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May 1, 2015

After-Sale Follow-Through — Turning New Customers into Regulars


A friend and I were discussing the last post we made here regarding how to bring people who have initially purchased a concealed carry gun back into your store by providing them options that are often more enjoyable to shoot and will keep them engaged in practicing and the shooting sports. The conversation turned to the idea of follow-through on the original sale, when she related an interesting story about how that idea used in another way can truly build a customer base of the most loyal type.

My friend, it seemed, had spent several years working for a nationwide chain of used vehicle retailers. One of the tasks the sales force was charged with performing was to not only follow up a completed sale with a very personalized thank-you letter (as opposed to the form letter auto-generated by so many businesses like that), but also a follow-up phone call two days after the sale.

This last one, the phone call, was an extremely important part of that chain’s highly scripted — and successful — sales tactics. Seems this used car retailer has a five-day, no-questions-asked return policy on its vehicles — and when a car gets returned, the sales associate loses her commission, managers’ monthly quota bonuses are compromised and corporate takes a pretty in-depth look at those return numbers every month. Simply put, she told me, “Ain’t no one happy with a return.” So that follow-up phone call was integral to making sure cars driven off the lot stayed off the lot. There are a couple reasons for that.

First, by timing the call two or three days after the customer left with their new vehicle, that customer had had a chance to drive the vehicle under normal conditions and not the tightly controlled test drive route, figure out where all the controls were and discover likes and dislikes about the car. With the sales associate providing an open ear to let the owner talk about what they were experiencing, the sales associate had a chance to better explain a feature or get service scheduled to fix a small problem before it became a bigger one.

Second, and maybe more importantly, that conversation continued the connection the sales associate had made with the customer in the store. It showed genuine concern that both the associate and the company were concerned with the customer’s happiness and buying experience — and you sure don’t get that from an auto-generated form letter.

It didn’t take but a minute for me to see how firearms retailers can benefit from the same approach. Especially think about what both a letter (and note the car dealer used actual paper letters and not an easy-to-dismiss email) and a phone call might mean to brand new customers, those who likely came into your store not a little nervous and apprehensive about the entire prospect of buying and owning a gun. Let’s look at how both can help you build loyal customers.

After-Sale Phone Calls

  1. First, ask your customer if they wouldn’t mind being contacted by phone after the sale. While most appreciate this kind of service, it’s not universal, and your staff showing this additional level of consideration is demonstrative of your store’s integrity.
  2. The staff member who controlled the majority of the sale should make the phone call. They are the one who made the connection with the customer and will remember of the nuances of the conversation that resulted in the sale. This better enables them to have a follow-up conversation with that customer, rather than a manager or back office employee the customer never had contact with. Think building personal.
  3. For those who wouldn’t mind the phone call, ask them the best time to reach them. No one wants to answer a slew of questions when they’re late for a meeting or trying to get their kids to sit down for dinner.
  4. Ask specific, open-ended questions about their purchase. What do they like and not like about their new gun? Are they having any trouble disassembling the gun for cleaning? Is there a feature of the gun they don’t understand how to use? Is there anything in the owner’s manual they have questions about? Is there an accessory — change of sights, grips, optics, rails — they think might benefit them? How was the accuracy? Skip the questions that only have yes and no answers. The phone call is an opportunity to engage your customers and have an in-depth conversation with them that matters to both of you.
  5. Place the phone call within 10 days of selling the gun. This should give the customer enough time to try out their new purchase, especially those who take possession on a day other than Saturday, where they may not have the opportunity to get to the range right away and give that gun its first real workout.
  6. Take the opportunity the phone call provides to let them know about gun cleaning or gunsmithing services your store offers, an upcoming sale and to make suggestions about accessories and ammunition the customer might find appropriate to their new gun. This reemphasizes your staff’s product knowledge and commitment to meeting their customer’s needs, a value-added proposition for your store.

After-Sale Letters

  1. Put your thank-you-for-purchasing letters on actual paper and mail them, instead of e-mailing. Paper mail is much harder to ignore than e-mail, especially with a handwritten address on the envelope.
  2. Include the sales associate’s business card with the letter.
  3. Include a short survey asking about the customer’s buying experience. Make this an easy rating survey of “1” equals very dissatisfied and “5” equals very satisfied. Ask questions about wait time for a sales associate, satisfaction with the selection, staff product knowledge and other customer service-oriented items. Be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope.
  4. If using a survey, consider including an incentive like a coupon off purchases of a certain level or range time, that incentive redeemable upon the return of the completed survey.
  5. As with the phone call, be sure to ask your customers if they’d like to receive mail from you periodically and what kind of mail. Do they appreciate a sales flyer or notice that certain new guns are in stock? Are they interested in ammo discounts, reloading equipment discounts or close-outs on general merchandise? By enabling your customers to determine what kind of information they want to receive from you, you eliminate the risk of all your communications going straight to the trash can and being ignored.
  6. Send your letters within 30 days after a purchase has been completed. More than anything, this is a reminder about your business in general after some time has passed. Remember, not everyone is a regular shooter or visits a gun store every week, so this can be a cue that prompts the customer to think, “I really need to get some practice time in with the new gun,” or “A laser might be a really nice addition to this piece.”
  7. Send a short, personalized letter to your entire customer base at tax time (April), the major gift-giving holidays (December), and send birthday greetings on those annual occurrences. Why? This is when people have cash on hand and receive more of the same. They have lots of options for spending that cash, better they spend it with you than at the home improvement store.

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