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 Professional Opinion

Doctors. Law enforcement officers. Judges. Manicurists. These professions require a range of qualifications, but to practice them ethically (and legally, minus the manicures) the chief requirement is the ability to tell the truth. Always. Regardless of a person’s feelings, other wants and needs, or how that truth may impact the lives of others.

But for many other professions, telling the (whole) truth can be a risky business practice indeed. I’m not talking basic factual information here — yes it’s cashmere, no it isn’t leather, yes, it comes in green, etc. — but the part of a business transaction that involves an opinion.

From your hair stylist to your jeweler (hi there!) to the people who run those fun little wine-and-painting parties, they’re all still in business now because they’re able to walk a fine line between truth and a bit of stretched, um, fiction. The proverbial little white lie can be incredibly useful, when deployed with tact, diplomacy, and integrity.

Wait — integrity, you ask? Isn’t a lie of any kind, by definition, totally devoid of such a thing? Allow me to use an example straight from a day in my life.

Customer: What do you think of this bracelet? I’d like something to wear on special occasions.

Me: I think that piece can certainly be dressed up. The gold accents and high polish finish already give it a more formal look.

Customer: Yes, I think so too. And I really love it. But… (she turns to face me straight on) I really want to know what you think about it. Does it look right? Isn’t it gorgeous?

You all know what I said here. You know I told her that she loves it, it fits her description of what she wanted, and it’s a versatile piece she’ll wear often. You also know that I uttered not one peep about whether I personally think it’s gorgeous, but that it’s gorgeous on her. And of course she purchased the item, because everything I said was true.

What I didn’t say was that I think the bracelet is gaudy and clunky, and that I’m so glad she loves it because it’s been in the store for what feels like forever and I’m sick of looking at it. That’s a personal opinion that is totally irrelevant to both my customers in general and that sale in particular, and it has no business getting in the way of… business.

The fine jewelry industry has long been plagued with what I’ll call the bad apples. There are still places and people who are only out for the buck, and would happily sell a professional rockclimber an emerald eternity band to wear as an “everyday ring” just because they could. This kind of practice has no place in this business because it only comes back to harm the integrity of the industry as a whole, and I categorically condemn any business that allows or encourages used-car-salesman tactics. Those bad apples are telling lies — harmful untruths that stem from laziness, a total lack of integrity or ethics, and that ultimately serve to undermine the trusting relationship the good apples work so hard to build.

Our job is to educate consumers and help them navigate a highly emotional, mostly blind purchase. My professional opinion gets time in the spotlight when asked if a ring is too big, a setting is loose, or a chain is too light. It stays tightly locked behind my teeth in most other situations.

Yes, those earrings are very pretty. No m’am, I don’t think those galoshes make your calves look too big. That will be an interesting 10-page-paper topic, Jimmy. Your engagement ring is beautiful. Honey, this chicken tastes great!