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The Customer ISN’T Always Right… And Sometimes You Need to Tell Them

Making sure the customer is happy AFTER the sale is often more important than closing the deal.

The old maxim of “the customer is always right” has been around since the 19th century, used by retail tycoons of yesteryear such as Harry Gordon Selfridge (who is so famous there’s a TV show about him). At the time, it was probably not a bad practice for those manning the various desks in department stores, and even today there are worse philosophies to embrace.

“The Customer is Always Right” is a great mantra… when you are selling clothing in the 1800s.[/caption]However, there are times when a customer doesn’t actually know what they need, or worse, they think they need something they actually don’t. And while you can usually make the initial sale by nodding vigorously when the zaftig customer tries on the skinny jeans, you are not really creating a relationship as a trusted partner, but are rather acting as a mercenary looking to ring up the sale and move on.

A Missed Opportunity

Thinking back to my household’s own purchase history, there was one purchase in particular where we would have benefited from having our salesperson challenge us vs. just processing the order. We had just bought a new house and had gone to Sears to stock up on appliances. My wife was excited that our new place had natural gas and she wanted to get a gas-powered clothes dryer since they are cheaper to operate.

Weeks later, we had moved in and our appliances arrived. The delivery guys brought in our new washer and dryer, stacked them up and asked me when the plumber would be coming to hook up our dryer. I looked at them like they had just asked if I was planning to use a spatula to start my car. They explained that we did not already have a gas hookup for our dryer, so we need to hire a plumber to run a new line to where the dryer was located.

This concept was completely foreign to me. While this wasn’t our first place, we had not had gas before and didn’t know the nuances of leveraging natural gas to dry your clothes. At no point had the salesperson asked us if there was already a gas dryer in the house or if we knew about the requirements for powering a dryer with natural gas. Nor had the store brought any of this when they called to confirm the delivery several weeks later.

This was an opportunity where the store could have actually helped a customer by questioning if this was really the product they wanted. Instead, I had to send the dryer back with the delivery guys and wait several more weeks for an electric dryer to be delivered (I was not interested in paying hundreds of dollars to a plumber to save a few cents per load at that point in time, nor in having my dryer located permanently in that exact spot).

Avoiding Preventable Negative Experiences

There are plenty of other examples of customers ordering or buying products that they don’t really need, only to have a negative (yet preventable) experience when they get it home, or back to their office or when the install team shows up. Equipment requiring more energy than the building can supply, bike racks requiring a trailer hitch that your car doesn’t have, a television that doesn’t fit on the wall you had planned to mount it on… all unpleasantness that could have been avoided if a salesperson took the consultative approach instead of taking the short money.

At some of my former companies, this has been a difficult thing for some of our salespeople and channel partners. A quick sale (or even finally closing a long deal) means success, closing the gap on your quota and getting a commission. But if you sell someone the wrong thing (or the wrong quantity or configuration), then you are often passing up the bigger opportunity that comes from a successful initial deal and a satisfied customer that sees the value of your solution, not to mention the value of the salesperson who has partnered with them to make them successful in the long run.


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