This Friday, more than 6 months after it was first unveiled, Apple will begin taking pre-orders for its Apple Watch. The company's retail stores will be under tremendous pressure to perform, reportedly revamping the way employees interact with customers, how the stores are set up, and what's most important in the sales process.
The Watch is the first Apple product where style is more important than substance, and Apple CEO Tim Cook this week made an announcement that will make it much easier for employees to sell the new product—and it gives a lesson for other business owners too.
In an email to all employees, Cook revealed that all Apple employees will receive 50% off any Apple Watch or Apple Watch Sport beginning on Friday (in countries where the Watch is going on sale).
This is noteworthy for several reasons. For one, it suggests that Apple may have enough stock at launch. In the past, Apple has not offered discounts to its employees on new products like iPads or Macs for several months after launch, while it tries to get into supply/demand balance. The early discounts on the Apple Watch could mean that Apple is confident that it can meet the demand.
Another possibility is that Apple knows that, like with any totally new product, actually using it is going to be essentially to selling it. This is especially true for Apple Retail Store staff, who will be on the front lines beginning Friday, helping customers try on the Watch and determine which style is best for them.
Nothing makes it easier to sell a product than owning it yourself, which is why car dealers have offered cheap lease rates to their salespeople for years.
It also helps remind employees that they're valued. Some of Apple's biggest fans and cheerleaders are in its Retail Store ranks. I know, I had two year-long stints at Apple Retail Stores in the past 15 years. But when I worked there more recently, between 2010 and 2011, morale was hit hard by concerns that Apple was taking its retail staff for granted. Pay wasn't keeping up with the amount of business that the stores were bringing in, and many employees couldn't afford the products they were selling.
Apple offering half off its brand new product, allowing employees to buy during the same pre-order period as customers, will do wonders for morale. I've heard from current Apple Store employees who said that their stores were buzzing following Cook's recent email, with excitement rising to epic levels ahead of the Apple Watch's pre-order period this weekend.
And if Apple's employees are stoked for the Apple Watch, you can be sure they'll express that to the customers, which will turn into sales. The discounts that Apple will give its own employees will be some of the best marketing dollars it could spend.
That, most certainly, is the lesson: nearly anything you can do to make your employees more enthusiastic about selling your product is worth doing, especially when it's such an inexpensive proposition.
Does your company encourage its employees to eat their own dog food? Let us know in the comments below.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.