I cut my teeth in retail as a teenager. In my twenties and early thirties I moved into high end retail, it was here that I learned in order for me to love my job and take it seriously, I needed to really love my customers. This meant listening to what they needed from me and truly honoring that.
To this day, this thought process has served me well and I want to share with you what I’ve learned because of it.
I learned early on that there are two things your customers want and need from you: to be heard and have their problem solved.
And you don't always need to solve their problem immediately to create a customer for life.
Sometimes hearing and acknowledging where they are at is all it takes. And that doesn't always mean selling to them in that moment.
I'm going to share with you one of the biggest a-ha moments I've had in my life around serving people, and how it happened. It has become one of the foundational values I bring into everything I do.
I hope it will help you too when working with your own prospects.
My biggest a-ha moment
In the the early aughts I was a manager at a high end knitwear boutique in Burlingame, CA. We had a super dedicated client base. Our sweaters were made in San Francisco and fetched upwards of $300 and our other products ranged anywhere from $50 for a t-shirt to $3000 for a jacket.
Needless to say, our clientele expected to be taken care of the minute they walked through the door.
I had one client who was in her late 50's, a working mom (empty nester) at the enterprise corporate level, and she was stylish as all get out. Let's call her Mia.
Mia shopped for sport and as a way to blow off steam. She always looked impeccable.
But there were times where Mia shopped when she didn't need to. To be clear, far be it for me to decide what was right for her, but this is where my a-ha moment happened.
In this moment, I solidified one of the best client relationships I've ever had.
We were having our bi-annual seasonal sale. We had a lot of stock marked down. Nothing really appealed to Mia, but she landed herself on a leather jacket after searching the racks. It was a classic leather jacket and it looked great on her. But it wasn't anything to write home about.
I let her try it on, walk the store in it, and then I casually told her it looked great but she didn't really need it. I mentioned, to wait that we would be getting in new spring items in a few weeks and that there would for sure be something exciting then.
She said, "You know what? You're right. I don't need this."
In that moment, I made a client for life.
Learning what it takes to create trust
Could I have made my day and worked towards my commission?
That jacket was still $1500 marked down from $3000. That would have made a big dent in my daily projected sales.
But in the long run it wasn't worth it. Instead I did something worth so much more.
I earned her trust.
By letting her know I was not just there to sell her stuff this changed our relationship and our dynamic, it made her see that I had integrity.
Mia became one of my best clients in the years I worked there, even coming to see me in the San Francisco store when I transferred there.
This experience was a pivotal moment for me in my work serving people: I don't ever need to sell something to clients that they don't need. It's almost worth more to show them that I’m not trying to chase them into spending money.
I was taught something incredibly valuable about working with clients from this experience. Integrity far outweighs sales, and if you do it right you'll be making sales in the long run anyway.
The difference? Sales you truly believe in.
Your client knows best
Mia knew ultimately she didn’t need that jacket. I just helped her realize it. The same can be said when you are on a sales call - your client ultimately knows what they need deep down.
It’s your job to recognize that.
Your client isn't stupid or out of touch.
They know exactly what they need deep down, and if they don't you better believe they have friends and family that are willing to tell them once they make a purchase that wasn’t right for them.
When you land a sale that you know isn’t a good fit, or the person isn’t ready eventually they are going to realize it. And this can erode so much trust.
A dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience. Around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people. – White House Office of Consumer Affairs.¹
Selling is empathy. Scarcity is living in lack.
Is growing my business and making money to me important? You better believe it is. Do I aim to work with others and help them? Absolutely. Do I want clients? Of course I do.
But serving my clients in a way that they'll trust and continue to buy from me in the future is the only way to do that. I have no business (literally) selling to people just to bring in money.
Yes, that’s a great result. But it’s not the sole result of what I’m trying to achieve.
Selling is empathy. It’s recognizing a problem you can help solve. Pushing your services when you can’t solve their problem lacks integrity and smacks of scarcity.
It does harm to you and your client.
If your client doesn’t have a problem you can actually solve you’re helping no one. Least among them the longevity within your business.
Remember, people talk.
Living in scarcity and selling things I know a client doesn't need will never be worth it. Working with a client you can’t help is stressful and never worth the money.
Working with a client that shines and grows from what you are helping them with? Who then goes on to tell others how you helped them solve a problem they struggled with?
There’s no price tag on that. It’s the gift that keeps on giving