Here’s a true story.
Years ago I was a sales manager for a well-known audio brand. I had a nice car, a rubbish laptop and a garage full of product brochures. I remember this particular day I was visiting one of my customers: a shop owned by an independent hi-fi chain, a plush, low-ceilinged den of mood-lighting and shiny tech where soothing jazz melodies oozed fluidly from a pair of massive speakers worth more than my house.
Anyway, I was on the shop floor, sitting at a desk with the branch manager, talking through our new range of expensive stuff. Part-Time Dave was looking over the manager’s shoulder, nodding occasionally, nursing his cup of tea.
There was no one else in the store. It was a quiet day, mid-week, and it was raining hard outside.
Twenty minutes into my spiel the shop door opened and some bloke walked in off the street.
I stopped talking, thinking that either Part-Time Dave or the manager would want to go speak to this new customer. They didn’t. Instead, they told me to carry on. No word of a lie, they didn’t even look at this potential new customer. In fact, they actively were not looking at him. The guy took a few more tentative steps into the store. I could see him. He looked a pleasant enough chap, maybe a tad bewildered by this display of expensive technology. And he was wet through.
Eventually the manager, without moving from his seat, barked out, “Can we help you there, sir?” Whereupon this guy who’d had the temerity to just walk in out of the rain and start looking at hi-fi stuff paused, then shook his head, mumbled something and left.
“ Time wasters,” the manager swore.
Keep this in mind. I’ll come back to it.
One of the most successful elements of our sales training academies is when we task trainees to look at ‘the customer journey’, which isn’t something shop floor sales staff get asked to examine very often. Many of them aren’t even aware that there is such a thing, so we have to explain to them exactly what we mean by it at quite a basic level. But when they get it, and once they’ve completed the task, they find it a real eye-opener. Because every single time, without fail, our trainees conclude that getting customers in through the door is hard and expensive work.
Just consider it for a moment:
How many hours do customers spend looking through magazines and websites, poring over comparisons, reviews, manufacturer’s blurb and recommendations, trying to figure out what it is they need? And once they’ve decided what they want, how much more time do they spend trying to figure out where to buy?
The executive management of this hi-fi retailer were no strangers to using customer journey analysis to plan their marketing. They gathered their data, considered it wisely, and advertised tactically. They had a great website packed with powerful SEO. They operated an active social media campaign spreading their gospel, every tweet and blog post battling hard for hits and views, shares and likes. Back at head office they mined every single one of their competitive advantages to shout through the noise and differentiate themselves in hi-fi magazines, not just marketing their product range but also the core values of their business: their great customer service, their expertise and the value of their specialist advice.
And of course their competitors were doing the same, so they had to use every tool within their reach to pull customers ever closer to the doors of their four shops. It took time, effort, expertise and quite a bit of money.
But despite all that, the manager of the store I was in at the time, decided that a customer who walked in through his door in the rain, was nothing more than a ‘ time waster ’.
One of the key lessons from our customer journey task is this:
There is no such thing as time wasters.
Because so what if somebody just wanders into your shop to hide from the rain, or spend fifteen minutes browsing something of mild interest whilst the rest of the family shops for school uniform next door? So what if customers tentatively walk into your premium, specialist den, without a clue as to what they’re looking at?
You can help them, right? Even if someone really doesn’t want to buy right there and then, you can be sure that whatever you say to them, however you treat them, will define an experience that will influence that customer’s decision to buy from you (or not!) when they are ready.
That ‘ time waster ’ will remember how they walked in from the rain and got talking to this great sales person who treated them well, answered a whole bunch of questions and invited them to pop back at any time. And even if they don’t ever want to buy from you, maybe a couple of weeks later they’ll be talking to a friend of theirs who does, so they’ll recommend you – or not.
It’s up to you.
We generally tell our trainees that ‘assumptions in sales are bad’, and it’s true, but if there’s one assumption you can allow yourself, it’s this – everyone who walks into your store must at least have a passing interest in what you’re selling, which means they’re a potential customer. And if it costs time and money, dedication and dogged persistence to entice people, even just browsers, into your store, how great is it when the rain forces them in for free?
Admittedly, the situation might have been different had I not been there with my lovely product catalogues. But the rep should always take second place to customers on the shop floor.