Don’t Try to Close a Sale, Build a Relationship

This is an unusual post from me as it relates specifically to a personal B2C experience, but one so good I had to share…and as you’ll see, when done well, delivering customer value crosses B2B and B2C boundaries.

The story starts in December last year when, being the well organised guy that I am, I was shopping for a Christmas present for my wife on December 22nd (well at least it wasn’t Christmas Eve). Knowing pretty much what I wanted I wasn’t expecting a problem, but I was in for a surprise; in fact a couple.

I wanted a small, high quality digital camera with zoom and a view-finder. My wife wanted something better than a phone camera but didn’t want to be dragging around her SLR digital when on holidays. I’d done the research and as far as I was concerned knew what I wanted. However, while the internet provided me with good knowledge of what I should be buying, my lack of a timely approach to Christmas shopping had left no time for an online purchase. So off the the local retailer with my short list of options and a good idea of what I’d have to pay.  

Here’s where the ‘good selling’ started. The shop assistant who approached me listened to the research I had done and accepted the feature that I really wanted was the view-finder. Trying to photograph in sunlight or using a long-lens, even on small cameras, I find a real challenge. While the shop assistant could have offered me any number of great quality options, all lacked this feature. She agreed with my reasoning, apologised that she was unable to help and even suggested some competitor stores that might be able to help. I left not thinking that she had lost a sale, but admiring how she had questioned me to understand what features I valued and why. Knowing if she tried to push me in another direction I’d be disappointed (well my wife would be and of course, we all know what they say about a happy wife), she backed out of the sale but still offered her assistance.  She didn’t close a sale, and while she was probably not aware of it, nor was I, she did start a relationship.

I love being sold to when the selling’s done well

The next part of this story occurred a few weeks back. My son had just started Uni and found his old MacBook Pro was not going to cut it for what he needed and was quite a bulky to be carried from class-to-class. Based on his own research (asking his mates what they had and looking for what was ‘cool’) he’d decided on a Surface Pro. So based on my Christmas experience, off we trotted to the same retailer and straight up to the Microsoft display. Within a couple of minutes we were approached by a salesperson who made a great first impression by NOT asking “can I help you”. Instead, his opening went something like this: “The Surface Pro is a great machine, but it is one of the more expensive options for portable computing. Can I ask what you are looking to use it for?” When we explained it was for Uni, and one of the features my son liked was it’s ‘dual purpose’ functionality (laptop that converts to a tablet), he gave us the reasons we should, maybe, consider other options. He explained that for the ‘high-touch’ use it would receive, the detachable screen was vulnerable and suggested that a more conventional laptop with 360O would be worth considering. He then showed us a couple of options, including the ‘up-sell’ to the more powerful siblings, explained why he had recommended these based on what he had learned about our requirement and then left us to ponder. My son and I agreed the Surface Pro was cool, but probably not the most appropriate option for his needs. We looked at the ‘lower-end’ options the salesman had presented, but being the great salesman that I am, I convinced myself the more powerful sibling would be the way to go – yes, I was up-selling myself. We reconnected with the salesperson and told him of our (my) decision. To my surprise, he didn’t jump at the opportunity to grab my credit card and complete the order. He again went over the features of each of the 2 machines and suggested that if he was spending his money for the same need, he’d go with the cheaper option. By this stage the guy had my trust and respect so we went with his advice. But of course the on-sell had to come…well it it didn’t it? And yes it did. Of course the extended warranty was offered and promptly rejected by me. He countered with all the reasons having a full replacement warranty would be a benefit and why he wouldn’t consider offering an extended warranty based on ‘return and repair’. And of course, a new computer needs a cool carry-bag. Our friendly salesperson explained a back-pack style would be most suitable for campus life. But wait, there are no 14” bags in stock. “No problem” I say, “we’ll go with a 15” one” only to be shot down by our now ‘trusted advisor’ who says he’d prefer not to sell us one as the computer would not be as well protected with the extra space to move. But he could “get one from another store and have it available in 24 hours if that was not too inconvenient”.

Now, as I hand over my credit card, I am wondering what has happened. We went into this store ready to part with significant dollars to buy a Surface Pro, only to be guided to spend half as much by the store’s own salesperson.

So what really happened i tis sales process?

Firstly, for both the camera and PC I was well into my buyer’s journey (or so I thought) through the research I had done online and with friends. This is, of course typical in today’s market for both B2C and B2B sales. I did my EXPLORATION..

Secondly, back in December the salesgirl went to the trouble to understand what I valued and did not try to convince me otherwise. She had a thorough knowledge of the products she was able to offer and those that she was not (due to stock outages). She did not close a sale, but for her store, she started a relationship.

So with this good experience behind me, it’s not surprising I ventured to the same store when looking for a laptop, nor should I have been surprised at the approach of the salesperson. There was not pushing of his products, nor the usual boring rote pitch of the features of the top-end model. Instead, he showed an interest in me, my son and our needs. He went into DISCOVERY mode – we were approached, qualified and our needs confirmed..

With a clear understanding of our needs and what we VALUED, we were then presented with a SOLUTION. We were then given the opportunity to ANALYSE what had been presented.

Our trusted advisor then PROVIDED ANSWERS and CONFIRMED he had addressed all of our concerns – we reached AGREEMENT to purchase, he did not close the sale.

So as you can see, while a B2C engagement, the professionalism demonstrated by this salesperson and the process he followed mirrors what delivers success in a B2B environment. While there are many definitions of the Buyer’s Journey and accompanying Sales Cycle, this experience demonstrates that the basics of putting the customer first, understanding and delivering value and disengaging from a sale when unable to deliver that value to the customer will pay dividends in the long term and ensure, if you are a store like @JB Hi Fi, you’ll get the kudos deserved.


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