Squirrel Spotting: So, Foot Traffic is Down in Your Store …

IndependentsJul 25, 2017

Squirrel Spotting: So, Foot Traffic is Down in Your Store …

Proactively driving more people through the doors is essential to improving conversion rates, Peter Smith says. Here’s how to do it.

Peter Smith has more than 30 years of experience building wholesale and retail sales teams. He currently is president of Vibhor Gems.

If you are a retailer who uses a door counter, you have likely witnessed a decline in foot traffic in recent months and years. If you do not have a door counter (please get one), you likely have sensed (never as good as actual data) that your traffic count has been in decline for some time.

I have long argued that the easiest way to grow your business is to convert more traffic into sales. If you currently convert one in three, you are walking seven of 10 people. Shifting just one of those seven into the sales column is a 33 percent increase in business.

If you have a two of 10 conversion rate at present and you shift one into the sale column, you will have grown your business by 50 percent.

While there are many factors involved in improving conversion rates--better hiring practices, more effective training, better measurement of current and developing metrics (there’s that door counter again), and clearer communication regarding expectations and progress--the following points address the need to cultivate a culture of proactively driving more people into your stores as an essential strategic initiative.

I will add as a proviso that if you are running a bad marketing program, spending more money on it will not give it the clarity or resonance that it might be lacking. Likewise, if you are not doing an effective job converting the traffic you do have, you are probably going to continue to struggle to convert even if you are successful in creating more foot traffic.

Structured outreach could well be a game-changer in your business. It is borderline criminal to have engaged in relationships with customers over the years only to let those customers stagnate.

Peter Smith is the author of two books on sales, “Hiring Squirrels” and his latest, “Sell Something.”If you think that brick-and-mortar retailers are doing an acceptable job in this area, ask yourself: When was the last time you got a thank-you note or a personal invitation to an event or occasion of value from a retail store? I’m talking about something beyond a generic email, postcard, flyer, or even a catalog.

Note that there is no magic number for what constitutes an active customer list. Some might suggest that two to three years is the extent to how far they might go back. My own view on that is that there ought to be

different levels: perhaps zero to six months, six to 12 months, one to two years and a two-plus-year list.

Having multiple lists (and I’m not sure why you would not do so) requires an active management, as the goalposts continually move and as customers respond, positively, negatively or not at all.

Here are my thoughts on some of the questions you may want to discuss with your team if you don’t already have an active and well-managed customer outreach program.

1. Are you strategically working your customer list? 
a. How old is the list?
b. At what purchase level are you engaging your past customers?
c. How is the list apportioned across the sales team?
     --Do salespeople handle their own customers?
     --Where do unassigned customers go?

2. Who manages/updates the customer lists?
a. Someone must own the job of cleaning the list. How often will they do this?
b. Are there different lists, such as current customers (last 12 months), mid-level (12 to 24 months), and older (24 months and above)?

3. Does your team have a daily goal of outgoing calls and/or emails?
a. How do you ensure the calls/emails are happening?

4. Is there a schedule to prepare for the week’s calls and to review results?
a. Is the manager sitting with the employees and discussing the plan?
b. Why are certain customers being targeted that week (special occasions)?
c. Are team members accountable for results?

5. What resources are made available to the salespeople to coach the calls/emails?
a. Is the manager providing good counsel and examples/role play?
b. Are you providing the time and space to get it done in an organized way?

6. What are the consequences for a salesperson who is non-responsive?
a. Is this a requirement of the job or not?
b. What happens to salespeople who don’t take it seriously?

7. Is that outreach interesting enough to entice a customer to visit?
a. Following up on a repair job
b. A reminder about getting prongs checked/cleaning
c. A reminder of an important occasion
d. An introduction to a special event
e. An introduction to a special sale
f. An introduction to a new brand or product launch
g. An invitation to a non-selling event in store (music, book signing, etc.)

8. What is the plan when a customer is non-responsive?
a. Do they get put on a different schedule? Mailings only? Removed?

9. Are successes shared with the team?
a. Success breeds success and it ought to be celebrated.

It is possible that the declining traffic in stores will reverse itself, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Strategically working your lists will improve your foot traffic, deliver a prequalified customer and improve sales conversion. It will also let your customers know that you value their past business and wish to continue to serve them ongoing.

The old adage that we don’t get to complain about our elected officials if we didn’t bother to vote works for customer outreach too. You can’t complain about declining traffic if you are passively waiting for people to walk through your door.

Peter Smith is president of Vibhor, a public speaker and author of “Sell Something” and “Hiring Squirrels.” He spent 30 years building sales teams in retail and wholesale and he can be contacted at,, or on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
Peter Smithis an industry consultant, speaker, and sales trainer, and author of three books, “Hiring Squirrels,” “Sell Something,” and “The Sales Minute.”

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