In light of my previous blog, I wanted to further explore how we always give little attention to our internal customers and we end up blaming them for our failures! Yes, I’m talking about the sales team again. I’ve been working in marketing for several different across my career and I have noticed the same recurring issue of ignorance when it comes to product knowledge by the people that are supposed to embrace it the most. In her blog post, “I’m a professional”, Christy highlights the major disappointment she faced as a customer when her “needs” were catered to by a “less” knowledgeable sales rep. I agree with her frustration completely, but as a businessman I the logical question to follow such a disappointment is “Who’s fault is it?”
You walk into a SUBWAY store and you a pleasantly greeted with the smile and the “Welcome to SUBWAY” opening line! So far so good? If you’re a loyal SUBWAY customer, you probably walk in there and make your usual mix of meats and veggies and top it off with your favorite sauce on your favorite bread. Smooth! But what if you’re new to SUBWAY – you walk in and try to make up your own sandwich but you have no idea what goes with what or what South West Chipotle sauce tastes like, or the difference between the 5 or 6 types of breads, etc … your normal reaction as a customer would be to ask for advice: “What would you recommend?” or “How does that taste like?” or “Do you think that goes well with that?” and this is when silence fills up the store and you feel like you are surrounded by blank faces! Forget SUBWAY, let’s move to upscale restaurants, not much difference there – expect for the typical reply from your waiter “the Chef recommends …”. What else could he say – I mean he’s never even tried the food, how could he recommend something he’s completely oblivious about! Just like the Sandwich artist in SUBWAY – she probably has tried one out of the 2 million sandwich combinations – I’m not sure that even translates into a percentage!
Forget the service industry, let’s talk about products. During my job as a brand manager for Elle & Vire (E&V), one of the most successful French, butter, cream and UHT dessert specialists, which included our fruit enriched yogurt. Flavored yogurt was a category that was witnessing impressive annual growth – E&V dominated the market with more than 9 flavors available to choose from. Every six months or so, we used to launch a new flavor into this growing category. We’d do a whole campaign behind it and book primary displays, and fill up the isles with danglers and roll up banners … lots and lots of money used to be spent on new product launches but not a penny on getting the sales people and the rest of the employees to try this new product and be convinced and knowledgeable of what they’re selling! So how do we expect them to be motivated about pushing the product if they don’t believe in it (because they never tried it!)
Empowering the sales team with product/service knowledge directly impacts their performance and hence your bottom line. Before investing in flashy marketing campaigns, marginalize part of that budget for internal product sampling and I can guarantee the repercussions would be exponential. Imagine walking to a SUBWAY restaurant and having the Sandwich Artist tell you that his favorite SUB is usually the Steak & Cheese double stacked with meat & cheese with extra Chipotle Sauce on a Hearty Italian Bread – I actually drooled just by picturing that (it also happens to be my favorite SUB). The reaction as a customer is a feeling of trust and transparency. Just like Chris Brogan says in his book, Trust Agents, “we are currently living in communication environment where there is a Trust Deficit … we have no confidence in advertising” – so you need to feel like the product is not being pushed onto you with phrases like “the Chef recommends …” Empowerment of employees with knowledge allows them to convey trust to your customer. Think About It!