Ask employers if sales advisor turnover negatively affects their business, and a majority say YES! Ask luxury retailers, and the number climbs toward 100 percent. Retention of high-performing sales advisors is high-end brick-and-mortar’s biggest challenge today.

Over the past decade, I’ve trained and coached thousands of retail managers and sales advisors. I’ve seen the churn up close. Retention can be a managerial issue if the following are true:

  • Managers default to the way they were managed in the past
  • Over-reliance on positional power over personal power
  • Managers blame Millennial/Gen Z behavior and generational attitudes

What we see is that higher pay doesn’t solve the problem. Retention is often a measure of how much managers communicate care and provide individualized reinforcement to the sales advisor. It requires redefining the job in terms of relationship and service.

Your Customers Aren’t Your Only Customers

What happens when we treat sales advisors like valued customers? Their behavior reflects it. If you want happy clients who love coming into your store, you need happy employees who love working there.

If you want happy clients who love coming into your store, you need happy employees who love working there. 

While this may seem obvious, this is not on the radar of many managers. They manage as they were managed, through positional power, not realizing that the dynamic has changed to one of personal power. Consider the parallel: a sales advisor’s position no longer ensures influence with customers (the sales advisor must show value by helping customers find things they can’t find for themselves). Likewise, managers who believe their power is positional instead of personal will find it challenging to develop relationships with the members of their sales teams.

In customer relationships, I stress three key factors: authenticity, personalization, and relevance – all essential in retaining today’s sales advisors as well. It can take 6-12 months for luxury sales advisors to reach proficiency in their roles, so increased retention goes straight to ROI – but without authentic relationships with managers, they’re unlikely to last that long.

What Doesn’t Work?

I’ve observed four managerial behaviors that frustrate sales teams and cause high turnover:

1) Lack of Personal Attention

When sales advisors feel ignored, they ignore their jobs. That can happen on big sales teams or small. Remember, younger generations are brought up to expect personal attention. One sales advisor at a luxury boutique told me, “My boss doesn’t even know my birthday!”

2) Over-Reliance on Criticism

The same sales advisor said, “My boss only tells me what I’m doing wrong and rarely tells me I did something right.” Many managers feel their job is to correct employee mistakes, forgetting that constant criticism makes for sullen, unengaged workers. Sales advisors treat the customer in much the same way that they are treated by management. What kind of customer relationships do you want? Recognize even the small positives, giving reasons for why they were done well and citing their impact. This will provide the motivation sales advisors need to be expressive and engaged with today’s luxury customers.

Empathy is an amplifier for active listening. 

3) Lack of Empathy

Empathy is an amplifier for active listening. You would never tune out a customer expressing a need or sharing a story. Be curious about your people. Empathetic listening can reveal the sales advisor’s unique motivations. This, in turn, models how their own empathy can draw out what luxury customers want.

4) One-Size-Fits-All Motivation

This plays out as both a lack of personalized feedback or recognition, and a tendency to blame Millennial/Gen Z attitudes (“entitled” or “unmotivated”) for declining sales. Managers must own their role and understand what matters most to each individual employee. While some sales advisors respond to better pay, some simply want to excel, to be number one. Others love being brand ambassadors, or part of a great team. The manager’s job is not to motivate – it’s to inspire at a personal level so that the sales advisors can motivate themselves.

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

The bad news is, you can’t just raise sales advisor pay and get inspired results. That’s also good news. What works doesn’t directly involve pay increases. 

21st-century managerial skills need to include ways to manage with meaning, agency, and appreciation.

Instead, it involves helping managers make the transition from positional power to personal power. This requires a change in mindset and the acquisition of 21st-century managerial skills, including ways to manage with meaning, agency, and appreciation.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to subscribe to the RelationshipFIRST® Newsletter for our monthly insights from the field.

Martin Shanker is founder and president of Shanker Inc., a New York-based global consultancy deploying its Relationship FIRST® Method for luxury retailers and brands to develop their sales teams with a focus on neurosciences, emotional intelligence, and behavior-based training. Clients include Burberry, Cartier, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, LVMH, Lane Crawford, Tod’s and Van Cleef & Arpels. Reach him at