Personalization in practice

Big retailers can learn from professional sports teams

With the cricket world cup recently held in NZ and our local Kiwi team making it to the finals, I thought it was a good time to examine how successful coaches go about building winning teams. And consider what senior retail execs could learn from them when it comes to building teams of great sales people.

The history of professional sport is peppered with great managers, coaches and athletes. They’re usually the ones that focus obsessively on their craft (and their stats) in order to improve the performance of their team.

Not every team member plays the same role, so they often need to focus on quite different things. A great third baseman is measured by different criteria from a brilliant pitcher. A world-class running back is different from an exceptional wide receiver. But if the team is to be successful then they all have to be great in their own specialty.

You need to know your team if you're going to turn weaknesses into strengths

Knute Rockne, the great Notre Dame football coach from early last century famously said “Build up your weaknesses until they become your strong points”.

It is human nature to focus on the things you are good at, at the expense of practicing the things that need improvement. Left to their own devices, team members tend to avoid the things they don’t do well. Unfortunately this doesn’t build great teams. Successful managers, coaches and athletes recognize this and insist on working tirelessly to address weaknesses and ultimately convert them into strengths.

The genius of this particular wisdom is that it is uniquely personal. Your weaknesses are not my weaknesses. My strong points are not your strong points. One size does not fit all, so as a coach you need to understand your individual players and tailor your coaching to suit each of them.

When it comes to training, one size doesn't fit all

Retailers can learn lessons from Moneyball

There is an important message in this for retail executives wanting to get the best out of their teams. Avoid generic training days and put in place a personalized program that continually improves the capabilities and performance of each individual staff member. What is relevant to one is not necessarily relevant to another. In order to be useful, training has to be individual and personal.

Professional athletes have access to a plethora of stats that indicate where they are strong and where they need work. The film Moneyball, based on Billy Bean’s tenure at the Oakland Athletics, demonstrated the extent to which data is now a critical part of success for major sporting franchises.

Is this same kind of benchmarking data already used to improve the performance of individual retail sales staff? Not really. At an aggregated store level it might be. But if retailers want the best from their team then they should do what professional sports teams do. Create a personalized training program for each staff member based on the specific areas where he or she needs to improve. And it’s not as hard as it sounds.

Personalized mobile training is already paying off outside retail

Nike 360 app

This is where mobile can help. Advanced sports teams and even amateur sportspeople are already using mobile for exactly this kind of personalized training. The Nike Golf 360 App collects all kinds of data from everyday players and suggests their specific areas for improvement. It also links to professional video tutorials that help them to improve different parts of their game.

In my opinion, more large retailers should be equipping their staff with a similar app; most of them have a smartphone. The reality is that most training is still based on a handbook - if you’re lucky, or maybe an intranet site that holds mountains of training material with very little sense of organization and is seldom updated.

A personalized mobile app is a much better solution. It could be used to deliver relevant training programs for each individual staff member based on what we know about their personal strengths and weaknesses:

  • What average transaction value do they achieve?
  • How many sales are they making a day?
  • What are their best products or categories?
  • How many ‘product bundles’ are they selling?
  • What section of the store are they spending most of their time in?
  • What does customer feedback say about them?
  • What training have they already completed?

With the right data it will be possible to help your team track their progress against established goals and relevant benchmarks. Great staff members in the making will appreciate a retail organization that provides them with personalized training and guidance.

Killer service from trained staff gives B&M the edge over online stores

Bricks and mortar retailers have two key advantages over their online competitors; their real estate and their staff. Improving your staff’s ability to sell the products you stock should be a key priority, particularly in the current environment. Everyone who walks through the door is a potential customer; whether or not they actually buy something and how much they buy frequently comes down to the ability of individual employees.

Every staff member should be well trained in sales technique; product information and cross sell opportunities. That can all come from a personalized mobile training app including videos that highlight new product and their benefits, quizzes that inform product knowledge and tests that achieve badges and certificates. These are just a few of the things that can help retail staff members become part of a winning professional team. It comes down to targeted, relevant and personal content.

If I were a senior retail executive at a large retailer with tens of thousands of staff, I would be trialing a personalized staff training and staff engagement app in one or two stores and measuring the results it achieved.