Finding out that you share the same birthday, hometown or even first name with another stranger can be a great icebreaker in social situations.
A recent University of British Columbia study shows that for some retailers, these shared connections can benefit the bottom line.
The study finds that consumers who share a common trait with a salesperson might be quicker to open their wallet and make a purchase.
For companies looking to better connect with their customers, the research provides a new look into how trivial similarities can impact the relationship between a consumer and a sales agent. The study suggests that this consumer behavior is rooted in a universal desire among people to connect.
The strategy is not without risk, however. Having a personal connection in a retail environment can lead to a bigger backlash when a customer becomes unhappy or feels mistreated, the study finds. Companies are essentially raising the stakes when they personalize relationships in a retail or customer service setting, the study suggests.
The study, The Persuasive Role of Incidental Similarity on Attitudes and Purchase Intentions in a Sales Context, was conducted by UBC Sauder School of Business marketing researchers Prof. Darren Dahl, Prof. JoAndrea Hoegg and Lan Jiang, as well as Prof. Amitava Chattopadhyay of the European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD).
Using a fitness centre as a research laboratory, they showed that following a sales promotion for a personal training program, consumers who found out that they shared the same birthday with the trainer were more favorable towards the program and were more inclined to enroll.
“Our research provides management insight into the power of cultivating similarity between consumers and sales agents in the retail context,” says Dahl. “It turns out that in face-to-face situations, the need for social connectedness among individuals can result in their being persuaded more easily.”
Dahl says some companies are already wise to the magic of shared connections. At Disney’s theme parks, for example, employees have their hometowns displayed on their nametags.
“But it is important to note that salespeople that share a similarity also have the capacity to alienate consumers if their behavior is perceived to be negative,” he says. “Distancing away from a similar salesperson is more likely in this type of context.”
During the study, the research subjects witnessed the trainer taking a personal phone call, during which he berated the individual at the other end of the call. Since the salesperson was seen to exhibit rude and obnoxious behaviour, consumers with the shared birthday were even more likely to view the sales clerk in a negative light than those with a different birth date.
The publication of the sales-focused research coincides with two new executive development sales programs being offered at the Sauder School. The Certificate in Sales Leadership, as well as the Certificate in Sales Management, were developed in collaboration with the BC Innovation Council, which contributed $2.1 million towards creating the endowed BC Innovation Council`s Chair in Sales and Sales Management.
The introduction of the two programs comes at a time when there is a documented shortage of real sales curriculum in academic programs. Learn more at sauder.ubc.ca.