More than 30 years ago, I worked as a sales person for a very large furniture chain in Saginaw, Mich. At this mega store, we had 25 sales people on staff, often all at the same time. With that many people waiting on prospective buyers, it was necessary to have an up system—a rotating schedule dictating who would get to talk to the next customer that walked in the door.

The system was simple: when you got to the store, you put your name on the list (first come first serve). So, as you might guess, your wages could be greatly influenced by how early you got to the store each morning. If you were lazy and got there just on time, you could be last on that list, which meant on slow days you might not even get an up.

The back door to the system was when a customer would call on the phone. The operator would broadcast code 54, which meant that any sales person could take the call. As you might guess, it was quite a sight when code 54 was announced and sales people started diving for the phone. What the management wanted was for the lucky sales person who took the call to entice that caller to come to the store to make a purchase. They knew that a new customer would be more comfortable when they came to the store and could ask for the sales person by name. If the customer came in and asked for you by name, and you were low on the up list, you now had a customer to work with.

On the rare occasion that another sales person beat me to the phone, I noticed that they never tried to build a relationship with the customer. They simply emphasized, “Make sure you ask for Jim.” So I quickly learned to use that call to do a partial customer interview. When a customer called, I asked, “Tell me what you are trying to do?” That led to the five W’s and a few fun stories of some of my past buyers who were in their same situation. Before you know it, 10 minutes had passed, we were calling each other by our first names, and they wanted to know what days I worked so they made sure they came in to talk to me. By the time they came in, we were more than half way to the purchase. That meant I stole a sale and got to get back quickly onto the up list.

Flooring Phone Ups

Today, I work on the flooring sales floor with just one or two other sales advisors. The atmosphere is not at all cutthroat, and I no longer dive for the phone. But, I still understand the value of a phone inquiry. The goal is to get the person on the other end of the line to feel comfortable with me. Just getting in front of that awkward first meeting in the store means a lot.

When they come in after that phone conversation and say, “I talked to Kelly on the phone. Is he in today?” I jokingly say, “You must be Nancy. You look just like your voice on the phone.” Now we’re off to a more relaxed relationship, and I already know a great deal as to how to direct her to the best product for her given situation. In a way, it’s more like having a return customer that has already bought from you in the past. The comfort and trust level have already started.

Changing Direction

I often get calls from customers who have already looked at a product at another store or online. This is the kind of phone up I like most because I assume that if the shopper was not shown that product by me, they are looking at the wrong product. It’s not because I have such a high opinion about myself (well, maybe just a little), but I know how well I can make the right product fit the right end user.

So, when they ask me for a price on a product they found elsewhere, I start the customer interview immediately. “Tell what you are using that flooring for,” is the first thing I ask. That leads to the 5 W’s, some stories, and eventually recommending that they come in to the store to look at the product that their new trusted sales advisor is suggesting. That product will do the job better and often at a better price. Giving a competitive price on the same item over the phone is a big waste of time and you are doing the buyer no favors. I’ve made it a rule to never ever give prices on the phone to people who I know nothing about.

In-Home Estimates

I love to go to people’s homes for estimates. You get to meet people in their most comfortable settings, you get to advise them better because you can see exactly what the real living situation is, and you get to meet (my favorite) the pets. If you can turn a phone up into a pre-measure, you’ve got gold. That’s why shop-at-home outfits do so well. They come to the home, get to see the layout, and they are more human feeling that most in-store settings.

On one of my recent home visits, a customer told me that she lived on an alpaca ranch and dirt was a real problem. Quickly I said, “Can I come out for a pre-measure and see the alpacas?” I got a photo with one of the freshly sheared alpacas. He or she whispered in my ear (or kissed my ear), and the customer and I had a few laughs before we ever started the estimate. Thanks for reading.