Hi, Welcome to the New Role of a Salesperson

Technology is magnificent. It has done wonders to reduce our costs and create impeccable customer experiences. What it lacks, however, is the one thing that we can so easily provide — human interaction.

Traditionally, retailers create a product or a service and sell it through a certain channel of distribution. The ‘what’ has to be great and the ‘where’ has to be convenient.

Today, the ‘what’ and the ‘where’ are one of the same — the product, service, and channel are all part of an equal experience. The variety of elements involved in creating that experience is what will put one retail company ahead of another.

There is the design element of a “cool” channel of distribution, whether that be an epically architected store or an easily navigated website. Then there is the value element of providing the shopper with the economically relatable best ‘bang for their buck’. Lastly, is the element of a personalized experience. Not necessarily in the sense of being bespoke, but in providing simple human interaction.

Look beyond the trend of using big data to create a more customized experience — we need to go back to the pre-industrial revolution era and build relationships with our customers.

I walked into a store a few weeks ago in search for a new pair of shorts. The second I stepped foot inside the door, the salesperson asked me how my day was going. Simple, yet it started a conversation. We ended up chatting about New York (I was out of town), my impression of the brand and even her aspirations. I’ve never had such a personal interaction with someone in a store.

About 20 minutes later I was walking out with a new pair of shorts and a few shirts. Not because she sold them to me, but because I felt so comfortable in the store that I kept browsing. Most importantly, I had never shopped there before and had no idea what the brand was like, yet I walked out loving it.

The best part about it was that it felt real. I felt like I had made a friend, and not been deceived by a salesperson. And in all reality, I did; we exchanged contact information and she has since reached out to get my advice on what to do in NYC.

This is not a way of saying you need actors as salespeople. What you need are people who are real, who actually care about helping shoppers find what they’re looking for, and who make them comfortable.

It made me realize something key to the business of retail, and the role of people as customer facing representatives; we need them.

I’ll admit I’m not the first to realize it. We constantly talk about he trend of eCommerce brands opening up brick and mortar shops. What we don’t talk about is that they aren’t just doing it to allow the shopper to ‘feel’ and ‘see’ the brand, they are doing it because having real humans as part of that brand is essential to building a lasting relationships with their shoppers.

In a simple analogy, swiping right is not a sustainable model. You may be able to shop for some things with an instantaneous mind set, but when there are so many options, a three lined description of what you offer is not going to make you stand out. On the other hand, if shoppers can meet you in person and learn about what you have to offer beyond those three lines, well… you may just have a chance of making things work.

Take the stereotypical e-commerce to brick and mortar example of Warby Parker. We all know their stores have increased the brand presence and allowed shoppers to interact with the product. In addition to that, the various humans throughout the store allow shoppers to joke about what glasses make them look crazy, tell that story about the time they went to an awful optometrist, or complain about their shitty insurance that doesn’t cover eye-care.

Let’s compare that to the e-commerce giant, Amazon. It’s the definition of convenience, powerhouse of variety, and respected globally. However, it doesn’t attract shoppers, it attracts buyers. It’s a clear example of retail that works brilliantly from the fulfillment aspect, but for those of us who are still on the hunt, it makes it incredibly difficult to be efficiently educated in our decision-making. Not to mention, the inability to enjoy the activity of shopping itself.

At the end of the day, we both know that a fancy app could answer any questions we might have about a product or quite possibly in the near future tell us information like our prescription. What makes real people so important to retail is the fact that they are there to illustrate the humanity within the brand.

There is a famous HBR article that discusses the importance of finding a transient advantage. In a world where almost any resources is mutually available across companies, how do we develop a competitive advantage that actually lasts?

In today’s technology driven age, a big part of that is going to be making that humanity evident to your shopper.

This may be through the people that represent your brand, in an opinion that you vocalize on a regular basis, or the questions and concerns you express towards your customers in order to show that you want to get to know them as much as they do you.

The role of a salesperson hasn’t gone away, but it has changed. They no longer exist to simply push a sale, but rather to be the shopper’s listener, critic, and advisor.