Your sales associates are the human faces of your brand. As the “boots on the ground” in brick-and-mortar stores, sales associates are unquestionably the ones with the most personal relationships with your customers.

Traditionally focused on mass communication channels such as e-mail and print advertising, more and more retail marketers are turning their focus to sales associates as a natural way to increase conversions, average ticket and return visits. Empowering sales associates to develop and nurture customer relationships has immediate benefits with regards to in-store sales, and, when done right, has the potential to provide enriched data to the enterprise that will improve and personalize the customer’s entire omni-channel brand experience.

Treat Sales Associates as the CEO of Their Business

The best sales associates naturally adopt an entrepreneurial approach to their role in the retail organization, complete with a sense of ownership and responsibility. They are motivated to surpass objectives and take pride in the profession of selling (or styling, personal shopping, or whatever title suits them). If we looked at a retail organization chart, these individuals would appear near the bottom, and yet, their contribution to the company’s success as a whole is inversely significant to this hierarchical placement.

It can be tempting for higher-ups to micromanage sales associates and want to measure every move they make, but this can become a distraction and demotivate high performing sales associates. The same metrics that can help a novice sales associate build their business, such as task completion, capture rate and book size, are often less significant to established associates. With the high performers, the focus of measurement should shift to higher-level KPIs: for example, overall sales, average ticket, retention rate and customer satisfaction index. Retail reporting and analytics tools must be flexible enough to accommodate different metrics in various situations, rather than delivering one-size-fits-all dashboards.

Provide Them With the Tools of the Trade

The best sales associates don’t wait for their employer to provide them with tools to grow their businesses; they seize any opportunity. While this can lead to short term gains for the individual associate, it can sometimes come at the detriment of the brand. For instance, many retailers don’t provide associates with a corporate e-mail address or internet access at work. In fact, Boston Retail Partners found that 20 percent of retailers do not allow their associates to directly contact customers. This doesn’t stop the most entrepreneurial associates, but it’s not the best brand image for customers to receive company-related e-mails from a Gmail or Hotmail address! What’s more, the retailer has no visibility or control over these “rogue” communications, so there’s no opportunity for corporate input to messaging and branding.

Rather than imposing additional restrictions, retailers must learn from what these creative associates are doing. If associates are taking things into their own hands, it’s time to provide them with the tools and technology to make their actions a win-win-win for the associate, the customer and the enterprise. Clienteling tools are a great example of this; associates can reach out to their customers on a mobile device, yet corporate can provide templates and gain visibility into the messages being delivered. Speak to the associates and observe what they’re doing with an open mind. Rather than trying to box them in, focus on ways to make their entrepreneurial ideas work for the enterprise.

Involve Associates in Strategic Initiatives

Your associates know what your customers need and want more intimately than anyone else in the retail organization. They can provide unique insights and perspectives that can have a significant impact on the overall success of the brand. Encourage innovation by providing them with structured freedom to try new ways of working. In a strong, customer-focused culture, there must be room for creative associates to test out hypotheses without fear of reprimand.

Top performing associates can participate in mentoring programs and train-the trainer initiatives as a way of spreading their knowledge and motivation throughout the organization. Not only can this be a motivating change in routine for them, but it can also benefit other associates and the organization as a whole. Promoting from within is another great way to create a cycle of continual improvement, with ideas from the stores penetrating the corporate office.

Fueling the entrepreneurial spirit in your sales associates can have incremental benefits for the retail organization as a whole. Seek out top performers, learn what they do differently, and involve them in strategic initiatives to maximize benefits.