According to a new study, sales associates who have completed several online trainings to become experts in their products sell more than those who don't take the trainings.
In today's mobile, always-connected world, it's often assumed that consumers will do their own research online, and then walk into retail stores and make a beeline for a product. But having helpful, passionate retail sales clerks can add substantially to a company's bottom line, according to new research from the Wharton School of Business - and the report shows why sales staff should be seen as a vital part of the marketing mix.
A team led by Marshall Fisher, UPS professor of operations and information management at Wharton, studied two years' worth of sales data from 330 stores and 63,500 sales associates. It found that sales associates who completed one short, interactive online training sold 69 percent more than those who didn't. Sales associates who completed six or more online trainings sold 123 percent more.
The Wharton professors completed the study on behalf of Experticity, a company in the business of providing such online product training for brands including Ariat, Cabela's, Garmin, and The North Face. The trainings are edugames, designed to be entertaining as well as educational, containing a mix of videos, articles, quizzes, and scenarios. Each one ends with a quiz.
Experticity provides custom edugames to brands or major retailers. The trainings incorporate expert points and leader boards to increase engagement and knowledge retention, and those taking the training can see how they rank against everyone else who's done it. In addition, brands can choose to incentivize employees for doing the trainings; for example, a store might offer an employee discount on a particular product after completion of the training module for that product.
There's some self-selection involved in who takes these digital courses, according to Experticity chief executive (CEO) Tom Stockham. Do the people who sell 87 percent more of a brand succeed because they like that brand more to start with or is it because they trained on it? "It's some of each," he says.
Sales associates who love a brand are more likely to seek out information about the brands they love, according to Stockham - including taking Experticity's trainings. But even if these folks tend to be better salespeople already, the study found that training increased their productivity by 10 percent - and, as he points out, a 10 percent boost to a highly productive person amounts to more than it would for a less productive employee.
He's found that successful sales clerks "know a lot, own a lot, and do a lot." Think of the avid runner working in a running shoes store, the do-it-yourselfer at the hardware store, or the adventurous cook working at the kitchenware counter. "We find that people who have helpful expertise are knowledgeable," Stockham says. "They own and have touched more product in the category, and they spend a meaningful fraction of their income on product in the category."
Even in a mobile world, it's a myth that consumers are always armed with all the information they need in order to make a purchase, according to the company. The 2013 Experticity Retail Buying Experience Survey found that 50 percent of consumers were looking for expert advice when they entered a store, and 73 percent said product knowledge was the most needed attribute of a sales associate.
Stockham says that these findings also show that increasing traffic shouldn't be retailers' sole focus. He says, "We're finding powerful evidence that the right people - people with helpful expertise - drive conversion rate and average order value in really impactful ways. If you get them in front of consumers, they also help traffic by driving referrals, repeat business, and loyalty."
Image via Shutterstock.
* Sponsored content in collaboration with Experticity.
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