Retail Podcast 413: Ben Rodier on Relationship Building with Clienteling
Bob Phibbs interviewed Ben Rodier, CCO at Salesfloor. In this episode Bob and Ben discussed how clienteling is growing and how brick and mortar retailers can bridge online with their associates.
Tell me something good about retail
Ben Rodier on Relationship Building with Clienteling
Bob: How are you doing, Ben?
Ben: I’m good Bob, how are you?
Bob: Excellent. Well, you know, we are recording this in May and thank god it's a different month than when I was recording these in March two months ago, I think it was like,“The whole world is crashing and Tom Hanks and his wife have Covid. Oh my god.”
And you know, we're starting to see some retailers are closing down and reorganizing by Chapter 11. I think we're going to come out of it stronger. And the reason, listeners, that I was drawn to want to talk to Ben is because I met Ben on the floor of NRF through the Retail Store Tours this last January.
And you had a pretty significant achievement that was announced there, Ben. Can you tell us about that?
Ben: Yeah, for sure. That was a really fun event and I'm really glad we got to do that. And it led to this, so happy to be here. The NRF show that happened in January kicked off with a big bang for Salesfloor, because we were actually awarded best omnichannel customer experience solution in 2020, at the award ceremony that kicked off the NRF.
It was called the Vendors in Partnership, the VIP awards, so it was really thrilling, you know, to obviously be in New York for NRF, but also to kick the whole experience off at Gotham Hall, just a beautiful venue, jumping on stage with, you know, a big company like Intel presenting the award.
So, it really put the spotlight on the company. And, definitely, you know, paid homage to a lot of the effort and hard work that our entire team has been doing for the past few years with our retailers.
Bob: Yeah, it's great. So, most people don't know necessarily what Salesfloor is, and it's easy to say the wrong name of your company, which I am afraid of doing.
So I have to make sure, and look at my notes. It's Salesfloor, like you're out on the sales floor, but tell us what does it do? And, briefly, not a big sales pitch, but like you tell somebody over Starbucks or something and how does it work?
Ben: No problem. You know, it's funny you mentioned the name confusion because I joke with people often that we do have a jar in the office and every time you mistake Salesfloor for sales force, you’ve got to put five bucks in the jar for our Friday beer fund.
But Salesfloor is an SAS solution sold to retailers with the main focus of empowering store associates to essentially elevate the level of their role and their impact on the business by giving them digital tools to serve and sell to customers. So, a lot of people call what we do clienteling or assisted selling.
But the way I describe it is that Salesfloor is really a platform, a platform of many features and many functionalities that are all brought together in one convenient app so that the store associate can communicate by email, text message, live chat. They can look up inventory levels. They can sell to customers who choose to shop online.
They can sell to customers who choose to shop in store, and it's all being done by one solution provider. One piece of training that an associate needs to learn, which is very different than a lot of, you know what we've come to get used to these days, which is I have one app for clienteling, one app for POS, I have one app for inventory lookup.
And I remember reading an article recently about a store associate who worked at, I think Old Navy or the Gap. And she had to learn like nine different technology apps to do her job. Which you know, from a Salesfloor perspective seems crazy because what we've been focused on for the last six years is building a solution that has a platform, has it all in one convenient place for store associates to use.
Bob: Yeah, that's the key, I think. And ultimately, you know, we kind of call it virtual selling, but there's so many different ways now to engage a customer at different points and to keep them.
And certainly, in a time like Covid-19 when so many apparel retailers have boatloads of merchandise they're going to need to get rid of, it would seem like the more that your associates could know their customers better, the more they could end up selling it and bundling it and saying, you know, Why don't you get a bunch of these items? It certainly pays for itself, I would think. Can you give an example of how somebody might do this? How might it work in one of your stores?
Ben: So, when you log into the application in the morning, it will tell you who you should reach out to. That's one of the baseline features of clienteling.
We automate tasks on a daily basis so that if you're, let's say, Bob who works at Saks Fifth Avenue, you know who to reach out to, and when you reach out to those customers, you're able to know what they purchased in the past and what you should recommend for future consideration. When the customer receives the email, they can click the item that you've selected, that you've recommended to them, and a nice branded message that looks like Bob sent it from Saks.
And when you click it, you can go and buy them online and Bob, the associate in store is actually going to get credited for sales that are driven online no different than had the customer purchased in store. That's how it works from an associate perspective.
Bob: So, when I click that, you could still talk to me, right? You could still, like when I click that and I'm on the website now, you can actually be engaging me in different ways. Isn't that correct?
Ben: Yeah, it is. And it’s actually one of the more pioneering, innovative things that we did early days where we said, yeah, clienteling, it makes sense by email and text and chat, and I think there's a lot of great companies that do that, but when you shop online with Bob the way I described earlier, there's actually interfaces on the screen that are appearing that say that you're shopping with Bob.
And if you want to continue the conversation, you can actually pop open a live chat and connect right back to Bob. Or if you have a question that you want to shoot him through text message, you know, you have all of those services right there on the screen for you.
So, what it actually does, is it gives the customer the ability to shop with their store associate, but do it online from the comfort of their own home.
Bob: Well I think that's cool. And, that's what I like so much about your product, Ben is the idea that you're rewarding the employee for actually maintaining this relationship because to your point, relationships are the currency going forward and no one is going to be marketing.
We need to just get more bodies in the store. The marketing is going to change dramatically after Covid, which is going to be, we need to get more out of the people that actually make the track to come into us and those who do come in, we have to hold on to better rather than just thinking it's a numbers game.
So, conversions are really going to be a big deal, but I also even thought so there I am. Maybe my favorite guy is like Jimmy at Saks and I'm at another Saks somewhere else. I could be shopping with Jimmy even at that other Saks and asking his opinion. I mean, the point that you're leveraging is the relationship, right?
It's not the technology it's a relationship that we're valuing. Right?
Ben: I think that goes back to the concept of relationships are going to be the currency more and more as we move along, because the relationship that you've built up with Jimmy is based on trust, it's based on comfort.
There's all these interpersonal reasons why you like working with Jimmy. What we've done is given Jimmy a digital channel to continue to do that with you Bob, the customer, and you know, to your earlier question, it's the internet.
So whether you're shopping in New York with Jimmy today, or you want, you know, on your next trip to Los Angeles to ask Jimmy a quick question or advice, you can do that from anywhere. We even give Jimmy, you know, his own version of like a Saks.com so that if you want it to shop with Jimmy, you could even go back to Saks.com/Jimmy where he has his own version of his own top picks and it's also where you can continue to interact with it if you want to come back.
Bob: So what's kind of interesting to me about all this, Ben, is I can imagine, CMOs and CEOs are gonna be able to see the potential in this. Like, wow, this could be great.
However, I think there's a lot of training that has to go into this. Not for the app is just to understand that, this is a new way, and I imagine you have, within companies, you must have some superstars who really get it. And are really seeing the results. And then I'm sure there's laggards. They're like, Oh, well that seems, you know, I don't want to reach out.
And that seems pushy and all of that. So just within your own experience, have you noticed what the superstars do that makes it different? They go all in? Any of those kind of ideas would be great.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. I mean, we obviously have a front row seat to all of the performance metrics that our platform pulls out.
We don't just track sales. We track everything down to clicks and opens and actions in the application. So, we can actually drill down in a sophisticated way like you know who's doing what well and why. And we have a team that actually just sits there all day and does that to help retailers get the most out of it.
But to answer your question, what do we end up seeing out there in the field? It actually very often follows what you would find in brick and mortar retail operations, which is you know, whether you look at it as your 70 20 10 rule or your third, third, third rule, you're going to have superstars who get more out of it because they've put more into it.
You're going to have that middle group of people who have moderate usage and make moderate results from it, and then you've got those bottom people. Yeah, we hear it sometimes, it's not very often. But we walk out of a training room sometimes and you know, nine out of 10 people are jumping up and down, excited, already making sales before the training is even finished.
Then you're always going to have that one out of 10, one out of 50 people who come out of the training room and say, you know what? This online thing isn't for me. And I'm in retail because I want to work in a store. So I think the reality that, you know, you said CMOs and operators are going to have to contend with as we move through the post-Covid world is that, you know, whether we like it or not, I think the world is going to become a lot more digital, a lot faster than we expected.
And I think the stores are going to need to evolve to obviously meet the new customer’s eyeline, if you will, in terms of how they want to shop. But what that also means is evolving the role of the people who work in those stores to do those things. And unfortunately, some people, they might not like the fact that they have to learn new skills and learn new technologies to do it.
But I think like anything else, you know, they say the more things change, the more they stay the same. That attitude of the person who's, whether it's one out of 50, or one out of a hundred, I think people need to be open to the change required to meet that new eyeline with the customer's expectations.
Bob: Well, and it doesn't have to be an ‘either,’ it can be an ‘and.’ That's the thing. Like, I personally still think that the one thing brick and mortar has that online will never is discovery. And the more we make stores into warehouses where you drive up and put stuff in the trunk, you're destroying the whole reason why we have merchandising departments and sales associates and pretty interiors and a million other things.
And the thing that's going to make the difference is going to have to be your people and ultimately how well they hold on to those customers. I want to go back to your earlier days. I know that when you, I think it was when you were starting out, the idea for Salesfloor came from this idea of a Best Buy associate.
Can you share that story with us a little bit?
Ben: Of course, of course. So, when we first started out, when the idea was in its infancy stage, a lot of us, especially our co-founders, we came from retail and one of us actually did work at Best Buy, in operations. And on a store tour, you know, this famous story that I like to tell is that there was this one associate, in a smaller market, selling a smaller category which at the time wasn't very lucrative.
I think it was like large appliances, which was new for Best Buy at the time. And this particular associate was crushing it. He was selling like five, six, seven times more than the average associate in his store and in the rest of the business, let alone the fact that he was in a smaller category and a smaller market.
And when he was asked “What are you doing differently?” His response was that “I treat my job here in the store less like a job, but more like a business, more like I'm running my own business.” And like any business person he knew how to get out there and hustle and meet customers, generate demand.
What was later found out was he was actually trying to do deals with the condo developers in an up and coming neighborhood. So instead of waiting for a customer to walk into the store and sell one refrigerator, he's selling like dozens of refrigerators at a time.
And what he said next was kind of like the clincher for where this all came from and he said, “Imagine I have my own version of the source website. And I was actually able to send my customers there and let them buy from me as I eat dinner with my family Sunday night.” And that was really the birth of Salesfloor. It was like, okay, as the world does get more digital, we need to give these store associates digital tools to continue to serve and sell to their customers.
Now I think what the most surprising thing is in this whole story, and it goes back to your earlier question, was the role of the store associate in the store, and the store design, is still key to this because although, you know, we've sold literally billions of dollars through Salesfloor, through these interactions.
But what we know is that the large majority of those sales are actually being transacted in store. So you interact online, but the purchase and that feeling of taking the item and putting it into your trunk is still the majority of what drives numbers at Salesfloor. So, you know, you could say that it's discovery and then purchased online, but you can also say that it's discovery online and purchased in store.
I think post-Covid that is going to be a really telling evolution of what that looks like for retailers.
Bob: Well, it's certainly going to be a brave new world, that's for sure. What's the best or worst advice you've ever received about retail?
Ben: It goes back to that thing I said before, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
I think challenging the status quo is something that, you know, was probably the best thing we ever heard to motivate us to start this business. But as we went into different retailers, I mean, it's the age-old tale of being told No, you know, nine times before you get your one Yes.
There are a lot of retailers out there who are not ready to change. And some of the advice that we got coming out of those presentations and meetings in the very early days was that retail isn't ready for this and that we might be ahead of the curve on this. And I'm really glad that some of that thought process was not exactly accurate, but I think we still see some of that, you know, and I think the pandemic situation is accelerating some of the improvements in that area.
But, I would say some of the best advice that we got as a team was When you keep your head down, work hard and don't listen to the naysayers because you believe in what you're doing, good things come.
Bob: I think that's a great way to think of it. And, what do you like about retail?
You know, my podcast is called, Tell Me Something Good About Retail. What do you love about retail?
Ben: You know, I started in retail.
Bob: In menswear, right?
Ben: I worked in TJ Maxx as a menswear salesman. And I remember holiday season time. Everybody's like flipping the hangers off the racks and everything.
If you asked me 25 years ago what I like about retail, it would be a very different answer than today, but I think that what's really interesting to me about retail is that customer experiences now are very rich, very diverse.
And when you think about what the internet has done for retail in the last decade or more, it's really opened up what's possible. I think that it's a very large opportunity. It's a very large part of the industry that is ripe to be, it's not a question of being disrupted because I think it's already been disrupted, but the ways that we're approaching disruption, there just seems to be a whole lot of opportunity that makes it exciting for someone who is ready to take on the challenge.
I think by and large, there's so much out there and what we really need is great people to join this cause, be it on the retailer side, or the vendor side to attack the problems with these positive approaches. Hopefully that's not too theoretical of a response.
Bob: Well, it certainly makes sense.
I think, again, that the whole idea is that interacting with people, it's still going to be a people business. Retail has always been about people and frankly it's about executing brilliantly. I mean, I think that's the thing that I think is interesting about Salesfloor that you're able to kind of take this relationship, assuming that the employee does a great job on the floor or does it in servicing.
I know that I've had, people who, when you submit a Contact Us form and no one says anything to you for four or five days. I think those days are going to have to be gone. But you know, retailers have so much more to think about in the advent of Covid-19. Just from how they're going to probably be lowering their store hours to be able to clean more thoroughly.
And ultimately as we go out, those early adopters are going to have to feel really cared for and not waited on. And I think all of that is going to be what shares us forward as a group to figure out what retail is. But I still have hope that we are going to remember that it's a game of being more human in an increasingly technological world.
And if I can use the technology to keep that going, I think then that makes a big difference.
Ben: The four-wall touch test, where if I could touch all four walls without being greeted, that training is just as important to the online experience. When you talk about submitting a Contact Us form and not getting a response for days, that’s the same thing as the four walls test and training need to now be applied to how we do this better online as well as in store.
Bob: So how do we find out more about your company, Ben?
Ben: Our website is salesfloor.net and if you have any questions you can leave your info there and we are happy to get back to you.
Bob: That sounds great. Well, I'm wishing us all back to a return to normal here and that more people will be out there clienteling and holding on those relationships they've created with their store and their brand and their associates.
So, thanks for joining me today, Ben. I really appreciate it.
Ben: Thank you Bob, it was fun.
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