Digital influencer Erik Qualman tells retailers at High Point Market that technology should never replace human interaction.
Digital influencer Erik Qualman tells retailers at High Point Market that technology should never replace human interaction.

Qualman: Build those personal relationships in a digital world

Social media is like a digital superhero for furniture retailers, a powerful tool to connect and share your brand with consumers. But with that power comes great responsibility, says author and digital influencer Erik Qualman.

What does it take to be a successful furniture retailer in the digital era? Part of the formula is understanding when using technology is effective, and when to hold back, says Qualman, who brought his high-energy sermon to about 250 retailers at last week’s High Point Market.

“Digital leaders know there’s a balance that needs to be struck between online and offline,” said Qualman, the author of Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence. “As powerful as online is for your stores, you can never forget there’s no replacing those face-to-face moments. Nobody knows that better than people in the furniture industry. Technology is at your command for when time and distance are an issue, but they should never replace human interaction.”

What does digital leadership look like? Using an acronym, Qualman shared five important actions retailers need to follow to make their digital STAMP.

Simplification. Retailers are no different than the rest of the workforce.  Multitasking is often praised in the retail world to get more things done quickly. Qualman doesn’t buy it. He’s a firm believer that multitasking reduces productivity. “The easiest way for us to simplify, for our teams to simplify, is actually to limit the amount we multitask,” said Qualman. “Try to get it down to zero.”

But it’s more than staying focused on one task at a time. It’s also about taking breaks throughout the workday by following his 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, stand up and stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. “Simple isn’t easy. It’s not easy taking tasks off our plate, but the more you simplify, the better off you’ll be.”

True. Those seeking to become digital leaders should define who they want to be and take steps to reach that goal. “Every digital leader understands who they are and what they’re trying to become,” Qualman said. And what goes for individuals also goes for their furniture store, said Qualman. A store can identify its true self by answering the question “WHI?”: What is the mission? How do we differ? If we went away tomorrow, what would society lose?

Action. Furniture retailers are constantly starting their days with a long to-do list. Your end-of-the-day goal shouldn’t be a completed list, but rather a result. To ensure your store is producing output each day, Qualman recommends writing down your two most important priorities each morning and hyper-focusing on those items before beginning other work.

Digital leaders can’t be afraid to fail. That’s where learning comes in. “How many times have you put something off because you were afraid it wouldn’t work out?” Qualman asks. “The great thing about failure is, if you learn from it, failure make you stronger in the long run.”

Map. Digital leaders push past obstacles, or maneuver around them, to achieve their goals. “Retailers have a firm destination in mind, but it’s never easy getting there. You need to adjust on the way, maybe even change paths to get where you’re going because there’s always going to be some obstacle along the way,” Qualman said.

People. Finding the right balance between offline and online communities is essential. “It’s really surrounding yourself with the right people offline and now more and more online,” he said. To build your network before you need the network, Qualman recommended developing relationships by “posting it forward” — connecting with others and highlighting their achievements online.

Qualman’s talk, which was sponsored by Synchrony, was presented by the Home Furnishings Association and the High Point Market Authority.

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