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Not all luxury customers are immediately recognizable. They may not be pulling up to your store in a Bentley or be sporting the latest couture. In fact, despite having assets in the millions of dollars, some high-net worth consumers consider themselves middle-class. Rachel Sherman, a reporter for the New York Times, recently interviewed a number of wealthy individuals who “never talked about themselves as ‘rich’ or ‘upper class,’ often preferring terms like ‘comfortable’ or ‘fortunate.’ Some even identified as ‘middle class’ or ‘in the middle.’ ”

For these individuals – what Sherman calls the “working rich” – the concepts of rarity, elitism, and recognition, may not hold much sway. Sherman goes on to explain how these wealthy individuals approach the buying process: “Wealthy people must appear to be worthy of their privilege… Being worthy means working hard, as one might expect.  But being worthy also means spending money wisely.” These wealthy customers aren’t swayed by the “wow” factor; these customers need to understand the value of their purchases. They won’t gloat over how much they paid for something, but instead, will be happy to tell you in detail about the money they saved.

What value each of these individuals places on a purchase will vary from one person to the next. Their reasons may be as varied as complications in an expensive watch and can be based on economics or emotions. This means a savvy sales associate will need to divine what is of value to each customer.

Several years ago I had the pleasure of working for Tiffany & Co. For the longest while, I had my eye on a beautiful platinum necklace that I felt cost a bit more than I wanted to spend. When that necklace became available in sterling silver, I figured the value of the necklace matched what I was willing to pay. Yet, as my salesperson asked me some simple questions about how I intended to wear the necklace, what other type of jewelry I had, and how I cared for my pieces, I ultimately realized the platinum version of the necklace was a better choice for me. Though significantly more expensive, the decision came down to durability, maintenance and frequency of use (I intended to wear it a lot). At no point did the sales associate try to “upsell” me – or at least it didn’t feel that way. I had led myself to make a more significant investment because it made more sense for me in the long run. It was not a question of wanting to show off. In fact, at first glance most folks would not be able to differentiate between the silver and platinum versions. For me, it was a practical decision.  A lovely woman from Texas recently shared with me what her granddaughter’s term for this – “Worth it!” Even if your customer doesn’t say this phrase out loud; they should be thinking it as they leave your store.

Asking the right questions (see post Good salespeople have great answers, but great salespeople have great questionswill help you position your product or service in the way that makes the most sense for your customer. For someone who eschews elitism, mentioning that your product is exclusive, high-end, only found in a remote corner of the world, and is loved by some famous figure may send you down the wrong path and your customer out the door. But if you can demonstrate how this purchase makes sense for your customer, based on what they’ve shared with you, you will begin to build a relationship of trust – for this and future purchases.