Years ago manufacturers of retail products had one route – especially for more complex sales of things like luxury watches, cameras, hot tubs - or even flooring.
They would bring in dealers – or call on them directly with knowledgeable sales representatives - and give them all the knowledge they had along with their marketing materials.
Those dealers were to carry the knowledge back from the brand direct to their stores.
From there the retailer would be charged with making sure his or her crew understood all the parameters of the brand from its’ history, to the methods of manufacturing and, of course, all the specifications.
In time these highly knowledgeable retail salespeople became true geniuses when it came to a brand’s products.
Those product knowledge specialists were admired, prized, and rewarded for their tremendous knowledge.
Some even called them brand ambassadors before the phrase was used to include anyone with a smartphone.
How The Times Have Changed
All of that product knowledge …and then some…can now be found online.
Those unique product specs can be judged and reviewed by everyone from the best writer for Mashable to some blogger with Cheetos fingers.
What used to be a retailers’ defining unique selling proposition has become a commodity.
Why That’s A Problem For Retailers-Bob Phibbs
The very things these retailers and brands were built on – product knowledge - are now readily available with a casual Google search.
It Gets Worse
Because those product specialists were used to having people turn to them for the knowledge, instead of them having to engage a customer first, those specialists' soft skills withered.
The very qualities those product geniuses scorned about other employees who were too general about products are now what’s most needed.
In a world where information is everywhere, you need the generalist who can unearth the hidden opportunities BEFORE trying to pitch the features of a product. They help a customer relax and be open to possibilities. They become a trusted advisor who can promise to find the perfect product for that unique individual.
Your salespeople have to be able to connect the specific reasons a customer will find that product the perfect answer to their needs and wants.
And not just vomit a litany of specifications which can make a visitor to their jewelry shop, their camera shop, their flooring store or their hot tub store, feel stupid.
When shopper Rachael comes in looking for product A because Megan’s Boffo Blog said it was the bomb, you need someone who can understand that just because Rachael asked for it – especially if you don’t have it – doesn’t mean you can’t get the sale.
Your specialists can actually prevent the shopper who was interested enough to drive out of their way to your brick and mortar store looking to buy what you sell.
That’s because when a shopper meets a specialist, that specialist’s inherent knowledge can add complexity. They can offer too many choices and features.
In essence they can make the simple, more complex.
They’ll ask a cluster of questions trying to analyze exactly what the customer wants. While that might work well if I’m comparing a Nikon D800 to a Canon EOS Mark III, it’s too soon in the sales process for that.
Think of it like the guy who knows all about the ins and outs of a complex board game but exhibits none of the fun of actually playing the game.
Also, specialists without a good foundation of retail sales training can’t pivot and keep an interaction jargon-free.
Think of it like a salesperson who can identify all the points about what makes a diamond special without first connecting to how it will make the wearer feel.
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About the Author
Since 1994 companies worldwide have turned to Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor® for the proven expertise necessary to grow their sales. An American retail expert, Phibbs has been engaged as a motivational speaker on retail, a luxury retail sales trainer, author, franchiser and customer service champion.
He is frequently called on to provide commentary on Marketing and Branding for MSNBC, FOX and others. His clients include some of the largest retail brands in the world including Bernina, Caesars Palace, Chopard, Hunter Douglas, Lego, Omega, Hearts on Fire, Husqvarna, Tommy Bahama, Vera Bradley and Yamaha.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author. CPSA does not endorse any of the companies, products and services mentioned within this article.