Sales Lessons From Atlantis: How Not To Let Your Employees Destroy Your Business.

The Atlantis Hotel in Dubai

A common mistake entrepreneurs and business owners make, is assuming that their staff always have the business’ best interest at heart, and that they always try to increase sales.  That, sadly, is not always the case.  Often times, intentionally or unintentionally, employees sabotage sales.  Let me explain.

We just came back from a long weekend break in Dubai.  We stayed at the Atlantis Hotel.  Me, my wife and our three kids really enjoyed it.  Dubai, as usual, is larger than life.  And the Atlantis Hotel was lovely – mostly.

To be honest, I’m always a bit weary of these mega hotels/resorts, as so much can go wrong, and it often does.  When you have a hotel or resort on the scale of the Atlantis, which I’m sure takes over a thousand guests, and must surely have several thousand staff, there is the inevitable inconsistency in service.  In my humble opinion, the systems are just too complex to make it all work smoothly.

There were a couple of instances where the staff were actually encouraging guests to spend less money, or sabotaging sales altogether.  A couple of examples:

On the first day we arrived we went to a restaurant in the hotel to have a late lunch.  We were served by a young German waiter, who took himself a bit too seriously.  My wife asked about the size of the kids onion soup portions; he gestured with his hands, cupping them together indicating a relatively small size.

When she saw this my wife asked the waiter to bring four large (adult) portions for us.  The waiter was surprised and said “Umm… madam, the adult portions are really big [again he gestured with his hands].  I think it’s better if you take two adult portions, and two kids portions.  It’s also cheaper that way.” he said rather proud of his logic.

My wife thought about it for a moment and then decided to go for the adult portions instead.  The waiter did not give up.  He made a sort of hrmmph sound, and tried to explain again, as if my wife were a child.  “Look” he said, “it’s really too much for the kids to eat.  I suggest you take two adults and two kids portions.  You will save money.” he added.

My wife smiled at him and said “will I pay for this or will you?”  He got the message then and said okay, and went to the kitchen to deliver the order.  Now, I’m sure this waiter had the best intentions, but not only was he annoying us, but he was also costing his employer added profits.  Everybody loses with his insistence.  And you, Mr. Business Owner, don’t assume that your staff doesn’t commit stupidities like that, because they probably do.

Another example. On one of the days I was walking in the hotel’s shopping avenue, pushing the baby in the stroller.  Now, I’m not a big shopper at all, but I passed this shop and saw a really nice looking pair of shoes.  I really liked the way they looked and I thought I might try on a pair to see if they fit.  I was ready to spend money.

As I walked in there were two staff members (a male Levant Arab, and a Philippina) sticking a large sticker on the window, presumably announcing some sort of Christmas promotion.  I walked in with the baby stroller and walked around in the small store, looking for a shoe section.  Not finding it I thought I’d ask they male attendant (at the time I was not quite sure that he was working there, as he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt), “excuse me, do you work here?”  I asked.  “Er… yes, but we’re a bit busy at the moment…” he replied.  Riiiiight, what wonderful service.  “You’re busy… okay…” I said as I turned to walk out.  Noticing that I got annoyed he said “No, please, how can I help you?  Were you looking at the colognes?”

“No, it’s okay.  You’re too busy to look after customers.” I said.  “Yeah we’re a bit busy, if you can give us 10 minutes or so..” he said.  “No I can’t” I replied, walking out.

Let’s analyse this a bit closer.  The shoes were kept in the display window to draw people in, and the sticker they were so busy putting up was also meant to draw people in.  And when someone walks in, there too busy to make a sale!  These employees had their priorities all wrong.

One last example.  My wife told me this story.  She walked into a jewellery store in the hotel, asking about a pair of earrings she liked.  Again, the attendant there was a Levant Arab, who was busy talking on the phone, and did not like the idea of having to interrupt the call serve to my wife.  He attended to her with utter disdain.  My wife assumed that she was not getting any respect because he thought she was a foreigner, so she spoke to him in Arabic.  “all of a sudden he completely changed!” she later told me.  he became courteous, respectful and very attentive.  By that time my wife had lost interest and walked out.

How to avoid this happening to you

Look, please don’t assume that this does not happen in your business.  And please don’t think that for a moment I’m disrespecting your staff, I’m not at all.  The employees in the above examples either thought they were doing the right thing, or did not really know that their behaviour was inappropriate.  It says a lot about their training, or lack there of.  Believe it or not, many people don’t actually make a connection between their sales-preventing behaviour and the salary they earn at the end of the month.

Here are some things you can do to prevent sales reducing behaviour by your team:

Treat them well – with dignity and respect

I guarantee you, if you don’t treat your employees like valuable human beings, and show them the importance they have in your business, they won’t care about your customer.  It’s that simple really.  Treat them like gold, and they will treat your customers like gold.  Read the blog post I wrote on employee motivation here.

Share the big picture

If you have a grand vision for your business, share it with your Team.  Let them feel that they are part of it.  Have a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) and rally everyone around it.

Give proper training

I’m a huge proponent of having operations and training manuals.  Your manual should have scripts in it and explain all the things that should and should not be done.  Also, have a customer service section in the manual that gives proper guidelines on behaviour.  See my blog post on systems and manuals here.

Do Scenario training

This follows from the previous point.  When doing the training in the manual, actually act out different scenarios with your Team.  Not only are these a lot of fun, but they are very instructive.  An employee might indicate that he understood what is in the manual, but when you do the scenario training he might completely mess it up.  You can then sit together, analyse what just happened and then try again.  In our company, we do weekly Team meetings followed by compulsory training in a certain section of the manual.  That way the Team Members stay fresh all the time.

Link reward with results

If you have a retail store, I highly recommend that you have a commission system in place.  You can give a per item percentage, or you could give a commission after a certain target has been hit.  In fact, with enough ingenuity, you can link reward/behaviour/results to virtually any type of business.  Please don’t be stingy with this, the advantages of having a commission system in place far outweigh the disadvantages.  It’s obvious that the sales people in the above examples were not on commission, otherwise their behaviour would have been very different.

Share stories

Whenever you encounter situations of bad customer service, share them with your Team.  Yes, actually say “the other day I wanted to buy this pair of shoes when…”  Stories are one of the best ways  for people to learn.  Discuss what went wrong in your story, and then relate it to your business.

Don’t assume!

I’ve said this but it bears repeating to drive the point home – don’t make assumptions about your employees’ behaviour! Even if you do all the above, they might still sabotage sales, so imagine if you don’t.

I hope you found this useful, if you’ve not done so already, make sure to sign up for my FREE weekly marketing/entrepreneurship email course at  There’s also a FREE video that shows you how to create systems in your business.

Thanks for reading and talk to you soon.

3 Responses to Sales Lessons From Atlantis: How Not To Let Your Employees Destroy Your Business.

  1. Osman Safdar 21 December 2010 at 8:11 am #

    Another interesting blog post.

    The underlying problem seems to be when some salesmen try to out-smart their customers and as a result make the customers feel dumb. I had one such odd experience at a hypermarket here in Bahrain. While inquiring about a laptop, I saw that the laptop’s screen was a bit imbalanced so it didn’t close properly. I asked a salesperson about it and he started his reply by saying, “Look, you should use your mind a bit….” and then pointed out that the screen was working perfectly. He lost me the moment he uttered those words! I think it’s just plain rude for a salesperson to say things like that. Did I buy the laptop from there? No!

    The story about German waiter reminds of something I read maybe in Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence”, can’t remember exact words, but it went something like this:

    There was this famous waiter who made a lot of money out of tips. His technique was that whenever a customer made an order for a dish, he used to say that this dish was not fresh and perhaps they should try so-and-so dish instead, which was even lesser in cost. This made the customers feel that the waiter was genuinely interested in saving their money. So they happily ordered whatever the waiter suggested. The trick was, after this initial suggestion, all the suggestions by the waiter were for expensive dishes! The customers didn’t notice that. And because the waiter seemed to be so caring and interested in them, they tipped him heavily!

    Just sharing my two cents worth of opinion.

    • Suhail 21 December 2010 at 8:23 am #

      Yeah, it’s disgraceful, but really the management is at fault for hiring such a bufoon and/or for not training him properly.

      Influence is a great book!

  2. shaik khaleel uddin 21 December 2010 at 9:45 am #

    interesting article, thanks for sharing with us, suhail you are correct,management is at fault, i have seen in many places and in many organisation the same thing continues, and it will be continued because the senior managers who are looking after all this things are responsible for that and they know what is happening back of them but they seldom make any changes, what they want is their target to be achieved, you know higher lever management should be taught in workshops on how to train staff, how to provide best customer service so that customers keep coming
    shaik khaleel uddin

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