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Furniture Retailers Go Tribal - Part 3

Furniture World Magazine


Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series on how to take a leadership position in the new decade by creating tribal loyalty among your customers. A tribe is a group of people who have a common purpose and a leader that guides them, informs them, respects them and heralds change. People today want to be a part of a tribe, and many seek them out. In the previous installments Margarett DeGange explained how to: Form a tribe; discover what tribe members want; lead effectively; create loyalty among employees and customers; and keep tribal conversations going. Parts 1 & 2 can be found in the Marketing Management article archive on the furninfo.com website. In this third installment she continues with a discussion of how to keep your tribe growing, engaged and enthusiastic about you and your company.

Grow by Connecting with Other Tribes

Creating a tribe and leading them is how you make sales that matter in big ways.

The main thing to know about forming and growing your tribe is that numbers do not matter! They are a side thought. What matters is the quality of interaction you have with the members.

If you are serious about wanting to go tribal, you have to lay aside what you THINK you know about marketing, and learn a new and better way.

Consider getting out there on the web, or in your local neighborhood instead of hanging out within your 4 (or 400) walls. Check out groups with members who may have a need, desire for, or interest in your products. Join groups and contribute to them. Start and reply to discussion posts and forum questions, give great information and content, and be super helpful, not simply in your areas of business, but also in topics that you may have experience with. If you do have valuable input to share on a topic related to what you do, give the info without a sales pitch of any kind. If it is a local group that meets face-to-face, show up monthly or whenever they meet. Offer a valuable contribution—and NO, do not herald the link to your website or pass out your flyers or promote your next ad (It amazes me that most flyer or email campaigns are nothing but “buy this” blasts. There is no value to the recipient in that kind of silliness).

Within local gatherings and online forums, there will be a place and time to share your business contact information, so don’t try to infuse it into the conversations. Become a valuable part of the tribe rather than someone who showed up with a motive to just market to the tribe. Trust that if you become a giver, people will naturally want to know what you do and they will at some point want to do business with you. Allow yourself the process of becoming the “expert” in your field to the tribe members, rather than being a “salesperson”. Never throw your sales pitch. It’s ugly, and it is like spam. This will require “letting go” on your part but people will appreciate it.

Publish your Story

Put what you believe in writing, and make it available to your tribe members. Publish a mission statement or paper about your STORY. Add information on making the home a refuge, and tips on ways to support an organized home, a peaceful environment, and family activity time. Get someone on your team to write it—someone who “gets” what furniture store customers are actually shopping for (the root need or desire), which is a unified home that feels good and works for their lifestyle.

We are on a mission at “XYZ” Furniture. Our passion and our constant commitment is to empower others to change their lives for the better through interior decoration and design; to help them create beautiful, comfortable homes that reflect and support the personalities, the unique lifestyles, and the personal family philosophies of the people who live within them. We continuously educate, inspire, and equip our customers to create interiors that support how they want to live. We hope our customers will spread this philosophy to others.

Make the paper interesting, fun, informative, and philosophical at the same time. It does not have to be long—just a few pages about the goals people are looking to accomplish when furnishing their homes. Make it a little touchy-feely (women in particular like that) and a little fact-filled (we like that too). Perhaps you could add a color wheel and explain how different colors affect the mood in a home. You may also add some tips on heights of furnishings, a few bits on certain decorating styles, and such. DO NOT add anything about specific products, product lines, pricing, store events, or sales. Other than including the store’s contact info, make the paper generic.

Save this document as a pdf with store information in the “properties”, and give it away free on your website, your blog, and during store events such as decorating seminars. Encourage people to share it or forward the document to friends.

Create a Community

A tribe is about joining people together through ideas. Part of leading a tribe is keeping your eyes peeled for opportunities to get tribe members interacting as a group and talking to one another. Some business owners shutter at the thought of creating an environment where their customers can actually talk to one another. Why would they want to do that, people might talk about their bad experiences? Well, perhaps they will brag about their good experiences instead. What are you hiding from?
People want to connect to people and not to organizations. If you can move your business to facilitate that connection, you’ve got gold. Foster meaningful dialog. Find a way to keep people intrigued, engaged, active, and remembering the story, then they will talk to others about it, either online in their own social circles, or onsite during your events. You must however, give them something to talk about that is exciting, energizing, and worthy of sharing, that’s the secret. Create momentum through fun and learning, and you cannot lose.

There are many ways to create a community. You could write a blog (or have an employee with good writing skills do it) that gives regular, good information and makes customers feel that they are being invited and encouraged to belong. With the blog you can allow comments as well as comments on the comments (layered comments or layered discussions). 
Use your store to create tribal events that will connect you to the tribe and the tribe members to each other. Schedule and play up in-store events, such as trunk shows, meet the expert night, color parties, redesign classes, and decorating seminars that allow participants to visit, talk, and share their home decorating goals and solutions with one another. Get the tribal energy moving and grooving.

You and your tribe can even get involved with a charity or a civic event. How about working for a cause that is bigger than you, the tribe, or your business? Better yet, how about getting the customers involved in picking which charity to do an event for? Supporting local charities allows local people beyond the scope of your tribe to see you in action and know you care—another thing for people to shout out about!

Be Proactive with Your Tribe

Some people make a sale then run like H-E-Double Hockey Sticks, never touching base with that customer again if they can help it. Why? Because they are not confident in what they sold OR in their ability to deal with anything that may come up because of the sale.

Contacting past customers is a great activity. Call them just to say thanks, and to ask how things are going with the new products. If by chance the customer brings up an issue, you should be glad. It gives you an instant opportunity to address it and be helpful, and that issue would be there whether you discuss it or not.

When I had a retail store, I had no complaint at all when someone came to make a return, and I NEVER hassled them or made them feel even remotely awkward (or worse, shamed). After all, if they returned an item, it meant I did not give them all of what they wanted. I found that by making no big deal about it at all, those customers spent MORE money in the long run, and sometimes right on the spot. It all goes back to buying from those you trust and respect.

Many business owners and sales associates get defensive on the occasion of the return. They might be forced to actually solve a problem, but hey, isn’t that what the sales process is all about? Good salesmanship is about solving problems, before, during, and after the sale. If you had solved the problem to begin with, there would be no return. No matter what, try to solve the problem, even if you do not agree it is a problem, and you will secure another loyal customer (yes, loyal customers still exist, but now they’re called tribe members).

Employees are Tribe Members, Too

Each store employee is a vital part of the tribe. He or she is as important, and sometimes more so, than any other tribe member. A store’s employees are often the first contact other tribe members have with that business. 
Employees with a clear understanding of the tribal mission and vision tend to become passionate in their work, and can become a powerful force that helps galvanize the tribe.

Employees should be shown high respect and never, ever talked down to. When employees are treated well and are given responsibility and some level of freedom to build solid relationships with customers, they tend to like their jobs, and when given the necessary liberty to make decisions and allowances for customers in order to solve issues on the spot, they feel empowered. That makes them happy. Happy employees accomplish more and are productive in their work, and they spread happiness to the tribe. In return, they are talked about in a good way by other tribe members. These are simple ideas, but they are often overlooked by store owners and managers with big egos and little vision.

You Don’t have to Be THE BIG BOSS to Lead

The best leaders are those who WANT to lead, not because they want position, but because they want to show others a better way. They are the ones who are truly “present”. They have intrinsic motivation and a vision of the big picture that others do not at first see. Great potential leaders are pleasant, kind, sometimes a tad bit quirky, and a bit of a heretic, but they have good energy that always motions them forward. They easily draw followers (customers tend to “click” with them) and they have no trouble engaging customers without the need of a canned presentation or script. They see changes coming before others do, and they seek to position themselves as an important agent of that change. They do what they do because it is in them. Some people in the organization may be threatened by such natural tribe leaders, but if possible, it is best to let them do their thing (lead) with plenty of support from the team.

The tribe leader in your place of business is not the operations person, and may not be the owner or the top manager at all. It will be someone whose passion is evident to others, and whose desire to engage people cannot be denied. Don’t fight it, just give them a platform. Smart organizations do not waste such resources. Let those who will and can, LEAD!

Today’s Technology Can Help You Lead

Thanks to the Internet and some very busy socially-oriented technical people, there are numerous new marketing tools that can help us to send our communications out into the world, and receive responses back. Most of these tools are mega-popular and totally free to use. Twitter, Facebook, Ning, Linkedin, Meetup, and even email are just a drop in the bucket of the many online forums available to us that can be used strategically to gather up the tribe and lead them. This is what makes marketing today so different from any day in the past.

You could get caught up in the frenzy and feel overwhelmed with choices, wondering which tools to use, how often, and to what degree. Please don’t. Just find a few tools you are comfortable with that can work for you, and get moving. I won’t go into specifics with you now, but you can do a little research on your own, or read some of the many great articles on social marketing from past Furniture World issues.

It may help you to know that it is not the online community format or the various online tools that make a successful tribe possible. The power resides in the prospect or customer (tribe member). It is the KNOWLEDGE that they have a VOICE and that it can now BE HEARD by many! The savvy business pros that listen and respond will go on to the next chapter. Those that don’t—that stubbornly refuse to give up control—will have to close the book of business.

Go Forth and Lead

You have been given a lot of information on a new way to generate sales. Your clients of the future will be a perfect fit for you. They will have gravitated towards you because you let them speak, listen to them, and respond with offerings that are exactly what they want. Now it is up to you. With this fresh impetus, confidently go forth, gather up your tribe, and lead them.

Margarett (Margo) DeGange, M.Ed. is a Business and Design Coach in the Home Fashions Industry. She creates and delivers custom training programs for managed businesses and their sales consultants to help them communicate better with customers and increase sales and profits. Margarett is a Writer and Professional Speaker, and the President of The DeGangi Group and The DeGangi School of Interior Decoration, with both on sight and on-line courses in Interior Decorating, Marketing, and Redesign. For almost 20 years she has helped individuals and managed business owners in the interior fashions and decorating industries to earn more while fully enjoying the process.

Two of Margo’s popular products for furniture store owners and their sales professionals are The Decorating School Crash Course Power-Ed Pack (9 design lessons on video/audio with 12 hours of content), and the matching Decorating School Crash Course Learner Files to measure learning, provide added interactivity, and motivate sales consultants to own their opportunities for growth.

Visit Margo DeGange’s website at www.DecoratingForProfits.com for more information. Send email and questions to her at Margarett@furninfo.com.

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