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Inspire Leadership for Better Clienteling

Inspire Leadership through ClientelingIf Clienteling were critically important to the success of a luxury brand and to the success of the sales professional—then why have sales professionals been reluctant to ask all clients for their contact information?

Are your sales professionals not asking 100% of the time because they won’t or can’t?

Since managers often complain that sales professionals are not asking all customers for their contact information, I have, over the past six months while consulting and training thousands of managers, asked the following question to better understand and help clients resolve this challenge:
Would you say that your sales professionals don’t ask their clients for their contact information 100% of the time because they:
1) WON’T (the sales professionals knows how to effectively ask clients but won’t) or
2) CAN’T (the sales professional doesn’t ask because they don’t know how to ask effectively)

Managers’ response

Upward of 85% of managers said their sales professionals WON’T ASK commenting that sales professionals did not need support on “how” to ask to increase effectiveness. Furthermore, these managers expressed a frustration with their sales teams not asking customers more often. In particular, managers complained that sales professionals offered excuses such as:
“I know my customers and they don’t want to give retailers this information.”
“My customers complain they already get too many emails.”
“I do ask, but my customers become frustrated with me and so I stopped asking.”
“You want me to ask every customer for his or her email and contact information?”

A different perspective: What was really troubling or standing in the way of sales professionals’ success?

By interviewing many sales professionals crossing different clients and product categories, and asking questions to understand why sales professionals were not asking clients, I discovered a different perspective.
Sales professionals were not asking customers for their contact information if they thought it would risk frustrating their customer at the end of the sale. Although sales people didn’t come out directly and say they needed help, yet it was the subtext of what they were passionately saying. Simply said, if sales professionals’ received an emotional decline to their request, something like, “no I don’t give out my email address” they felt it was a risk the client might not return to the store and ask for them by name. It was evident they struggled between the opportunity and the risk and sales professionals won’t risk being rejected.

As a response, I asked sales professionals: “If I could show you a way that would not risk offending your customers — would you ask 100% of your customers for their contact information? The answer I received was a resounding – yes!

In the end, by identifying an effective way that sales professionals could ask customers for their contact information without fear of pushing the customer was a big help in improving performance. When sales professionals applied the specific words and methods when asking clients for their contact information, their capture rate jumped to 90%+ effectiveness in obtaining their email address and mobile phone number.

What did managers learn?

  • Employees sometimes speak in code – instead of saying they don’t know how to do something they think they should actually know how to do – they instead offer explanations why they can’t do something.
  • More times than not, if an employee is not doing what you ask – check carefully that they know how and if they don’t – teach them.
  • Managers seemed to be addressing the symptom rather then the problem, which resulted in a push/pull with their sales teams rather than listening for the root of the problem and developing real solutions. The job of managers is to solve root issues.
  • Adults typically don’t tell you what they don’t know because they believe they should already know so instead they offer explanations why they can’t so something which sound like excuses but are often a call for help.
  • Don’t assume employees can do what’s being asked – even if it seems simple to you.
  • The sales professional / client relationship is one that sales professionals are careful not to jeopardize. Therefore their decisions are based on perceived risk.

Narrow the Gap Between Your Customers and Sales Professionals

The gap between how luxury retail customers want to be treated and how they are actually treated by sales professionals is growing larger. Many customers are distancing themselves from sales professionals.
How often do you notice a customer entering a retail store and before anyone actually approaches this person to offer assistance – the customer says “just looking” and shows the palm of their hand. Perhaps that’s been you on an occasion.

As much as this appears to be a problem, it’s actually a symptom of a bigger issue. Specifically, the luxury customer is feeling pressured and they are responding in ways that are sending strong messages. Some retailers aren’t even seeing this as a problem.

It’s become so pervasive in some markets that customers shop dressed down in yoga/work-out clothes. They proceed to announce that they only have a few minutes to shop, sending the clear message “I am not ready to purchase right now.”

How big is this problem?

This is so all-encompassing that The New York Times recently interviewed me for an article on the topic (January 11, 2012).

This distancing [between customers and sales professionals] is so serious today that some customers walk into stores and hold their hand up and say, “Just looking….” “The key,” Mr. Shanker, said, “is to get salespeople comfortable with silence after their initial approach, which runs counter to the traditional model of following a customer around and offering information about a product the minute the customer looks at or touches it.”

Here’s the good news! Brands that work to improve the luxury customer experience and reduce the distancing of the customer from their sales professionals can develop a strong competitive edge in the marketplace.

The alternative is for customers to shop mono brands for ideas and then purchase on the Internet or with the competition.

A few ideas that will begin to correct this problem:

  • Identify and eliminate the damaging behavior that sales professionals unknowingly use when interacting with customers. Many of these negative behaviors are subtle and overlooked. These become the silent derailers of the sale.
  • Replace negative behaviors with selling skills that both improve closing ratios and enhance the company’s reputation for luxury service year-after-year.This will improve the luxury customer experience, protect your brand, and increase sales and margins.
  • Provide managers with the leadership skills they need to inspire employees to want to do what’s asked of them and become self-accountable for achieving their sales goals.

Your Words and Tone Influence Customers

Your WORDS and TONE influence customers. Is that good news?

As a sales professional, you have the power to positively attract customers and grow your business by choosing particular words and communicating with a tone that positively influences others.

It’s widely understood that many customers actually shop and purchase to elevate their thoughts and feelings—otherwise known as retail therapy. As a sales professional, your words and tone impact how the client not only feels about you, but also how they feel about themselves in your presence. Isn’t it true that we feel better about ourselves in the company of some people more than with others? And when customers feel better about themselves when they are with you, they’ll likely give you credit for their positive feeling-state, which will invariably increase both the frequency of visits to your store and the likelihood they will ask for you by name. Research consistently shows that people remember how they felt when they were listening to a speaker — more then they can recall what the speaker actually said.

How important is this skill to your success in sales?
As a sales professional, you want to continuously add skills to your tool-kit that improve your individual conversion rate (productivity) so that you’re less dependent on negative influencers that are outside your control, such as traffic, weather and business trends. This also increases the equity of your client relationships, specifically the good business that is a result of clients returning to the store, month after month, year after year and asking for you. Otherwise known as working smarter.

What is the risk of not learning and applying this skill?
Without a particular awareness of how to use this skill successfully, as a sales professional you may unintentionally be using or not using words and phrases that cause you to actually miss out on opportunities to build professional relationships that grow your business exponentially. We call this a silent derailer – because unlike when a client has a complaint – in this case, he or she silently moves-on without making a purchase.

Is this a skill that can be learned?
Yes, the following are insights into words and tone that attract new customers and keep your current clients coming back.

Consciously choose both the topics that are client centric and also speak in a tone that communicates how you want the client to feel about you and themselves. Simply said, you will get back what you give—so give generously.

WORDS – Message
Consciously raise topics that add value to your client/relationship, such as: Communicate your mood by communicating the following qualities in the tone of your voice:

  • Suggest product benefits
  • Communicate uniqueness
  • Convey quality/value

TONE – Mood
Encourage client to speak upwards of 60%+ of the time

  • Respect
  • Empathy
  • Curiosity
  • Cheerfulness
  • and smile with your eyes!