The “Brand Advocate”

July 16th, 2009

In the last blog (titled Shark Theory) we discussed the difficulties of driving customers to your store and the fact that increasing customer traffic requires using a multiple media approach for reaching and attracting new clients. In this blog, we’ll look at another important ingredient in the recipe that is your “Store as a Retail Experience.” That next important ingredient is of course, your staff, or as I like to call these invaluable players in the “Store as a Retail Experience,” the Brand Advocate!

It really is all about People

Just like in designing your store and developing a marketing strategy, the way you staff your store and who you choose to be on your team, has to be done with the customer in mind and, as much as possible, from the customer’s perspective. Because just having a cutting edge, inviting design isn’t enough in today’s competitive, consumer run environment. Even the best designed stores cannot overcome poor staffing and poor staff performance. And, just having great marketing strategies that drive customers in droves isn’t enough either. In fact, the right team of people can, to a great extent, overcome a poorly designed and inventoried store and make “sales magic,” while a poor performing staff will cancel out a great floor plan, good marketing and all of your efforts at differentiation and delivering an amazing customer experience – that’s what I call “Sales Prevention!”

It would be easy at this point to beat the proverbial dead horse that passes for today’s average (defined as “terrible”) retail experience. I could describe the events I have seen, re-tell the stories I’ve heard and even confess to that one time I was an active contributor to a poor customer experience – hey, I was young and inexperienced! I could do that and we would all get a good chuckle and say “that would never happen in my store,” but I won’t put us through that. I want you to keep coming back for more, so instead…

I’d like to talk about something positive. I want to talk about the type of staff that makes the experience “irresistibly different,” keeps your customers coming back to you and more importantly, turns those customers into promoters that are constantly telling all of their friends, acquaintances and everyone they meet all about the great time they had in your store. Let’s talk about what all of these folks, these “Brand Advocates,” have in common.

The Brand Advocate

As a business improvement consultant, I’ve spent lots of time “profiling” the best sales people to determine what is in their make up that they all share. The best sales people all make sales (a Captain Obvious moment – sorry), but it’s not just closing ability or aggressiveness. Today’s customer doesn’t take kindly to “being closed.” The profile I am talking about includes a combination of learned skills that are applied almost like a job description coupled with an innate ability to read the customer and act on the messages they are receiving.

Learned Skills: The Job Description part of it

The Experience Engineer is highly successful by focusing on 4 primary functions. These functions are:

-Product Knowledge: Technical expert, Product story-teller, Inventory Knowledge and Selection Specialist

-Romance Enhancer: Keen to learn their customer’s story and then can re-tell in a way that gets their customer to see the magic of their own fairy tale romance (this is cool stuff)

-Selection Specialist: A true matchmaker, finding the right item for the customer in front of them

-Customer Relationship Guru: Long before computer technology, the rolodex, the card file, heck the Dewey Decimal system (look it up), Brand Advocates have all been able to maintain a loyal customer base by simply staying in touch with their customers not only when it was time to buy, but especially when it wasn’t.

The Innate Nature of the Brand Advocates: The stuff that’s tough, if not impossible, to teach

Near equal amounts of Drive and Empathy are central ingredients that the very best sales people possess. These folks have the “Drive” to deliver the Ideal Experience and the “Empathy” to understand the customer’s version of what that Ideal Experience should be. While “drive” can be tested for – and there are many predictive indexes out there that claim to do so – no test that I know of exists to measure Empathy. The way to get a gauge on a potential staff member’s level of empathy is at the behavioral phase of the interview process.

Finally, we come to Chemistry. You can teach your team to build rapport, but Chemistry goes far beyond the “rapport” the typical sales trainer talks about establishing. While rapport is formal, “Chemistry” is a “state of being” between people. It’s an effortless harmony where the flow of the conversation is unrehearsed, unscripted and totally satisfying – without even noticing it. It would be irresponsible of me to say that Brand Advocates can create chemistry with everyone… that’s just not true. However, the true Brand Advocate seems to “match” more people than the typical sales person and “chemistry” just seems to happen almost every time they get in front of their client.

So there you have it. Your store design has to be crafted using the customer’s desires as the lens. Your marketing efforts have to take place where the customers are and speak in the language they speak and now we know that the staff you put in your store should be more than just a sales staff… they need to be “Brand Advocates!”

Thanks to everyone that has supported the “Store as a Retail Experience” project and for all of the kind words and helpful feedback. If you have suggestions or you would like to hear about specific topics, please e-mail me at Until next time, run your “Store as a Retail Experience.”

Driving Customer Traffic to Your Store

June 18th, 2009

What Drives Customer Traffic to Your Store?

The other day, I was sitting amongst a group of grizzled retail veterans discussing the fact that driving customer traffic today in no way resembles what drove your customer traffic say, 3 years ago. Although we agreed on the problem, we couldn’t agree on any one solution to get the flow of traffic back in the black.

As recently as 3 years ago radio advertising that broke through the white noise usually meant that an audience of customers heard your message and were soon coming to your store (physical or internet based), ready to do business. In the last 3 years, that reality has changed dramatically. This change, of course, is the result of all of the media options available to us. My kids have iPods, my friends have satellite radio in their cars and my wife loves her Jason Mraz CD. These are just a few of the reasons why today, driving customer traffic is a lot like attracting sharks and getting them to bite (no offense to our target audiences). Here is what I mean by that…

John’s “Shark Theory”

Not long ago I was watching a “Shark Week” program on Discovery Channel. On this particular program the scientists were trying to get sharks to feed. Seems like an easy task, but there’s more to these creatures than simple, mindless consuming… much like there’s more to this economy’s human consumers.

The scientists wanted to test different stimulus, long thought to provoke a feeding frenzy in sharks. The experiment consisted of 4 steps of stimuli (5 steps of stimuli if you consider the other sharks in the water as a source of stimulus) progressively added to the test…

1.  Sounds like a fish: a rubber fish cut out on the end of a stick being splashed about in the ocean, inside of a funnel in order to obstruct the shark’s vision = mild curiosity, but no attack.

2.  Looks like a fish: this time, no funnel to obstruct the shark’s vision = still, no attack.

3. Smells like a fish: Blood was added to the mix = closer inspections, but no nibbles.

4. Feels like a fish: Finally, an electrical current simulating the electrical field generated by a real fish in distress = more interest and an occasional bump of the cut out fish.

Maybe #5: Other sharks, seemingly interested in all of the commotion and stimulus = finally, sharks begin to try to feed on a rubber cut out.

So, what happened?

Although the sharks were curious about what was going on and investigated the situation, the scientists discovered that the sharks were not prone to attacks when only one, two or even three of the stimuli were presented (seems you can lead a fish to food, but you can’t make it eat). In fact, one scientist went so far as to say that the limited motivation they provided wasn’t enough to break through all of the “white noise” in the shark’s environment (things that make you go “hmmm”).

The “Aha” moment

Over the years, this particular group of execs had had tons of success driving traffic by placing innovative ads on popular radio stations. However, recently the amount of foot traffic to their stores, as well as their brand recognition had dropped dramatically. No longer could they use one channel for driving traffic. Now, they had to go everywhere past and future customers might be and blend a variety of media to stimulate interest.

For you to improve your level of customer traffic, you need to find out where the customers are and then apply a multiple vehicle media strategy to get to them. You can’t just rely on one format, and you can’t rely on the same media you’ve been using for years. Today’s customer spends their time in different places than in the past… you’ve got to stimulate the shark to eat.

Once you’ve succeeded in increasing your customer traffic, you have to make sure you have the right people in place to represent and deliver your brand’s promise, but that’s for another blog.

Please let me know yuor thoughts on this edition and the types of topics you’d like to see in the future. Oh yes, and don’t forget to visit and recommend

Your Partner in running your “Store as a Sales Machine” John Cordova

The Store as Retail Experience

May 22nd, 2009

This is an edited post of an original blog. The name has been changed to protect the innocent - namely, me!

Welcome to “Store as a Retail Experience.” The concept of “Store as a Retail Experience” is the creation of a place that is purpose built for making sales and maximizing revenue.

In this blog we’ll offer perspectives and strategies to help you insure your store is a “Retail Experience” I’ll be posting helpful insight through topics such as customer flow, in-store boutiques, in-case stories and more.

This inaugural blog will start at the beginning of the “Store as a Retail Experience” journey.

Transforming your store into a retail experience begins by asking and answering, honestly, two important questions - which, by the way, apply to physical locations as well as virtual ones. Those two questions are 1). Why does your store exist? and, 2). Who is your store designed for today?

The bottom line answer for the first question should be that your store exists for the bottom line and is there to make sales and be profitable. If that’s not the answer, this is the wrong blog and you should check the blog titled, My Store as a Not For Profit Machine.

Although I kid about the “wrong blog” comment, the truth is that over time, many retailers tend to forget their purpose and, as a result, are not proactive at taking the steps needed to mitigate revenue and profit loss, and in turn find it difficult to identify corrective actions when the numbers do begin to decline. The good news is that staying focused on the two questions discussed here helps retailers to indentify course corrections in order to continue achieving results while organizations around them struggle. Constantly ask - “why does my store exist?” Your answer to this question will help you stay ahead of the competition.

Now, for the second question - “who is your store designed for today?” There’s a good chance that, if you answered honestly, your answer may no longer be the answer that will make you the most money.

That’s because your store should be designed strictly with the customer in mind and, more importantly, through the customer’s eyes. The reason I say it may no longer be the answer that makes you the most money is because if you’ve been in business for a while, your store may have been designed exactly right at one point, but customers change and the competitive landscape changes - your store should too.

Unfortunately, we often decide on our store’s product layouts, fixtures and in-case collateral based on what we like, what others in our industry are doing or, worst of all, because we’ve always done it that way. A true retail experience is designed using the customer’s perspective as the effective lens and considers every detail like displays, relevant in store media, “flow” (more about flow in an upcoming posting) and more. At this stage ask, “what does my customer want and for what are they willing to pay?”

When designing your store staying true to what your customers want it to look and feel like (while maintaining brand integrity - hey, I didn’t say it would be easy) is critical. That said, if the store you’re in now isn’t a Retail Experience yet, don’t despair. There are steps you can take to turn that around. We’ll discuss all of those steps in upcoming blog postings, but for now…

Look at your store from the outside - in, using what you believe would be your customer’s discerning eye (don’t be afraid to ask a few real customers for their opinions).

The outside includes not only your store front. It also includes your advertising and any associated collateral. After all, those are often a customer’s first introduction to your store.

On the inside consider where the customer is greeted, how your staff presents, are the displays relevant, clean and do they tell a story?

It’s a top to bottom, front to back assessment you need to conduct. Get started there and the next post will focus on “flow.” Until then think, Store as A Retail Experience and may you and yours prosper.

For comments, questions and suggestions write to John at

Welcome to the Cordova Consultants blog

May 6th, 2009

Hello and welcome to our new blog. Cordova Consultants is a retail training firm specializing in:

  • Sales Training
  • Retail Operations,
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Leadership and Management Development
  • Strategic Planning
  • Company Culture
  • Product Development

We have launched this blog to share our thoughts on sales and selling, business growth, and more.