Part 6: Although follow-up is the way to get be-back customers, when improperly executed, follow-up calls can be counterproductive.
What’s the deal with aggressive customer follow up? FURNITURE WORLD Magazine has run many articles on the necessity of proper follow-up and follow through (see list of articles on page 42 that are posted to the www.furninfo.com website), yet recently on this magazine’s website there was an eruption of consumer vitriol concerning annoying and invasive follow-up phone calls by a prominent furniture retailer.
It seems that there is a lot of resistance to this kind of “follow up” among consumers, and the back-and-forth among these consumers centered on how to avoid giving any information to retail furniture salespeople so that they could stay out of the follow-up pool.
One message post told of how a salesperson explained to her customer that she would get into trouble if she didn’t get the customer’s name and contact information, because phone follow-up was required by this retailer. Imagine that! Obviously this furniture retailer completely missed the point of what customer follow-up is all about.
During a panel discussion several years ago I was asked, “What would you teach salespeople if you could only teach them one thing?” I answered immediately, “Sketch the room”. I quickly added that there was another thing I’d teach them that’s just as important: how to follow-up.
Those two core skills are all they need to successfully improve all three elements of the success equation which is Opportunities x Close Ratio x Average Sale (see Understanding Sales Performance Metrics - Part 1 from February/March 2004 FURNITURE WORLD posted to the www.furninfo.com website).
So, again, what’s the deal with follow-up? It’s this: you have to earn the right to do it. Why do people forget the basics of human interaction when it comes to selling furniture? To get people to trust you enough to give you personal information, you have to serve them in such a way that they believe you have their interests in mind. They have to trust that you understand their issues, and the home decorating problems they want your help to solve.
And they need to know that you are focused on getting them to these solutions – not just on making a quick sale.
What reason would there be for people to open themselves up to annoying phone calls, or emails, or “junk” mailings, from someone who merely showed them furniture and told them all about how they could buy it. Why would they extend this privilege to someone who did nothing to help them understand how they might use the products presented to solve a problem about which the salesperson did not take the time or invest the effort to learn?
At every point in the process of customer engagement you need to earn the right to move to the next step in the process. When owners or managers explain that they have salespeople who won’t “ask for the order”, one of the main reasons why this occurs is that the salesperson knows, deep inside, that he hasn’t earned the right to ask for it. It’s one of those “inner compass” things that we all feel from time to time that tells us we’re not connecting to the other person. We know there’s something missing, but are not always sure just what it is. Mostly, it’s because we’ve made the whole engagement about us, our “stuff”, our offers, our rules – and not at all about them, their needs, or their lives.
Why do salespeople hate “follow-up”? (they do, you know). Why do retailers have to have rules, policies and make demands to ensure that this critical performance issue is properly addressed? It’s because many salespeople know that they have not created a formal, trusting, service-based relationship with their customers. Because of this fact they also know that their calls will be perceived by customers as invasive and annoying. You don’t need to have much sales experience to know that customers don’t want to field pointless follow-up calls just because they chose to shop in a furniture store.
Furniture salespeople and their managers would be wise to remember this rule: no follow-up should be made without the customer’s permission, and no follow-up calls should be made to anyone who doesn’t already expect to be called. Since we know that be-back customers are our life-blood, getting them back is a primary goal of our selling strategy. The selling strategy is built around seeking first to understand, then to be understood (one of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). It requires that retail sales associates deal with their consumers’ real decorating problems with no selling agenda in mind. Doing this connects salespeople who have good social skills and an aptitude for sales, to customers in such a way that they gladly give them permission to stay in touch, to follow up. And, these customers often become “be-backs” – that class of customers who buy over 60% of the time on that return visit.
Here’s the biggest problem for our industry about forced follow-up by mega-retailers as I see it: It works just enough times to keep them doing it. When you have customers numbered in the tens of thousands, if a small percentage respond to what most would consider invasive follow-up, a lot of sales can be generated. Then, the rest of us get to deal with those remaining consumers who come to our stores in a highly combative and closed-minded mood. If you want to drive follow up as a critical selling initiative, find ways to earn the right to do it.
ADDITIONAL ARTICLES ON FOLLOW-UP
Building Personal Clientele (2006 - by Joe Capillo) Developing a client base, and keeping it active and up-to-date is the one, key activity that can help our salespeople to earn higher incomes. That’s why it is imperative for retail managers and salespeople to take responsibility for pursuing a one-to-one marketing strategy.
Follow-up Or Fall Down - Parts 1 &2 (1997 - Cathy Finney) Shy or uneasy about making follow-up calls? Don't like rejection? Here are sure-fire ways to follow-up successfully and consistently.
Double Your Store Traffic - Part 3 (2007 - Brett Kitchen and Ethan Kap)How many people call your store? How many come in the store but don’t buy. How many visitors do you get on your website? Here are surefire ways to collect information on every potential customer that calls, visits your website or walks into your store.
Understanding Sales Performance Metrics - Parts 1 -4 (2004 - Joe Capillo) Sales metrics, those calculations we use to measure our effectiveness in dealing with customers, are the most misunderstood and underused measurements in retail furniture stores.
I'm Here, Your "Sketchee!" (2007 - Cathy Finney) Making and actually using rough sketches of your customer's rooms can improve the quality of the information you collect, as well as the effectiveness of your follow-up.
Staying Alive During Tough Times -Part 1 (2007 - Joe Capillo) Great salespeople have a plan for the bad times. It’s the same plan they have for the good times, and it revolves around developing and maintaining relationships with all of the customers they get to engage.
Staying Alive During Slow Times - Part 2 (2007 -Joe Capillo) Consumer research suggests that furniture retailers need to have a strategy to stay connected to customers throughout each of the five stages of the home furnishings purchasing process. Most stores fall down right at the beginning “planning” stage because that’s where consumers need more help than most furniture stores are set up to provide.
Staying Alive During Tough Times - Part 3 (2007) Joe Capillo explains how the most effective and productive salespeople can return 30% or more of monthly Ups as be-backs. Why is it important to have a system to encourage this? Because these customers are 40% more likely to buy.
Staying Alive During Slow Times- Part 4 (2007 - Joe Capillo) A formal customer engagement strategy helps salespeople produce sales from those customers who should buy from you, but don’t.
Joe Capillo is a 41 year career veteran, experienced in managing and consulting with furniture retail operations. He is also a contributing editor for Furniture World Magazine. He is a contributing editor to FURNITURE WORLD and a frequent speaker at industry functions. See all of Joe’s articles on the furninfo.com website.
Read other articles by Joe Capillo