The craft industry is very unique in terms of the products being sold, the story being told, and the customers you get to deal with. While the actual principles of sales apply to any industry, here are a few extra tips for this special industry.
Embrace the different types of clients you will deal with: In this industry, you will be lucky enough to deal with loads of people that appreciate handmade, want to support small business, and have a fond affinity to South Africa. These will be the types of clients that become like family, will hug you when they see you, and strike up a friendship. These clients are your gold. Make sure to treat them like that and always make them feel that they are your only client. With bespoke products, you will also deal a lot with clients organising events and sourcing for their own clients. These clients will often be under pressure and bring their own challenges with them. Be sure to always treat them like they are your only client too. Remember, they are possibly on the receiving end of a lot of stress or possibly an unpleasant client, so keep them calm, reassure them with as much info and confidence as possible, and if confronted, diffuse the situation by reassuring them that their concerns are in good, capable hands and all will be fine. You will have an ally for life if you handle this correctly.
Sympathy does not sell: Important in the craft / development sector this, and something I have learnt. Sympathy does not sell. Sad photos and stories of poverty do catch the eyes of some audiences, but do you want the sadness to resonate over your clients’ buying decision, impression of your company, and into the products you make? Maybe not, if every time they look at your artworks they feel sad and heart-broken about a problem too big to fix. Tell your story with pride. You don’t need to hide the hardships and tough times, but make sure your communication reflects the success stories, the upliftment, and the happiness. This will be felt as far as in the product that a client is holding and will build a good sentiment to your organisation and story. There will be a ‘warm and fuzzy’ experience in the buying decision instead of a guilt vibe, which is far more sustainable in terms of building repeat business.
Follow up after delivery: An extra step in a busy day, maybe – but an important step. You are showing your client that you care enough to check that their delivery arrived, and if they are happy. This step is often the opportunity to bear more fruit in terms of future orders, or up-selling more goods – and often opens the conversation to get some feedback and photos which can form a valuable portfolio of testimonials or social media material to instil confidence when prospecting new clients. Remember that in most cases, even though you have handed your goods over to a courier, your job is not done yet, as your client sees the courier’s service as an extension of yours, so make sure your couriers stick to their word and don’t hurt an otherwise hopefully flawless order process.
Be brave – ask for feedback, the good the bad AND the ugly: Any feedback, good or bad, is better than none. How many clients are once-off because they just needed you once, or because they weren’t happy and didn’t let you know? Be brave enough to ask every client if they were happy with their order / interaction with you. As above, the good feedback makes for good marketing material (and some personal motivation). The bad feedback is actually a very valuable resource too. It’s an opportunity to find out how to do better next time. The best approach to bad feedback is four-fold:-
- Acknowledge their concerns, apologise and thank them for taking the time to let you know.
- State how you will remedy this in the future.
- Find out how to fix this particular situation with them and offer some solutions for them to choose from.
- Reinforce steps 1-3 again in conclusion by acknowledging their concerns and your commitment to improving, and wanting to engage with them to sort things out. This will make the client know that they have been heard and will in most cases turn the situation around to a more positive outcome than if you had just never asked.
Send production updates and photos: More work, I hear you groan, but this shows your customer you are as excited about their order as they are. People love to see how things are made, so some photos of the people making the work is very powerful, to show them the impact their business to you is making. It’s also lovely and fascinating to see how things are taking shape. Most importantly, it’s a very good way to catch any issues before the order is finished and delivered – which is then very expensive to fix. This way, your clients can tell you you are using the wrong beads when it is early enough to switch, instead of having to remake a whole order.
Listen to all your enquiries: With every couple of enquiries, you’ll get a request for something you can’t do. Be it a certain technique, colour, or product. If you start getting more and more enquiries of this nature, and the request is not way off your core business (ie: someone is not asking you for pottery if you do wire-art, but instead everyone is asking for purple beads), then it may do you good to start looking at diversifying to accommodate these requests. If the amount and frequency of them is increasing, it’s indicative of a trend or a changing market-place – and the only way to keep growing as a business is to find a way to service these. It is the perfect opportunity to be paid to innovate after all, and no-one can keep going by doing the same things forever.
Find ways to make your systems work: Let’s face it, in our industry, there’s very little time or resources (and often far too many financial constraints) to invest in the latest technology or systems for the admin side of your business. You’re busy hunting for business, dealing with queries, watching your quality, trying to remember to update your social media pages, getting things out on time and trying to work on new ranges, to have time to solve that freezing-computer-that-belongs-in-a-museum issue, or to get a shiny new quoting app built, or anything like that. The reality is that some things you just have to work around. Find quicker and easier ways to deal with processing admin and orders in your business so that your clients experience priority service. It may be as simple as the fact that you are better at admin in the mornings, but by the afternoon you feel you will cry if you have to look at a costing sheet again. Then, do all those tasks in the mornings and spend the afternoons on more creative things. Through it all, make sure your inventory and accounting systems are tight, and that you get info out to customers asap all the time. That’s the core to everything in your business, and if those systems are tight, then who knows, you may be able to afford that fast new office computer one day (or even an online shop, which is our dream right now!)
Develop products: You’ve had an amazing run over the last few years with that certain product, haven’t you? It keeps selling and being reordered over and over. Things are so easy, and it’s working beautifully, right? How long did it take you to get to that point? It took a few months / years for anyone to notice that product, you remember now, right? What happens when everyone in the world who is possibly in your target market owns one of those products? Then what? Or someone has now copied that design and sells it for cheaper. Think about it. It can happen. To design something new after that may be a little too late. If you relax now, it may be OK for now as things tick on, but it will bite you later down the line, and you will work long and hard again to get something new accepted, leaving you with a dip in revenue. Make time to develop and innovate as regularly as you can and set yourself timelines. Even if it’s once or twice a year that’s realistic for you, that’s great, but make it a habit. Keep your existing customers engaged and hungry for more, and also keep ahead of the pack in terms of those that may take inspiration and copy your ideas.
Keep communicating: Every day, I take 10 minutes to go though old emails. If someone reached out to you once, there’s an opportunity to gain their confidence and build a relationship. They asked for a catalogue and you sent it? Yes, great, but your job is not done. Check if they received it. Maybe it landed in their spam and they think you never replied. If they did get it, what did they think of your range? This should mostly open a conversation. By doing this review of old emails, it may also remind you of a talking-point that you didn’t consider while you juggle so many other things. Someone once asked for a costing on some flowers (as an example). You sent it? Yes, well great – but what has happened since? You see that email from a while back now and suddenly remember that recent order you did for a new flower design. Send that new pic to the client as a follow up. You’ve got nothing to lose, but possibly something to gain.
Ultimately, it really helps when you are passionate about what you are selling, why you are selling (to keep those talented hands busy and earning), and to be proud of where you work. Keep in mind, you are an ambassador and custodian of the brand you represent, so be sure to give it your all and give the kind of experience to your customers that you’d like to receive if the relationship was reversed.
Wishing you all much success as things start to wake up and heat up for the year-end rush!