“The one thing that really sticks out to me as far as the bike industry [and other specialty retailers] are concerned is that we’re hiring passionate people to do the job of retailers.” Leslie Cunningham, Chief Networking Officer of the Mann Group, made this comment during a recent podcast. This is an ostensibly positive observation—passion is a great attribute. But it’s also a problematic one for the retail industry.
In the retail industry—the bike industry, for example—managers tend to hire employees who are experts in their field. They hire excellent cyclers who love the product, who are knowledgeable and passionate about the sport. Oftentimes, that also means hiring friends who share that enthusiasm for the sport that the manager or store owner values. “That’s a dangerous strategy for hiring because people who are good at riding, who are good at racing, might not be service–oriented, they may not be good at sales,” notes Dan Mann, Founder and President of The Mann Group. Though these employees are undoubtedly passionate about the sport, they may be incapable of translating this inherent passion into a quality sales strategy.
Unfortunately, that tendency to hire the experienced rider over the experienced salesperson has led to the false perception that folks in the bike industry (and other specialized sports retailers) are unfriendly or unapproachable, when in reality the opposite is true.
An excellent salesperson possesses a variety of attributes: they’re friendly, flexible, and most of all, they’re curious. These employees are naturally engaging; they enjoy approaching customers, questioning them and engaging in genuine conversation in order to learn more about these customers in order to truly assist them. Unfortunately, these aren’t skills that are easily taught. And often, the technical skills and experience that initially attract a manager to a potential employee aren’t paired with those outgoing and gregarious personalities.
We all know about left brained and right brained people. Left brained folks tend to be more introverted; they enjoy numbers and figures, they’re focused on facts and tend to be analytical. Right brained people, on the other hand, are dreamers; they’re extroverts who are genuinely curious and aren’t afraid to engage with those around them. These two types of people—left brained and right brained—tend to have very specific resting stances. Those with right brained tendencies are usually relaxedly smiling, whereas left brained people have more closed–off stances, like arms crossed and a furrowed brow; one of these is clearly more approachable. And they are approached, their style of interaction is completely different, from smiling enthusiasm to dry and simple response. It’s not that one is intentionally unkind or invaluable, it’s just that they’re more positively communicative. When it comes to communication, right brained folks are almost always at an advantage.
In the bike industry and similar specialty retailers, those passionate, knowledgeable employees we tend to hire also have the striking tendency to be left brained. Add to that a penchant for beards and tattoos, and you can begin to understand why customers misconstrue the industry as an inhospitable one.
Now, that’s not to say that left brained and passionate employees are verboten. In fact, these employees are valuable assets to the retail industry. But it is important to identify these different personalities, employ a diverse range of left and right brained folks, and to ensure that their position is the best for their personality.
It’s incredibly difficult to manipulate the minds of your employees, to transform them from an introvert into an extrovert. Take, for example, a bike mechanic. This is an excellent position for one of those experienced and left brained employees. Say this mechanic is hard at work on a bike; he’s analyzing the bike with a furrowed brow and steely gaze, his fingers meticulously working the parts on the hunt for the root of the problem. In this scenario, the employee is successfully using his natural attributes in order to accomplish his job successfully. But if a cheerful, right brained customer approaches this left brained employee as he’s in the midst of this problem solving, it’s almost physiologically impossible for him to switch gears (literally) and engage in a positive, outgoing discussion with this customer. You can’t fairly reprimand this employee for not handling this situation as a right brained one would—but you can prevent this situation from occurring.
It’s important to designate specific tasks and places for each of your employees based on their personalities. That left brained person who’s an experienced biker and regularly competes in races is a valuable asset to the team—as a mechanic who works in the shop. And that right brained employee who may not ride every day but has been working in retail for years and is naturally gregarious, that’s the person who should be interacting with your customers on a daily basis in the front of the house.
It’s important to be able to identify these different types of folks and, to an extent, help them to be more centrally located on this dichotomous personality spectrum. Mann U offers a workshop for identifying the physical representations of these personality types. Students start by looking at the typical behaviors and body language of both left and right brained employees in order to identify those traits. Everything about a typical interaction—from voice inflections (loud or soft, high or low) to storytelling style (broad and lengthy, or short and germane)—is particular to a personality, and can either captivate a customer or deter them. Identifying and recognizing these attributes is the first step to putting the best employees in the best situations so that their particular skills can be used well. It also helps managers assist those left brained folks become a little more affable.
Passion is a celebrated characteristic—and it should be. “That equates to really, really great mechanics,” Leslie points out. “It also equates to being able to see opportunities where we can help the people that we’re hiring sell better, because these people that we’re hiring are passionate about quality over quantity.” If you can mold these passionate, experienced employees into slightly more sociable and smiling ones, you’ve truly created the perfect employee—one who cares about their customers and their experience in the sport that they love. And if not? You’ve got the best mechanic in the industry.