The basis of this article is one that I wrote some time ago; in simpler times. Now more than ever, we need to recognise those things we can control, and those we cannot. In fact, for the benefit of our mental health, the mental health of those around us, and the health of our business, we must focus on actively controlling those things that influence our business performance for the better. Some days it may feel that not much is in our control, but invariably this is because we are distracted by things that affect us, but over which we have no influence.
It is probably safe to say that most of us feel our business could be performing better. We know what we should be working on, but we often end up focusing on things outside of our control. Like the possum in a spotlight, we become mesmerised by things we cannot control. It might be a significant international event, such as the current COVID crisis and its potential to harm us, our loved ones, the economy, and our business. At other times it could be more localised issues such as competitors who do work at crazy margins, fickle customers, a downturn in local industry, the time of year, or a multitude of other factors that can negatively impact our business from time to time. In good times we don’t think about these external factors, but as business slows down, we look outward when we should be looking inward.
When I talk with retailers who are experiencing a downturn in sales, they rarely attribute it to a low conversion rate, or to salespeople who are not following up on sales opportunities. They attribute their business performance to external factors. Please don’t misunderstand me; no matter what we do, there are going to be external factors over which we have no control that will adversely affect our businesses. My point is, by identifying those things we can control and working on them, we will better off.
If you follow a sports team consider for a moment what you think when it fails to perform: very rarely would we conclude that a loss was due to the stadium they played at or the skills of the other team; instead we look internally and conclude they should be kicking more (or less), that they can’t pass (or can’t catch); we will have an opinion on the quality of the coaching and if asked we can name the players that should be dropped from the team.
Why do we look at two competitive activities, sports and our business, so fundamentally differently? We should be using those same analytical skills in our business. Where are we dropping the ball? Who on our team is not pulling their weight? What is the quality of our coaching? Do we have tools to analyse what is happening in our business?
At the time of this writing, flooring retail appears to be in a good space compared to other industries. We all hope this remains the case, but even at the best of times, business is cyclical, so we can anticipate a downturn at some stage. When it comes, we want to be in good shape, so what are some of the things we can measure and influence in our business? Most of us pay attention to the retail housekeeping; tidy and welcoming store environments, friendly and presentable staff, and a product range to cater to the varying needs of our customers. Here are just three things I see most often overlooked:
Most flooring retailers don’t know what their overall conversion rate is, and they don’t know what conversion rates are being achieved by salespeople. Understanding conversion rates, measuring them, and setting targets for improving them is fundamental to a successful sales organisation.
Following up on samples
People who take samples from us are the most highly qualified lead we can have, but too often our process for managing the sample process is insufficient even to guarantee the samples are returned, let alone to further the sales opportunity. If we want to establish a relationship with a potential customer, it needs to start from when they take samples.
Follow up on quotes
If we are going to move the needle on our sales numbers, our conversion rates, and our GP percentage, follow up is the most powerful tool available to us. We need to be good at following up. I’m not talking about cursory one-off calls made a day or two after submitting a quote. I’m talking about frequent follow-ups to get to the point where we know we have either won or lost the job. The follow-up process can include texts and email, but the most effective are phone calls. Follow up to a salesperson is what landing the plane is to a pilot; a pilot who doesn’t like landing planes is not a pilot, and a salesperson who doesn’t like following up is not a salesperson, they are an order taker.
Next time we find ourselves looking outward to explain how our business is doing, make a conscious effort to change the direction of our gaze inward. How are we doing in just the three areas mentioned above? What are the other elements of our business within our control to influence for the better?
Chris Ogden is a consultant and Managing Director of RFMS Australasia, a supplier of IT solutions specific to the flooring industry. Chris has an extensive background in all aspects of the flooring industry, and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.