SOURCE: Luxury Institute, LLC

Luxury Institute, LLC

April 06, 2016 13:10 ET

Luxury Institute's 21st Century Career Advice You Can't Afford to Ignore: an Open Letter to Luxury Retail Sales Associates

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - April 06, 2016) - In a stalled U.S. economy where the average young worker in the U.S. earns $33,000 per year and fails to receive annual increases, where can an eager young Millennial without a top college degree thrive? Look no further than the luxury retail industry, where associates start at $15-20 per hour in an eye candy retail environment and often earn much more with commission. If you master your craft, you can earn $100,000 plus benefits within 5-7 years and rise to a senior management position. Most professions never get close to the advancement opportunities available in the luxury retail industry.

What does it take to succeed in high-end sales? The top earners of luxury salespeople will tell you that the key to their success is cultivating close relationships with their customers. Human beings are inherently social. One leading psychoanalyst tells Luxury Institute that humans crave three things to survive and thrive: safe physical and mental spaces, trustworthy human connections, and emotional and material rewards. A Harvard study of poor and affluent males that has been conducted since 1938 confirms that what makes a life worth living, regardless of wealth, comes down to only one thing: the richness of your human relationships. That includes the rich relationships we form through our work, where we spend most of our days.

Luxury brands are finally starting to understand that the traditional concept of selling demeans the human beings on both ends of the transaction. In its place, luxury is now starting to focus on genuine relationship-building as the essential skill in driving sales results, which requires a leap in mindset and in behaviors. Luxury Institute has mastered the art and science of high performance in relationship building by conducting empirical research in fields including the military, aviation, medicine, education, sports, behavioral and positive psychology, as well as our own laboratory of dozens of successful client engagements.

How do you, as a sales associate, develop yourself into a master relationship builder who can earn six figures in a luxury environment? Here are 7 candid recommendations from Luxury Institute that can help you design a life worth living and full of meaning and purpose, all while earning a great living inside a luxury boutique:

1. Engage Fully at Work

Employee engagement, like mindfulness, is a new fad that consultants are using to entice client companies to engage employees. Fewer than 30% of U.S. employees say they are fully engaged at work, according to a 2015 Gallup Poll, while only 13% are engaged globally. Of course, it would be ideal if your company had a great environment that inspired you to thrive, but few do and most never will. Gallup also tells us that 70% of the variance for employee engagement is due to your direct manager. If you are extremely dissatisfied with your manager, you probably have to leave. However, as Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world's most effective CEO coaches tell us, it is ultimately not the responsibility of your employer to engage you at work. The precious time you spend in a retail boutique belongs to you, not your employer, so own it. It is entirely your responsibility. If you feel you can work with your manager, even if they are not a good leader, then you must fully engage and undertake the steps below with passion, discipline and determination. No one can give you the motivation, so you must dare to make that a do-it-yourself project. If you fail to do so, the heavy damage is not to your employer, or the clients. They will get over it, your life won't.

2. Redefine Your Role to Fit Your Humanity

In a fascinating 2010 study by an independent researcher, hospital workers who cleaned floors and sanitized patient rooms were asked to define their jobs. While most used technical terms based on their soulless job descriptions, a few of them defined their jobs as helpers of the sick. Those who described themselves as helpers of the sick went above and beyond their job description and consistently performed unexpected acts of kindness, such as switching the pictures on the walls of hospital rooms hoping to help revive coma patients. Their job satisfaction and, most importantly, performance far exceeded that of the others. "It's not part of my job description, but it's part of me," said one highly engaged employee when asked why she behaved in such a caring way. Ask yourself, what great qualities like empathy, trust, and generosity can you bring to work every day that are fundamental to who you are as a human being? Then, rewrite your job description, just for you, to include not just what you do, but who you are. You'll find that your happiness and your sales numbers will increase dramatically.

3. Be a Giver, Not a Taker

Instead of helping sales associates become master relationship builders, traditional luxury and retail sales training programs try to brainwash sales associates into becoming assertive and aggressive in helping a client part with as much money as possible. A University of Pennsylvania professor, Adam Grant, has conducted empirical research on high performance in many areas of business, including sales. Grant's research unequivocally demonstrates that "enlightened givers," who aim to provide service to others but have safety boundaries to deflect predators, generate 50% more revenue than either "takers," who focus on their own gain and take advantage of others, and "matchers," who give only when they expect something in return. In a winner-take-all society, it is easy to fall into the taker or matcher roles for fear that you will be taken advantage of by selfish and greedy people. There is also a definite risk of being a giver without developing a strong sense of boundaries, which will ultimately leave you with nothing. However, being an enlightened giver is a skill you can easily master and apply to any profession, especially sales. Your sales numbers and reputation will climb a steep upward trajectory if you make up your mind that you will always give first to your clients and peers, while being mindful of protecting yourself from takers.

4. Set Your Own Higher Standards of Performance

Your company sets your weekly and monthly sales goals for you that sometimes look unreasonable given the downward trend in the luxury industry, and you have no say in the matter. High achievers don't measure their performance against the goals set for them by the company. Instead, they measure themselves by their own talents and potential to develop into top performers. They know that what any human can master and achieve in luxury sales, they can achieve too. No matter what goals someone might set for you, set them higher and then make a plan for overachieving them. Do this for you, and no one else. It will be hard at first to believe that you can achieve your own higher goals, but once you set those high goals you will unleash a wave of personal learning and creativity. You must take the training program seriously and learn from the top sales professionals in the store, and surpass them. Instead of complaining or worrying about the goals your manager sets, make up your mind to outperform them, and then take massive action. The winners know that success is about pleasure, not pressure. This includes the pleasure of making clients happy by listening to them and giving them what they want, as well as the pleasure of reaching out with sincerity and passion. Transforming yourself into a luxury retail expert who delivers empathy, trustworthiness and generosity to clients and peers with pleasure can earn you six figures and beyond.

5. Own Your Success Behaviors and Metrics Daily

One of the biggest mistakes companies make is measuring only the outcome metrics of sales associates such as conversion, retention and dollar value of sales. While those are necessary, they are only results, not the critical root causes of high performance. What you have to do for yourself, even if the company fails to do so, is devise and reliably execute a set of critical daily behaviors and metrics that lead to great sales results. Ask yourself exactly what you can do to earn the trust of clients and prospects so that they volunteer actionable information that helps you serve them better. Discover the behaviors you must exhibit and measure so that when people come to exchange or return, they actually buy more. Find out ways to reach out to clients and prospects so that you can book future appointments or inspire clients to make purchases from compelling emails or texts. Explore what works and what doesn't work, then build daily metrics to track accordingly. Respect yourself enough to be completely honest with yourself in measuring; you deserve that. You own your behaviors and you own your metrics. Try to be a team player and share your methods and metrics, but if your manager or others are disengaged, focus on your own behaviors and measure them meticulously. If there is no CRM system, use an excel spreadsheet. Use a notebook and pencil if you need to, but do it. That is your high performance gift to yourself.

6. Get Yourself a Good Coach

Marshall Goldsmith, the great high-performance CEO coach, points out in his fabulous book, Triggers, that human beings often lack three critical ingredients for achieving great results. First, they lack the ability to evaluate themselves and others honestly and objectively. Second, they deny the need for assistance and structure required for peak performance; and third, they underestimate the willpower required to make positive changes. This is why enlisting the assistance of an expert coach is critical. "Coaching, done well, may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance," says Dr. Atul Gawande, an accomplished Harvard surgeon who studies high performance systems.

Coaching is a fine art and a science. Luxury Institute has helped dozens of luxury brands to develop professional-grade coaches in-house, and is trying to convince the luxury industry to invest in the education and certification required to truly transform store and call center managers into evidence-based professional grade coaches. Until that happens, you must try to find yourself an independent coach. There are many fake coaches who are certified by dodgy pay-to-play universities and associations, and few can deliver any verifiable evidence that they have achieved results for clients in the luxury retail profession. Good coaches can be hard to find, but having a coach is a huge success factor. When you find a coach whom you admire and respect for their proven retail results and humanity, invest in yourself and hire them. The investment in a great coach who helps you confront reality, develop a success system, and empowers you to find your own effective solutions more than pays for itself in huge multiples.

7. Live Success with Humility

If you follow these recommendations, you will reach the level of a top-performer. When you do, you may be tempted to become arrogant and proud, but avoid that temptation. Jim Collins, author of Good To Great and Great By Choice, points out that humility is the X-Factor of high performers. According to Collins, the truly great human beings combine intense professional drive with genuine personal humility, continuing to learn and improve even at the pinnacle of their profession. Research from the University of Washington reveals that humility is not just a great human quality, but also a competitive advantage because people who demonstrate humility are higher achievers and better leaders. When you reach that level of a master relationship builder, with the sales and personal income to prove it, continue to be a generous learner and teacher. Doors that lead to greater opportunities will open wide and often, even in unexpected places, as your stellar reputation grows.

In his book Talent Is Overrated, renowned Fortune Senior Editor Geoff Colvin demonstrates through empirical research that "great performance is in our hands far more than most of us ever suspected." The fact that most of us can control a great deal of our success by building our skills is great news. The bad news is that if you fail to achieve high performance in your chosen craft, you have no one to blame but yourself. Colvin goes on in his other great book, Humans are Underrated, to demonstrate how in the 21st century, as computers take over many tasks previously done by humans, "being a great performer is becoming less about what we know, and more about what we are like." He states that the most valuable workers in the 21st century are relationship workers. Relationship skills such as genuine empathy, trustworthiness and kindness are in huge demand, and they can be learned and mastered by almost anyone.

Fast forward to your final day on earth. What will you be able to say to yourself about having lived your life? Will you be counting how much money you earned? Or will you look back on the relationships, personal and professional, that were the cornerstones and joys of a life worth living? The answer is easy, and it is all in your precious hands.

About Milton Pedraza and Luxury Institute, LLC

Milton Pedraza is the CEO of the Luxury Institute. Over the past 12 years, Milton has established the Luxury Institute, first and foremost, as a high-performance client relationship consulting firm serving more than 1,000 luxury and premium goods and services brands across dozens of categories. The Luxcelerate System has helped brands significantly improve client data collection, conversion, and retention rates. In addition, the Institute has conducted more research with affluent consumers than any other entity in the world.

Milton advises and coaches luxury CEOs and advises the boards of top-tier luxury and premium brands, as well as luxury startups. He is sought after worldwide for his practical, innovative and humanistic insights and recommendations on luxury and is the most quoted global luxury industry expert in leading media and publications.

Milton is also an authority on customer relationship management technologies, analytics, and Big Data. Prior to founding the Luxury Institute, his successful career at Fortune 100 companies included executive roles at Altria, PepsiCo, Colgate, Citigroup and Wyndham Worldwide.

Milton was born in Colombia, raised in the United States, and has lived in several countries. He has conducted business in over 100 countries, and speaks several languages.

For more information and additional insights visit www.LuxuryInstitute.com, or contact Luxury Institute CEO Milton Pedraza directly with questions (mpedraza@luxuryinstitute.com).

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