The Fashion of Empathetic Selling

August 29, 2012
By Brittan Bright in Online Marketing

brittan brightJoining us today on the blog is the amazing Brittan Bright. With a name like that, it’s impossible not to be a star! She is a dynamic SEO Account Director who has worked with enormous brands throughout her career. Those experiences combined with her passion for taking care of her clients and killer fashion sense, which she’ll explain below, are we think everyone needs to hear more from our favorite agency voice.

I will never forget when I figured out how to sell for the first time. I was an English major fresh out of my tiny liberal arts college, in a tiny town in rural Indiana. The only job I could find at that time was as a Sales Associate at the new Saks 5th Avenue store opening up in Indianapolis. So I translated my reading skills into people reading skills, moved to the city and accidentally started a career in sales, selling fancy stuff to be exact.

As I reflect back to the humble beginnings of my career, it’s striking to me how many of the skills that come naturally to me now were learned and honed in those early days. Being in the SEO industry, it’s safe to say I am still in the business of selling fancy stuff. My particular method for selling “fancy” or complex concepts and services, such as those offered in digital marketing, has always been and always will be to keep it simple.

Sometimes SEO can seem so complicated that we forget that it’s a professional business service. This means that there are simple truths that apply to how to service our clients, and I’d love to share my favorite four lessons with you today.

Lesson One: Try Things on Yourself

While pursuing the mastery of decking others out in designer duds, I became increasingly aware of my own ill-fitting and unflattering collection of college clothing. The only confidence this clothing came with was my ability to dominate a game of corn-hole at a keg party. I realized quickly I could never help someone else shop if I didn’t know how to shop for myself.

Putting away my pride and conquering the dressing room was one of my smartest moves to date. I had never considered approaching the business of dressing myself strategically before. I had never really paid attention in a meaningful way to my approach to getting dressed. I realized I had never clearly defined my end goal; my vague aim was to look appropriate for whatever I was doing, and hope that somehow appropriate would turn into attractive. That seemed to be my problem.

I needed to be strategic, I needed to understand the arsenal of tactics I had at my disposal. So I tried on every single thing in my department, and then hit the rest of the store. I asked the wonderfully experienced professionals around me tons of questions, and made their advice my own. I learned which line ran big, small, short, tall. I learned what was good for the busty, the flat chested, the apple, pear, and banana shaped people who came through my doors. I learned when I was willing to sacrifice comfort for fashion, and when to give up on a style, fabric, or color that I just couldn’t pull off.

In SEO we may have clients come to us needing a whole new site, or something completely different and better suited for their business needs. Try not to forget that it may not be realistic to suggest that someone replace her whole wardrobe all at once. Letting the reality that they’ve been doing it wrong sink in can be overwhelming. It will likely involving finding or fighting for more budget than they’ve set aside, acknowledging some bad decisions, and a lot of reeducation, which for some, can be very humbling.

Because I am an Account Director, I have been accused of being too willing to compromise with my clients on certain recommendations. In my opinion, it’s more about prioritization and partnership. In my role I often deliver strategies and recommendations to my clients. It wasn’t until I started a blog, and offered to write the copy for my dad’s hair restoration site, that I truly understood how annoying it is to stick to a content strategy and best practices when you are understaffed.

So if your customer can’t afford a whole new wardrobe, it’s ok to do the best you can with the budget she has, and send her out the door with a great fitting and versatile pair of jeans to start with.

Lesson Two: Learn From Customers Who Know What They Want

I used to have a client who loved a particular line. Whenever she came in she wanted everything new from that line, in her size, in specific colors that flattered her, ready and waiting in the dressing room. She knew which alterations person and what the hem she preferred was called and when the double shopping points days were coming up. And I let her get away with that for a while; it was incredibly intimidating to realize she knew more than I did. Until I realized she didn’t.

In any form, clients who know what they want can often be your biggest challenge. These customers are not only strategic, they have a vision and a brand and they know it better than you. What they often don’t know is how to take their brand to the next level. These are dynamic times we live in, regardless of the industry. Every fashion-forward customer or early-adopting client wants to stay that way.

Although this client came to me knowing this particular designer looked great on her, she didn’t discover that on her own. If I kept letting her call all the shots, what good was I? I was missing out on actually selling her something, and she was missing out on my expertise. So one day I added a few things to her dressing room, much to her dismay. When I explained that what I had added fit similarly to the brand she loved, and were pieces that would complement nicely the ones she already had, she actually gave me a shot. She also came out of the dressing room after a few minutes asking “Ok. What else ya got?”

For this kind of client you must have a thick skin, and you must earn her trust. This is the kind of client who can pull off an advanced strategy, as well as four-inch, $400 heels. Show this customer that you know your stuff AND her’s and she will not only be a loyal client, she will send you her friends (just not her competitors).

Lesson Three: Be Clever With the Confidently Clueless

One of my biggest frustrations as a sales associate were people who swore they were a certain size, and weren’t. It wasn’t just people who had gained a little weight and didn’t want to face that reality; it was just as frequently customers who had lost a significant amount of weight but still saw their old frame when looking in the mirror.

As much as humans try to compartmentalize our lives, we are not machines, and we don’t work that way. Whether you are a service provider of digital marketing, or designer jeans, you can guarantee that your clients will come to you with some baggage they picked up before coming to your shop. Both in my job as a retail sales associate, and in business development at an SEO agency, it would surprise people to know I have often felt more like a counselor than a used car salesperson.

In a dressing room it was usually a major life event, big disappointment or traumatic experience that I was counseling. In business, it’s often a bad decision, bad previous partner, or just bad advice. These kinds of opportunities are why I love working with clients. When you succeed in helping these particular kinds of customers, you can literally make a difference in their lives.

Learning how to quickly overcome your client’s baggage, and not taking it personally, is an important step in becoming a strategic partner, and not just a vendor. Also, seeing the potential and the big picture for the client is incredibly important.

Lesson Four: Be Careful With the Crazies

Be sure not to confuse this customer with the previous, there is a subtle but important distinction. This client could ruin your reputation. If someone insists on consistently ignoring your advice and expertise, yet tells people they work with you, your own brand reputation is now on the line.

If you have a customer whose vision does not line up with what you stand for, and who insists on using tactics that you do not support, you should seriously reconsider partnering with that client. But that doesn’t mean that you have to kick that customer to the curb. Chances are you know someone who is willing to take that risk. Send your friend a freebie.

Don’t Forget: Sometimes You Will Need Stuff Too…

And you’ll be confident, clueless, crazy, and know what you want, all at the same time. As a customer, I can personally be either a nightmare or a dream. Regardless, I’m always tough. I cannot stand condescending, pandering, patronizing, slimy, sleazy, lazy sales people. So I am not one.

I also don’t like to be catered to, sucked up to, taken advantage of, or taken for granted. So I don’t do that either. How do I treat clients? I treat them the way they show me they need to be treated in order to accomplish what they came to me for. No matter how complex the sale, or the process, or service, it’s truly that basic.

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