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Knowing Your Lines Is Not Enough |  June 10, 2015 (0 comments)


Boston, MA—My wife and I went to see a concert recently, in a lovely theater here in Massachusetts. The concert was a tribute to Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, and it featured many of the songs that we have come to love over the years, such as Fly Me To The Moon, The Way You Look Tonight and My Funny Valentine.

As you might expect, the show featured two singers, a man (the ‘Sinatra’ guy) and a woman (‘Ella’) and a really great swinging band: a drummer and upright bass player, joined by a three-piece brass section, and a very accomplished keyboard player. In a nutshell, the band was great—and the singers were a big disappointment.

When I attend shows that feature vocalists, I try to suppress my desire to overly, or unfairly, focus on the singers. You see, I sing myself – I have done so for many years – and I am particularly sensitive to interpretations of songs from the Great American Songbook, as I have a great love for that genre. Despite, or perhaps because of, the great swinging band, I simply could not ignore what were very uninspiring performances by ‘Ella’ and ‘Frank.’ They had, at best, a rather tenuous relationship with the lyrics and if either of them had any great feeling for the songs, it certainly did not translate to where we were sitting, six or seven rows from the stage.

When I woke up the following morning, and my mind returned to the show, I found myself thinking about what an interesting metaphor that show was for many retail environments. I wondered if there were great ‘swinging stores’ that were being let down by under-performing salespeople, who might also have a tenuous relationship with the lyrics and a questionable emotional connection in their performance? Have you ever experienced a salesperson that seems to be saying the right things and yet he or she somehow manages to come across as inauthentic?

Stephen Cannon, the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz, said “We strive to tailor the experience we deliver to exceed their expectations. That means that every interaction with our brand – whether it’s our website, our showroom, our service drives, our marketing, or the phone calls they have with us – must both delight and wow them.”

You can put a great band, or a great retail store, in play but the singers must be real. They must embrace their stories in a way that is believable and which communicates to the audience, to the customer, with sincerity and authenticity.  There’s a line in The Way You Look Tonight that reads, “and that laugh that wrinkles your nose touches my foolish heart.”

Go ahead, touch a foolish heart, that’s where the fun begins.

Peter Smith, author of Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions To Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent, has spent 30 years building sales teams at retail, and working with countless numbers of independent retailers as a brand-executive, to offer his counsel and advice on personnel matters. A graduate of Boston College, he has served on the Advisory Board of Caliper’s Global Conference and is a contributing panelist on the KR Executive Group’s Talent Blog. Smith has worked for Tiffany & Co., and was executive vice president of brand development for Hearts On Fire, where he authored the Menu For Success, a roadmap for retail success.  Smith’s book is available in print or Kindle digital edition on 

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