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From Pacific Business News
Make sure your sales staff knows the customer won't wait

By Ron Martin

Have you ever tapped your fingers on a store counter, waiting for a salesperson to return to the register? Ever looked high and wide for sales help, or had to "interrupt" a salesperson from restocking shelves or sweeping the floor? It's understandable: salespeople have many duties besides looking after customers, so it's no wonder that they aren't always available. After all, they have to restock -- the manager said so.

Understandable, perhaps, but unacceptable. Sure, salespeople have many tasks to accomplish during the day, but deciding what to do first should not be one of them. You can easily avoid this by adopting a customer-based priority system that says: "Anything can wait, except our customers."

Your customers are more important to your business than other duties. Without customers there would be no need for duties, salespeople or sales managers. Make selling your number one priority.

The organization chart at Nordstrom department stores shows the customer at the top and the company co-chairmen at the bottom. Nordstrom is famous for its outstanding customer service, and enjoys sales per square foot totals that are marveled at by retailers everywhere.

When you telephone your store, always ask, "Are you with a customer?" When the answer is yes, say, "Good, call me back when you are not with a customer." Remind your bookkeepers, secretaries, delivery staff, and anyone else working for you:"Everything we do is to service our customers."

Establish a customer-based priority system for your salespeople to follow. Let's say you manage a retail store with one person selling at a time. A simple customer-based priority system would consist of three priorities:

Priority No. 1, Servicing Customers: Whenever there is a customer in your store, your attention should be on your customer. Greet your customers, give information, assist in their buying decisions and ring up sales. Ideally, in that order.

Priority No. 2, Housekeeping: When there are no customers in your store, do a quick housekeeping check. Look for displays that require straightening, out-of-place merchandise, or anything that has been dropped on the floor. Dust the counter tops and clean the glass. Do these tasks to get ready for your next customer. When a customer enters your store, move to Priority No. 1.

Priority No. 3, Merchandising: When there are no customers in your store, and everything is in order, perform other assigned duties. Tag and stock your inventory. Create attractive merchandise displays. When a customer enters your store, move to priority No. 1.

Your salesperson should have time for each priority if expected to do housekeeping and merchandizing as well as selling. However, when your salesperson is constantly in the No. 1 priority activity, you need more salespeople.

As the manager of a one-person-at-a-time sales staff, it is your responsibility to keep each salesperson's priorities in order. Your mere presence should influence your salesperson to do whatever is right. If not, demonstrate what to do. Make the sale yourself. You can talk with your salesperson later and point out why he or she should stay focused on the proper priority.

If you are the manager of a store with several salespeople working together at the same time, consider this A/B Priority System. Every salesperson is designated as either an A-Person, or a B-Person. Each has different priorities. A-Person Priorities are:

No. 1, Cashiering: Stay at the register when there are customers ready to checkout. Accurately record sales, suggest add-on items, thank customers for their purchases, and ask them to return.

No. 2, Servicing Customers: When customers are in your store, but not at the register, leave the register. Greet customers, give them information, and assist them in their buying decisions. While in the No. 2 priority activity, constantly watch the register area. Excuse yourself, and move back into your No. 1 priority activity as soon as a customer approaches the register.

No. 3, Housekeeping and Merchandising: When there are no customers in your store, perform assigned housekeeping and merchandising duties. When customers enter your store move into your No. 2 priority activity, then into No. 1.

The B-Person priorities are the same as those of the one-person-at-a-time salesperson: No. 1, servicing customers; No. 2, houskeeping; and No. 3, merchandising

Remind your B-Person to immediately revert to priority No. 1 when a customer enters the store.

This A/B Priority System assures that every customer is someone's number one priority. When your A and B salespeople remain in their No. 1 priorities all day, you need more salespeople.

A written customer-based priority system eliminates uncertainty. It gives your salespeople guidelines to follow. They know what to do. They don't waste time. Duties get done while sales increase. It's easy.

Ron Martin is the owner of consulting firm Success Dynamics Inc. and the author of several books.

 Success Dynamics, Inc © 2006