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What Pottery Barn Teaches Us About Subtle Sales

Pottery Barn sells so brilliantly, I can hardly stand to walk into their store because I know my wallet will start hemorrhaging money.  Again.

How do they do it?

They clam up and lets the client’s daydreams fill in the blanks.

Pottery Barn understands that their clients don’t want to be talked at.  So they tiptoe around the customer, occasionally whispering in their ear words like “comfort” and “joy.”  Then they lay low and let dreams do the heavy lifting.  In no time, the client is dazzled by their own hopes of having the perfect, talked-about home.

There is one exception to their “store of few words” persona.   So subtle that it doesn’t even feel like the masterminded sales tool that it is:

They know their clients want to be educated.

We all like feeling like we know what we’re doing.  Especially when we actually don’t.  We want our home to look like Pottery Barn, but we’re not design masterminds.  We want to throw a sparkly, magical party, but it doesn’t always come together.  Ugh, how maddening!

Meet Pottery Barn’s “How To” guides:

These guides are nothing short of brilliant.  Want to decorate a bathroom?  Just paint the walls a Benjamin Moore slate grey, add an antique soap-and-towel stand, toss some monogrammed towels over a silver rod and voila – your dreams have come to life.  It’s not a catalogue, it’s a step-by-step guide to home and hosting success.

Key point:  These guides make Pottery Barn into a trusted resource rather than pushy salespeople.  

When we take the time to make people feel like experts, they start to trust that we’re there to assist rather than to just make a profit.  Giving someone free knowledge empowers them to feel in control of a situation, which makes them feel more confident in making a decision.  It also increases their willingness to take risks and try new things, because they start to see that you’re trying to help, not maximize a sale.

People don’t care much about how cool your products are, they care about how they can solve their problems. 

People like to be dazzled and entertained, yes.  But a more convincing call to action is something that will also make their life easier, better, and hassle-free.   How-To guides relieve you of the responsibility of trying to make your products seem like the COOLEST THINGS EVER, because they show people how they can make their lives better.  Wooden salad bowls might not be that interesting – until Pottery Barn shows you how you can use them to dazzle all your friends at your next party.  Suddenly those bowls are not containers, they’re a way to help you build a reputation.  How might your services accomplish the same thing?

What problems can your photography help people solve?

I’ll be blunt:  “capturing memories” is a vague selling point, as we only realize the weight and importance of memories when the situation has passed.  It doesn’t mean that it’s not important, just that it’s not usually urgent.  Showing how your services can help them now, today (not in 50 years when their grandkids want to see photos) creates a more compelling reason to book you today.

Why not make a list of three problems your photography can solve, then write a How-To guide for the most compelling one?

  • Can you help people finish hard-to-decorate areas of homes?  Create a “How to Decorate Your Mantel/Hallway/Bathroom With Photography” series of blog posts to get people thinking about booking.
  • Are you killer at coming up with wall gallery formations?  (Most people are overwhelmed by this.)  Create a “How to Create a Wall Gallery” and give it to clients upon booking so they can start eyeballing their own home for options while they prepare for your session.
  • Do you have a knack for using photos in crafts?  Why not throw together a “How to Create DIY Photo Gifts” and include it when someone purchases a disc?

How-To guides can sell your products for you, increase trust, and provide a genuine service to your clients.  Win-win-win.




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  1. Aiste on January 10, 2012 at 9:43 am

    That’s the most brilliant idea! Thank you!

    • Jenika on January 10, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      🙂 Thanks Aiste!

  2. […] what we learned from Pottery Barn about business?  People love feeling informed.  I bet a lot of the clients hesitate simply because they […]

  3. Melinda on January 26, 2012 at 1:16 am

    Loved this article. I needed it!! Already outlining ideas for how I can become a trusted resource for my clients and readers! Thank you for the inspiration!!

    God bless

    • Jenika on January 26, 2012 at 1:20 am

      Thanks Melinda! I really appreciate your kind words. So glad the article helped 🙂 Best of luck!

  4. […] What Pottery Barn Teaches Us About Subtle Sales & The Secret to Creating Profitable Promotions (2 Separate Posts) […]

  5. Caroline on March 13, 2012 at 1:01 am

    First of all I would like to say terrific blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing. I’ve had trouble clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out. I do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Cheers!

    • Jenika on March 13, 2012 at 2:41 am

      Thanks Caroline! Interesting question you ask – I usually start writing in one of two ways. Most often I’ll be reading something (a book, a research article) and I’ll get an idea that sort of just spills out – I can’t stop writing until it’s done. No “clearing” needed in that case, I just focus in when I get excited about the idea. When that doesn’t happen, I make an outline of the points I want to cover and then I’ll go read something that is well written (fiction, nonfiction – I just grab a favorite book off the shelf). Usually something in a well-written book – a word, a phrase – will trigger inspiration to start. Hope that helps!

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