Years ago I spent a summer working as a vendor for a company that provided lawn care products to chains such as Lowe’s. I was very lucky in that my trainer was a professional landscaper. So instead of telling me how to sell the products, he understood his craft well enough to tell me how to solve problems for customers. He would tell me which chemical was best for ridding a lawn of a certain insect, and then tell me which products (ours as well as competitors) had that chemical.
Then he taught me something even more important: He taught me that it was ok to tell customers that their best option was a product that we did not sell. He said that these same customers would be coming back to this store, and if I told them the right product to buy to solve their problem (even if it was a competitor) that they would come back and buy more products from me.
As a vendor, my job through the week was to keep the shelves and displays stocked, then on Saturday I would be in the stores selling. Basically I would be waiting on the aisle that had our products, helping customers that came by. Usually, another vendor from our main competitor would be there. Typically, when a customer would walk up to him the customer would tell them what type of bugs were in their lawn and the vendor would say ‘Well we have a product to get rid of them, here you go!’ When a customer would come up to me, instead I was taught to ask them more about their lawn so I could diagnose their problem. Then I would educate them on the chemicals they needed and the products that had these chemicals. And sometimes I convinced them to buy a competitor’s product, but better than that I gave them the product to solve their problem. I was selling solutions to problems while the other guy was selling his products. One day a customer came down our isle and the other vendor pounced “Can I help you?”, ‘Nope!”, replied the customer, “I want to talk to him!” and he pointed at me. He then came over with his wife and explained to her that he had come in last week looking for a product (a competitor’s) and that I had convinced him to buy the product that worked. He said he had come back cause he wanted to get rid of another type of insect, and this time my company did make the best product for that.
He came back because even though I hadn’t made the first sale, with that first sale I won his trust. Which is far more important than winning the sale. Trust creates more positive WOM than pushing a product that doesn’t solve the customers problem, just to make a sale.
You earn a customers’ trust by showing them that you care about them as people, not as a potential transaction. When you solve a customers’ problem, you win their trust. When you win their trust, you will have them as a customer for as long as you have their trust. The huge additional benefit is that trust transfers. If you win the trust of Betty, she will then go tell her friend Sarah about your brand. Sarah doesn’t know or trust your brand, but she knows and trusts her friend Betty. So when Betty suggests to Sarah that she should buy your brand, she buys your brand. Trust transfers and spreads in a hyper-connected world like the one we live in.
What’s more important today: Making a sale, or winning your customer’s trust?