Accelerate Sales Through ‘Clienteling’
Your salespeople can do something while they wait for customers that could be worth an additional 20 percent in annual sales. It’s called “clienteling”—strengthening relationships with key clients in specific ways that generate more frequent purchases.
The heart of clienteling is frequent communication with clients in ways that make sure your store comes to mind when they’re thinking of making a purchase. Your competition is any luxury item that captures discretionary dollars, not just the merchandise or service you offer. Remember, your best clients are your competitor’s best prospects. If you’re not contacting them, someone else is.
Appraising the Situation
Here are some ways to evaluate what kind of job you are doing at clienteling:
- Look around—what percent of salespeople appear to be waiting for a customer to walk in rather than contacting clients to drive traffic into the store?
- When sales associates call clients, do they sound like telemarketers or are they calling for true value-added reasons that build the brand?
- Do clients resist sharing the information you need to clientele effectively?
- Do you have safeguards to ensure that your best clients are being contacted with appropriate frequency?
- When sales associates resist contacting clients, do you know the real reasons why?
- Does every sales associate have a clienteling plan with specific goals?
Take the following steps toward successful clienteling:
Understand points of resistance. Be cautious forcing resistant sales associates to contact clients—it can jeopardize client relationships and the brand. The most frequent reason for hesitation is fear that the client won’t respond favorably—which may be right! To make an appreciated, value-added contact you need to collect important information including product preferences, important dates, significant others, dreams and desires, and communication preferences (e-mails, phone calls, written correspondence, etc.).
Be client-centric. Usually customers resist sharing information because they haven’t been asked in a way that demonstrates any value to them. Start with “Since” or “Because” to make sure you provide a rationale for your request: “Since your daughter will be graduating later this year, I’ll notify you when we receive new items that match the bracelet you bought her: What would be the best way to contact you?” You’ll know you’re doing a good job contacting clients when they express sincere appreciation after being contacted and begin to ask for you more frequently when they visit the store.
Work systematically. Hit-or-miss efforts fall short. You need a disciplined clienteling system with yearly and monthly strategies, targeted call lists, daily execution, and regular progress reviews. The foundation for the system is effective segmentation of your client list according to sales potential—not simply which clients you feel comfortable calling or who have brought from you recently. Include as part of the system some way to ensure that high-potential clients are contacted with appropriate frequency.
Get some tools. In addition to database software, it’s important to have letter and e-mail templates, phone scripts, planning worksheets, and policies on appropriate occasions and gifts (e.g. birthday, flowers, champagne, etc.). Be sure to introduce the tools and explain their use as part of new-hire orientation.
Evaluate regularly. Planning systems are only as good as the execution discipline that accompanies them. Monthly assess where you stand. What percent of your planned contacts did you attempt? How many were completed? How many clients did you visit or coax into the store? How many clienteling-related sales did you complete? Measure and evaluate your progress.
In a world where clienteling drives 20 percent of the traffic, you must do it better than the competition that is likely calling your clients. Your best defense is a strong, well-planned offense in which you spend time every day contacting and building relationships with high-potential clients.
Martin Shanker is the founder and president of Shanker, Inc., a Manhattan-based international management consulting firm for such companies as Burberry, Cartier, The Estee Lauder Companies, Ralph Lauren and Van Cleef & Arpels. Described as a ‘behaviorist’ by The New York Times, Martin specializes in helping global brands accelerate sales and profit by growing their companies from within. By addressing the tough issues of sales and management teams, and the behavioral dimension of retail relationships, Shanker Inc. offers a unique, multi-dimensional way for companies to achieve success through their own people.
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