So what are we waiting for?

« back to magazine

So what are we waiting for?

Tuesday, 4. February 2020


For a lot! For the customer who comes in, says what he needs, buys and comes back unasked. And we're waiting for perfect bosses, perfect processes, appreciative communication between all levels and freedom for our personality. Sometimes we seem to wait so desperately that we don’t even start looking for it. Except in this example of a chain store ...


The initial situation:

Decreasing frequency, decreasing conversion rate, increasing frustration.


What had been done so far:


It felt like everything had been attempted to finally get performance at POS up. Investments were made in e-learning systems, the specifications for sales were worked out intensively with the area managers, the personnel deployment planning tool was revised and all relevant KPIs were made transparent to all employees. And yet the important key figures of the stationary business remained where they were: too low. That this was the case was not surprising to the management, but still frustrating. This insight was the driving force behind a status quo meeting that ended with the Managing Director’s statement: “We have to admit that the conversion rate decreases with decreasing frequency triggered by online trading. This is a mathematical stratification effect, as we lose the demand buyer with the highest conversion rate to online trading. The only lever for our over-the-counter sales is to increase the sum total of each sale. And this is only possible if we increase the quality of sales. We need to be creative, rethink and make sure salespeople enjoy selling again.”


What we did about it:

So before we all went back to our quiet rooms to come up with new ideas and approaches for sales that would improve quality, we invited ten store managers from different parts of Germany for two days to get creative with us. It was already clear to us during the preparation phase that this would be a bumpy ride. It’s easy to say, “get creative”, a phrase in the top ten on the buzzword chart and anything but a guarantee for great results. Among the first ideas for questions in our workshop with ten store managers we had yet to meet was: “How could we manage to increase quality with your store teams to generate a better conversion rate?” Even just asking the question bored us to tears. It could give rise to anything, just not creativity. After a few more such ideas, we realised that we really had to rethink, and now we understood what that meant. Albert Einstein said that one cannot solve a problem with the same way of thinking that caused it. In this case the way of thinking was “transactional idea generation” aka “Tell me what you want to hear and I’ll say it – but it won't be anything new”.


The solution:

We asked them what happened during a sale. And it is just as simple as it sounds. Each of us can tell when we have had a great or a less than great shopping experience, exactly what happened and why. And our ten store managers even more so. It was the starting point for two special workshop days. The atmosphere changed from scepticism to curiosity to enthusiasm. At the core of the final enthusiasm was something that was not mentioned in any sales manual, but whose authenticity everyone immediately recognized: humanity and empathy. In the end, everyone was aware that the customer (human being) in the shop does not demand anything from us that we are not already able to deliver. It became clear to all how much appreciation they could experience every day if they set an example and allow it to happen. Great joy arose when it became clear how much creative freedom one can have in dealing with customers on a daily basis, and that sales steps are only brief descriptions of these moments and feelings rather than guidelines to follow.


The success factor that stood above everything is the power of experiencing something for yourself and then describing it – experience, then label.


Numerous individual ideas were collected on how ten different teams could achieve more authenticity and empathy again, and none of the paths was like any other. Sometimes very challenging for the managers, who at times began simply announcing what is most important, what demands attention and what must be done differently from now on – we lapse all too quickly into old attitudes, even if the announcements were made very charmingly. But we knew one thing very well in the meantime: the higher the proportion of speech on the one hand, the lower the motivation on the other.


Only a few weeks later, the first successes in the teams became apparent. The average ticket and multichannel sales increased disproportionately to the rest and the shared euphoria and interest were a source of great fun and inspiration for everyone.


It became clear that the departure from rigid processes and guidelines had an impact on management requirements, both for the store managers and their superiors. No clear guidelines means no clear control over execution. We took the first step towards self-management, and the sales process was only the first small part.


There were various small crises along the way. For example, with long-standing employees who did not want to leave their “trusted methods”. Or the division managers, who noticed that they had to deal with their branches differently from now on and had to ask themselves what personal responsibility actually was. And then there was the painful realisation that giving up control can hurt. In all cases, however, it was only a problem at the beginning, when nobody had experienced what it means to take on more responsibility and find the best solution for themselves. Throughout this time, the usual complaints about undisciplined processes or insufficient staff never actually came up. Our credo “Experience, then label!” was no longer just on flipcharts in meeting rooms – from the moment the experience was made, the first step into the new culture had been taken. Because culture is only the sum of the experiences we make.


"Because culture
is only the sum
of the experiences
we make."


After a quarter of a year we sat again in the same round for the regular status quo meeting with the managing director, who followed our presentation with great concentration. The results of the ten pilot branches were still very good and clearly better than the rest. When the last chart was shown, he said with a smile: “That makes clear what we will change in the next few months”. And that’s what we have done.


Reports and quotes from the stores:


“We recently had a customer who later turned out to be the division manager of a well-known fashion brand. He congratulated us on our work and was disappointed that he hadn’t been able to do it in his team so far.”


“Our Google ratings have increased enormously in recent months. They were good before, but now we have a lot more!”


“How could it possibly be that I didn’t praise my sales managers and office staff for their great work for so long?”


“We’ve never received so many compliments from our customers as we do now.”


“My biggest realisation of the last weeks is that my employees can do everything already - I don’t have to dictate every step to them!”


“I have an employee on the team who is very difficult – everyone knows that. But when I told her the other day how great she was doing her job, she was visibly touched, and I wonder why we’re always pouncing on the deficits.”


“I have respect for my new role as a leader, it demands much more from me than I would otherwise have had to monitor and check off on the list.”


“I now understand what this change is about and why it is so difficult to explain in words. You first have to make the experience yourself and let it work. It changes my attitude.”


Sarah Jürgens

Is a corporate developer with Team Retail Excellence. She supports teams on their way to increasing self-management. What drives her is the moment when “managing actions” turn into “leading potential” and managers experience real fun and ease in their role again.

Best Practice
Change Management
Performance Management
Retail Stories