Take care of your non-customers

How you treat people coming into your store who aren’t going to buy anything from you is super important to how you’re viewed. Take care of them.

Two men looking at a laptop in a brightly lit modern art gallery. One of them is explaining something to the other.
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

The other day I went into one of the audio equipment stores in Oxford to ask about IEMs (in-ear monitors). I have two, and neither seem to fit, and I can’t figure out whether I’m doing something wrong, or my ear canals are just too small for the stems to snugly slide into and there’s nothing I could do about it.

The store itself is high-end — they sell headphones and amplifiers and speakers that are several thousands of pounds that I’m definitely not willing to pay for at this point in my life. The IEMs I have would be considered budget, but still incredibly good value.

I’m definitely not going to spend money at the store, but they do have expertise that I need. Or not need, but would appreciate greatly. I’ll be back this Friday with my ear pieces to see whether we can figure out what’s what.

But here’s the kicker: the entire reason why I’ll be back on Friday is because when I went in, I was treated well. I wasn’t subjected to the usual sales qualifications to make sure I have buying intention, I have budget, and if I don’t have either, or god forbid, neither, then I’d be asked to leave. That kind of behaviour from sales staff rubs me the wrong way.

From a business perspective I can justify it: staff have things to do, the business needs to make sure that the return on investment stays high, which means every minute staff works should have an income figure attached to it, which means if they’re spending time with someone they can sell to, and thus raise the income figure, that’s good; and if they’re spending time with some brokie, that’s minutes wasted with zero potential or actual income received. It makes it that much harder to hit those KPIs.

I do think that kind of behaviour is incredibly short-sighted, and would only work where the brand carries the store, and there will be demand despite how customers are treated. Maybe that kind of treatment is expected. Used car salespeople have this reputation, and most enterprise sales works similarly.

In most other places treating everyone well should be the norm. I used “non-customers” in the title, though it should realistically be “non-paying customers at this time.” Folks you treat well will tell others you treated them well. At the very least they will not actively campaign against you. Have you had conversations where you were looking for recommendations for a store and someone said “Oh, whatever you do, do NOT go to this one, the sales people there are slimy and assholes and will treat you like crap?”

If you’re generous with your time, your expertise, and you can help people with stuff they’re trying to do with knowledge you have, even if they can’t pay for it, it will let folks know slowly that you’re approachable, reliable, and make customers and others visiting your store feel at ease. We like to spend money at places where we’re at ease.

Plus they might not be a customer now, but who knows, 5–10 years later when their career allows them to splurge on an 80 inch laser canvas with a short throw projector with a 7.1 sound system you might be their first port of call.

Of course there’s the occasional person who will take advantage of this and take up your time with zero benefit to you, so the need to set boundaries is understandable and important! In those cases you can let them know that you’re happy to help them further, but given the amount of time they’ve spent already, it might be best to move it to a more formal consulting agreement which would have fees attached to it. Getting folks to pay for help you provide them is not a bad thing, it’s how a lot of businesses operate and thrive, but not helping someone with anything until they show you the money is also unacceptable I think. Don’t be like the car salespeople who completely ignored me from the moment I said I’m not going to make a purchase on that visit.

Marketing, branding, and treating customers well are one of your most important assets! Use them responsibly!