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Warby Parker does Sales 101: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

It’s an eyewear manufacturer, but it sells an experience first, spectacles second.

Let’s unspool that. If you’re an omnivore, think about ordering a New York strip—rare, of course—at a steakhouse is a transaction. (If you’re a non-meat-eater, please play along. It will all make sense in a minute.)

After the order, the wait, maybe spent fiddling with the place setting; steakhouse knives don’t feel like the ones in the kitchen drawer at home. Finally, the waitperson exits the kitchen and heads for the table bearing a hissing platter of meaty goodness. To a meat-eater’s ears, that is music. The presentation is a “that’s what I’m talking about” moment. The aroma turns on the taste buds and waters the mouth.

Then the steak gets eaten, which in the grand scheme is just another transaction.

The point is, it’s what’s in the middle that sells, the five-sense experience, the sizzle. Successful retailers don’t prattle on about the steak. Instead, they sell the experience that the product makes possible; they turn prospects into buyers by getting them to hear the sizzle.

Megabrands like Warby Parker, Apple, Williams Sonoma, and Nike do it. They sell the sizzle. And music store owners can—and should—follow that lead.

Warby Parker: Try it, you’ll like it!

Warby Parker is known for its stylish, affordable eyewear and a unique try it before you buy it business model.

Instead of salespeople rattling on frames and lenses, Warby Parker spares its customers the hard sell. It knows that simply pushing a sale stresses out customers. Some succumb to the pressure and buy glasses they don’t love or maybe can’t afford.

The transaction is complete, but if the experience is bad, a potential repeat customer is lost.

Warby Parker sees the first sale as the chance to open a door for a customer to enter the world of brand loyalty.

Its retail outlets focus on building a welcoming customer-centric experience that emphasizes care and cleanliness, which early on helped potential clients get over whatever discomfort they might have about trying on glasses someone else had just put on.

During the pandemic, Warby Parker created a virtual in-store experience by allowing people to select up to 10 pairs of glasses to try on at home, purchasing the ones they like and returning the rest.

The company is constantly trying new things like adding photo booths in some stores and libraries of books customers can read using their new glasses. All these things are designed to increase engagement with the brand, and they work.

What music stores can learn from Warby Parker: Are you still displaying your instruments like precious artifacts? It’s time to get your customers’ hands on them. It’s the only way they will fall in love with how they sound and feel so they make a purchase.

Apple: Try out tech to understand what makes it different.

In Simon Sinek’s TED Talks presentation on “Start with Why,” the futurist says Apple fanatics don’t queue up days in advance of the next smartphone, tablet, computer, laptop, or other device. That’s the steak. Apple, he says, sells the sizzle:

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently,” Sinek says of Apple’s marketing strategy that connects directly with its core customer base perceived self-image.

Apple’s stores challenge the status quo of retail brick-and-mortar sales. They are low pressure environments where people can try things out. The staff works less like a sales crew than a matchmaker, creating an in-store experience that builds and reinforces customers’ relationship with the brand.

They stand back while prospects and brand advocates alike test drive the hardware; hear the sizzle! This generation of computer runs so much faster! This smartphone camera takes crystal clear photos in the dark! While they’re in the store, customers generate buzz about the products, sharing their excitement about them. Customers often sell Apple products to other customers.

What music stores can learn from Apple: Want to upsell musicians to better instrument models? Let shoppers try them out. It’s the only way they’ll understand the value of spending more. While you’re at it, like Apple, encourage your customers to interact with each other. They may sell one another on your products without you having to step in.

Williams-Sonoma: Selling cooking equipment by cooking.

How do you know this particular piece of cookware will produce the culinary experience you want?

Williams Sonoma solved that problem for you by making product demos and cooking classes central to its business model. When home cooks experience the gourmet food that Williams-Sanoma products make possible, they buy the sizzle, even though it can cost exponentially more than a similar item elsewhere. Whether watching a pro do the cooking or standing at the cooktop themselves, customers experience the value of Sonoma-Williams.

What music stores can learn from Williams-Sonoma: Do your customers have a hard time understanding the value of new products, instruments, and service offerings? Demonstrate them or let customers try them out. It’s the only way they’ll be able to come to the conclusion that they can’t live without them.

Nike: The pros in relationship marketing.

Just do it.

Nike it does it two ways:

  1. Delivering engaging experiences in its stores.
  2. Having a positive impact on the lives of people who live near the retail outlets by supporting sports in those communities.

Nike’s hiring policy focuses on employing people within five miles of its shops and training them to set up neighborhood sports programs for kids. This transforms Nike from merely being a store and global brand into a vital part of the communities where they do business.

It also ensures there will always be the next generation of Nike customers.

What music stores can learn from Nike: Even though Nike is a global powerhouse, it’s a vital part of every community it does business in. Similarly, music stores must be central to the music scenes of their communities. Why not bring music to schools, community centers, and street fairs? You’ll move your business from being a seller of music related products and services to a beloved brand people care about. As Nike has proved for decades now, people prefer to buy things from businesses they respect and care about. And they’ll pay a premium for the privilege.

The final lesson…

So, in the end, what’s the ultimate takeaway for music store owners from these retailers? Deliver a meaningful experience to your prospects and clients, and sales will take care of themselves.

In order to succeed today, music stores have to build meaningful connections with consumers and become central to their lives. That better positions them to be the music vendor of choice when it comes time to make purchases.