My grandmother often warned: “To everything there’s a season…” Apparently, this also includes poor retail sales in your small business.
At the moment, in my country, we are going through a serious contraction in the economy. Therefore, poor sales performance generally is a reality for many businesses…including mine.
So how are we coping with it?
Unfortunately for most small businesses, especially those in retail…not very well.
I am watching you lay off or let go staff, try new unrelated products, reduce or increase prices and the list goes on.
And worse of all, I am watching you throw established practices and procedure right out the door in favour of unbelievable chaos and on-the-fly “firefighting” tactics. Sigh…
Do I want you to sit and do nothing but watch your blood, sweat and positive cash flow go rushing down the drain?
But I do want you to try to get to the bottom of your poor retail sales performance BEFORE you do any of the other fear-induced things.
I want you to slow down, take a measured approach, forget that uptight, knee-jerk reaction.
And most of all, I really want to help you…
So, here’s a process you can use to diagnose the cause of your poor retail sales. If you follow it, it will help you find your own unique workable solutions that will help you turnaround your business.
And guess what? If you’re not in retail, try it! It can still work for you.
So Let’s get to it…
1. Look inside your business
Begin diagnosing your problem by collecting information from inside your business. Look at your people, your products, your structure, your suppliers and even the way you do business.
With this approach, there are 3 steps you must take.
1.1. First talk to your employees about the poor retail sales
Usually, your employees are closer to the customers than you, the business owner. They serve them regularly and might even have become friends with some of them.
This means that they often have more insight into issues than you give them credit for.
What you need to do is ask them for their opinions and really listen to what they have to say.
Caution: Do not get in your own way by asking them for ideas and then blocking those very ideas.
Ask them about any changes they have been noticing in customer behaviour e.g. more complaints.
Encourage them to tell you about any changes in customer buying patterns, especially those that might be responsible for poor retail sales.
But you can’t stop at the customers.
You also need to find out if your employees are still enjoying a high level of job satisfaction. I’m sure you are aware that the unhappy or discontented employee will be hard-pressed to deliver fabulous customer service.
In reality, you are trying to find out if your workers are still effective and if your operations are still efficient.
You can use any established processes to collect this information, such as staff meetings, regular briefings, etc.. Or you can organise a special brainstorming session. You can even try a new creative approach but be sure it will get you the information you want.
1.2. Next, talk to your customers about your poor retail sales
Once you’ve talked to your employees, now it’s time to talk to your customers – the people who might be responsible for your poor retail sales in the first place.
Don’t shy away from this step, your customers are usually glad to help you to help them.
If you have a customer database, a survey might be a good way to do this.
Whatever method you use, the objective is to find out from them what exactly are the circumstances which led them to reduce their level of purchases from your business.
It is easy to believe that as long as the economy is in recession you will be a victim of poor sales. This is not always the case, so the best thing to do is to ask your customers.
One great way to get them to participate in your survey is to offer certain incentives or rewards for the time they took to respond to the questionnaire.
Remember that the survey is not about you it’s about your customers. So, be sure to highlight the key areas that are of importance to them. These include areas such as:
- product/service utility
- customer service
- order-to-delivery time
- price, quality, packaging, communication
- online orders
- complaint response time
- and so on
1.3. Then you have to examine your products, procedures, etc
As part of your internal look, you have to look at the products you sell and the methods you use to sell them.
In this 3rd step, you want feedback from both your employees and customers as well as from your suppliers and other stakeholders.
Here is a sample list of the questions you want answered in this section:
- Is my product offering really what my customers want?
- Do my prices still represent the ideal combination of value for money?
- What other products/services can I offer?
- Are the opening hours still meaningful?
- Are the marketing approaches still working?
- Are my employees still offering great customer service?
- How does our response rate to customer queries compare to the competition?
- How user-friendly is our website and instore shopping?
- What variety can we add to existing products?
- How accurate are our product descriptions?
- How bored are our customers with existing stock?
- How dissatisfied are employees with the way they are treated?
- How can I reward employees without breaking the bank?
While this list is by no means complete, it will get you some good information to move you forward.
2. Look outside your business
After you have analysed the key areas within your business, now it’s time to examine your wider business environment. You need to do 2 things here – scan the environment and examine what’s happening in your niche.
2.1. Scan the environment
When you scan the environment, you are looking for a general trend or changes that are affecting all small businesses regardless of the industry or niche they are operating in.
The issues you are checking for could include:
- natural disasters, etc
In other words, you’re checking for significant changes in the business environment that can potentially affect your business.
For example, in my country, we have just implemented a series of taxes which are sure to lead to a general rise in prices and a reduction in the buying power of all customers.
Here’s why this part of the process is important.
2.2. Examine your industry or niche for poor retail sales
The 2nd strategic step, after your environmental scan, is to find out what is happening in your industry or niche.
You need your best detective skills here. This is because what you’re really trying to find out is whether you are the only one experiencing poor retail sales or if your competitors are as well.
So you’re looking for answers to questions like:
- How many new entrants have entered the market in a key period?
- Are you up-to-date about current market and industry trends?
- What are your competitors doing that you aren’t?
- Why are they doing what they are doing?
- Does your business have any competitive edge compared to other businesses?
- Is your perceived competitive edge still relevant?
- Any other question that is relevant to your business…
Let me clarify something for you here. What you’re doing is a form of competitive analysis.
But you’re not doing this competitive analysis because you want to blindly copy what your competitors are doing. Not at all. You want to find out why and how what they are doing they relate to the poor sales performance you are experiencing.
Therefore, you must link all your findings back to your problem. You want to be constantly asking the question:
“how does this information relate to why there is a fall in my sales?”
To get the answer to this question, let’s move on to #3 below.
3. Now it’s time to go deep with your team
Now that you’ve collected your information, it’s time to take a really in-depth look at it.
If you have a team, bring them together in a brainstorming session. When you do, be sure to trust them and value their insights and inputs. Don’t block their good ideas.
Be sure to include any outside consultants you may have used to help you collect the information.
If you get this part right, then you will come to the appropriate conclusions that will lead to a clear identification of the reasons for your low sales.
Once you’ve identified some possible problems, brainstorm some potential solutions.
4. Implement your “poor retail sales” solutions sensibly
It is at this time that most small business owners rush off and start being a lone ranger.
You don’t want to do that. This is the best time to strengthen bonds with your team, and in your team.
Whenever possible, implement the simplest solutions first before moving on to the more complex ones. This allows you to pick some low-hanging fruit and create some drive and motivation in the team.
As you go about implementing your solution, keep checking to make sure that you’re getting results you want.
Don’t be alarmed if you find out that your poor sales performance is due for the most part to the way you do business. It is the case with many businesses. Just celebrate the discovery and the opportunity to fixt it.
Now it’s over to you…
Don’t be afraid to analyse your poor retail sales or any type of poor sales performance for yourself.
I’ve given you some fairly simple steps and detailed questions to guide your process.
I really encourage you to go ahead and do your own detective work. I bet you that like many of my clients you will be surprised and excited by your findings.
But what will really blow you away will be the solutions you will come up with and the fun you will have implementing many of them.
Now it’s up to you to get to the bottom of your poor sales performance.
What are you waiting for?