Best Buy Is Reinventing Their Business, Will They Make It?

I read a story about Best Buy in the Wall Street Journal recently and it seems that interim CEO Mike Mikan is ready to reinvent the business and make it “more relevant, more intelligent and more nimble”. It will be interesting to watch this play out and see if they can adapt their big box format to escape what a friend of mine calls their “showroom for the internet” perception. One of the specifics that Mikan mentioned in the article was “worker training to deepen customer relationships”. I hope that Best Buy is thinking past training that simply tells their people what to do and is focused on efforts that change the sales culture and actually influence how their salespeople think about customers.

I’m betting that many of the Best Buy salespeople already know how to build relationships. They probably do it every day in their life outside of work. I’d wager that they have even built some strong, lasting relationships with people at work. If that’s the case, and the new training simply tells them how to build better relationships with their customers, the odds aren’t Best Buy’s favor. Their people already know, at least to some degree, how to build a relationship. Training that tells someone what to do, unless they really want to and simply haven’t learned how yet, will cause little or no lasting change in behavior. That kind of training may give them a temporary boost in sales performance but they will need much more than a temporary boost to thrive again. Best Buy has to make several things happen to be successful.

Fully define the new customer experience

Best Buy’s biggest competitor is online purchasing. Their biggest competitive advantage is that you can touch and hold the products before you buy them. They need to create an amazing shopping experience, with people who add value to the buying process. They have a great showroom but they don’t have an amazing shopping experience. Best Buy needs to decide exactly what that customer experience would look and feel like for them to win, and then begin the process of internal behavior change to make it happen. Most businesses simply say they want to create an amazing experience, but they don’t share the full vision with their employees and make sure that everyone understands the new expectations. They should even involve their sales teams in helping create and shape that vision. If the new destination is not so well defined that people can understand it, embrace it and want to be part of it, the change will not be successful.

Change the mindset in the company

This one is admittedly hard but very few of their salespeople will treat a customer differently unless they think differently about the customer. The best salespeople are not the best because of the actions they take, but because of how they take the actions. Two salespeople can ask a customer how they can help and engage a customer with the exact same words, but the one with the intent of building a relationship and adding value will do it very differently than the one who is doing it because they were told what to say or even how to say it. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t more effective words to use, in fact “how can I help” is a better start than “do you need some help” or “may I help”, but I am saying that someone who believes their purpose is to make a difference for that customer does it much more effectively than someone following a script. Best Buy will win when the primary reason that its people come to work is to add value for the people that walk in the door. If Best Buy wants to help its people make that mindset shift, it will need to change much about the culture in the stores, the way the salespeople are coached, and how other employees see the most rewarded performers operating.

Drastically improve manager capabilities

This is one of the biggest keys to success and will be the most critical component. Will they train their salespeople and hope it helps or will they develop managers who can support, coach, and inspire salespeople to make the needed shift in thinking and behavior? In fact, if they invested in their managers and never even delivered salesperson training they would get a better return on their investment while spending the same amount. I think they should do both but if they only do one, turning their managers into leaders delivers a better ROI. A manager who can help a team adapt to the change quickly, teach them how to be better while observing them with customers, and support them every step of the way is a far greater change catalyst than a training class. These managers will also be the primary decision makers on who joins the company, who fits with the new culture and who chooses to continue their career elsewhere because they have different goals. Develop leaders at this level and you will soon have stars on the sales floor.

I’m certain that Best Buy has a comprehensive plan for how to make these things happen in their organization and that it goes well beyond “worker training”. Even though the article did not explain it, I hope there is a robust, organized change effort that is going on behind the scenes. I also hope that they are taking these components into consideration as they think about their changes. I like going into Best Buy and seeing all of the cool toys and technology they have to offer and I would love to go there and have a phenomenal shopping experience as well. I hope, unlike Circuit City, who as far as I can tell did none of these things, they cause the internal changes they need in order to grow and thrive. And maybe even to set an example for others on how to change their culture and reinvent their business.