Sephora Makeover Gone Awry—and 3 Game-Changing Sales Lessons Learned

Right away there was a problem.

Everyone in the store was 20 years old, and wearing a LOT of makeup…

…the “made up” look.

…the “I’m about to do a photo shoot so I’m wearing a little extra” look.

…the “I work at a makeup store and they make me do this” look.

A wee bit intimidating for one who hasn’t worn makeup in years, and doesn’t own so much as an eye pencil.

(That’s a lie. My husband found one on the sidewalk the other day and gave it to me as a joke. But I’m pretty sure roadkill makeup doesn’t count.)

I marched on. After all, I’d booked time out of my schedule for this, because everywhere I look people are pushing live video, and I need to look the part.

Gary Vee is doing it.

Kate Northrup is doing it.

Even Amy Porterfield is doing it, despite how uncomfortable it clearly makes her. (I do everything Amy says. If you’re on my email list, it’s probably thanks to something I learned from her.)

Despite being a makeup-o-phobe, I don’t want to look like a bag lady on camera. Thus, my foray into live video began with a trip to Sephora – the makeup lover’s equivalent of a candy store –  to purchase makeup for the first time in 10 years.

The woman tasked with making over my face was nice, if a little straight-laced. (We’ll call her Victoria, since this story doesn’t end so well for her.)

The chemistry was off from the start. It was clear Vicky and I wouldn’t be sipping cappuccinos and razzing on our ex-boyfriends over blush and mascara.

But whatever.

(For me, that kind of connection is the difference between a one-time shopping experience and becoming a lifelong customer. But, y’know…whatever.)

I gave Victoria a $100 budget, yet secretly hoped she’d sell me on more—I could easily have dropped a few hundy if the look was right. And since I had a photo shoot coming up, there was also a vague notion of bringing Victoria along to assist.

As I explained, I was looking for something simple and chic. Kate Moss/Calvin Klein circa 1995. Effortless elegance. The I-just-woke-up-like-this look.

I left feeling about as subtle as Nicki Minaj—with a list of product recommendations longer than a gorilla’s arm, totaling well over $350.

All in, I spent $52.

Tarzan Sales Copywriting

A few pretty powerful lessons came out of my experience at Sephora. It took telling and retelling the story a half-dozen times to uncover some of the most valuable sales training I’ve ever done.

Here are my top takeaways.

## In order to sell anything—be it an idea or a pair of sneakers—first you must listen. ##

That means not filling in the blanks during silent moments. It means allowing for awkward pauses. Creating space for the truth to unfold.

This kind of active listening goes against pretty much every instinct I have, since, by nature, I love to pontificate. (My dad was a preacher, which is no excuse. I only mean to say it runs in the family.)

But, as I’m learning, talking is a pretty poor way to sell anything.

In sales conversations, my new M.O. is to repeat back what my clients are saying—especially if they’ve said it more than once. And rather than interpreting their words (and thus, directing the conversation), to listen and say something like…

“What you’ve said is very important. You’ve mentioned it more than once now, but I’m not hearing WHY it’s important—could you help me understand?”

My friend Grant calls this “social value”. When you acknowledge a person’s words and ask for help understanding their meaning, that communicates value. When you push your own interpretations and ideas, that does the opposite.

(This explains why the phrase “tips & advice” always gives me the willies. Particularly when paired with the word “free”.)

Because Victoria failed to accommodate even the most base among my directives re: price & style, I left the store feeling anything like a valued customer.

On several occasions she admitted to using certain products because, as she put it, “they make us put this on everyone.” Oy.

In order to sell anything—be it an idea or a pair of sneakers—first you must listen. Click To Tweet

This led me to another burning hot truth…

## Breaking the rules for people makes them feel special ##

What we have here is a tragic missed opportunity.

Imagine if Victoria had said, “Y’know, I’m supposed to put this funky eyebrow pencil on everyone who walks in the door, but I’m sensing you’re not really there yet, so I’m gonna skip it. Don’t tell my boss.”

Boom. Bonding and reciprocation. Double whammy.

That simple act of grace might’ve easily compelled me to buy the damn pencil. That’s how the law of reciprocation works. (The truth is, the eyebrow pencil looked really nice and it wasn’t very expensive. But since the delivery was off, I was predisposed not to buy it.)

Finally, the most important lesson of all.

## When you sell someone on a great product, you’re actually doing them a favour. ##

If you’re anything like me, you probably wince at the idea of selling. But in truth I feel MUCH better getting out my credit card and making a large purchase if I’ve been well-sold on it.

Buying out of obligation plain sucks, arriving at the register with the “I guess I gotta buck up and spend the money” mentality. Nobody likes that.

Which is why great salespeople make my heart sing. (For real. I even married one.)

When you sell someone on a great product, you’re actually doing them a favour.Click To Tweet

A strong sales email is welcome in my inbox any day of the week.

If I’m not interested, I’ll delete it (or rather, save it to my “awesome sales emails” file for future reference) and look forward to the next offer. If it’s something I need, I’m happy to make that purchase with full confidence that I made the right choice.

Because Victoria failed to sell me, I only spent $77, even though I’d budgeted $100. A few days later, I returned one of the items, bringing my total spend down to $52.

Worse, I left Sephora with a bad taste in my mouth.

Even though it’s clearly a great store with a LOT of cool products on offer, I’m unlikely to go back. Something subtle but powerful is keeping me away.

For those who are interested, I purchased…

  • Kat Von D everlasting liquid lipstick
  • Sephora mascara (returned)
  • This 3-in-1 blush thingy from Sephora, which I actually love and wear every day

Tarzan Makeup Sephora

Sephora Makeover Before and After Pictures

 

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  • I loved the points you made, this is really great stuff. I do want to say that Sephora is my favorite store. Long ago, before Sephora moved to Denver and I was able to shop there, I heard a lot of people say how fantastic it is, and I thought they must be stoned. No store is that good. But it is. It is amazing. Some locations are better than others, I grant you, however, their quality of products, liberal return policy, and their willingness to let you play and even sample items, I just think they are terrific. I think the lady you got was a dud. A super dud. I never, ever felt like Sephora reps were “supposed to” or made to push products on anyone. They are not paid on commissions. I grant you that not every time somebody tried something on me did I feel it was overwhelmingly flattering. I have never felt pressure to buy, even when somebody has gone out of their way. I hope you go back to Sephora and find a better employee. I hope you have a much better experience, as I find Sephora just a lot of fun. Expensive fun, but fun.

    • Tarzan Kay

      I’m so glad you piped up, Nicoll. I’m 100% sure that this was not Sephora’s fault. It really is a candy store. And when I returned the mascara, they refunded my money no questions asked. And my experience was also super low pressure. Didn’t feel at all uncomfortable not buying the recommended stuff. Thanks for sticking up for Sephora—I was pretty sure I missed something.

  • Your profile picture turned out beautiful. I don’t dare go into Sephora, I’m afraid I’ll spend hundreds. Thanks for another great post.

    • Tarzan Kay

      Thanks, Monica! It was taken my Lindsay O’Neil from That Photography Place in St. Catharines. She did an amazing job making me feel relaxed and comfortable.

      And yea, if you love makeup—you’ll definitely spend hundreds! It really is like a grown-up’s candy store.