Luxury is mastering the craft of selling desire

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Many luxury brands that are able to create wonderful objects of desire, fail to sell desire.

Are many luxury experiences luxury in name only?

During a recent sales training, I had about 200 luxury sales and marketing leaders in a session that included a framework on how to create desirability in the sales process, followed by workshops, where the participants could experiment hands-on how to turn what they learned into action.

What I find eye-opening during such sessions is to experience how hard it is to implement these learnings even for very experienced salespeople. Selling luxury is not just about understanding intellectually the do’s and don'ts, but about being able to deliver an experience for clients where the emotional world of the client is at the center.

Translated into real-world experiences, many luxury brands that are able to create wonderful objects of desire, fail to sell desire. In a segment where the exceptional should be the rule, most sales experiences feel lackluster, impersonal and transactional — ordinary rather than extraordinary.

During a recent store check in Milan, practically every salesperson was looking bored and staring into their phones. The effect can be catastrophic. In a recent study I designed in collaboration with Adobe Systems, only 1.7 negative experiences are needed to destroy loyalty for a luxury customer. And watch out: A negative experience does not mean that a sales or service person was unfriendly. It simply means that expectations were not met — which in luxury are always high.

From this vantage point, I'd like to share a revised perspective on the common pitfalls in luxury sales and highlight an often-overlooked aspect: the emotional connection. Luxury is pure emotion and clients often develop a “love relationship” with a luxury item or a luxury brand.

Expressions like “I fell in love with the brand” are common. And love relationships fall apart if one partner does not feel that the other partner is equally invested and shows equal empathy and care. This is the opposite of a transactional – or sometimes even arrogant – sales approach that is still dominating many real-world “luxury” experiences.

Overemphasis on product features, while neglecting emotional connections

In luxury, the product is just a fraction of the perceived value. Extensive research has shown that in most cases the intangible value of the brand story can be 90-98% of the total perceived value. It’s about how a brand makes a client feel and how it can inspire about the anticipated emotional shift after becoming part of the brand world. Don’t get me wrong, in luxury products always must be extraordinary and inspiring. That’s a given. But in many mystery shopping experiences there is a complete lack of brand storytelling and a rather mechanical description of the obvious – product features that are often not important for clients.

For example, when selling a luxury watch it’s irrelevant to focus on a detailed description of complications to someone who fell in love with the watch for its designs.

Salespeople, guided by a natural inclination to showcase value, frequently lean into the details and features. Yet, it is in creating an emotional connection, understanding the lifestyle and what is important for the client how true value is created. The magic of luxury truly unfolds when client is invited into a story much larger than the item itself. Selling desire is about inspiring and not the sale as a transaction.

Arrogance is not luxurious

I will never forget entering the store of a luxury fashion brand on Place Vendôme in Paris on a beautiful September day in a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, and being treated awfully by the salespeople.

First, they ignored me, and when I asked to see a sales associate, it took forever, and the person gave me clear signals that they preferred to service other clients rather than me. It was a misunderstanding what luxury means.

The result was a breakup with the brand. I left and never came back to any of their stores anywhere in the world, just because of one arrogant and uninspired interaction. And the world is full of breakup stories between brands and some of their best clients. This is why I find the term VIC (very important client) and VIP (very important person) misleading and dangerous. They can lead to a behavior where great service is only given to very few, while many other clients feel neglected or even mistreated.

If a brand can create an ambience in which every client feels empathy and can deliver personalized experiences based on client data and the ability of the salesperson to discover the emotional keys to the client, then the experience will be exceptional, loyalty is created, and the willingness to pay increases significantly.

Crafting experiences that speak directly to the individual's desires and emotions is a necessity for creating lasting connections in the luxury market. There is an economic reward for treating clients exceptionally and doing so cost nothing, except training, training, and training. Plus having an experience playbook that unlocks the power of the brand story.

After sales and beyond

The client of a brand I was advising, received exceptional treatment when she bought a product, only to feel ignored when she wanted to return the product. In another case a client never received a follow-up through the salesperson — the relationship with the client ended with the sale. The only follow-up were automated advertising emails, impersonal and irrelevant. Unfortunately, these examples sound incredibly familiar.

The after sales experience is one of the most critical because a client who already fell in love with the brand will expect to feel the same love from the brand, especially in a moment when they are vulnerable and are looking for help. But also, simply feeling neglected after the sale was done adds to the feeling of not being loved back.

Your most loyal clients may be the first you lose when something goes wrong. After all, they invested heavily into the relationship. Selling desire does not end when a client bought something. It is a continuum that needs to be managed systematically.

The challenge of connection

At the heart of these reflections lies the elusive task to unlock the emotional key — a challenge that defines the luxury sales experience. Making an emotional connection with the client is perhaps the most intricate part of the sales process, demanding empathy, intuition, and an authentic commitment to the client's journey. And as explained in the example of the sales training, it sounds easy in theory, and is hard to do in practice.

It requires salespeople to listen deeply, to understand the unspoken desires of their clients, and to respond not just with products, but with experiencesand solutions that are relevant and touch emotions. It's about asking the right questions, paying attention to the nuances of the client's responses, and crafting an experience that is as unique as the individual before them. The goal is not just to sell, but to create a moment of connection that will be remembered long after the purchase is made.

It is what transforms a simple transaction into an unforgettable experience, and it is here, in the heart of genuine human connection, that luxury finds its truest expression. It’s a call to action that could not be more urgent.

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