Misalignment is a common problem within retail companies. According to a 2016 report from Netsertive and the CMO Council, only 7% of retail marketers believe they are aligned with local stores. That’s a staggering and sobering statistic that shows a lot can go wrong for something like a holiday promotion.
A retail team is a lot like a crew on a boat. Every person on that boat needs to know what their role is in moving the vessel forward. If they lack alignment, everyone will pull in a different direction, thus pulling the organization apart.
The first step to establishing an aligned organization is understanding what it means for a company to be aligned. Every member of the organization plays a role in bringing the brand vision to life. Misalignment happens when people are unclear about their roles or responsibilities within the company, which can negatively affect sales and the customer experience, among other things.
The success of a store depends on every department — from the boardroom to the backroom. It’s important to define the critical few priorities for the organization versus the important many.
Here are four things retail organizations should do to ensure alignment:
1. Give stores context.
Individual stores are notified about business decisions, but what employees typically lack is the context in which that decision was made and the strategy behind it. This leads to misalignment. If a store doesn’t understand the strategy behind what it’s being asked to do, it’s less likely to execute a plan, or it may not understand how to prioritize it against other, lower-priority tasks. Stores should know how their everyday work fits into the bigger company strategy and what their roles are in helping the brand bring its vision to life.
For example, if headquarters has invested a lot of money into the launch of a new sneaker campaign, stores should know what’s new and different about the product, how important the campaign is to the brand, what the campaign is about, and how a specific event supports the overall company strategy. Giving stores context to the “why” clarifies how their work fits in with the larger company strategy and allows them to make daily business decisions that support the campaign’s goals.
2. Maximize visibility around decisions.
At HQ, it’s much easier to direct a change. All it takes is stopping by someone’s desk or calling a staff meeting. But retail has stores in different locations all around the world. And just like how stores need to understand the context of business decisions, executives need to be informed about how these decisions are executed in each individual store.
When faced with decreasing sales, for example, a CEO could decide to invest marketing dollars to promote a particularly on-trend product. Hours would then be spent planning marketing, creating visual displays, managing merchandise and adjusting inventory for the launch. Leadership’s involvement doesn’t end with giving instructions, however. If the CEO were to walk into a store, they would need to see their vision made into a reality. All too often, however, CEOs are surprised when their instructions aren’t carried out. Somewhere along the way, directions were misinterpreted, which is a sign of a misaligned organization.
The most effective organizations look at hindsight performance and measure the alignment from HQ to stores. Getting visibility into how the campaign was executed in stores gives insight into whether the initiative worked. There might be information around sales and traffic, but if there’s no confirmation that the store actually put up the signage or participated in the promotion, then there’s no way to guarantee the event and overall strategy worked.
3. Eliminate internal competition.
For the retail boat to move forward, different departments need to focus on the same goal. When the HR, finance and marketing departments are all sending instructions, how can a store differentiate the critical messages from the less important ones?
This is an organizational flaw. With all this confusion, stores can’t prioritize tasks properly. A leadership team cannot drive their organization in a coherent direction if every department clutters the roadway with instructions they consider important.
Each department should be working on the same jigsaw puzzle. If every person knows which pieces they are supposed to work on, the puzzle will come together. For example, imagine a store is preparing for a holiday. The marketing employees take responsibility for the visuals. The district managers know to inspect stores. The regional directors are responsible for building relationships with community leaders, and the territory leaders analyze sales to create growth strategies. Not only are the lines of division clear, but they are properly aligned with one another.
4. Offer a consistent experience.
When a customer shops a brand, they expect to have a similar experience in any location on any day of the week. A brand makes a promise to its customers about what to expect, and it shouldn’t vary too drastically from one location to the next. If a store fails to meet that brand promise, the customer is left disappointed and might not come back again.
However, offering a consistent experience to customers is hard when there’s so much change in the industry, including competition, environmental factors and new initiatives. The most successful retailers are nimble in how they achieve a high-quality customer experience and adjust direction in real time. The better the alignment within a company, the higher the chances are that every store will be able to deliver on the brand promise in a way that’s up to expectation.
The store is no longer the place to make a transaction; it has become an experiential marketing channel — and one of the best ways to educate and engage with customers. What resources do your teams use for smooth sailing?