The Why of Luxury Selling: How Luxury Associates can Inspire Loyal Customers


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attactive girl silhouette with whyOn a recent flight back from Boston, I re-watched one of my favorite TED Talks. Simon Sitek’s How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  It’s a great video in which Sitek describes why great companies inspire loyal employees. My thoughts turned to luxury selling and I thought about how great associates can inspire loyal customers.

In the video, Sitek talks about three different types of companies. Those that know what they do (the majority), some that know how they do it, and the few that know why they do what they do. Sitek refers to this as the Golden Circle. Every organization knows what it does – it’s the products or services they sell. Some organizations know how they do it. This usually translates into what differentiates them from other companies that do what they do – in other words, their value proposition. But very few companies know, or can articulate, why they do what they do. The Why isn’t about making money. The Why is about contribution and impact. The Why is about inspiration.


Sitek then talks about how the human brain corresponds to the Golden Circle. The neocortex – our “outside” brain – corresponds to the What. It’s the part of the brain responsible for rational and analytical thought. The middle sections represent the limbic brain that controls our feelings, emotions, human behavior and decision making.

Now let’s consider the luxury buyer. A customer’s decision to purchase a luxury product or service is not made from need, but desire. And desires rise from emotions. Remember, the neocortex does not drive behavior, but the limbic brain does. This is where emotions live. This is where gut decisions are made. This is where things need to “feel right.” Luxury associates can reach the limbic brain by connecting with clients through emotion, story-telling, visualization and personalization.

The neocortex, the thinking part of the brain, is always trying to understand and make sense of the world. This is the reason we think we are rational beings when we are really not. If we were, we would never buy a product or service simply because of how it makes us feel. We would never be loyal; we would always choose the best deal. We would never care about trust or relationships; we would only evaluate the numbers. We know that we don’t do that. We do choose one product, service or company over another because of the way it makes us feel.

– Simon Sitek

According to Sitek, people don’t buy What you do, but Why you do it. He cites Apple as an example. Apple’s “Why” is that “everything we do we believe in doing differently.” This is why consumers will by an MP3 player or a phone from a computer company if that computer company is Apple, but not if that computer company is Dell.

When you consider some of the best known luxury brands, only a few meet the bar when articulating why they do what they do. BMW comes immediately to mind. “We don’t make sports cars. We don’t make S.U.V.’s. We don’t make hybrids, and we don’t make luxury sedans. We only make one thing, the ultimate driving machine.” The Four Seasons delivers customer experiences that are “beyond compare.” To acquire a Patek Philippe timepiece is “to welcome into your own family a possession designed to last and accompany successive generations.” You must know why you do what you do in order for other people to believe what you believe. Great salespeople don’t sell products or services, they sell the Why.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Luxury brands must find and train associates who can convey the Why with clarity and passion. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do your associates love your brand?  Are your associates simply working for a paycheck or do they believe in what you do?
  • Are your associates passionate brand ambassadors? Does their passion carry through in their interactions with clients? What can you do to fuel this passion?
  • Are associates more concerned with creating personalized customer experiences than they are with how many customers they can serve in an hour?*
  • Do associate’s attitude, dress and language reflect your brand’s Why?
  • Is your brand’s vocabulary consistent with your brand’s Why? Even though the limbic brain does not control language, it responds to the emotions that are triggered by what it hears.

*From a recent Harvard Business Review article: “companies are learning that true sales success isn’t indicated by the number or size of deals closed; it’s measured by getting and keeping the right customers.”

Remember what Maya Angelou said: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” For the luxury sales associate, that’s the real Why.


Training in-store associates the best way to improve customer personalization

verkäuferin im juwelier geschäft

Timetrade’s recent whitepaper, Personalization in Retail: A Reality Check says that only 26 percent of consumers feel they’re receiving a customized +shopping experience even though 69 percent of retailers believe their delivering a personalized interaction.(Timetrade’s website says they help companies deliver on their brand promise of a truly personalized customer experience.) Since 90% of retail transactions take place in brick and mortar stores, it’s shocking to learn that consumers rank stores as the second worst channel for customer expPersonalization in Retailerience.

The whitepaper reminded me of my own “de-personalized” shopping experience a few years ago that led to the birth of this blog. In Missed Moments in Customer Service, I told the story of a luxury sales associate who missed several opportunities to connect with me. The post offered suggestions that would have turned a disappointing interaction into a luxury experience. A year later I was asking the same question in Luxury Service: Why is it so hard to get it right?

Timetrade’s whitepaper suggests that retailers are committed to closing this gap in customer expectations making training in-store associates their top priority:

The good news is that the retail decision makers surveyed cite the physical store as their top priority in terms of personalization, and training in-store associates as their top initiative to improve customer experience.

The study concludes the best approach is to leverage technology and automation to create a consistent personalized experience:

There are many proven technologies that retailers can use that will help automate processes for store associates and also the consumer. Simple automation and self-service can enable consumers to have a seamless experience and help them engage sooner with associates for more prompt service.

While mobile devices and integrated systems can certainly facilitate the customer transaction, it is the  knowledgeable sales professional who creates the personalized experience. Luxury brands need to understand the many different dimensions, values and priorities of their customers and then use that understanding as a platform to build a  lasting brand connection. Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute says:

Technology today presents an immense opportunity for targeting potential customers, but it is ultimately the intimate humanistic relationships that sales professionals form with customers that keep them coming back.

It is the luxury sales associate who holds the key to building those connections.

For sales associates to deliver extraordinary and remarkable experiences to luxury customers, they must have the right tools and training.  According to Laurent Ohana, Senior Advisor at Ohana & Co.:

The investment in stores and sales associates is turning out to be a major advantage and differentiator for luxury brands.

Luxury sales associates must be knowledgeable about and be able to speak the language of luxury. They need to stay current by subscribing to luxury magazine, blogs, Instagram and Twitter feeds. Their gestures and vocabulary should also resonate with the tone of the brand they represent.

Luxury associates must be passionate brand ambassadors. In turn, they can ignite brand passion in consumers by sharing stories that reflect customers’ values. Using descriptive and evocative language they can paint a picture and help customers envision. “Can you see yourself in this car?” instead becomes “How will you feel driving down the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down and the ocean breeze wafting through your hair?”

Luxury associates can create magical moments for customers. Sales associates at Louis Vuitton don white gloves before presenting a handbag. Harry Winston offers customers a glass of champagne as they peruse diamonds, and Disney Cruise lines leaves folded towel animals on guests’ beds each night. Every luxury brand has multiple opportunities to create moments of magic for its customers.

Technology offers luxury brands a variety of new ways to create immersive experiences. But it is the customer-facing associate who is the brand agent—he or she is the direct line of contact to customers—and it is the luxury associate who ultimately determines the success or failure of the customer experience.








A luxurious experience of India and its age-old luxury market




India is an alluring country that shimmers with vibrant colors. For centuries it has offered magnificent buildings, temples and landscapes. The past opulence of the maharajas and the splendor they created now flows seamlessly into today’s booming luxury industry.

The Indian luxury market

India’s luxury market is expected to reach $50 billion in 2020. With global brands opening retail and production premises in India, the need for trained and culturally aware employees and future leaders is pressing.

Abhay Gupta, Founder & CEO of India’s Luxury Connect Business School, believes India is the “best of BRICS” as Brazil, China, Russia and South Africa are all facing financial, political and / or social challenges that affect their economies and growth rates. India is expected by many to emerge as the world’s fastest growing major economy and “the fastest growing luxury market after China.” At this year’s Mint Luxury Conference held in Mumbai, Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India), stated that the Indian luxury market is likely to grow nearly tenfold over the next 10 years

Gupta makes the point that, while India is not new to luxury brands, “the new maharaja, the new customer… has dreams and expectations. He or she wants luxury to provide a personalized, customized and ‘Indianized’ experience. India’s new breed of consumer indulging in luxury goods and services is expecting a more cherished luxurious experience.”

In order to thrive in today’s luxury market, Gupta believes luxury brands need to “connect with the consumer through media, PR, special events and so on. Provide closeness, uniqueness, product and brand acquaintance with appropriate messages. Educate this new Indian customer with your value proposition – reach out – engage – inform – indulge – entertain and then retain. This customer is loyal and will remain with the brand if assured of prompt service, efficient sales staff, continuous engagement and mutual respect.”

In light of this and the fact that India is becoming source of inspiration for designers and developers, particularly in the luxury product domain, it is imperative that international students, entrepreneurs and young executives learn about the Indian luxury market. That is why Gupta established the Luxury Connect Business School (LCBS) in Gurgaon, India in 2012. He recognized that a business school focused on aspects such as customer relationship management, retail services skills and brand management would fill this need.

India’s Luxury Connect Business School

This unique business school is an initiative launched by Luxury Connect—India’s premier luxury segment consulting organization. Luxury Connect recognized that education focusing on the acquisition of skills—or reskilling to support the luxury industry—was vital to meet demand in a growing luxury market.

Gupta cites several reasons for creating a luxury Master’s in Management program. The world is moving towards complex specialization in every field and the luxury sector must comply with this trend. While the LCBS CEO believes that “the world of luxury brands is a zero tolerance zone with no scope of mistakes or errors of judgement. Dealing with a cash rich but time poor customer is the key to success of any luxury brand and is the essence of this program.” Industry Connect is an initiative created by LCBS for regular students undertaking the Luxury management Program. It is an immersive learning program that provides students and affiliates with the opportunity to interact with industry leaders and professionals. Sessions allow attendees to meet, talk and share ideas in a friendly, informal setting.

In addition to the Master’s in Management program, the school launched Experiential Luxury, two weeks of Immersive learning in the heartland of incredible India.

Gupta states that the LCBS workshop “is designed to satisfy and answer the Westerner’s curiosity, fascination and desire to know more about all things connected to India’s luxurious heritage, culture and tradition.” Furthermore, the “program not only takes the delegates through a classroom orientation… but allows them to travel into history by visiting the palaces, enjoying a meal experience with a royal family, experiencing the heritage and architecture of the forts and dwelling homes of the maharajas.” There are visits to artisans and designers of jewelry and fashion products where delegates can try their hands at the various artistic techniques.

LCBS is India’s first and only luxury focused business school. But Gupta isn’t stopping there. Given that similar skills will be needed by BRIC countries, LCBS plans to offer similar structured educational programs to students in other emerging markets.

This post was written by guest contributor Gretchen Shaw. Gretchen is an author, blogger and entrepreneur. You can follow her on Twitter: @shawgret


Luxury Associates Need to Become Luxury Curators


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I recently returned from the largest international conference for professionals in the field of learning and development sponsored by the Association for Talent Development (ATD). Nearly 11,000 attendees from over 80 countries attended 300 concurrent sessions in Denver, Colorado. The exhibition hall boasted more than 400 leading training services providers. As I wandered the aisles of learning content vendors, one word repeatedly caught my attention—curated.

‘Curate’ is not a new word. Its root goes back to the Latin curare, which means to care. The first known use of the word ‘curator’ as someone who is in charge of a museum or art gallery collection dates back to 1561. The word has evolved over the centuries and today defines ‘curate’ as “to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content.”

Content curation is so omnipresent in consumers’ lives today that we barely notice it. Your shows on Netflix are curated based on your viewing history, Spotify tailors music selections specifically to your taste, most news services feed you content according to your specified preferences, and shopping services such as StitchFix will curate a personal wardrobe for you. Curation as a marketing and sales technique gained ground in 2011 with Steven Rosenbaum’s book Creation Nation.

I love the idea of turning luxury sales associates into luxury curators for two reasons. The first reason is the root of the word – to care. Care needs to inform everything a luxury associate does: caring about the customer, caring about the customer’s needs, caring about the luxury experience, and caring about the presentation. The second reason is the idea that the curated experience is a personalized experience for the luxury consumer. Today’s luxury customers seek experiences that are customized to their personal preferences, that are exceptional, and that they can share and remember. Recently, Saks Fifth Avenue launched a service through which associates are available 24/7 to curate personalized virtual boutiques for individual customers. But curation isn’t just about technology. As Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute says, “Technology today presents an immense opportunity for targeting potential customers, but it is ultimately the intimate humanistic relationships that sales professionals form with customers that keep them coming back.”  It is the luxury sales associate who holds the key to building those connections.

What do luxury sales associates need to do in order to become luxury curators? To find some answers I searched “How to curate?” and found some great tips on Coschedule is a marketing calendaring service whose tips are specific to how to curate online content. I’ve borrowed the heading for each tip and turned each into a suggestion for sales associates who are looking to create a curated luxury experience for their clients:

  • Provide your take on things – Add your own personal touch. To paraphrase Coschedule, provide every piece with context. You should always surround the piece with your views, knowledge, and insight. Share a story about your brand’s heritage or an intimate detail about the craftsmanship.
  • Don’t make it all about you – Remember your customers have different preferences than you. Research and understand the lifestyles of your luxury customers. Read luxury travel and style magazines, subscribe to luxury blogs, and know your competition.
  • Answer your audience’s common questions – Be knowledgeable about your brand, your services, distinguishing product characteristics, shipping and return policies, corporate responsibility programs, etc. Common questions may also include concierge-type recommendations on where to eat, shop or find local attractions.
  • Be very, very selective – Rather than rattling off a list of features, share two or three benefits (a personalized statement of value) you believe best meet your customer’s needs. To turn a feature into a benefit, think of the customer asking “Why is this important to this me?”
  • Take advantage of in-house expertise – Observe your co-workers. How are they interacting with customers? What can you learn from them? Be open to asking for feedback. Ask your manager to observe you and provide suggestions on how you can improve. If you don’t know the answer to a question, make sure you find someone who does.
  • Don’t forget your CTA’s (Calls to Action) – Your relationship to the customer doesn’t end when he or she walks out the door. Think about how you can proactively reach out to customers to grow the relationship by building upon additional needs. A hand-written thank you note is always welcome. You may want to invite them to an upcoming event, alert them to a new item, or just check in to see how they’re enjoying their purchase.

If you view your role as a curator rather than a sales person, you will provide the level of care and personalization necessary to turn every customer interaction into an extraordinary luxury experience.


What Do You Really Learn from a Luxury MBA, Management or Certification Program?

This month’s post is written by guest blogger Gretchen Shaw. Gretchen is an author, blogger and entrepreneur with a penchant for baking. She is passionate about communication, continued learning and connecting people. You can follow her on Twitter: @shawgret


luxury courses.jpgIf you tell a friend who labors in an unchallenging 9 to 5 job that you’re going to pursue your Luxury MBA they might think you’re pulling their leg (or acting annoyingly pretentious). They might also have a laugh guessing what your courses will be—Mink Fur Gowns 101 anyone?

In reality, luxury brand management MBAs, majors and certifications are actually incredibly useful; they sharpen your business skills and nurture your understanding of the growing luxury management sector.

Business schools such as HEC ParisLondon Business School and ESSEC have created tailored MBA programs, degrees, hands-on training and clubs that prepare tomorrow’s leaders in the high-brow and frenetic luxury management sector so that they are well-equipped to deliver exactly what their clients desire.

Students learn how to properly manage creative projects, launch products, develop marketing strategies and cover communication campaigns just to name a few of the skills that are covered. Thriving in the world of luxury is no mean feat, which is why pursuing such an MBA can be vital to your success.

Let’s take a closer look at what some of the best business schools have to offer:


ESSEC offers an 11-month MBA in International Luxury Brand Management at their campus just outside Paris, France. The program was first established in 1995, and is currently partnered with the likes of L’Oreal, Gucci, Christian Dior, Swarovski and Calvin Klein.

Students are taught to look at issues in the industry from a global perspective, and get to study complex situations from financial, business and cultural angles. There are four parts to the program:

  • Business Knowledge & Market Trends;
  • Luxury Brand Management and Semiotics;
  • Luxury Sector Management; and
  • A two-month consulting project at a prestigious company.

Field trips are an important part of the program as well, and recent trips have included jaunts to Dubai, Italy and Hong Kong.

HEC Paris

HEC Paris is one of the world’s leading business schools. Located in one of Europe’s capitals of luxury, HEC Paris offers a rapid-fire two-week luxury program that is aimed at people who already work in the sector and want to take their game to the next level. The course takes place across three cities:

  • Paris;
  • Milan; and
  • Florence

Students who attend the course usually already have solid experience in the world of luxury brands, and the course is known for its exclusivity. Lasting just two weeks, it seeks to endow its students with the right kind of skills, mindset and understanding that will help them succeed at luxury companies and brands around the world.

The course is super hands-on, very demanding and focuses on an all-round vision of luxury that takes a look at all its various sectors and facets.

London Business School

London Business School’s Global MBA (Luxury Brand Management) program is offered in three stages:

  • Stage I encompasses marketing and business environment, accounting and managerial finance, systems and operations management, as well as research methods.
  • Stage 2 moves to strategic management and leadership, luxury brand management, global marketing management and research methods.
  • Stage 3 includes an online dissertation and research methods and is worth as many credits as the first two stages combined.

The program seeks to endow the student with a firm understanding of luxury brand management practices. Skills learned by the student include strategic, marketing and research skills, while intimate knowledge of this specialized industry is also a desired outcome.

SDA Bocconi

The leading business school in Italy, SDA Bocconi offers both a one and a two year MBA. When it comes to the luxury market, their Executive Open Course schedule allows you to update your skills through the Strategic Management of Luxury Business class.

Luxury Connect Business School

Other schools are built entirely around luxury brand management. India is home to just such a school in LCBS (Luxury Connect Business School). This school boasts a unique experience while you train and works in collaboration with the International University of Monaco to offer a diploma or post-graduate courses.

Special Events

When you don’t have the time or resources to devote a full year (or even two weeks) to a luxury training program, other top European business schools such as IMD invite executives from luxury brands such as Hublot to Discovery Events geared toward fueling discussions, sharing knowledge or best practices and experience in luxury marketing and innovation.

There is certainly no wrong time to pursue an MBA or major in luxury brand management. Rather, there is always a right time. Luxury companies are growing all the time, with some recording growth of 27% in the last three years. If entering the world of luxury is something you’ve been thinking about, getting on board a luxury MBA, or major at a top school, is a great start.


Luxury: An Intimate Experience


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roseI’ve frequently written about the importance of the customer relationship when selling luxury. I’ve focused on the need to use the right language and gestures to create an environment of elegance and grace. But, until now, I hadn’t thought about intimacy and how it relates to luxury.

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Luxury Institute finds 7 improvements luxury retailers can make right now to improve sales

In the excellent article “Luxury Institute Reveals 7 Major Improvements Store Managers Recommend to Drive Sales Performance Right Now,” Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute, LLC, shares results of an intimate focus group he conducted with  store managers of premium and luxury brands and shares their best practices and recommendations to improve sales. Continue reading

Luxury gestures – do actions speak louder than words?

serverLuxury service doesn’t always mean expensive or posh; sometimes luxury service can be found in less grandiose surroundings. On a recent business trip to London, I was pleasantly surprised by the service I received in a small restaurant serving Venetian fare. The eatery was a bàcaro—a Venetian word used to describe a humble restaurant serving simple food and good, young local wines. If you’re familiar with Spanish tapas, then you have the idea. Continue reading

Turning Returns into Opportunities


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Photo Credit: Tiffany & Co. For editorial use only

As usual, last Sunday’s New York Times featured the Tiffany & Company advertisement regularly found at the top of page 3. This time the  image was of the multi-heart Return to Tiffany (RTT)  bracelet (shown). Seeing as it was January 3rd, I wasn’t sure if someone in Tiffany’s advertising department might have a sense of humor. This particular bracelet, with all those little RTT hearts, and the timing of the ad made me think of all the post-holiday customers “returning” their unwanted presents to Tiffany. Though it’s hard to imagine someone wanting to return a Tiffany gift, it does happen. During my tenure there, we were especially concerned at this time of year about keeping up sales associates’ spirits while ensuring customers still received exceptional service. Continue reading

GRACE: The Perfect Recipe for Luxury Customer Service


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GRACEDaniel Humm is the chef and owner for the Michelin three-star restaurant Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad in New York City. He’s also the recipient of six James Beard Awards, four stars from the New York Times and the S. Pellegrino Chef’s Choice 2015 award. Mr. Humm was recently interviewed by New York Magazine and asked how me keeps his team motivated. He replied:

We treat every service as if it’s the only one that matters, the same way a sports team prepares for a championship match. Everything we do is done with intention and the desire to make the guest’s experience the best it can be.

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