by Abe Sherman – CEO, BIG – Buyers Intelligence Group

May 12, 2020

Let’s acknowledge right off the bat that getting back to business as usual may not be quick or easy. Depending on the individual and their circumstances, some people, customers and staff alike, are not going to feel comfortable shopping or working in your store, or with people! But as I wrote in Death of a Salesman, we have technology at our disposal that will help mitigate their fears and allow relationships to develop – and sales, to continue. We just have to be open to one thing; meet the customer where they are comfortable.

The good news is nearly everyone has already become accustomed (or soon will be) to virtual meetings. Add these to our daily lives; texting, face-timing, Zooming, emailing, and yes, even in-person visits, and you will be able to meet with your customers (as well as your suppliers) any time or any place using these many different methods.

I never really understood the attraction of shopping for jewelry online, except to save the shopper the discomfort of having to walk into a store. Shopping for jewelry can be intimidating, especially when one has to walk into a free-standing store, knowing that they need to buy a gift or the dreaded engagement ring purchase! Talk about intimidating. So, the online sellers took their slice of the pie – and now it’s the independent retailer’s turn to take it back, or at least take back a slice of their slice. The thing is, the customers have always wanted to buy from you – they just didn’t realize it.

Online (everything) though is evolving much faster than any other segment of commerce. Online meetings, online selling, online presentations, even online doctor visits. How many more years will we be waiting until the travel industry doesn’t just go all-in on virtual vacations! Slap on the headphones and a set of goggles, add a few cameras, mics and maybe a sunlamp and humidifier, and you and your family can spend the week – well, anywhere! But, I digress.

Some of your existing customers, and many of your new customers, will feel at ease shopping with you virtually. Those who don’t know you will be able to get to you know you incrementally over time. I liken this to the first-time customer who brings in that watch for a battery or repair job just to check you out before they feel comfortable buying merchandise from you. The goal has always been to convert them to long-term customers. Now, new methods of customer acquisition is upon us, and they require different skill sets. Everyone under 30 can, simultaneously, text, chat, participate in a virtual meeting and play Grand Theft Auto or Minecraft with their feet! However, they may or may not bring the same skillset to the jewelry counter – in-person selling is very different. Conversely, we have great salespeople who may not be able do those “techie” things at all well, and that may be just fine.

Matching your customer with the right team member is the most relevant thing you can do to prepare your company for a new customer experience. The “up” system isn’t going to work in its traditional iteration. Team members who only work in the virtual space, who can master all of the various methods described above and who will be looking to adopt all of the new platforms as they come to market will be your lead generators. When and if the client is ready to walk into your store, a turnover may or may not be necessary, but if so, your in-person team will already know much about the customer. It really is the ideal situation! The online-only sellers cannot do this, but you can!

Therefore, we need both, great virtual-communicators (Hook ‘Em) and great in-person salespeople (Reel ‘Em), each with their own specific skillset. We need both and we need them now since it will be your job to find the best solutions to meet your customers where they are, whether online or in your stores. You may already have the right people on the team who may just need to be reoriented on the org chart to specialize in a slightly different role. If not, in a country where 30 million people are out of work, you will find all the talent you need – and offer them a job that highlights their skills.