Don’t sell to clients; instead, help them buy from you

Updated Oct 30, 2018
Jody ShilanJody Shilan

Let’s be honest, nobody likes salespeople. They’re pushy, annoying and all they want to do is get every last dollar that they can out of you.

Being sold to is not an enjoyable experience for any of us. And once the transaction is over, most of us feel like we’ve been “taken for a ride.” A few hours later, buyer’s remorse kicks in and your first instinct is to return your purchase and get your money back. Not good.

Compare this to the experience of buying. Buying is elective. You want to buy things. You like to buy things. Sometimes you buy little silly things, and sometimes you buy big expensive things. When you buy something, you’re excited and happy.

As you can easily see, being sold to vs. buying are completely different experiences. One is negative and one is positive. If you try to sell to your customers, they’ll resent it and you. If you help them buy, they’ll love it (and you too).

Put yourself in customer’s shoes

So how do you help your customers buy instead of making them feel like they’ve been sold? I’m glad you asked.

The best way to understand the buying experience is through experience. What I mean to say is that in order to understand how your clients feel, you should analyze your own buying experiences when you’re the consumer.

Let’s say you need new pants and a polo shirt.  Like most of us, you head out to the mall. As you go from store to store, pay close attention to your customer experience. Are the salespeople pushy and aggressive, oblivious to the fact that you are even there, or somewhere in-between?

Regardless, pay close attention to how each salesperson makes you feel and why. Did you feel appreciated and important or did you feel like you were wasting their time?

Whatever type of experience you have, chances are that your customers will feel the same way you do. For now, we will focus on the positive experiences, because we want our customers to buy from us and not feel like they are being sold to.

The right question at the right time

Let’s say you go into a specialty clothing shop like J. Crew. When you walk into the store, they usually have a “greeter” who has a big happy smile and says, “Welcome to J. Crew.” How does that make you feel? I assume good.

After you’ve walked up and down the aisles for a few minutes, an employee will ask if they can help you. We usually say “no” because we don’t want to deal with a salesperson. However, after a few more minutes, you do realize that you could use some help and fortunately, that same employee was keeping their eye on you and recognized the fact that you could use some assistance too.

They’ll usually say something a little different like, “Can I help you find a specific size?” This un-salesperson-like approach allows you to drop your guard as you say, “You have the sizes that I need, I’m just not sure which color I should get.” A good salesperson will respond with, “I can certainly help you with that,” followed by a softball question like, “Is this purchase for you or a gift for someone else?”

Once you respond, they will most likely follow up with more specific questions such as, “What colors do you already own? What is the reason for this purchase? Would you like me to find a few options in your size?” At this point, you are totally engaged and ready to buy, and there’s a pretty good chance that instead of buying one shirt you’re going to buy at least three or four.

Once your color decisions are made, a good salesperson will usually ask if you need anything else. Now that you are excited and in full buying mode, you tell them that you need some work pants too. Naturally, they respond with, “That’s great. I can help you with that too.”

They continue with the same process to help you find matching pants that look great and fit great and just like before, you buy several pairs of pants, instead of just one, and probably grab a couple of belts and a few pairs of overpriced socks before you leave.

Although you’ve spent way more than you expected to, when it comes time to check out, you’re excited to go home and wear you new clothes and show them off to your friends and family. There is never even a thought of buyer’s remorse or saving the receipts so that you can return everything. You are just happy with your purchases and your buying experience.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Jody Shilan. Shilan was the executive director of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association. Shilan also offers advice to landscape professionals through his website,

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