Knowledge-sharing for a Retail Manager
In a retail company, who is at the centre of value generation? Undoubtedly the person making the sale: the sales associate (I am talking about markets relying on differentiation, not cost advantages). You would then expect these organizations to focus on facilitating each of these key value generators in generating more and more value.
Yesterday, I had a very interesting conversation with a retail boutique (store) Manager. She started on the issue of retention (or the lack of) of knowledge when an experienced member of her team leaves the company. It’s not only that no set formal hand-over process exist, it is more about the lack of a knowledge-transfer process well before an individual decides (or is made to) to leave.
I told her that this issue is still encountered by most managers in most organizations (not many executive Boards have given much thought on this HR issue yet). In her case, this lack of knowledge sharing resulted in the loss of valuable customer relationships knowledge and contextual selling experience (selling effectively specific types of product to a particular customer group, in a specific geographical location, her boutique).
Our discussion then went on about another aspect of knowledge sharing needs for her team and the retail department. She was concerned that - due to a 6-day rota giving
a day off in the week to compensate for a Saturday duty - too often one member of her team misses her weekly review meeting. She then has to remember to whom she has to repeat some important information. We both agreed the solution would be an online intranet where meeting summaries and other departmental information could be posted for all sales-associates to read.
Not rocket science you might say (indeed many organisations provide such tools) but most Knowledge leveraging solutions do not have to be technically complex at all in order to deliver noticeable benefits. In the context of this retail Manager, this simple intranet would be the solution. She then realised that this shared tool could also be used by sales-associates from different boutiques to exchange experiences, ask each other questions, debate on some common topics. Such interaction between sales teams is needed to learn from each other.
In differentiation-focused markets, internal competition is entertained between sales-associates, between sales teams, between distribution subsidiaries and this even for the same Brand. This is fine and usually generates value. However, the fine line not to cross is that this competition should not be at the expense of the customer, and therefore at the expense of the company’s overall performance and the Brand’s image. Internal competition is typically a key reason for lack of knowledge sharing within a sales force.
What are the potential costs of an experienced sales-associate leaving the company without a formalized and extensive transfer of his/her specific & valuable knowledge? Some of his/her best “loyal” customers will automatically follow him/her to the competition. Other customers might notice a significant difference in the service they receive from his/her colleagues and decide to at best, go to another sales team within the same company, or at worse, finally go to the competition. We could also face a drop in turnover on subsequent sales made to some of his/her usual customers remaining loyal to the Brand. This is because their usual sales-associate would have better known how to satisfy these customers and often entice them into buying more as a result.
What are the potential costs of sales-associates not informed on time or misinformed? This is now related to the other knowledge-sharing issue the retail manager told me about. The possible consequences of sales-associates not informed properly are numerous. Some examples are: Not knowing about the arrival of a VIP, not knowing of the arrival in stock of a new collection, not knowing of an important security concern, or not knowing about a local event that should draw more traffic in the shop.
I have already identified above a relatively simple and “cheap” solution to this problem. What about a solution to the “lack of knowledge-transfer between sales-associates” problem?
An idea is that managers could establish “mentor/apprentice” relationships between pairs of sales-associates. The mentors’ performance (and recognition, and reward) would be dependant on their apprentice’s achievements nearly as much as on their own. In this way, the experienced sales-associate is encouraged to share his/her knowledge and customers with a “junior” sales-associate, so that if he leaves the company, there is a natural and effective hand-over. Other operational benefits can be identified such as the apprentice “covering” for the mentor when the latter is away (day off, holidays, sick leave, etc…). The mentor benefits by having his/her apprentice handling the sales for his/her customers during that time. The apprentice benefits by “holding the fort” and being put to the test. The company benefits:
· By maximizing the chances to satisfy the mentor’s customers in his absence, therefore offering continuity in level of service.
· By speeding up the learning of junior staff, therefore resulting in a more experienced sales-force overall.
· By increasing revenue at relatively low cost, therefore increasing profits as well.
In other words, a win/win solution.