Experience beats data: Why you should listen to front-line salespeople

employee monitoring

Scene Change co-founder and Motivation for Sceptics blogger Ian Whitworth. Source: supplied.

Hello, marketers. What do your front-line people think about your brand?

Brands won’t work unless the whole business is on board. And the acid test is how your staff feel about saying your brand messages out loud.

I was reminded of this when I was sent this savage review of a hip-hop-themed Poke restaurant (do not read if you’re troubled by industrial-strength swearing). There are dishes named after Eminem, Jay-Z and Kendrick, or you can be your own “Mixmaster” by choosing different “flayvas”. Then comes the question of size. Do you want “Biggie” or “Smalls”?

Biggie or smalls?

That is an actual question they make their staff ask customers.

No employee in a civilized society should be made to look customers in the eye and ask that. Particularly not someone on a junior restaurant pay grade.

In reality, they don’t make eye contact. They look down, in an embarrassed way, and mumble it out. The customer gets the clear message that something is not quite right here.

If marketing is just seen as a department in your business, you don’t have a brand. You only have a handful of your staff believing the thrilling brand vision: just the people who wrote it. Everyone else is just ‘yeah, whatever’.

Marketers’ major mistake

It’s partly because marketers tend to regard sales and front-line service people with mild contempt for their lack of a degree, their embroidered shirts or their vulgar urge to design their own email footers in Comic Sans.

Underestimating salespeople is a major mistake, because people who sell things all day soak up a lot of instinctive knowledge about people and what makes them buy. It goes way beyond the ‘female 25-39, AB, family-oriented, lifestyle seeker’ stereotypes that infest office-bound thinking. Good salespeople have near-psychic skills.

When I was writing ads, I liked to spend a lot of time lurking in stores with salespeople, watching them sell the product. The experienced reps would watch and predict exactly what the customer would be looking for, what they would say, and whether they would buy or not.

All before the customer had said a single word. They were usually dead right. The experienced ones just read the non-verbal signals, tuned in by years of winning and losing sales.

Their experience beats your data

Salespeople don’t need to do customer research surveys on your products, because irate customers have complained that information directly to their face. Reps get to see products stress-tested in ways you can’t imagine, by the sort of customers who have trouble with shoelaces. And they keep smiling.

Good front-line people are the essence of all that’s positive about a brand. In most businesses, customers get more involved with your sales and service people than they do with any of your brand campaigns. And those sales and service people, on average, think the marketing people are out-of-touch showponies.

I’ve sat at the back of a lot of sales conferences watching the marketing department do their song and dance while the salespeople nodded off, waiting for the new products bit. The ‘key brand drivers’ and ‘engaging content’ were seen as empty blather that would change when the inevitable new marketing team arrived in a few months.

They’re accountable

Salespeople know about accountability. Marketing people can get away with projects that deliver a zero measurable return, because it created an intangible boost in ‘brand equity’. That may be true, and a legit step on the pathway to profits, but see how a rep would go justifying a month without sales as ‘building relationship equity’.

Getting everyone singing from the same page on your brand is a minor miracle. But it’s so worth doing. When I was developing brands, we would spend half our time working with sales reps, techs, project managers and so forth, trying to find something they’d feel comfortable saying at work.

If it’s not comfortable, they won’t say it. Ever.

The ultimate test of words

Saying words aloud is a great test of whether they’re good enough. I write stuff that feels like solid-gold genius at the time, then read it out the next day and wonder: did chimps break into my laptop overnight and tap out this shameful drivel?

Brands that your whole staff don’t get behind are like fridge magnets, a thin layer of colour and cheap amusement that doesn’t change what’s beneath.

If your brand message rings true for the majority of your staff, chances are it will resonate with clients. It probably answers a genuine issue in people’s lives, rather than some theoretical need spawned in the PowerPoint swamp.

Of the factors that will bring you long-term profits, this one’s … a Biggie.

This article was first published on Motivation for Sceptics. Read the original article.

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Roger Simpson
Roger Simpson
2 years ago

Brilliant article Ian, couldn’t agree more. Too often ideas come from head office that have no chance of working at the front line. My advice fr CEO’s and senior managers is to spend more time in stores talking to the team and to customers, this is where they find out the truth of what’s actually happening.