Caller inquiries are often missed opportunities

By Gordon Hecht, Contributor

Ever since 1876, when Dr. Watson got that call from Alexander Graham Bell asking if he knew that the warranty on his car was about to expire, the telephone has been an instrument of business communication.

Sure, with the advent of email, texting and social media, the importance of the outgoing sales call has diminished. It seems inefficient to take three minutes to make one outgoing call when you can reach thousands with the click of a mouse.

But with all the high-speed and high-volume communication, many retailers have missed the opportunity to maximize incoming sales calls. Even though you may have an app for chatting online, many shoppers have specific questions that they would rather resolve over the phone. In fact, it has never been more important to have a clearly visible phone number and well-trained people to answer that incoming call.

Every shopper’s call signifies an opportunity to start the selling process. There are a couple of cool things about phone callers:

  • People who call on the phone love to talk. When shoppers are talking, shoppers are buying. And, in the typical mattress store environment, retail sales associates always have 15 to 20 minutes available to chat. Candy Crush can wait.
  • People who call on the phone feel a certain anonymity. You can hear them, but you can’t see them and they can’t see you. The result is that they are more likely to reveal information that they would not tell you in person. That information can be vital to landing a sale.

The sad fact is that many sales associates who pick up the phone miss buying signals that arrive with incoming calls. Think about these common phone queries that your store gets every day:

  1. What time do you close/how late are you open?
  2. What is your delivery charge?
  3. What’s your cheapest mattress?
  4. How much is a bed frame?
  5. Do you sell box springs without a mattress? How much are they?

The first three questions are loaded buying signals. People just don’t call to check store hours, delivery charges or mattress prices. Those calls come from motivated shoppers who want to buy now. Your sales team can take the easy route and simply provide the requested information (“We are here until 8 tonight”), or they can take it to the next step and check motivation. It’s simple, and easy to remember the script.

For the first two questions, the sales associate can dig a little deeper by inquiring about the type of mattress the caller wants, i.e., “We are open until 8 p.m.; what kind of mattress do you need?”  

On the question of delivery charge, most retailers include a free or reduced delivery charge above a certain price point, or when the mattress is combined with a pillow, power or protector purchase. If that’s you, here’s an opportunity to build value: “Our delivery charge is $59.95, but we love to give it away free. What kind of mattress are you looking for?”

Call No. 3 (cheapest mattress) is dreaded among many sales associates. It’s hard enough to sell a mattress; who wants to put any effort into selling the most inexpensive one in the store? Plus, unless you’re running a garage sale or thrift shop, you’ll never have the cheapest bed in town. So start this phone conversation a little differently. Try this: “We have all kinds of beds for all kinds of uses at many different prices. How will you be using the bed?” Follow that up with, “What have you seen out there that you really like?” You will probably learn that the caller/shopper has seen nothing they like at the rock-bottom price they are seeking.

Calls Nos. 4 and 5 (bed frame, box spring) are indications that something has changed at the caller’s home. Ten years ago, having spare box springs in your warehouse usually resulted in a fire sale to get rid of them. People rarely replaced just a box. Now, stores are reporting more calls than ever for box springs without a mattress.

There can be a couple of reasons for this. The obvious one is that the caller has purchased (or is considering purchasing) a burrito bed-in-a-box and needs to know how much it would cost to complete their bed. The second possible explanation is that they are moving a recently replaced mattress into a spare room. But there’s an easy way to find out — ask! Remember, people who call your store like to talk. Learn their situation by saying, “Wow, we get a lot of calls about mattresses, but not many about box springs. What happened that makes you need a box spring?”

If you are lucky enough that they have not yet purchased a bed-in-a-box, you can invite them to try your mid-line foam or wrapped coil beds. Let them know that you can help them find a great mattress set for less than an online mattress.

If they have already purchased a mattress online, let them know that you have reasonably priced box springs (maybe even a closeout or floor sample), or that for a few dollars more they can upgrade to a motion base. The same would go for the caller moving their old bed into a spare room.  You may be able to sell the motion base that the last salesperson missed out on.

Interest in a bed frame also indicates that something has changed, as frames are made of steel and rarely wear out or break. Again, getting the caller to talk about what in their home has changed can jumpstart a sales conversation. 

On the subject of bed frames, a wise and savvy retailer told me he sells bed frames at $5 over cost. He said he’s never taken a return on a bed frame and if that’s all the shopper is buying, it’s a paid-and-taken sale, no delivery needed. In short, it’s a low risk sale for him.

His pricing rationale? The retailer said he gets three to five calls a week about bed frames. He figured that callers were contacting every store in town and getting quotes of $59 to $99 a shot. Since he sold them for only $30 (twin-full-queen), people would realize he had the lowest price. And if he sold bed frames that low, they’ll assume he sells everything low. The net result is that for that meager $5 profit he was guaranteed to bring a warm human shopper into his store, along with the possibility of an add-on sale.

While you may not like incoming sales calls on your cellphone, getting incoming shoppers’ calls on your business phone is a golden opportunity. Be sure not to miss it.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at

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