Giving more than lip service

I knew the relationship was coming to an end, yet I refused to accept it. After all that searching for the perfect “match,” I dreaded going through the hassle of starting over. “You might find something better,” friends consoled, but I knew in my heart the replacement would never live up to what I had. Sure, it might come in shinier, more attractive packaging, but its life expectancy would probably be even shorter. Finally the choice was made for me when I found myself once again going to the well —only to find it dry.

The salesperson at the cosmetics counter confirmed the cold, hard facts: “This lipstick shade has been discontinued.”

What consumer has not faced the frustration of discovering that a product or service they really, really love is no longer available? With the sheer number of decisions we must make on a daily basis, it is doubly frustrating to have to re-make the same ones over again. Yet the demise of my favorite lipstick gave me the opportunity to experience two very different sales styles:

After breaking the news, the first salesperson rather indelicately said, “Yup, that one’s long gone.” I bristled at the implication that my taste was possibly no longer in vogue. And why would they sell me something that I would fall in love with and then cut off my supply? My frustration grew as she started pulling out lipsticks I could see had no chance of being a match. I decided to take the remains of my lipstick and go. I was not in the mood for another exhaustive color-matching process. I would deal with it later when I had more time on my hands. Perhaps when I retired.

Irritated, I drifted past another counter where some more promising looking shades beckoned. I kept a wide berth. I didn’t want to get close enough to get sucked into a vortex that can turn a quick stop for a spritz of my favorite cologne into a full makeover and a bag full of pricey products promising newly glowing skin and brighter eyes. (Coincidentally, many of the same promises made by the manufacturer of my dog’s food.)

The seasoned professional at the counter saw me admiring the line from a safe distance, smiled and invited me over. Her easy style encouraged me to explain my dilemma. After gently prying the empty lipstick from my hand, she expertly pulled out a shade or two as I ranted: Why do manufacturers try so hard to sell us something, get us hooked and then leave us to flounder when we come back for more? She listened patiently then showed me a shade that seemed unbelievably close to mine. “I’ve been here 18 years and we’ve always had this one,” she said as she applied it to my lips. I marveled at what a close match it was. In fact, it even had a little more luster to it. Dare I say it might be…better?

From a sales standpoint I asked her how she handled customers who come in to buy something only to be told it’s no longer available. “I tell them the truth. That the designer feels like it can be improved upon or updated. I tell them that it’s a good shade but with our knowledge of ingredients and technology, everything can be better. And we almost always have a backup shade that is close to the original.” This answer was satisfying for several reasons: First, it didn’t make me feel like only myself and three other women on the planet liked the color. And second, I felt as if the designer really cared about making sure that I had the best possible product available. The lessons for salespeople?

1. Empathize. Remember the frustration of going in to buy something you want and being told it’s no longer available. While you may have repeated this bad news to dozens of customers, keep in mind it’s all fresh for your customer.
2. Validate. Don’t question the customer’s fierce loyalty to something you may feel is an inferior or dated product. Acknowledging the customer’s relationship with the product is an excellent place to start building rapport.
3. Provide an easy solution. When a customer is frustrated is not the time to pitch a new exhaustive discovery process. It may lead to that, but have an easy alternative ready and help them mentally bridge the gap between what they want and what is actually available.

Walking out with my new lipstick safely tucked away in my purse, I felt like I’d avoided a long painful search, even managing to come out ahead. I no longer had to scrape to make the old one work, and I was even assured that the supply would never, ever be cut off.

But just in case…I bought five.


Categories: Sales & Marketing