Why Do We Always Do The Basic Things Wrong?

While helping doing an inventory of computer accessories and electronic gadgets in a retailing outfit, I can't help but ask the people manning the store how they keep track of their customers.

Guess what? They don't!

They don't keep track of where they are getting their sales: What product and who buys them? The last time I was in retailing was in 1998 selling the very exact things but I carried more than 50 brands with the likes of Seagate, IBM, Hayes, Microsoft, Lotus, Creative Labs, Intel, AMD, and a lot more.

I can't believe that in 2008, retailers are still doing a lot of things wrong. Well not exactly wrong, but they don't do the most basic things at all (at least to get the sales consistently coming).

Back when I was managing retailing operations more than 50% of our sales were from more than 30% of our repeat customers. Customers who buy more than two items or have bought the second time will always end up in our database together with information about what hardware or software they already have at home and at the office (in this order). Eliciting this "basic" information from customers have been integrated into the "script" of counter sales associates so that even if we don't get a sale we always have at least 5 to 10 new names in our database on that day.

Basic sales training will tell you that it is harder to get a new customer than encouraging repeat sales from an old customer but most retailing organizations ignore this. It is amazing. 9 out of 10 counter sales personnel will not initiate on their own a sales campaign for existing customers and more than half of retailing (specially small businesses) do not have such a campaign as a matter of policy.

If you want to test this, just walk into a computer store or even a hobby shop. You will most likely leave the store without the store clerk ever asking you about what you already have or how to get in touch with you about what you may need in the future.

Don't ask me if I tried it. I bought books, a new TV, a DVD player, a video game player, DVD rewritable discs, a headphone set, 2 pair of shoes, a file box, a knapsack, a LED flashlight, binders, and more since January of this year and not a single sales person or clerk ever ask me anything.

You don't really need much to get basic information from your customers. I designed a form that can be printed on a letter size paper (four forms on one side) that keeps information about customer's full name, phone, email, address (if you're lucky because some are not just concern about security they just find filling up forms tedious like me) or even mobile phone numbers. To encourage them to give information, I usually tell them that they get to be invited to free seminars sponsored by our partners and in some special occasions I get to give them freebies from our partners.

I also created a Microsoft Excel template to compile all of this information so that later on I can easily integrate that into mail merge or even a fax campaign template.

If you really keep track after a year, you will be amazed at the pattern that will be seen after collating all the information including sales from each of your customers. You can even predict which week in a month they will most likely order again their supplies (I used to sell printer paper and ink).

I like to hear the expression "You called me just in time!" from customers every time my telemarketers make their daily calls.

In my next blog I will show how a simple graph in Microsoft Excel help me advise a friend not to close shop just because customer traffic is not consistent in their new store location in the same shopping mall.

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