Last Updated Aug 8, 2011 1:50 PM EDT
A while back, as part of another project, I interviewed some sales professionals who sell luxury goods to the super-rich. There were things that they told me that they didn't want me to share -- at least not with their names connected to it -- and I've kept that information in my files. Until now.
Given the current economic situation, I think its time for me to finally let the platinum-collared ($1.8 million) cat out of the diamond-encrusted ($3.8 million) bag, and explain exactly how YOU can break into the lucrative business of selling to the ruling class:
- RULE #1: Understand Your Customer Base. There's the merely wealthy... and then there's the super-rich. In the United States, the 45 richest people have a greater net worth than the combined total of the 150 million at the bottom. Below that are the top 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans, who essentially own almost everything else. Most of the super-rich don't pay any taxes whatsoever, so they've got plenty of disposable income. Have the dollar signs appeared in your eyes yet?
- RULE #2: Sell an Utterly Useless Product. Most of the economic activity generated by the super-rich deals with products that have no purpose other than entertainment: vacation homes, huge yachts, exotic travel, obscenely expensive cars, unique collectibles (e.g. original manuscripts of classic works), luxury-branded personal items (handbags, shoes, etc.), top quality escorts, etc. Interestingly, many times these items are purchased but not actually used.
- RULE #3: Go Where the Super-Rich Congregate. The super-rich do not generally mingle with the hoi-polloi, except when slumming (still a popular pastime, BTW). If you want to sell to them, you'll generally need to create a presence for yourself at exclusive resorts, luxury hotels, and so forth. Getting into these venues gets harder, the farther up the food chain you go. Plan on spending money to get yourself positioned... with the understanding that it's a good investment.
- RULE #4: Target Customers Who Have Already Bought. In most markets, you try to sell to people who DON'T have your product. For the super-rich, the opposite is the case. If a modern day Croesus has five vacation homes, he's an excellent candidate for a sixth. By contrast, if he's never bought a yacht, he probably doesn't want one, so it's dumb to try to sell him one.
- RULE #5: Manage the Purchase after It's Purchased. This is an important point. One of the few objections that the super-rich have to buying large scale luxury goods (vacation property, yachts, etc.) is that a new possession means taking care of it. To make the purchase more risk-free, you should have a plan in place for you to take care of the possession when it's not in use. For example, if you sell a vacation home, take responsibility for caring for it when the buyer isn't using it.
- RULE #6: Make Every Sale Unique. Selling to the super-rich is all about the personal touch and catering to the unique needs of the individual. "I could line up five billionaires in a row and they'd all be completely different," said one sales professional I spoke with. "You need to identify their individual concerns, learn what makes them excited about the purchase, and find out how to help them achieve a dream."
- RULE #7: Be Prepared to Lick Boots. In order to be successful, you're going to have bend down and and make with some tongue action. But not on Michael Anthony Custom Boots ($9,600) worn by the super-rich!!! Au contraire, when you're speaking to your well-heeled clients, you need to pretend you're their equal. The bootlicking comes into play when you're working the crowd of personal assistants, secretaries and hangers-on, all of whom will demand due homage to their reflected glory.
- RULE #8: Support the Anti-Tax Movement. Most supporters of the anti-tax movement are chumps who can't do simple math, or they wouldn't fight so hard against closing ridiculous tax loopholes. But that's not the case for you, of course. As a vendor to the super-rich, it is now really and truly in your best financial interest for the upward redistribution of wealth to continue and accelerate. Hooray!