The humanisation of the digital is the next step

Salespeople in businesses affected by store closures have massively turned to online consultations and sales, with unexpected success, particularly in the cosmetics sector. — Getty images/AFP

Without a doubt, online sales exploded in 2020. But they also transformed. Salespeople, brought to a standstill because of store closures, massively switched to remote consultations... with a success that was not entirely anticipated, especially in the cosmetics sector. We have thus found human voices and personalised advice even in our online purchases. In its summer 2020 report, research and consulting firm Gartner concludes that this "virtual selling" is here to stay. A quarter of companies have moved their sales representatives into virtual sales roles and plan to retain this structure even after the pandemic. In fact, according to Salesforce, recruitments of this new kind of salesperson are even on the rise. For Sabrina Herlory, 42, Managing Director of M.A.C. Cosmetics, interviewed here, the future of brands will inevitably involve the humanisation of the digital.

What was your experience of the lockdowns at M.A.C. Cosmetics?

I'm not going to lie, it was – and still is – hard! But at the same time, it was exhilarating: this period allowed us to get out of our comfort zone. The world to come is going to be like this: we're all going to be disrupted 70,000 times in our lives and we're going to have to get out of our comfort zone more regularly. For managers like me, this means making quick decisions based on partial information and no longer with full knowledge of the facts. And this is not an ability that can be learnt overnight, it's a muscle that you train throughout your life. Managers will have to find a confidence that is acquired as individuals when you have managed to overcome your fears, your anxieties, and sometimes, your astonishment. Once you've done that, you can really do anything: you're well armed!

What measures have you taken to withstand the crisis?

We have trained our sales consultants in "virtual selling", i.e. one-to-one personalised advice at a distance. This has been appreciated by the teams, who have suffered quite a lot during these periods of partial unemployment, which are very depressing. They realised that even if there was pressure on the retail sector, their occupation could evolve, thanks to digital technology, and not disappear!

And does "virtual selling" work for makeup?

Many doubted it, but I can tell you that, yes, it's very interesting from a human point of view and from a pure business point of view as well. The one-to-one digital concept is a bubble even more insulated than the physical experience in the store. It allowed us to maintain a connection with our customers, who are used to human interaction when buying makeup. We launched these virtual appointments in September 2020 and 70% of the customers who received advice remotely then moved on to a physical store. Real, remote personalised advice can channel traffic for brands when the stores reopen.

Is the humanisation of digital the next step?

I'm convinced it is! This was the missing piece, and the lockdown allowed us to implement it, thanks to digital tools. It's quite satisfying to say that yes, there has been an explosion of the digital, but what we're learning is that consumers need to talk to real people! For me, the brands that understand this will be the ones that will remain sustainable. If we can prove that the humanisation of digital is turning into ROI, live chats will be one-to-one, remote consultations will be one-to-one... Because we are all social animals with a real need for quality human interactions. And that goes beyond sales.

What does that mean?

Today, if a brand is not organically socially committed to a 360° project, I think it will not be able to count in the world to come: it's "how I treat customers, my suppliers, what footprint do I leave, how do managers treat their employees". I see more and more managers deeply preoccupied by this global commitment. They often come from the next generation, I must say. They are socially engaged, and that's very gratifying! – AFP Relaxnews

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