I Want An Opinion (Issue 699)

In which we are reminded that, frequently, it’s our expertise rather than the products we sell that earn us clients and commissions.

I wanted some hiking socks. So, I darkened the door of my local hiking gear provider, thinking they would offer the best options.

There were three guys working in the store that day. They all looked up, said, “Hello! Want some help?”

“No, thanks,” I replied. I wasn’t looking for conversation. I knew what I was looking for…

… and then, I spent half an hour going back-and-forth between four different racks of socks trying to figure out the differences and price points and… I finally made a decision. Two pairs of gray – greenish wool/cotton blend socks. Not high fashion but functional at a good price.

As I was on my way to the counter with my socks, I met one of the three guys working in the store. Feeling a twinge about my choice, I asked, “What’s the difference between these socks (I held them up) and those, over there?”

“Well,” he said, “it depends. Tell me a little bit about what you’re planning to do.”

“Moderate difficulty hiking, day pack, two hours to three hours up and about the same coming back down. But then it’s possible that I may need to go to days or three days without changing socks.”

He thought for a moment.

“What sort of climate will you be in?” [Dry, warmish] “Will your feet be getting wet?” [No] “How hot do your feet get?” [moderate] “What kind of boots or shoes will you be wearing?”

I answered his last few questions and he said, “I have done a lot of hiking like that. My feet run pretty hot, it’s good yours don’t, but what I’ve found, particularly when I couldn’t change my socks for a few days, is that socks like these (he pulled a pair of Merino wool blend socks off the closest racket and held them out to me) will keep your feet dry and they won’t…you know…smell bad. They’re a bit more expensive than the socks you picked out and, when you think about the time and money you’re going to spend to get where you’re going, you don’t want blisters. I’ve had that happen. It ruins your day. These are cheap insurance.”

I left the store with a little less cash and two pairs of socks completely different than the ones I’d picked out.

He could have answered the question, “what’s the difference between these and those?”, by telling me about the socks – their features – this thread count, that mix of fibers, so much thickness, that much padding here and there – and price points.

Instead, he listened, shared his experience (thus reassuring me that his counsel was good), and made a recommendation based on benefits and their application. An “expertise” sale hiding in the shadows of a retailer’s aisle.

I’m no expert. When I need gear again, I’ll go there first because I want someone to listen and share an opinion. I can buy socks anywhere.


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