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.

An Engaging Way to Start Your Sales Call

Before you go into an account for the first time do your research and discover something about this business that you really admire. Plan to open your conversation with a question relating to that action. Number one: It never hurts to let them know you studied their business.  Number two: You are there because you admire something that they’re doing and want to be a part of it. Finally, if you open with a positively-toned question about their business, they are immediately positively engaged in the conversation. People love to talk about their businesses.

Do not simply pick something out of the air and say this is really great. If you are lying or blowing smoke you will get caught and it will be a difficult slog to reach your goals for the meeting.  It might be tough to get back in the door.

If you cannot find anything you truly admire about this company, that tells me that scheduling a meeting is a waste of both their time and yours.  I suggest moving on to the next target.

Starting a meeting in a positive tone and engaging your would-be client with an intriguing question will place you in a possible position to earn a new partnership.

Flowers Are Also Nice

When was the last time you said thank you to one of your good customers.

Not, thank you for the order.

Not, we have this new delight for you to see.

Not, we have not seen you in a while?

Just a simple card saying thank you.

No more, no less.

Flowers are also nice.

Value = Experience / Price

We are in the midst of the largest retail shakeup in history.  To put the DPH showroom performance in perspective, Coresight Research notes in its November 15 update, “US retailers have announced 9,052 store closures and 3,956 store openings.”  Having just returned from the annual DPHA conference, I can tell you that the overall feeling is that business is good and will remain that way for the next 18 months.  While this is not a statistic, deeply researched or confirmed, it has been a good indicator for years. I would like to congratulate all DPH showrooms for continuing to run ahead of the brick and mortar pack.  Let’s make sure we stay ahead.

Think back to the time before the term “customer experience” was used to evaluate everything from Jiffy Lube to Hermes.  As the industry began to pull itself out of the muck of the recession, the term “product value” was all the rage. Its catch phrase was: “Is that a good value for my money?”  Customers were looking for value – the best products for their dollars, not low price. 

As the industry became skilled on the “value” sales conversation, that term slipped into the background and “customer experience” emerged as the overall, undefinable, defining metric.  Repeatedly we read and have been told that, “All great businesses offer a top-notch customer experience.” We see it referred to in case study after case study but, as with “value,” the challenge is to define and measure great customer experiences.

Angel investor Darren Herman offers guidance in his blog, Operating Partner.  He proposed the following simple formula:

Value = Experience / Price

On first thought, that formula appears to be too simple, when you evaluate the equation in more detail, it makes sense.  The kicker is defining experience. Price is simple: the lower it goes, the lower the experience factor can be to still deliver attractive value. But, if you are playing on the luxury-premium level, you have to improve the experience to justify higher pricing. 

It has been proven continuously that the lowering price value strategy is a never-ending race to the bottom and that’s not a successful formula for DPH luxury experiences.  The decorative plumbing and hardware industry can deliver on its value paradigm by focusing on the following five touchpoints: Showroom, Website, Salespeople, Customer Service and Vendors. 

Breaking them down into easily defined deliverables allows you to create a manageable list to use as a brand experience evaluation scorecard (equally applicable to Manufacturers, Representatives and Showrooms).

  • Website
    • Is your website easy to use and comfortable for your customers to shop?
    • Does your website offer the information your customers require?
    • Is your website easy for Google to find?
    • Are your key vendors’ presentations and product pages up to date?
    • Is your website respected more than your competition’s?
    • For e-commerce sites, does your showroom’s in-stock inventory cater to the products your customers really need before the vendor can deliver? 

Side Note: Today’s customer wants to do their work whenever and wherever they are.  To have a poor website is interpreted as you are not interested in their business.  An effective and easy-to-use website is a must have.

  • Salespeople
    • Are your salespeople more knowledgeable and respected than your competition?
    • Are they consistent from customer to customer?
    • Do they listen actively?
    • Do they want to improve?

Side Note: Every time I am at a showroom or attending a conference the number one problem our colleagues mention is finding good people.  Yet, few companies offer any type of sales training to make their good people better. I have never met a salesperson that cannot get better and that includes me.

  • Customer Service
    • Do you offer uncompromising cradle-to-grave service?
    • Do you proactively communicate both good and bad information with your clients as their job progresses?
    • Do you reach out to the client and end users after the job is finished?
    • Is your product return process painful for the client? Are they presumed guilty before being proven innocent?

Side Note: A significant factor in the continuing growth of showrooms and vendors is based on selling more to good customers.  Will that hold true if you continue to offer the least?

  • Vendors
    • Are they what they say they are?
    • Do they train and keep your purchasing, sales and customer service teams up to date?
    • Do they design and craft products in line with their pricing?
    • Do they deliver on what they promise?
    • Are their demands in line with their value to your business?

Side Note:  Vendors, when was the last time you surveyed the key 100 showroom salespeople about what they think will help your brand improve?  When was the last time you and your distributor showroom surveyed their good builder and trade customers about what they think will help your brand improve? Sitting in your office listening to a few loud folks is not the best way to build your brand’s foundation.

  • Showroom
    • Is your showroom easy and comfortable for your customers to shop?
    • Is your showroom easy to use by your salespeople?
    • Is your showroom perceived as stylish by your core design trade customers?
    • Are your key vendors’ displays up to date?
    • Does your showroom’s inventory contain the products your customers need before the vendor can deliver?

Side Note: Maintaining a showroom is hard work and expensive, but when done effectively is can be very profitable.  The more vendors, representatives and distributor showrooms stay in step, the better for all parties involved.

This list provides a tool to evaluate your business and to determine your customer experience rating.  Each point can be valued good or bad or with a five-point scale. Determine which metric works best for your business and team.

There is one other factor to consider.  Each point on the list focuses on eliminating FRICTION your customers encounter when working with your company.  Both trade customers and end-users HATE friction. Removing friction requires an investment of money and time. Willingly taking back a polished nickel lavatory faucet that looks as if it was attacked by a steel grill brush is not easy or cheap, but necessary.  

Do not lose sight of the fact that you are working to increase your customers’ perceived value of your business.

The bottom line is that each individual customer will evaluate your business.  Having a metric to determine how your business is perceived will improve your customers’ experiences and help you develop effective strategies to address weaknesses.

A version of this article appeared in the January issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News

The First Law of Listening

“An experience makes its appearance only when it is being said,” – Hannah Arendt 

And if we do not hear it, it disappears. 

We are told again and again, that the art of listening is the most important talent a person can have.  To be able to really hear what other people are trying to share with us is an advantageous skill.  Now we must ensure that the person or people you are listening to are comfortable so they will share their true thoughts.  They must know that they are speaking with someone that is genuinely interested in what they have to say because, if that’s not true, why meet?  When people are comfortable their true insights emerge, and we learn so much more. Honestly shared information from diverse backgrounds builds the foundation for the best new ideas. We want people to share what they really believe so together we can all get better. 

For example, you have arranged a meeting at a trade show with a key vendor to discuss projections and the pricing schedule for the upcoming year.  Now this meeting will require focus.  Your vendor has been meeting with dozens of people from all over the world, each with unique challenges and cultural concerns.  You have been skipping from booth to booth also talking with people from different countries and investigating everything from drains to crystal handles.

To make this meeting as productive as it must be, time clocks must slow down and all attendees need to be reset to focus on the opportunities to be discussed.

Let’s start with making all involved feel important.  If it is a one-on-one meeting, shake their hand, look straight into their eyes and thank them for sharing their time.  Make sure they know you are looking forward to this conversation.  If it is a multi-person meeting, welcome everybody and take a moment and introduce everybody.  Even if the group is familiar with each other, still take the time to bring them into the meeting by simply acknowledging each person directly.  

Now, with everyone feeling comfortable, it is time to get to work and hear all of the amazing conversations.  

A version of tis article appeared in the January 24, 202 issue of DPHA’s Newsletter, Connections

Vendors, May We Please Improve Training

The quality of training in the showroom business is all over the place. Training is not like selling; they are two distinct talents.  A few companies create solid content but have not trained their trainers on how to train (say that fast three times). Other vendors weakly educate the local representative and tell them to go forth and educate all involved. They send them in with catalogs and some samples.  Really, is that how a brand should be presented?

Here are some notes:

  • No one looks forward to product knowledge training sessions.  Showroom salespeople are extremely busy and do not want to give up the time during the day.  Also, no one wants to come in early or stay late.  
  • Abide by the Venture Capital pitch 30/30 rule.  No font should be smaller than 30 pts. and no presentation should be longer than 30 minutes.  In a perfect environment our minds can only stay focused for a maximum of 20 minutes. So build a solid 20 minute presentation and leave time for questions. Do not overreach, you will not gain a thing.  In fact, you will lose what you gained in the first 20 minutes.
  • Do not train on a product that is not yet on display or ready to ship.  The salespeople will forget all the information by the time you are ready to receive orders, even if it is just a week away.
  • Beta-test your training content in the field.  Present your new training program to a few local showrooms, then note and implement the feedback.  
  • Train your own customer service team first.  Present the training draft to them first and gain their feedback.  Then, when a showroom salesperson calls with a question that references the training, everyone is on the same page.
  • Do not hand out any reading material during the presentation. You want the trainees to look at the presenter, not at a price book.
  • Recap, ask questions and offer rewards during the 20 minute training.  Questions keep them engaged and rewards help all stay attentive throughout.
  • Do share actual product samples…LOTS of samples.  It is proven that if people have product in their hands they will remain engaged.
  • If offering food, save it for AFTER the training.  If they have food during the session, they will focus on that.

Finally, if you really want to do it right, hire a 100%, full-time trainer.  As we noted above, your talented sales people and representatives are not always adequate trainers.  Do you really want to get into an automobile with new brakes that were installed by a mechanic that was trained by the brake manufacturer’s local salesperson?  Then why do you ask talented salespeople to educate the salespeople that sell your brand’s story to design and building professionals?  

If your training content and presentation are solid, you’ll always get the best product knowledge training time slot and the showrooms salespeople will gladly attend ready to learn.

A version of this article appeared in the February Issue of Supply House Times

The Unique Customer Journey

Your company has been successfully working with this wonderful client for years, but today seems a bit different.  Do you handle them the same way as in the past?  Do you start asking questions to learn what is different or do you simply listen a bit harder and slow down.  I vote for the latter, you?  

Truth be told, we must always keep in mind that every time a customer visits your showroom, their path on every purchase path is unique.  Not only is this meeting unique, but every meeting pertinent to this one purchase will be unique.  Your customer still retains the trust, but time moves on and situations change.  Who knows what has happened personally or professionally to any of the players since you last spoke? 

Your main job is not to expose any issues, but engage them in a way that they know you are there to help, listen and learn.  If you start probing and expose issues, you will have to deal with what is exposed.  If that happens, the underlying issue is their trust in you. You are the outsider, therefore, the easy scapegoat. Be carful here.

Am I digging too deep on this?  Most luxury showrooms,, on average, close roughly 35% of its bids.  We can improve that percentage if we improve the way we engage our customers.  
Little things matter.  One little flub can throw a monkey wrench into hard won trust and confidence of an old or new customer.

I think you will agree that every sale is unique. Understand that each time clients enter your showroom they are on a unique journey.  Engage with them to learn all you can. 

I suggest taking a few minutes in your net sales team meeting and discuss this.  This simple awareness is important for your new budding sales heroes to understand.  New salespeople are wrongly looking for repeatable sales processes to follow, and that will not play well in the long run. The best salespeople approach each meeting with an open mind. Their experience has them ready to engage each fresh opportunity and the unique collection of issues that job will drop in their laps. 

Image Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

A version of this post appeared in the January 10 issue of DPHA Connections

It's Holiday Time, Yipee!

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
I hope everybody had a lovely Thanksgiving.  A wonderful holiday allowing American families to pause for one day to celebrate the passing year’s blessings. Then consume mass quantities of delicious food.   

As Thanksgiving fades into memory, Christmas Day is on its way.  The massive barrage of advertisements for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday have passed and they have been replaced by a consistent torrent of emails, ads and banners telling me that I can only have XX% off if I buy now!  It is all so annoying. 

Outside of that noise, I do enjoy holiday shopping.  I love to discover just the right gift for my family and friends.  Each gift I select has deep logic behind it, and I know it is something they never would purchase for themselves and will treasure for years.  I hope to watch them peel back the shiny paper and see a bit of delight on their faces when they discover what it is.  I love that look!  Then sometimes they unwrap the gift and look at me, what the….?  Off to the return counter.

The important thing is that my time searching, not dealing or discounting, is time that I spend thinking about the wonderful people in my life and in small, very small, way give them a bit of Holiday joy.  
 
Happy Holidays!  
 
Ohh, P.S.  As the 2019 Holidays pass, all will turn to talking about 2020.  Before that happens, find a moment and congratulate yourself, yes you, for all the hard work you did in 2019.  Every once in a while, it is good to look in the mirror and say, great job, well done!  Cheers
A version of this article appeared in the December 20, 2019 issue of DPHA Connections.

Tinder In My Showroom?

“I like that but could I see it in this tone of yellow?”  How often have you heard this on your showroom floor?  

This is a question that has been haunting showroom salespeople for decades and, I think, we just might have the answer.  At the 2019 Lightovation show at the Dallas Market Center, a leading luxury lighting manufacturer had strategically placed 4’ x 3’ interactive touch screens amongst its spectacular products.  The screens were programed so the user could simply swipe right to easily move from image to image.  Even amongst hundreds of beautiful lighting fixtures, these screens, with their larger-than-life images, were the draw.  An EXPERIENCE garnered more interest than the actual product.  People would stand and swipe to their heart’s content as the images were quickly delivered from its huge database.  Yes, it was a large screen that was the star of a show attended by the purchasing agents from the top lighting showrooms in the United States and Canada.  Not a specific fixture, product series or brand, but a SCREEN.  Are we focused on our screens or what?

Brick and mortar showrooms are not going away, but if a physical luxury showroom does not incorporate a 21st century experience, that will hurt its image.  Imagine a customer walking into your showroom and heading straight for the interactive screen.  In a matter of minutes, they are flipping through your products as fast as they can swipe.  Customers travel to your showroom to interact with the actual product and still want to be able to see everything imaginable.  They want to experience the best of both the physical and digital worlds in your showroom.

When a customer asks what this faucet looks like in another finish, no problem.  You can show it to them on your 4’ x 3’ screen.  You cannot physically show it all, but you can show a large image of your customer’s dream look by simply accessing your mighty, mighty database. 

The answer is to bring the internet power into your showroom.  Slap a screen on the wall and voila, millions of product images are alive!   Unfortunately, it is not simply plug and play.  It will take some programming, and access to properly configured vendor databases to make this dream a reality.   

When I returned home, I did a little digging and discovered these two “Kiosk” companies.  It seems kiosk is the preferred terminology in the self-serve retail world, as opposed to large touch screens.

Also note, these company’s understand that your screen needs are different from McDonalds and they have programers ready to deliver what will surprise and delight your customers.

I believe kiosks (screens) will be a big showroom draw and expand showroom offerings to infinity and beyond…

A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2019 issue of DPHA’s Connections

Is Everyone Ready for Your Sales Call? Really?

It is the third Tuesday of the month and as usual, this outside salesperson will be visiting account ABC at 9am, DEF at noon for lunch, LMN at 2:30 and finish the day at XYZ at 4:00.  

This looks great. During a full day of outside calls, you have the chance to tell your brand stories to your targeted customers. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s hit the road.  One question: are you prepared?   

Some interesting questions to ask before you schedule any and all outside calls: 

  • Do they know you are coming?
  • What do you want to accomplish at each call?
  • Do you have plenty of samples to share?
  • Have you checked the companies’ websites and social media posts to know what they are working on and promoting?
  • What happened on your last call there?  Did you review your notes?
  • What have been your company’s interactions with each customer since that last call?  Do you need to bring any parts or soothe any ruffled feathers?
  • DO THEY KNOW YOU ARE COMING?

This call routine was the first thing that was drilled into my head by my mentor, Al Dubin.  If I couldn’t answer all of these questions, Al told me to get back in that chair!  Unprepared salespeople were his number one pet peeve. R-E-S-P-E-C-T your customer and do your homework. You have to give to get.

I am still amazed at how often salespeople, sales managers and local representatives would stop by with no plan, no product samples and no idea of what was going on with our shared interests.  

They would show up when staff was busy selling, purchasing agents purchasing, designers pitching, plumbers fighting inspectors and builders trying to find subcontractors.  They would drop in at 11ish just to say hello and see if there were any issues or questions.  People, time is incredibly valuable for all involved and must be used effectively. Put simply, no one should call on anyone if they do not have an appointment and a beneficial agenda for all parties involved.  

Management has to be on top of this.  Every sales call made should align with your company’s focus and what your marketing team is promoting.  It is amazing what a company can accomplish when all the teams have the same game plan. 

Let’s stop unprepared calls; take that time and generate the quality and additional sales from your showroom visits that you and your clients expect and deserve.
A version of this article appeared in the December 6, 2019 issue of DPHA’s Connections