RETAIL FITNESS is a blog dedicated to the retail community.  

There has never been a more urgent time in the retail industry to be be lean, agile, effective, productive , consistent, cost efficient and experience based.  

there is only one skill that all great sales people must possess

there is only one skill that all great sales people must possess

I had an experience recently that changed my perspective on a topic that is an on-going conversation in every retail organization...sales associate training.  

Like the majority of retail leaders, I am often thinking about the “next big thing”  in sales training, how to consistently improve the customer experience, and what to look for when hiring great sales associates.  It feels like we have been on the hunt for a magic solution an easy answer. As we work toward developing this “experience culture” in brick and mortar retail, this topic is a high priority for everyone.  

This idea of “training as a solution” is supported by these commonly asked questions: 

  • "What can we do to make your employee experience better?”…." I would like more training” 
  • During an interview…"what questions do you have for me today?"…."What training do you have available? 
  • In an exit interview..."Why are you leaving us?…."I never received any training” or “I wish I had more training” 

Unfortunately most training and development programs do not result in behavior changes as demonstrated in the bulk of customer experience surveys, and therefore we continue to look for a quick fix or an easy answer.  When business is challenged we immediately go to training that might be missing, when we should be looking at core competencies for which we hire. 

As is often written, you should “hire for attitude and train for skill”, but what is the attitude that we look for in retail?  From my perspective it is quite simple; ultimately everything comes down to relationships.   Whether it is developing a relationship with a new customer, or an on-going client that you contact regularly, it is all a relationship.  

A retail organization comprised of people who are ineffective at creating and sustaining healthy relationships with the customer will eventually fail.  Conversely, an organization comprised of people who are highly effective at creating and sustaining healthy relationships has a tremendous competitive advantage.  

The more I thought about this and considered what  a great relationship should look like, it dawned on me that there is only ONE true skill that an exceptional sales associate must possess: 


Empathy is the key to understanding WHY each and every customer walks in the store.  Associates with a natural curiosity that have life experiences to share are comfortably empathetic and can immediately put a customer at ease.  It is the willingness and ability to put yourself into the mental and emotional position of a customer.  It is an extension of any selling approach, since you not only listen to your customer needs, but you sell with an empathetic understanding.  

Fortunately, we don’t need to be born with high levels of empathy to excel in this area, it is something we can train and develop in our teams. Some of the tools we can use to enhance these skills can include the following:

  • Be curious about the customer and begin building the relationship before anything else
  • Take time to consider what you have in common.  Empathy cannot be developed without understanding that first 
  • Customers are first human beings, and we need to acknowledge and incorporate the social emotions essential to relationship building


  • Listen with your ears – what is being said, and what tone is being used?
  • Listen with your eyes – what is the person doing with his or her body while speaking?
  • Listen with your instincts – do you sense why the customer is there? 
  • Listen with your heart – what do you think the other person feels?

I encourage you this week to focus on developing this ONE great skill in your entire team, and just work on empathy.  Let everyone know that it matters, and although task oriented skills like planning, controlling, and “making the numbers” are important, understanding, caring, and developing an empathetic approach in all we do is perhaps the most significant effort you can make toward improving the customer experience in your store.  

Empathy is about standing in someone else's shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.

our teams are human first, and work is just one part of their lives

our teams are human first, and work is just one part of their lives

you can have results or excuses- not both

you can have results or excuses- not both