Woodworking sales don’t walk in our doors often enough. It takes work to get a steady stream of sales leads to flow to your door.

Back in the 1800s when I first started in sales, we tracked all of these leads and accounts on paper. For my Luddite readers, paper records can still work. The most common method uses three file systems: a contact list (on a Rolodex or 3x5 cards); a file folders sorted by customer name; and a tickler file, in a folder broken down by date.

Online Lead Tracking
For the rest of us, the same systems are available on computer. Most commonly used is Microsoft Outlook. I have used Outlook, ACT, Salesforce.com and our current system — Batchbook.com.

The idea behind all of these systems is to make prospect/customer information and calls easy to find and do. Here is how your system should work:

Suzie Homeowner arrived at your shop today and expressed interest in your handmade wooden cedar chests. In talking with Suzie, she mentioned that she thinks it would make a great wedding gift for her daughter’s wedding in three months. Suzie leaves with the promise that she will think about the chest, but really would like different hardware. You promise to show her some new ideas on hardware.

While the information is fresh, write down Suzie’s contact in your system. Put a note in your tickler date file for tomorrow to call your hardware rep or to send hardware Websites to Suzie’s email.

Customers —
Needs vs. Wants
 The idea of “Give the customer what they want”
is flawed in a few ways. Many times the customer
doesn’t really know what they want, they just
know they want it.

Cabinets or Storage?
If you provide kitchen cabinets, you know that
most kitchens have a tall pantry. The customer
wants to stock canned goods in the tall pantry.
Most big box stores are going to quote a tall
door with shelves. Your knowledge and experience
show that the best answer is a roll-out pantry unit.
The customer knew she wanted storage, but after
seeing the idea, knows she needs a roll-out. This
is called “up-selling,” but it isn’t as much selling,
as it is experience, that brings the work to you.

Custom Furniture Upselling
The same concept works for custom furniture.
Your product can have a better finish, higher detail,
figured veneer and hand-sanded hardwoods. Whatever
it is that makes the product unique is the up-sell.
Highlight it and talk about it whenever the chance
presents itself.

Every morning when you turn on your computer, open your tickler file to look at the tasks for the day. Suzie’s hardware needs should be in today’s date file. Send Suzie the information today, as the wedding date is coming up soon. Put the note in Suzie’s contact file that the hardware information was sent. Add a note to the tickler file, a week from now to call Suzie and ask her about her hardware choice.

This process continues on every follow-up step for Suzie’s furniture — picking the hardware, making a decision on finish or style, getting a down payment, and even progress on the chest. Whenever a step has to be accomplished and needs the customer’s approval or interest, you add it to the tickler file.

After the chest is completed, add a tickler for six months from now to touch base with Suzie, ask how her daughter liked the chest and let her know that you are also very good at other furniture (like diaper changing tables and cribs. . . .)

A good system keeps track of account information, upcoming customer contacts, and tracks past activity. A well-used system allows worry-free work. You do not have to remember; it is in the system.

Many of the newest software systems also track the customer’s social networking accounts and all your email communications automatically. Our current program is web-based, so that all of our information is accessible from any location. It also segregates customers by type of product, so that we can coordinate email updates to each segment without creating spam to the rest.

Whatever system you choose, use it consistently. And no, Post-It notes on your computer screen don’t count.

Consultant Rick Hill specializes in helping woodworking companies find new markets and more sales. He founded WoodReps.Com.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.