In considering your sales associates’ role in representing your store brand, it’s essential to understand what a brand is. It’s not a name, a building, or a product. It’s a promise that’s publicly conveyed to customers at every point of contact. Your sales associates represent your store to the public and are responsible for delivering on that promise consistently.
While it’s fairly easy to ensure consistency in a product, it’s more difficult with people. They have off days and—being human—can make mistakes and exercise poor judgment in everything from choice of words to choice of attire. To get your team to function consistently as flag bearers for your store and ensure that every customer enjoys the full experience of your brand promise, you need three essential components: well-defined, clearly articulated standards; consistent, ongoing training; and focused, effective leadership.
Setting standards requires leadership and communication skills. It also requires that you have a vision for your store and a mission to help get you get there.
• Explain your vision to your staff. Tell them what you hope to achieve through your business efforts. They must understand your ultimate objective and know exactly what they’re signing up for.
• Work with them to determine—in specific terms—the level of performance needed to transform the vision into reality. This is your mission statement, which, contrary to popular belief, is about what you do, not what you hope to do.
• Define your store’s core values. These are the non-negotiable tenets that set the standard for the service and experience your customers have a right to expect. These core values will help you define policy in areas ranging from the sales process to the dress code. Bailey’s Fine Jewelry, in Raleigh, N.C., went through this process, which gave the employees a sense of purpose. Their mission and values document (titled “Bailey’s Roadmap for Success”) was reprinted as a small, folding pocket pamphlet. All Baileys’ sales associates carry theirs at all times and live by it more consistently than in many other stores I’ve seen.
A well-crafted and organized training program is essential for consistent delivery of your brand promise. Training is the development of skills. It isn’t just having an associate read a book or watch a video and pass a test. A good training program involves information, interaction, coaching, and practice. You’ll get the greatest return on your training investment by following these guidelines:
• Use the right raw material. It’s easy to teach information to someone with drive, commitment, and motivation but impossible to teach drive, commitment, and motivation to anyone—even the most knowledgeable person—whose heart isn’t in it. Observe your staff’s day-to-day behavior and attitude toward you, your customers, and your store to ensure they’re committed to your vision, mission, and values. If not, part as friends and hire new people with goals and views compatible with yours.
• Build your orientation program for new hires around key components of your store-brand promise. All new hires should go through it, regardless of prior experience. This orientation lets a new employee learn what you expect while letting you assess the level of skill and knowledge that person brings to you.
• Use proven programs for essential product knowledge. An example is the Diamond Council of America’s Diamonds and Colored Gemstones courses. All your people should take the courses at the same time (using lessons as the foundation for weekly training meetings). It’s a great way to launch a new program in the store, while ensuring all your people have the same knowledge.
• Make regular training meetings mandatory for your whole staff. Ongoing learning is essential to growth; even the most experienced employees should want to learn more and improve their craft. Weekly meetings are best.
• Tie training topics to your store’s brand promise. You can’t talk about that too much. Use plenty of discussion and role play in your training, so your employees can experience and discuss practical applications. Practicing on each other is far more cost-effective than practicing on your customers.
The hallmark of a great leader is the ability to make his or her vision a shared vision. Getting your people to understand where you want to go, and then carefully selecting the ones who want to go there—for the right reasons—is the essence of building your store brand.
• Understand your own communication style—and your employees’. Customize your delivery for maximum effectiveness. Tell them what you want—sincerely and honestly—and what you expect from them.
• Discover the value of managing the objective instead of the process. Learn to enhance and direct the creative energy of your team (rather than their precise steps in getting a job done), while keeping the needs of your business and customers at the forefront. The result will be an innovation culture, with a more creatively inspired staff, increased sales, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and greater profit for your business.
• Nurture a strong team. Capitalize on the strengths of its individuals in a coordinated effort toward a common goal. Know where your own strengths lie and where you need to rely on your team. Lead by example. Constantly demonstrate the behavior that defines your brand promise, reinforcing what you expect from employees. Put incentives for individuals’ contributions to team success into your store’s compensation plan and into your performance review structure.
Those who work under a store-brand banner should do so for one reason: They believe in the vision, mission, and values of the company and those who run it. If they’re all committed to the same goals and operating from that commitment—rather than simply complying with a set of rules—you’re far more likely to get consistency in representation of your store brand.
A customer never leaves your store unaffected. Your store brand is either enhanced or diminished at every point of customer contact—and most of those contacts are with your employees.