stories” before customers express any interest in the product. The old ways of selling are obstacles to the rapport and relationship that today’s customers expect.
Changing sales associate behavior doesn’t just mean more sales, but more humanity: more empathy and authenticity. It’s like being a good date: listening, really experiencing the other person. And this is speed dating. Sales associates have to connect quickly, or customers are gone. Don’t lead with selling. That comes later. Lead with empathy. Rapport leads to more sales.
Suffice it to say that in 2022, retailers will stand or fall, not on tech or Big Data or product knowledge, but on the customer experience that only influence and relevance can create.
For now, forget customer experience. To ensure sales associates do not become obsolete, build the expertise that enables them to experience customers. Then watch your sphere of influence and sales grow exponentially.
Martin Shanker is the President of Shanker Inc, a global consultancy working with luxury brands developing sales teams to stay relevant in these evolving times. Clients include Burberry, Cartier, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, LVMH, Lane Crawford, Tod’s, Van Cleef & Arpels and many other luxury brands.