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Ask INSTORE: May 2010

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How to motivate salespeople during slow periods, getting better service from big vendors, and convincing your customers to share contacts with you.

[h3]Fill Up the Slow Times [/h3]

[dropcap cap=Q.][h4][b]How do I keep my sales staff motivated when things are slow?[/b][/h4][/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=A.] Reframe, reframe reframe. Sure things are slow, but that means it’s the perfect time to focus on training. In meetings, focus on what approaches and tactics are working on the sales floor, and not on how weak sales figures (and their commissions) may look. Finally and perhaps most importantly, keep reminding them that people are still buying and that they need to use their initiative to generate these sales. They should be writing notes to their best customers, getting involved in community events, and ordering up new business cards they can hand out at every opportunity. A related threat that arises when things are slow is the prospect of losing your best performers to the competition. It’s thus important to keep looking for opportunities to deliver praise even for small things done well, and to see what non-monetary perks you can provide, like a more flexible schedule. [/dropcap]

[componentheading]CUSTOMER SERVICE [/componentheading]

[h4][b]How do I get better service from big vendors? Some companies I call will put me on hold for 20 minutes or ignore my requests for help with issues.[/b][/h4]

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Size matters, and It’s who you know. Two of the most basic rules of business, although the latter probably trumps the former and likely holds the answer to your troubles. “The best way I know to get great service, no matter how large the company, is to make a friend on the inside,” advises Kate Peterson, the president of Performance Concepts. “When you finally do make contact with that clerk, rep, service specialist, etc., take a few extra minutes and have a brief conversation. Listen, learn all you can, and keep notes. End your conversation with ‘You really have been terrific. Do you have a direct extension I can call next time? I would really rather deal with you.’” The next time you contact the company, Peterson advises, start with a friendly chat — not your order. “You’ll be amazed at how quickly that person can get things done for you!” she says.

[componentheading]MARKETING [/componentheading]

[h4][b]I ran a campaign that said sign up three of your friends for our newsletter list and we’ll give you a 20 percent discount card, but the response was dismal. What did we do wrong?[/b][/h4]

Responding to an offer like this makes customers, and especially women, feel like they’re selling out their shopping buddies. Instead, change the offer to “You and every one of your friends who signs up will get a 15 percent discount.” Now your customer has special access to a discount that she can pass along to friends. You’ve made her the hero.

[componentheading]DESIGN [/componentheading]

[h4][b]A customer has asked me to make a really hideous ring for her. But this is something I do not want associated with my store’s name. What should I do?[/b][/h4]

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This is a tough one and the answer lies in how you view your role as a custom designer. Are you an artist first who should be loyal to your own aesthetic sense, or is your job more to bring to life the vision of your client, however ugly that may be? Marc Aranstom, of Aranstom Fine Jewelers in Indianapolis , IN, argues it should be the first, saying your client will recognize her mistake when presented with the finished item, and the bill. Joel McFadden of Joel McFadden Designs in Red Bank, NJ, admits he has created things he hated, but he argues that was never the point. “The goal is to create something that the customer loves. If the customer truly loves the work they will tell everyone how great you are and most people will understand that it is the customer’s taste not yours.” Lee Krombholz of Krombholz Jewelers in Cincinnati , OH, advises you shoot for somewhere in between. Give the customer a high estimate, invest time in trying to sway and educate him, and then target the middle ground between what the customer asked for and what you know will work. “If you can satisfy their requests and make it aesthetically attractive, you will have a home run!” he says

[componentheading]VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS [/componentheading]

[h4][b]What do you know about hiring remote employees?[/b][/h4]

Virtual assistants (VAs) seem like the answer to all drudgery in business life, taking care of menial office and data entry work for $2-$3 an hour. The reality is quite different. Clashing time zones, security issues, cultural differences, the inefficiencies of working with someone who isn’t in your store and for whom every job has to be infinitely detailed can make hiring a VA an exercise in frustration. The better-known VA service providers like Get Friday  in India will charge up $10 an hour, so the cost savings can be minimal. The big exception is when you are looking for help with a repetitious job that doesn’t change much over time, such as updating product photos on your website, or one which requires a certain technical expertise, like building a website. Otherwise, you’re probably better off hiring a local student.

[span class=note]This story is from the May 2010 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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