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From Home Furnishing Business

Building a Client Base with After the Sale Follow-Up

We feel strongly that creating and managing a professional Clientele Development Process is easily the weakest aspect of most home furnishings retailers selling efforts. So much so that it is part of every training program we conduct with both managers and sales staff. I’m not talking only about follow-up or sending thank you notes -- many stores do that -- but about a more fundamental paradigm of building long-term relationships with customers through truly caring about them and their needs and then making this a core part of the company culture. I have pulled a great deal of content from our training program manuals for this article to help drive the point home.

We often hear retailers say that there is no longer any customer loyalty like there was in the good old days. The fact is that loyalty still comes the old-fashioned way – you must earn it! In rare instances, we have encountered salespeople who, through true relationship building and caring for their customers’ needs, have developed a sufficient clientele to be totally self-sufficient in terms of traffic. These people work full-time hours and are always top producers in their stores, but do not take any UPS -- they are not part of the salesperson rotation system. In every case, these people maintain extensive customer files and always maintain a timebased file system. Most are built around index cards and some use automated calendar applications, which they have adapted to their needs. These systems tell the salesperson when to follow-up with each customer. Alphabetical files and lists can only tell them how to follow-up – mainly what the customer’s contact information is -- but not when. When is far more important than how.

In rare instances, we have encountered salespeople who, through true relationship building and caring for their customers’ needs, have developed a sufficient clientele to be totally self-sufficient in terms of traffic.

Lifetime Value

LTV is a concept that has driven the marketing efforts of the largest consumer goods manufacturers in the world for decades. It is completely missing from our industry’s thinking. That is a major cause of our disconnection from the customer’s purchasing power. Lifetime Value puts a dollar value on items such as how much detergent or toothpaste a family will use in a lifetime and what has to be done to tap into that huge lifetime expenditure.

What about lifetime value in the home furnishings business? These are large, seldom-made purchases. They are called highly considered purchases in marketing terms. The average American homeowner spends upwards of $60,000 on them in their lifetimes. If your store has an average sale of $1,500, how much of that $60,000 does the customer have left to spend when your order has been delivered? Of course, there is no way to tell. But we do know that people spend more on home furnishings as they become older. So there is no doubt that finding a way to tap into even half of that amount, would be extremely valuable. The top writers we spoke about know the way. It is called follow-up after the sale.

Customer versus Client Paradigms

A customer is someone who purchases merchandise from your store. The salesperson acts as a facilitator in the process, handling the details of the transaction. No relationship has been established. The next time the customer needs furniture the odds are that she will not seek out that same salesperson. There is, in fact, substantial research to indicate that more than 75% of these people will not even shop your store.

A client, on the other hand, has established a relationship with a salesperson based on the customer’s belief that the salesperson truly cares about her need to create a beautiful home environment and about her level of satisfaction with what she buys. These relationships take time to develop and involve active participation by both parties but mostly by the salesperson. When this customer is ready to make another purchase,she returns to that particular salesperson. It would not matter where the salesperson worked. - People do not build relationships with stores -- they build them with people.

A salesperson who builds a strong trusting customer relationship adds value to the purchase through the process. He or she seldom gets involved in price problems because the customer places high value on the relationship. They don’t have to worry about the customer asking for them when she comes in because the customer usually calls first to make sure the salesperson will be there. Friends and relatives are continually referred to the salesperson by the customer. These people in turn become part of the salesperson’s client base.

Your sales training program must teach the actions aimed at developing these kinds of relationships and how to use clientele development processes to maintain them. But it is leadership that will make it happen. Client development is management’s responsibility, not the salesperson’s option. Management has the responsibility for the growth and financial health of the company. Clientele development is mainly a management function and they must take ownership of it.

Share of Customer

Share of customer deals with getting more out of the customers who already come into the store. You already invested marketing dollars to do that and no new assets are required. Share of customer means tapping into that lifetime purchasing potential for your products and developing long-term relationships based on trust and caring for the customer’s needs. It means doing the right things to ensure that you help your customers use your products to enhance their quality of life and not just help them make purchases.

It means using the valuable information you gather about a customer’s lifestyle, likes, dislikes and needs to become proactive in offering her new ideas and products to help her achieve the final goal -- a beautiful home. Increasing your share of customer is what your selling and management processes should be all about.

It Starts with the Sale

Customers want you to track and follow-up on their orders and delivery. One of the issues that surfaces in all of the research we see, is that customers don’t think a sales person cares about them at all after the sale is made. For most furniture salespeople, there is ample evidence that this is true. Few send thank you notes, even to their biggest customers. Even fewer maintain contact with customers prior to delivery. In cases where there is contact, it is usually initiated by the customer. Professional salespeople act differently and the results show in higher incomes and more satisfied, repeat customers. For them, following up with the client after the sale is the critical point where the relationship is cemented and the consumer’s trust is verified.

Key Contact Points After the Sale There are seven times when follow-up is required with customers who purchase from you:

1. Immediately after writing up the sale – thank you note or message
2. When special orders are acknowledged or a ship date changes
3. During long order cycles, to let them know you are watching
4. Prior to delivery to tell them how excited you are for them
5. Immediately after delivery to see how it went and congratulate them
6. Within six months after purchase, just to check in and see how it is going
7. Prior to the customer’s anticipated next purchase, which you should already know from your selling process in the store

All of the contact points listed above should be part of a professional salesperson’s follow-up program. These contacts yield handsome returns even in the short term. The most important contact is the call after delivery. It is difficult to imagine building a strong, trusting relationship with a customer (and helping her use your products to enhance her quality of life) by not calling her immediately after her delivery to be sure the promise has been delivered. Yet, this is just what happens to thousands of customers every day. Then we wonder why there is no customer loyalty

We believe this is the most important call a salesperson can make. This is when the real satisfaction occurs -- when the furniture gets there. This is when other needs such as accessories or additional pieces come to the surface vividly. So, this is when your salespeople need to be talking to their customers.

The most often-heard reason for not calling is that something may be wrong and the salesperson does not want to hear it. What backwards thinking. This is an opportunity to satisfy the customer again! However, if your store’s culture and systems do not allow the salespeople to solve customer problems rather than just kick them somewhere else, we suggest that you re-think your systems.

If you do not already have one, you should develop a system for notifying the salespeople of all deliveries. In addition, develop a reporting system so that you know that post-delivery calls are being made.

Customer loyalty must be earned. Your salesperson’s caring will earn high returns in loyalty despite problems. If they do their best and keep the customer informed, the loyalty will be to them. The selling cycle is completed when a customer returns as the result of this follow-up and makes another purchase. Now the customer is indeed a client that your salesperson developed. Our data indicates that there can be as much as 15% - 20% in additional business each year created by proper and consistent follow-up after the sale. Much of this business would have gone to another competing store except for the efforts of your salesperson.

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