In the book To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, Daniel Pink discusses a survey he conducted on the popular perception of sales reps. Respondents were asked to provide the first word that came to mind when they thought of “sales.” Some of the most popular answers were:
Seems like salespeople have a bit of an image problem.
The sales rep of 20 years ago might have indeed been described in this less-than-flattering way, but sales is becoming an increasingly consultative and helpful profession. Yet public perception hasn’t necessarily caught up.
With this in mind, many brands are moving away from the unpopular “sales representative” title in favor of something a bit more palatable. For example, earlier this month, Kate Spade New York announced that their sales associates will now be called “Muses.”
The company’s decision reflects a larger trend in the sales profession, according to Liz Dunn, CEO of Talmage Advisors. “The best retail experiences have a heavy service element, and not a heavy selling element,” Dunn told BuzzFeed.
But Kate Spade isn’t the only brand that’s rebranded their sales associates. Read on for a list of seven companies that have given their retail sales workers’ job titles a facelift.
1) Kate Spade: “Muses”
According to Kate Spade chief marketing officer Mary Beech, the title change for sales associates is just one part of a larger repositioning of “Muses’” in-store role. Muses will be given candies, birthday candles, and other items to interact with customers, while stores will feature interactive elements such as a letter-writing table and free Polaroid stations.
The goal is to deliver an “authentic experience that’s customer-led,” Beech told BuzzFeed.
To reflect the expansion of their roles, Muses will no longer be measured solely on sales volume -- they’ll also be judged on the number of Kate Spade customers who return to make a second purchase or are willing to recommend the brand to friends.
2) Apple: “Geniuses”
Apple is another example of a company combining service and sales. All Apple stores include a Genius Bar, an area where customers and shoppers can ask questions and request technical services or repairs from so-called “Geniuses.”
According to a copy of the Genius Training Manual obtained by Gizmodo, trainees must “take ownership empathetically, recommend persuasively, and get to ‘yes’ respectfully.” In the course of their workday, Geniuses “recommend solutions,” “build loyalty,” “cultivate the customer’s relationship,” and “showcase [Apple] technology.”
But make no mistake: It’s not all about service. Geniuses are also tasked with moving products. After all, according to the training manual, “everyone in the Apple Store is in the business of selling.”
3) Origins: “Guides”
Origins, a cosmetics and beauty company, offers services such as free facials and skincare consultations in its stores. These services, as well as transactional purchases, are delivered and overseen by “Guides.”
The choice of the label “Guide” is based in Origins’ commitment to helping the customer, according to global general manager Stéphane De La Faverie.
“The role of a Guide is to welcome visitors -- in this case Origins customers -- and lead them on their own personal journey through the Origins experience,” De La Faverie writes in a note on the Origins website. “Origins Guides never tell customers what to do.”
4) Microsoft: “Advisors”
Similar to sales reps at Apple, Microsoft’s in-store employees take on the dual role of support and selling. “Consumer Product Advisors” perform general customer services such as providing product recommendations, while “Consumer Service Advisors” take on Genius-like support and repair duties. According to a job listing, both Product and Service Advisors must “engage, educate, excite, and empower” customers.
In-store employees were originally called Retail Sales Associates and Retail Customer Service Associates, and dubbed Personal Trainers and Technical Advisors by 2011. Consumer Product/Service Advisors are the latest iteration of Microsoft workers’ job titles.
When the first Microsoft stores opened in 2009, corporate vice president of retail stores David Porter said the purpose of the stores was to demonstrate the breadth of the Microsoft brand.
“Our customers have told us they want choice, better value, and great service when shopping for technology, and that is what we will deliver through our Microsoft Stores,” Porter said.
5) Best Buy: “Geek Squad Agents”
In 2002, consumer electronics company Best Buy acquired the technical services company Geek Squad, and completed the nationwide launch of Geek Squad services in 2004. All existing support staff was rebranded with the Geek Squad logo.
Best Buy’s “business strategy is to bring technology and consumers together in a retail environment that focuses on educating consumers on the features and benefits of technology and entertainment products,” according to the company’s 2004 Form 10-K. “The Best Buy store format has evolved to include more interactive displays and a higher level of customer service.”
In-store employees not branded with the Geek Squad logo are known as “Consultants,” in keeping with Best Buy’s commitment to educating customers.
6) Lululemon: “Educators”
Another brand that touts the value of in-store education is Lululemon Athletica, a lifestyle and fitness apparel company. Retail employees are known as “Educators,” and their job function extends beyond transactional sales.
Educators are also tasked with making customers, known as “Guests,” aware of the Lululemon culture and community. Other responsibilities listed in the job posting are “in-store discussion[s] of lifestyle (i.e. yoga, fitness, health, and fun)” with Guests and directing them to bulletin boards advertising yoga, health, and fitness resources.
All Sephora stores are divided into “on stage” (customer-accessible areas) and “back stage” (employees-only) zones. Sephora cast members (managers are known as “Directors”) provide standard customer service, but also make recommendations for makeup and do customers’ makeup in-store.
“We have an obsession with delighting our customers, and everyone [we hire] needs to have that mentality,” Sephora vice president of talent acquisition Yvette Nichols told Cosmopolitan.
Would a Sales Rep by Any Other Name Sell Just as Well?
While new job titles reflect these companies’ desire to communicate sales reps’ evolving roles (especially in the arena of customer service), are the changes really positive?
Britany Robinson of Skaled believes there’s no reason to view sales in a negative light.
“You’re not trying to con people into purchasing a lemon with the miles turned back from 10,000 to 10,” she writes in a WeWork blog post. “You’re connecting people to an opportunity that could improve their lives, and that’s something worth feeling passionate about.”
Moreover, renaming salespeople doesn’t do much to combat negative public perception. Changing sales associates’ job titles to “Muse” or “Geek” because they do more than push products on customers (something a good salesperson wouldn’t do in the first place) might reinforce the idea that salespeople are overbearing.
It also puts the onus of combating the negative perception of salespeople on the shoulders of reps themselves, when perhaps it’s public opinion that needs to change. After all, salespeople who only sell to people who want or need to buy are hardly overbearing or pushy -- they're downright helpful.
As sales trainer Alison Dawkins puts it, “People buy things most days, and if what you are selling is what the recipient needs or wants, your service becomes a valuable part of their business."
What do you think of these revamped titles for salespeople? Do they better represent the role retail employees play in a customer’s in-store experience? Or are they bending to flawed perceptions of sales associates? Let us know in the comments below.
Originally published Sep 25, 2015 7:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017