Do People Really Want to Buy From People?

Wisdom: born of experience, frequently hard won, and difficult to share. But those who have it do try to give those of us without it a tidbit every now and then.

In the past month or so, in various trade publications and even in a few conversations, I’ve witnessed this little nugget bandied about:

“People want to buy from people.”

Oh, how desperately I want to agree. I want to believe! As a former retailer on both the large and small scale and as a former educator, making that personal connection has long been my raison d’etre. There was no greater priority for me than to get on my client’s or student’s level, earning their trust and exceeding their immediate and future needs. It’s how I roll.

But as with so many things, I’ve recently started to call into question this longstanding truism, at least in the context of the kind of business I’m currently doing. I’ve spoken in the past about the challenges I continue to face in making the switch from selling jewelry to selling something else, but one of the greatest differences has been the approach to delivering on the client’s expectations.

This is not a business in which developing deep, long-term relationships is a priority. That’s not to say that we aren’t encouraged to build a rapport – in fact, the “discovery” process is a key topic of almost every sales meeting and workshop — but the timeline is intended to be as short as possible, and almost no consideration is given for clients who crave significant personal attention.

And you know what? More often than not, it works.

I want to be crystal clear: in no way am I making the case for lackluster relationship building, poor trust, and zero communication. But it’s important to consider that the modern consumer, regardless of age or demographic, has moved a large portion of their buying habits to the non-serviced world (a.k.a. the internet).

This translates to increased familiarity with products (thanks to extensive internet searching) and a surprising level of pre-established trust in a brand or company. People can and do offer up large amounts of their savings by typing in a credit card number and clicking a few checkboxes — we know they do it with diamonds (and really shouldn’t), but is doing it for a piece of equipment, no matter how crucial, acceptable?

When consumers feel confident, they’re willing to open their wallets. If that confidence comes pre-established (or takes little to no personal contact to reach), they come to the store with cash in hand, and are increasingly unwilling to sit through a discussion about their needs. As “experts” they’re confident enough to buy, and that’s all they want to do.

I already know the kind of havoc this can cause with jewelry buyers who didn’t bother to find out that emeralds are delicate, pearls need restringing, and rhodium wears away. The problems multiply with a piece of machinery that is user friendly when the user is friendly, and prone to tidal waves of sticky resin when they aren’t.

The best conclusion I can reach is that people might not want to buy from people so much these days, but they really, really should. It’s impossible to know everything, so why not let the subject matter experts — you know, the ones who are trained and willing to offer as much information as they can — give you a little help?

 

P.S. I can’t find attribution for this image, so please let me know if it’s yours. It’s perfect. I hate love how perfect it is.

A Few Words On Your Jewelry

I’d like to take a moment to talk about you. Well, you and your jewelry.

I want to address your apologetic, embarrassed smile when I ask if your bracelet has a special significance. And the way you step back, away from me and the counter, when you compare the ring you’re contemplating with the one already on your finger. Or perhaps I’ll address your lament that you never see your rings clean, and that you certainly don’t want me to see them so filthy — not even when I offer to clean them for you.

You may feel society’s pressure to acknowledge that you and your spouse were “just a couple of kids” when you married, which explains the (supposedly) small size of your diamond engagement ring. You may feel it culturally appropriate to blame your (supposedly) “ugly” hands on age, arthritis, and a penchant for gardening without gloves, which of course is why you’d never try to wear a beautiful ring.

You do not need to apologize to me for your jewelry, and the faults in it that only you can see. Certainly you shouldn’t feel that your precious pieces, each representing a particular moment in your life, are in any way more humble than the shiny new things in my cases.

The ring out of round and prongs worn down to nothing — those represent a lifetime of wear, and they can be fixed. The bracelet links so fragile they feel like frayed cotton threads — they lasted through two wars and a cross-country move, and they can be fixed. And oh, the damn clasp that you can just never do up yourself, so you leave the necklace on all the time even though it’s uncomfortable — your fingers ache, and a bigger clasp would help, and that can be fixed.

You come in, defensive and vulnerable, exposing your beloved memories to a young woman whom you think can’t possibly understand, or won’t even try. You don’t have any expectation of compassion or respect, because you’ve been turned away so many times with a shrug and a callous “just buy a new one!”

You may even hear the same advice from me, eventually. But from me, it comes after all other options have been considered. It comes with an understanding that to you, the idea of taking apart this and making it into that will have to simmer for a while, and that if you’re ready — when you’re ready — you’ll know.

Your life, your memories, lie in the bits and pieces laid out on the counter. To share them with a stranger takes a certain kind of courage, especially when the fear of harsh judgement or offhand hauteur makes you want to quickly snatch your pieces back before I can look more closely.

But I have learned, from the best of role models, to understand you. I have learned how to sense your fears, your frustrations, and those apologies spoken and unspoken. And I can only hope that when it’s my turn to lay my life’s treasures in front of someone else, that they have sensed my hesitations and questions, and will respond with their own compassion.

Is “Favorited” Really a Word?!

Success (n.): the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

I know I’m not alone in feeling that sometimes success feels more daunting than failure. Failure is so often an end point, but success must lead to further and greater success in order for it to really count. This translates to more work, greater effort, and in the best of cases, potentially higher reward.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I feel like I’ve learned a thing or three from my recent adventures in industry-land. Putting new skills into practice has always been a main tenet of teaching — learn long division, eat it for dinner every night for a week —  and developing my voice and professional relationships will always need doing.

In a concession to my apprentice status, I began speaking up on a small scale, using my least-favorite communication tool to force me to stretch a little: Twitter. A few interactions (tweets? tweet exchanges? does one even “exchange tweets”?) later,  I received some easy and excellent answers to my question from two highly successful known quantities in the industry. I solemnly swear to write posts based on their suggestions, but both deserve some extensive time and thought to pull together.

Anyway, each person’s response was gracious, unique, and thoughtful, which I’ll admit felt somewhat intimidating:
They saw my tweet! They read it, oh god, did I make a typo? No, okay. Someone favorited my tweet! Is that even a word? Why is that a verb now? What the heck is a re-tweet, and what does it mean? What do I say now? Emoticons are unprofessional. Do not use. Wait, did they use one? Does that mean I should, too? I haven’t answered yet. Has it been too long? Do they hate me now?

Ahem.

This brief venture into the unknown caused the old worrier in me to surface, but only briefly. A silly thing, perhaps, to create such mental buzz about a relatively insignificant step, but progress is progress. Finding my voice and raising it to seek out answers to questions, advice and insight, or venture a comment or two is a brick laid in the foundation, and it’s obviously up to me to pursue the personal growth I need to reach my goals.

If I’m going to log this little foray as I success, I have no choice but to follow it up with more — and better — attempts. I’m open to suggestions from reader-experts: how do I build on this experience?

P.S. The former English teacher in me cringes at all this “nouning” and “verbing,” but I think I got the “favorited” thing correct. Right? Right??