Recently, I met with a senior sales executive of a very large consumer packaged goods (CPG) company. During our discussion of metrics and team KPIs (key performance indicators), e.g., number of sales calls, customer cycles, sales cycles, percentage of deal closures, he uttered one of those rare observations that makes you sit up and take notice. In reviewing individually with each of his 10+ staff members how things were going with his corporation's customers, this sales boss asked: "Did you touch them?"
I was taken aback by the question. So I was hardly surprised that his staff didn't get it either. He explained that their exchange went something like this:
Him: "Did you touch them?"
Staffer: "Yes — yes, I sent him an email and he agreed to the deal."
Him: "No, did you touch him?"
Staffer: "Yes, sure — I spoke with him yesterday."
It was at this point, the sales boss explained, that he would lean in, reach for a handshake with his staffer — using both of his own hands — and then, applying a more firm grip, once again ask: "No, did you touch him?"
As the sales boss's question sunk in, the staffer typically would give a blank stare. The boss admitted that while the reaction was amusing, in the end he has made his point. Which is about the importance of that traditional but very personal connection — what in the political realm is called "pressing the flesh." The executive leaned back and told me: "Nothing — not virtual, not email, not video conferencing — can substitute for basic human interaction."
Like most tales that are revelatory about human nature, this one got me thinking about Hispanic shopper marketing. That's because the importance of what marketers call the "interpersonal element" has been borne out by our qualitative research — specifically in the grocery shopping transaction.
Certain conclusions from this research trace back to country-of-origin behavior, in which we have discerned patterns we term "mercado undercurrents." These patterns are reflective of certain tendencies in what we collectively refer to as the Latino shopping psyche. One of these undercurrents is the desire to interact while you shop. This is not news to smart Hispanic retailers, who ensure that key departments in the store have live bodies on hand. For example, the produce and deli/meat sections are departments where many Hispanic shoppers prefer personalized service.
This all got me thinking about college days when I studied the arcane science of nonverbal communication — "proxemics." This discipline focuses on the spatial requirements of people and effects of population density on behavior, communication, and social interaction. It touches upon, so to speak, the branch of psychology called "haptics," which is the investigation of skin sensory data. Bottom line: The findings in textbooks like Communications Across Cultures substantiate the continued importance — and higher frequency — of touch behaviors in traditional Latin American cultures.
So what does it all mean to Latino shopper marketers? To put it simply, the incidence of personal interaction among Hispanic shoppers is a factor that cannot be overlooked when designing and deploying your tactics. There is a reason why we see quantitative research about the effectiveness in tactics like sampling, event parking lots, and ambassadorship to drive loyalty. Our own quantitative study has the statistics to support this — such as the fact that sampling has three times the influence on Latino shopping behavior.
Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating the elimination of high-tech, high-reach digital shopper tactics (e.g., banners, social media, email blasts). As a matter of fact, today's data capabilities arm marketers with the targeted shopper vehicles to make a great impact in pre-store awareness. What I am advocating is something quite simple: Give me some skin. Touch a responsive chord and imbue your brand with increased shopper loyalty by making your marketing tactics culturally — and cutaneously — relevant. Don't forget, as the old AT&T slogan would say, to reach out and touch someone.