Opinion: The art of selling luxury goes beyond transactions

    At the heart of every luxury purchase is an emotional decision. The best salespeople don’t just see a customer; they see a person with dreams and aspirations.
    Photo: Shutterstock
      Published   in Retail

    In many brand experience audits, I encounter too much focus on the tangible and a lack of attention on the intangible. This phenomenon occurs across every product category, and it’s often those brands offering the most highly desired items that fall short in the sales process.

    The reason? Negligence of the human factor. When selling a brand is easy, many salespeople tend to overlook markers that define the client experience. Consequently, even successful brands often underperform significantly and lose clients.

    In a recent study comparing luxury with average purchases, which Équité co-developed with Adobe, we found that around 65 percent of all brand breakups happen because a client is dissatisfied with the human-to-human experience. Only a fraction of clients who abandon their preferred brand do so because they want to shop around or because they found something better. Even worse, of all the luxury clients who broke up with a brand, 100 percent of them said they had wanted a better physical experience.

    A recent study finds that 65 percent of all brand breakups happen because a client is dissatisfied with the human-to-human experience.

    These numbers show that the human factor is the most critical in creating loyalty. Yet, I am often shocked by how many brands fall short of even acceptable levels. Moreover, in many of my training sessions, I repeatedly witness even very senior and experienced individuals expressing how challenging it is to excel in emotional selling.

    This proves that training is not just “nice to have.” Rather, it is critical for brands to unlock their power.

    The difference between an exceptional salesperson and an underperforming one isn't just noticeable — it’s monumental. A top-tier sales associate can generate revenue that’s two, three, or even more times higher than their less effective counterparts.

    But what sets these outstanding performers apart? It’s not about the hard sell or the flashy pitch; it’s about understanding the art of emotional connection. This nuanced approach to selling is often misunderstood, leading many to fail miserably in the hyper-competitive luxury market, where millennials’ and Gen Z’s expectations towards service are higher than ever before.

    The emotional key: Unlocking true value#

    At the heart of every luxury purchase is an emotional decision. The best salespeople in the luxury industry know this. They don’t just see a customer; they see a person with dreams, aspirations, struggles, and challenges. They recognize that each interaction is an opportunity to connect on a deeper level, to find the emotional key.

    These skilled professionals focus on understanding how a client feels at the moment and why. It is an empathetic approach that allows them to tailor their sales strategy to the individual, creating an experience that resonates on a personal level.

    Contrast this with underperforming salespeople who prioritize the transaction over the relationship. When a customer decides not to purchase, they’re often treated differently, diminishing the chance of future interactions. This myopic approach overlooks a fundamental truth in luxury retail: the value of long-term relationships far outweighs any single transaction.

    The value of long-term relationships far outweighs any single transaction.

    The misleading VIC label#

    Many luxury brands categorize their customers, often labeling some as VICs (very important clients) while implicitly considering others as less important. This practice can create a sense of alienation and diminish the overall customer experience.

    The reality is that every customer has the potential to be a VIC, depending on their experience with the brand and the sales associate. By treating each customer with empathy and striving to understand their emotional world, salespeople can elevate the customer experience, fostering loyalty and encouraging repeat business.

    Every customer has the potential to be a VIC depending on their experience with the brand. Photo: Shutterstock
    Every customer has the potential to be a VIC depending on their experience with the brand. Photo: Shutterstock

    I know the example of one of the most successful salespeople in the world who showed immense empathy to a client who repeatedly brought in old and seemingly low-end items to a luxury store. Ignored by many of the other salespeople in the store (and even treated in an arrogant way), one person in the back of the store helped her passionately every time she came in.

    When she came into the store to buy an item that was priced at more than $100,000, she refused to be served by anyone other than him. As a result, she not only became one of the best clients of the brand, but he also became their top salesperson. Without him treating her in an excellent way before she even made a purchase, she would never have become one of the brand’s top clients.

    The importance of training#

    I’ve already mentioned how crucial it is for luxury brands to invest in comprehensive training. However, many organizations fall into the trap of focusing on the wrong aspects. Training often emphasizes superficial elements: a warm smile, impeccable dress, polite manners, and addressing the client by name. While these are important, they only scratch the surface.

    Research shows that despite scoring high on these tangible metrics, customer satisfaction often hovers around 60 percent. The missing piece? The inability of many salespeople to unlock the emotional key of their clients. This involves teaching them to build genuine relationships, understand the subtleties of human emotion, and respond with empathy and authenticity.

    Best practices in luxury selling#

    1. Deep listening: The foundation of emotional connection is listening. Sales associates should be trained to listen not just to the words their clients say but also to the emotions behind those words. This can reveal insights into what the client truly desires.
    2. Empathy in action: Showing empathy, especially when no one is watching, will transform a standard customer interaction into a memorable experience. It’s about showing care and understanding, regardless of the immediate outcome.
    3. Personalization: Tailoring the sales approach to each individual customer is key. This means going beyond standard sales scripts and genuinely engaging with the customer’s personal story.
    4. Long-term vision: Training should emphasize the importance of building long-term relationships over securing immediate transactions. This perspective encourages salespeople to invest in understanding and nurturing their relationships with each customer. This also needs to be backed by the right incentive system. I know many organizations that preach relationship-building but incentivize short-term transactions. The outcome is often a disaster.
    5. Emotional intelligence: Developing salespeople’s emotional intelligence is critical. This includes training on recognizing and responding to different emotional states and understanding the psychological factors that influence purchasing decisions.

    It’s time for luxury brands not to be “luxury in name only,” as I recently challenged the CEOs of luxury hospitality brands at the Forbes Travel Guide Summit. Instead, it’s time to remember that luxury is pure emotion, to rethink the approach to sales training, and to focus on the emotional keys that unlock true customer satisfaction.

    In the world of luxury, where every detail matters, the ability to connect emotionally is not just an advantage — it's a necessity.

    This is an opinion piece by Daniel Langer, CEO of Équité, recognized as one of the “Global Top Five Luxury Key Opinion Leaders to Watch.” He serves as an executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu and as a professor of luxury at NYU, New York. Daniel has authored best-selling books on luxury management in English and Chinese, and is a respected global keynote speaker.

    Daniel conducts masterclasses on various luxury topics across the world. As a luxury expert featured on Bloomberg TV, Forbes, The Economist, and others; Daniel holds an MBA and a Ph.D. in luxury management, and has received education from Harvard Business School.

    All opinions expressed in the column are his own and do not reflect the official position of Jing Daily.

    Follow him: LinkedIn:, Instagram: @equitebrands /@drdaniellanger

    Discover more
    Daily BriefAnalysis, news, and insights delivered to your inbox.