Almost every organisation has somewhere in its values a statement that equates to “people are our greatest asset” yet from experience, many employees read such a statement with cynicism and many employers don’t truly mean it. Interestingly both are probably right in their views of such a sweeping statement, yet a good match between employees and employer can be significantly value adding.
A number of my articles have focused on the B2C space and looked at the challenges to the traditional business models underpinning book retailing, the “High Street”, and travel agencies. In each of these articles, there has been significant change that has challenged the old order and which has seen the internet disintermediating the traditional business models. Many of the traditional players have been ‘caught napping’ and some have gone to the wall, yet probably their biggest potential differentiator is right under their noses. Their people.
In many situations selling is a social activity, and as consumers we are more likely to buy off of a personal recommendation. Research has shown that people are almost three times more likely to trust a recommendation from a friend as they are to trust a banner ad, and they are almost 50% more likely to trust editorial content than they are to trust ads served by search engines.
Trust is a complex thing, and it’s likely that when it comes booking a holiday or buying a book we are significantly more likely to trust someone who has “been there and done it” and particularly if we have a face to face interaction and relationship with them.
The real challenge for the bricks and mortar business models therefore, is about ensuring that they create those interactions, and then convert them into commitments. There are two parts to this challenge, firstly they need to ensure that they have employees who are passionate about what they are selling. People who aren’t just selling a commodity, but are selling an experience, who can relate to the consumer, and who can balance that passion with objectivity. In the book retail scenario it may be that they need to ensure that the staff in the education section are students themselves, and the people in the travel section are well traveled. In the travel agency, it could be that they harness the power of their in-resort employees to create a personal video clip of the resort and the hotels which can be used as ‘live’ brochures.
The second challenge is then how to convert these interactions to commitment. If the people are passionate and knowledgeable about what they are selling then the momentum will already have been started. If, however, the ‘bricks and mortar’ or ‘bricks and clicks’ model wishes to charge a premium over their online competitors, then they need to find a way of charging for the personal service or atleast charging those who take the benefits but go on to buy elsewhere. Maybe in the travel agency model the consumer pays a fee upfront for access to the knowledge but it is converted to a deposit if they commit. What ever the solution is in terms of conversion, it will be irrelevant if the right people aren’t present in the business and deployed in the right way.
As with many other situations the business will have to look at the environment it creates, whether its processes/policies/practices are supportive, and how they measure the end-to-end effectiveness. From a people perspective the people in the business will need to have the right mindset, develop the right skillsets, and be provided with the right tools. Whilst this is a significant challenge and will require investment it is a simple framework which could provide a robust framework to allow for successful strategic change implementation.