How To Use Your 2020 Data To Better Understand, Support and Delight Your Customers

In the last post we discussed building the ultimate data collection process for multi brand stores to place your business in the best possible position to grow. The more you can learn about your business, your customers and your targeted market, the better prepared you will be for the newly emerging algorithms, artificial intelligence support and insight.

For now, let’s look at the data you do have. Let’s set it up to answer questions that will allow us to better understand what is happening in our business and what we can do better to improve and gain market share.

Start with asking your ERP system to create the following spreadsheet for up to the last five years. It will be a big file, but full of data to help you and your team better understand what is actually happening in business.  

I suggest the following 11 headers for each line item invoiced:

  • Invoice Date
  • Customer 
  • Qty shipped
  • Vendor
  • Vendor Product Number
  • Description
  • Finish (if you can)
  • Margin (if you can’t pull this information directly, you can create a simple formula with information below)
  • Total line cost
  • Total line sale
  • Showroom salesperson

Please note here, only ask for the data if you are confident that the data in each of the cells is correct. If you had any past data integrity problems or consistent mis-entry issues, do not include those topics or time periods in your spreadsheet. As the saying goes; Garbage in, garbage out.

Once you have this data, make sure each cell in a column is formatted uniformly. If they are not, the data will be off when combined for a table or report.

Find your best and brightest spreadsheet expert and ask them to set up a pivot table and pivot chart with this data. If you cannot find such a person, ask your accountant, myself or YouTube. Click here for a simple overview of pivot tables to get you started.

From this data you will be able to ask the following questions:

  • What am I actually selling by: 
    • Vendor
    • Finish
    • Product category
  • Are my customers:
    • Purchasing everything they need from me?
    • At what margin?
    • What product categories that I sell that they are not buying from me? 
  • What are my salespeople selling:
    • By brand
    • By function
    • By finish
    • What are they not selling?
  • What are my margins by:
    • Brand
    • Customer
    • Vendor
    • Salesperson
    • Product category

Notice that I have included questions related to product categories even though that is not one of the spreadsheet headers. We do not have exact information here, but we know that most brands are primarily focused on one product category. It is not a perfect metric, but it will offer you added insight into what your customers are buying/not buying. This filter will help you identify which product categories and vendors are reaching your margin goals, opportunities to sell more product categories to your good accounts, and if your salespeople are remembering to sell all the products you offer.

Once you have these answers, along with answers to questions you deem important to your business, you can focus on the opportunities you see that offer the largest upside and are the easiest to address. 

After you set this up, you can run the data output and create your pivot table reports at the end of each month. You will now have actual, black and white data to allow you and your team see what is actually going on and plot a course to improve sales, margins and team performance. Not to mention getting the right products on display and building a more dynamic inventory.

Aversion of this post appeared in the February 14, 2020 issue of Connections, the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware weekly newsletter.

Is Your Data Helping Your Business Grow?

Last posting we discussed ways to help your showroom presence add pop and sizzle to captivate and delight your customers. Now let’s now dig into collecting the best data possible to give vendors and showrooms insight into what is working in your business, what is not working and what steps will improve your business.

I suggest building this model from the multi-brand store’s perspective. The showrooms offer a more micro-client focus, allowing all a deeper dive into the market and a better understanding of its potential. The first step is to build out your Enterprise Resource Planning program (ERP) data collection system to gain a better understanding of the viability of your product mix, current customers, vendors and target customers and markets.

Look at your computer system’s data entry matrix for your customer relationship management (CRM), accounts receivable and payable, purchasing and shipping and receiving departments and note what additional data topics you would like to add. This is the time to dream big as it is easier to remove than add topics. Before you finalize your data capture matrix, think of problems you dream of solving and opportunities you would love to capture. Then ask yourself, what data do I need to win these battles?

Now for the fun part – all of this data must be seamlessly linked to all of your businesses databases. The sales data must interface with the marketing data (CRM), the purchasing, shipping and receiving data and the accounts payable and receivable data. All these data silos must be able to seamlessly talk to each other to offer you the best possible understanding of your customers, vendors, your teams and your target markets.

This is the dream package and if you are not collecting this depth of data that is easily shared across all your company’s platforms today, I suggest you start planning a way to collect this information as soon as you are able. This information will be the foundation of your business decisions and a necessity in next few years as Artificial Intelligence, AI, becomes evolves into the foundational platform of yours and your competitor’s computer programs.

All of this data is available from your vendors, your team and in your mind. If it is an abstract topic, set your company guidelines and add the information per your team’s definition. This is primarily information from and for your business. Get with your team, hash it out, set parameters, define the terms and get to it. It is not important that people outside your business understand this, these classifications are for your own business analysis. It only matters that you and your team know what they stand for and how they are defined.

Once you have this data, it may be filtered, sorted and broken down in countless ways to give you powerful insight into your business. Today, data of this variety and quality can be manipulated by Excel or an off the shelf SQL database and, very soon your AI helper.

It is important that multi-brand showrooms and their vendors work closely together on this. Data updates such as pricing, individual delivery times, order acknowledgements and updates must be easily uploaded into these dynamic databases. Stores must also share their sales data with their key vendors. The showroom can remove the customer names, company names and their private CRM info, but the overall data should be shared. This is not the time for hiding and hoping. It is time to build true relationships focused on customer service and generating quality margins.

The more comprehensive the data you are collecting is, the better you will be able to understand what is working well, what can be improved, and enhance your strategic planning for your company’s future. Remember, no matter how powerful the tech, the applicability and insight of its output is directly dependent on the quality and depth of the data collected and the focused vision of the questions the computer is asked to answer.

Below is a suggester starter list of of the customer and market information that should be collected to create a flexible database to crush your competition.

Take you time to plan out this data collection carefully. This is not about speed, it is about quality. Please take the time to this best.

For the short term, the next post will suggest ways to work with your current ERP data now to offer more insight into your customers and to improving your customers experience.

  • Customer
  • Company
  • Customer Type
  • Job Name (if applicable to your business)
  • Sales Person
  • Invoice Date
  • Invoice #
  • Job Notes and Information (if applicable to your business)
  • Brand Sold
  • Product #
  • Color, Finish…
  • Product Classification
    • Filter for where the product is used or applied… (Blouse vs Pants, Kitchen vs bathroom, Skin cream vs Foot cream…)
  • Product Function (if applicable to your business)
  • Series Name (if applicable to your business)
  • Style
  • Quantity Sold
  • Sell Price each
  • Net Price each
  • Total Price paid for product
  • Total Net Product Cost
  • Customer Influencers
    • Referred by
    • Advertisment
    • Google
  • Job miscellaneous notes
  • WHATEVER ELSE YOU DEEM IMPORTANT

Aversion of this post appeared in the February 7, 2020 issue of Connections, the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware weekly newsletter.

Should We Wait Or Should We Go?

There has been a lot of speculation on how AR, VR and AI are going to change the way we do business and no one really knows where theses platforms will affect their business next. So, instead of waiting, let’s turn the tables and decide where we would like AR, VR and AI implemented in our businesses.  Where can these amazing toods help improve and simplify your business right now?

Take a moment and meet with your teams and make a list of where they think theses programs can make you better.  Once you have the list go out and talk to people that work in these worlds. Find out what is available, now or in the immediate future and start planning.

Is it better to reach out to learn or stay in the dark wondering what will hit next?

Photo by Marlene Leppänen from Pexels

AI Is Coming Soon. Let’s Start To Get Ready Now.

Original Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

“This is a race. It’s a race to be relevant. The big difference between today and yesterday is speed. You need to be much faster on the execution.”  Arthur Sadoun, CEO of Publicis told the Financial Times in June 2017.

Many luxury showrooms take the time to inspect each received product.  Each piece is carefully removed from its shipping container and painstakingly inspected then returned to its box to wait for the customer to arrive.   Such attention to detail separates your showroom from the competition and makes your clients so very happy. 

Do you take the same care when you collect your customer data?  Do you check the information to make sure it is correct and siloed in the correct slot in your computer program?  Do you enter notes on each visit, carefully recording the points discussed and any information that might help you and your team better know each customer’s unique style and needs?  

Please, if you are thinking it takes too much time, think again.  If you have time to meticulously inspect each order to delight your good customers, why not work to get to know those same customers so well that you will exceed their expectations.  Your data is a prime foundation of your business and, as the world slowly adopts Artificial Intelligence, good data will become your key to delivering great customer service.

Vendors, your data is also key to the growth of your market reach.  You, too, take the time to design and handcraft each beautiful product.  Then your team inspects every item and carefully packages them so all arrive in perfect shape.  Yet, your data systems are not in line with today’s customer’s demands. Delivery changes, before and during the manufacturing process, are hidden from view.  When a product misses its acknowledged delivery date no one knows until the date passes and the reactive “I am sorry call”. This upsets good customers and damages both your brand and the showroom’s.  When vendors leverage their good data proactively they will make life less painful for all involved.

Put simply, today’s available Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not HAL-like but an overlay on Machine Learning (ML).  ML churns the data and makes it available in a form so that when you ask your AI a question it returns your answer correctly at lightning speeds.  Your questions can cover all facets of your business and help you effectively peek into the future. However, to accomplish this your data must be clean, consistent and well-integrated. Remember the phrase, “garbage in and garbage out”?  That has not changed.  

Even the mighty Microsoft had issues getting applicable answers from it AI.  Its retail division crafted a complete AI sales support system and when they rolled it out, the AI notes and suggestions were worthless.  They revisited the data and the AI questions they were asking and hit reset. Now, sales are increasing. Salespeople are easily able to access customer, product and order information.  With AI, a customer’s entire purchasing history and delivery time for each order take just seconds to view, now that the data is clean, consistent and well-integrated.

This journey starts with your teams.  Careful collection of quality, comprehensive data must become part of your company’s culture.  If you can enlighten them on how it will save them time and strengthen their customer relationships and show them how it will allow them more time to do what they do best!

I believe that AI will be a part of successful showrooms in the next five years and foundational in no more than 7.