Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 22 No. 49
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

The sales ‘hug’ is crucial to lifting team, customers

Hugging is still in vogue, and we need more of it in sports. It’s a gesture that has meaning for both the organization and the customer.

In 2005, I wrote an SBJ column about showing love to your fan base and coined the term “communicaring.” Prior to writing that column, I had read “Hug Your Customers” by Connecticut-based clothier Jack Mitchell and had spent a day with him at his store in Greenwich. Reading that book and spending time with Mitchell had a significant impact regarding my thinking on customer retention and satisfaction. Since that time, Mitchell revised the book and authored two others. I had a pleasant surprise when Jack reached out to me recently after meeting one of my former students. He sent me a package with the revised copy of “Hug Your Customers” along with “Hug Your People” and “Selling the Hug Your Customers Way.”

While I hope you pick up these fantastic books to read and share with your organization, I thought I would offer a few of the most salient points to get you thinking and hopefully implementing a communicaring approach with your prospects and customers.

Use technology and data to stay personal. Do you know as much about your customers as you do about your inventory? Mitchell speaks of having a game plan for every customer. In the retail case, this would involve knowing what clothing they have, knowing where the holes are in their wardrobe, favorite color, preferred brands and styles, and so forth. In sport organizations, the ideal game plan would include:

Names and birthdays and other special dates of family members (or account holders).
Favorite player.
Concessions preference and spending history.
Merchandise preference and purchasing history.
Attendance patterns.
Ticket purchasing and location history.
Sharing/reselling behavior.
Parking/tailgating/transportation preferences.

The more data the better, but make sure that while you are able to aggregate it to assess trends and patterns, that you realize it is just as important to personalize the data to enhance your knowledge and the depth of your relationship with your customers.

Mitchell’s books offer a “communicaring” approach to winning customers and keeping them happy.
Photo: sharon sutton
Mitchell’s books offer a “communicaring” approach to winning customers and keeping them happy.
Photo: sharon sutton
Mitchell’s books offer a “communicaring” approach to winning customers and keeping them happy.
Photo: sharon sutton

Does your online approach offer a warm wireless hug? Mitchell relies on his sales associates as his primary relationship builders with all clients, including online inquiries from out-of-market prospects. It is his belief that for the sales associates to perform at their peak they must always be in the loop. Mitchell sums it up very simply: “Our online purchasing system mirrors our hugging culture, allowing our customers to communicate not with a machine, but with a real person who knows them and cares about them (or in the case of a new prospect, wants to build a relationship). Machines can do a lot of things, but they can’t care, so we are betting our business model on the fact that people will always prefer people.” This may raise some eyebrows among you dear readers, and maybe you will seek to modify it, but as for me, I have always espoused a belief that there will always be a need for sellers because in the majority of cases the prospect needs to be asked, educated, convinced and appreciated. People can do that far more effectively, and with lifetime value implications.

Winning and success is a process — you must plan, prepare and practice. These are Mitchell’s 3 P’s, and the way he explains them makes a lot of sense for anyone working in the sport industry. Plan: It’s a foundation of basic knowledge you possess. It is the script and sales materials you have been given augmented by observation and experience. Prepare: Taking that knowledge and creating a game plan or playbook that will assist you in calling your plays. Practice: Working to perfect your craft and using the art and science of data to begin actual play. As Mitchell so accurately points out, “you don’t try out plays for the first time during a big game.”

Winning or being successful requires a defined mindset and also a passion to win. I was chuckling to myself as I read Mitchell’s sport analogy. Saturdays in his stores are referred to as “Game Days” — you need to be at your best on Saturdays. Saturdays in December are even busier, as those days are referred to as the “Playoffs” and the Saturdays preceding Hanukkah and Christmas — the absolute busiest days — are his “Super Bowl.”

“What about 2030?” is a chapter in the revised “Hug Your Customers.” I have to admit I read it first, despite it being the final chapter. It deals with something that is present in every organization: complacency. Or as author Jim Collins put it: When good is good enough, it becomes the enemy of excellence. For example, if a salesperson (or an organization) is rated a 10 in 2019, unless they continue to improve and innovate, they may decline to a 6 by 2025 and perhaps a 3 by 2030. Why? Because the competition and other innovators will improve and find new ways to attract attention and interest and alter purchasing behavior. Everyone must continue to raise their personal bar, which then lifts the organization to new heights.

The beauty of Mitchell’s message is its simplicity. Demonstrate to your customers that they are valued and appreciated by figuring out a “hug” that is personally meaningful to them. Reading Mitchell will offer you a plethora of ideas — but then it is up to you.


Bill Sutton ( is director emeritus of the Vinik Graduate Sport Business Program at USF, dean of Elevate Academy and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.

Questions about OPED guidelines or letters to the editor? Email editor Jake Kyler at