Columnists

Squirrel Spotting: The Sales Boom Has Been a Blast, Now What?

ColumnistsFeb 08, 2022

Squirrel Spotting: The Sales Boom Has Been a Blast, Now What?

What changes did you make that are going to help your business endure beyond the current surge in jewelry sales? Peter Smith wants to know.

Peter Smith is president of Memoire and Hearts On Fire. He is author of three books, “Hiring Squirrels,” “Sell Something,” and his most recent, “The Sales Minute.” Connect with Smith on LinkedIn or at dublinsmith@yahoo.com.
In talking with a colleague over dinner at the recent Centurion show, I mentioned to her that my favorite question when interviewing a salesperson who has indicated, either on their resume or in conversation, that they grew a business by a significant amount is: “That’s great. Tell me how you did that?”

If you are in sales and/or responsible for growing a business, you ought to welcome that question. You should see it as an opportunity to articulate what you personally did to drive the stated growth.

The question itself is, of course, an invitation to take the onion of whatever great accomplishment you’ve highlighted and peel back the layers to identify the specific and tangible initiatives you conceived and deployed. 

It’s also an opportunity to shine a light on the thought process behind certain decisions, what obstacles needed to be overcome along the way, and what important learnings resulted from the process. 

If the interviewee was instrumental in delivering measurable contributions to the stated sales growth and accomplishments, the question should raise their energy levels, generate positive body language, and unleash a believable narrative to support the claims. 

If, however, the candidate was not directly responsible for the results stated on the resume and/or in their interview, they may struggle to deconstruct the onion and paint an authentic picture of their specific contributions. 

You may hear fragments and snippets—verbal bumper stickers, I call them—as the candidate struggles for coherence. Incongruence of story, or in their body language and words, can reasonably be assumed to suggest their influence was less than advertised.
 
Their involvement in the results may have been more a function of fortuitous timing and circumstance, and not, as claimed, due to their specific initiative and contributions. 

“What we know, with absolute certainty, is that we will at some point face headwinds, and this period of unprecedent growth will abate.”

As we fast approach the start of year three of the COVID economy (I’m counting from March 2020, which is when most of us were first impacted), we would all do well to ask a variation of my tell-me-how-you-did-that question about our own businesses.

We have just completed a year that saw the U.S. jewelry market deliver a majestic $94 billion in sales, far exceeding the previous high on record of $62 billion, and there will likely never be a better opportunity for businesses to claim credit for their respective magical rides.
 
It has, by most measures, been an historic period for our industry and, despite the prognostications of a few so-called experts about what we should expect in the coming year, the truth is we have absolutely no clue about what the near future holds for our business. 

What we do know, with absolute certainty, is that we will at some point face headwinds, and this period of unprecedent growth will abate. 

The incredible increases we have experienced will become the stuff of legend. The cash reserves may decline, the payables may revert to slower than ideal, foot traffic—which continued to increase through the fourth quarter—will reverse direction and return to the decades-long trend of less, not more. 

In fact, according to The Edge Retail Academy, while January saw increases in sales (up 14 percent) and average ticket (up 17 percent), we also witnessed the first decline in foot traffic (down 2.6 percent) in a few months. 

A precursor of things to come, or an aberration? Time will tell. 

 Related stories will be right here … 

I don’t believe it is an exaggeration to suggest there has never been a more important time—including the Great Recession of 2008/2009—to ask ourselves what comes next for our businesses, and how prepared we are for the future. 

If one accepts that the rising tide of the COVID economy lifted all boats in our industry, wouldn’t it also hold true that the inevitable falling tide will contribute equally to a collective decline? 

When things change, will we retreat to the $62 billion level, or worse still? 

For an industry that has historically gotten pneumonia when the economy sneezes, the past 18 months or so have been a welcome and unexpected boon. Retailers, many of whom were struggling to keep their heads above water, got a welcome reprieve. 

Owners who might have been contemplating selling their businesses, or planning retirement events and closing their doors altogether, enjoyed a much-needed break. 

And for retailers who had made or planned to make investments in people, infrastructure, technology, marketing, or their physical space, this period of growth has given them breathing room, absent the stresses typically associated with expensive renovations, investments, or acquisitions. 

So, getting back to where we started, how about asking yourself my sales candidate question: You grew your business by a gazillion percent, that’s great. Tell me how you did it? 

There may be retailers (and suppliers, manufacturers, service providers, etc.) who believe they got really smart over the past couple of years and imagine they’ve got this whole thing figured out. 

They may believe their success is nothing less than just rewards for having stayed the course, keeping their heads above water through the toughest of times (see that darn recession of ’08-’09 again), and that the recent past will be prologue. 

They may believe that the road ahead is beautifully paved, and their strategy should be to keep on keeping on. 

Alas, I wish it were that simple. 
With no apology for the redundancy, we need to ask ourselves what we have done despite the rising tide to ensure that our respective businesses continue to succeed when the overall climate for jewelry becomes more challenging.  

We will not outrun the bear when the winds change, but we can ensure that we give ourselves the best chance of outrunning the other guy. 

We can do that if we have implemented significant and tangible changes to our businesses during the COVID economy, changes that have improved, even fortified, our businesses for the future, changes that delivered a better experience for our customers, and which offer the promise of a healthier model during the invariable ups and downs to come. 

So, what tangible changes have you made to your business that will endure in a post-COVID world? 

If you were to list three significant and specific changes made that were fundamental and measurable, what would they be?

If you were to pose the question privately to each member of your team, what would they say you did? Would they all say the same thing? 

Would your business be that interview candidate making claims of success without articulating the why and the how? 

Or would you be the candidate that leans into the question, fires up their engine, and enthusiastically tells their story of success, with all the specificity and detail to support your claims, and with the promise of a fundamentally better business, regardless of the broader economic headwinds to come? 

We’re living in strange times, and we have an interesting ride ahead of us.

Peter Smithis an industry consultant, speaker, and sales trainer, and author of three books, “Hiring Squirrels,” “Sell Something,” and “The Sales Minute.”

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