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Can buying jeans teach us how to connect with others?

by Nathan Viviani

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Buying Jeans sucks!

Especially if you are a 36-year-old, father of a near two-year-old like me. 

 

When I was young, with money to burn (or so I thought; I was drastically ill-informed), buying a pair of jeans didn’t faze me. It usually meant that I was headed out on the weekend for some fun. I would head out to my local shopping centre, and bounce through the retail experience waffling to sales people that were my age and moving in similar social circles – life was good, and easy. I would spend my $300 on some “trendy” something-or-another’s, and prep for the wondrous weekend ahead. 

 

Oh, how life has changed. The last pair of jeans I bought cost $30. And not only have I been wearing them incessantly for the last 12 months (literally wearing them as I write this article), but I don’t really want to ever have to replace them.

 

Very real problems for very real consumers.

 

Going into a retail store at 36, 98% of the time toting my aforementioned near 2-year-old hurricane of a son is not the ideal scenario, it is also very different to as it was in my twenties. Over time, we develop a range of different, inherent problems that need solving, not just in buying some pants, but in all aspects of our lives. 

 

These problems can range widely – in the pants case, let’s just say I am buying new pants because my old ones don’t fit anymore. Perhaps you have an event coming up on the weekend – people to impress? maybe a new job, a change in lifestyle or scenery, a holiday, or just want or need some new pants. 

 

These problems or buying motives are very real for us as consumers.

 

But let me put something to you; how open and honest are you about your motives, needs and problems with those around you, let alone someone who is going to try and sell you something?

 

Your deepest concerns are yours, not the sales persons, right?

 

Let me paint you a picture. I go into a store that sells jeans, and I am approached by a sales person and they say something like:

 

“Hey there, how’s your day?” – simple enough, I am a friendly guy so I say;

“Great! Thank you, you?”

“Yeah, all good this end, you need some help or happy browsing?

 

Instinctively, as if there is a velociraptor standing in front of me, I throw up the most reflex response in the history of sales avoidance; “Just looking, thanks”. The good old fight or flight mechanism in all its glory. However, I still have a very real problem; I need new jeans because my old ones don’t fit anymore, I drink a little more beer than I should, shit happens. 

 

The key difference here is that I don’t exactly say the following when approached by the sales person:

 

“You know what, actually yes, you can help me – I’ve been eating poorly lately because I am often under prepared and working long hours, so I need to go up a size, but I am also hesitant to take any off the shelf because I am sure that upon reading the price tag I may have a mild aneurysm, and to be brutally honest with you, my attention span to this whole endeavour right now is severely limited as I fear my son (where is he by the way?) may burn your store to the ground if I go into a change room”

 

Why don’t I say that?

 

Simple, I don’t trust the sales person.

 

I don’t volunteer this information because I don’t want to be vulnerable; Vulnerability is a weakness to be exploited. The ‘just looking’ reflex protects us from volunteering our problems, fears, or apprehensions in the sales process. Now, the pants example is one in jest, but the premise remains in buying absolutely anything. As human beings, we protect ourselves and avoid the potential for loss. 

 

However, what this does is present the opportunity to salespeople to use one of the most powerful tools in sales; Empathy. 

 

Empathy: The key to unlocking true concern

 

A key pillar of emotional intelligence, a sales person’s ability to empathise with a customer’s situation is the key to unlocking these true, underlying motives or concerns. Too often, too many sales people move straight into their own agenda. 

 

Usually, this is down to two things; a flawed, old fashioned model of selling or a result of KPI pressure. You can always pick the sales person who is behind on their budget, right? They tend to shortcut relationship and value, and move very quickly to gaining a commitment of some description. In the jeans scenario it may sound like, “what size do you need, ill grab them and set up a change room for you”. 

 

The problem here is that those two factors often manifest themselves into a scenario where they have not made any effort to understand your fears, or your position; Establish any trust. 

 

The core, driving factor in the establishment of trust is a sense of the other party truly having your best interests at heart. If you can create that with your customer, you have established a partnership that makes it ok to discover those motives, those secrets, those problems or concerns. Until there is a feeling that someone has your best interests at heart, you may not share your problems for fear of being exploited as a result. 

 

The lesson here is simple

 

If your job is to provide a product or service to help people solve problems, remember this. How can I truly understand their problem? What behaviour can I display to ensure they see I have their best interests at heart? If you set out to establish this trusting relationship as the basis for your sales process, you will get off on the right foot, and as a result may earn the right to ask the kind of questions that unearth their true buying motives, concerns and problems. 

 

Once you are here, there is a mutual respect and trust that may just unearth the real reason someone may buy something from you.