A number of years ago, United Airlines ran a TV ad that presented a boss gathering his team for a serious get together. The boss said that the company had taken for granted the interpersonal relationships they’d established over the years with their clients. He lamented that in the era of emails, cell phones, and laptops they had forgotten the importance of personal contact with customers. At the end of his talk, he handed out tickets to each team member with the instruction that selling, of necessity, involves doing business face to face and he wanted them all to hit the road to see their best customers. After he handed out the tickets to his sales team, there was one ticket left in his hand. Someone asked him who would get that ticket. He replied that it was for him, that he was going to see the company’s number one customer because they had just started doing business with a competitor.
This slice of life story is as appropriate today as it was a few years ago when it ran and perhaps even more so now. It is especially so in our jewelry business, both at the retail and the wholesale levels because so much of the business is done on a face-to-face basis.
The retail business is largely if not entirely done face to face. A client comes into the store, speaks with a sales person; explains why he/she is there and the sales process begins. Jewelry stores are, after all, destination locations. Consumers don’t come to a jewelry store to look for furniture or clothing. They’re there to find out about products, prices, qualities, and probably, most of all; they’re there to find something special and very likely, for someone very special. In those cases where a woman is there for a self-purchase, she is still looking for something special for herself.
The jewelry sales process ideally is an interactive one between the consumer and the retail sales person. The customer after trying on a ring, a bracelet, or a necklace expects to hear feedback – hopefully positive - from the sales associate. In providing feedback, the salesperson establishes rapport and trust with the client. In this environment asking for the order is natural.
What a difference we see today with numbers of consumers buying all manner of products on line, including jewelry. QVC, or any number of other similar re-sellers, do a good job of communicating features and benefits to consumers in their selling process. The missing element, however, is the immediacy and the feedback a live sales person offers after the customer has put on the ring, the bracelet, or the necklace. As the buzz of doing business on the Internet continues to rise, retail jewelers increasingly fret over how they are measuring up with the non-personal selling methods and efforts.
Rather than fret, jewelers must understand that face-to-face selling is a significant strategic advantage they provide to their respective client bases, assuming their sales staffs are more than adequately trained. Knowledgeable, expert, well-trained sales staffs make all the difference when talking with a consumer. Making informed decisions necessarily involves asking questions. The consumer or a jeweler can get lots of factual information from the Internet or from a firm’s website. With an informed sales person, the consumer can ask relevant questions of the value differences between how well the diamond is cut, what the color is, how much clarity influences price. The consumer is unable to evaluate with any degree certainty the differences between one diamond and another despite the efforts of Internet sellers to claim all diamonds with similar grading reports make the choice easy, just on price. This is one of the reasons that diamond sales over the Internet in my view are far more risky than purchasing from a retail jeweler.
The concept of the Marketing Mix is an appropriate topic in which to plug in Face-to-Face selling. There are in every sales proposition a variety of different tools to employ in winning a customer’s business. Advertising, sales promotion, public relations, websites, email, being Internet savvy, and personal selling, each has a role to play in a jeweler’s marketing plan. It is a balancing act so that each element is used in proportion to the goal of reaching and persuading the consumer.
So often when technology changes bring new methods of reaching the consumer, experts rise up and tell us that this is the only way. Change everything and put your entire budget into one area or another. Balance is important. Not so long ago, it was common knowledge that local newspapers were a thing of the past. They had no role in contemporary marketing. A funny thing happened on the way to Internet nirvana, Warren Buffet decided to invest in local newspapers because they are still read by important segments of the consumer world.
Jewelers take note!
Keep your budget spending in balance. There is room for newspaper advertising, catalogs, website development, and sales training. In the end, all of the areas where you spend your marketing budget are designed for one thing: to bring the consumer into the store and meet face-to-face with a knowledgeable, competent sales person!