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Shawna Schuh

Advocate Instead of Recommend to Boost Sales and Create Loyal Customers

Does your staff advocate — or simply recommend?



WITH A NEW puppy comes the first trip to the pet or feed store. We had a reason to go, get puppy food, but there is a deliciously wonderful feeling when you bring a puppy into a store, any store. Both of us were bouncing along in happiness.

The young woman working there gave us an enthusiastic greeting, down on her knees for some exciting petting. “He’s so cute!” she exclaimed, which are my sentiments exactly.

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“I’m here for the brand of food the breeder said to feed,” I informed her. She was up, swiftly heading toward the food I named. After we determined I needed the very largest bag, she carried it to the counter for me. So far, this had been a very pleasant experience.

Then she asked, “If I told you about another brand that is privately owned, has all the same ingredients, has never been recalled and is $10 cheaper, would you be interested?”

Who trained this girl? Of course I said, “Yes!” Then added, “It’s got all the same ingredients, right?” which was my biggest concern since I wanted my pup to not have an upset tummy or diarrhea.

“It does,” she said and continued, “And they have this program that if you buy 10 bags of the same size, you get the next one free.” “Sign me up!” was my reply. She asked for all of my info, which I gladly gave, and when I asked if I had to go online or do anything special, she assured me that, “No, just make sure to give us your last name when you come in to buy, and we’ll handle it all right here.”


Pleased as my pup after a tasty treat, I handed over my credit card. She then told the people shopping that she would be right back, and she carried my big bag of new puppy food out to the truck.

Confession: I had stopped at this little feed store on a whim. I normally go a different route and shop at a different store. I had noticed, though, that the little lot was full and people were loading their vehicles up with goods.

As I drove away after shopping, I thought about what had just happened.

Truly I had stumbled upon something wonderful. The store is a gem, and now I must return, not only for the excellent service, but because I have a free bag of puppy food waiting for me nine bags away and I need do nothing to qualify except shop there.

Then, I started thinking about how easily I chose one brand over another. And I did so because of a brand advocate.

Many people aim to advocate, but don’t offer the information that matters to others.


The breeder believes she is an advocate, yet she didn’t give me anything concrete to continue with the brand except that if I switched, it could upset my little guy’s tummy. This is a recommendation, not advocacy.

So how does an advocate behave? Well for starters, this woman wasn’t overly zealous, just informed and wanting to help me. This is key, especially the wanting to help me part.

Here are three things she did well, all of which are teachable to your staff. She mentioned that the brand:

1. Was privately owned — This appealed to my entrepreneurial spirit and that of this small independent store.

2. Has never been recalled — Big trust issue here. The fact that she brought it up meant something to her and this store. Reputation is everything. Did past “Big Brand” recalls hurt the store?

3. Rewards loyalty — The “buy 10 bags, get one free” concept. It helps to bring me back, and she was delighted that it would ultimately benefit me.


Many brands, my own included, believe we have advocates. Now, are they informed? Do they understand what sets us apart? Are they truly advocates or simply recommending us?

Let’s do a better job of helping them. When an advocate knows and loves a brand, they not only sell it, but they benefit greatly, too, and everyone, especially the customer, is happy.

And isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Shawna Schuh is a certified speaking professional, an executive coach, master neuro linguistic programming practitioner and president of Women in the Pet Industry Network. Email her at



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