Luxury Sales Expert Kathleen Cutler’s Top Tips for Holiday 2020

Kathleen Cutler, who calls herself “a modern sales expert for high-end brands,” has been slipping into our Instagram feeds a lot lately. She’s enthusiastically name-checked on the platform by jewelry retailers and brands that rave about how her methodology has boosted their sales with affluent younger shoppers.

Cutler, a former bench jeweler who holds a graduate diamond degree, has honed her proprietary methods, which combine technology with old-school relationship-building, working with seven-figure brands over the past decade.

With an unusual and (for many) critical holiday season in front of jewelry retailers, we asked Cutler to share her best advice for closing sales during the pandemic era.

JCK: Hi, Kathleen! Tell me generally how you work with clients. 

Really my focus is on sales. We have a group, it’s called the High End Jewelers Society, where we use a methodology that we teach. It’s all about creating your virtual Rolodex—how to have your best clients at your fingertips. We talk about the 80/20 rule that says 80% of sales come from your top clients. It’s all about building out a system where they get preferred treatment.

I try to bring them through a visual exercise: If you had a physical store with no staff in it, you are allowed to walk through and self-serve and then make a $30K purchase on your own. Then you’re sent to a supermarket-style checkout to finish the transaction. That’s where…people have questions and carts get abandoned.

I think the salesperson is just as important in the e-commerce experience as it is in the store. When people are buying high-end, they’re really seeking a trusted expert. There’s a lot of nuance to buying important gemstones. If left to their own devices, people get nervous.

So it’s about not letting them shop alone. People think of being in the virtual space really just as marketing. What I like to say is, marketing is one-to-many—your billboards, social media. It’s getting people into doors. Sales are one-to-one.

I think people get stuck on one-to-many and they’re not looking at the one-on-one, which is actually sales. Every hour you spend in one-to-many marketing, spend an hour on one-to-one sales.

Take exquisite care of your existing clients. If your family has been in the business for a long time, you can ask yourself, what would your grandparents have done here? They would have picked up the phone, they would know who was having a baby, who was graduating, when birthdays were…. It is all about relationships; the jewelry is really meaningful to the person buying. The more we can back off the vanity metrics of 10K Instagram followers, the more we can focus on our top 50 and 100 clients.

It must be a relief for people when you tell them to back off social media and focus on relationships!

It’s a big relief for a lot of them. You have people who want this big following and be a big brand, but a lot of the smaller jewelers feel intimidated by that. It’s not “I need this many people to attend my Zoom meetings.” I’d rather have you on IG having this fantastic conversation back and forth with one person. A lot of jewelers are preselling pieces this way. And I think that’s where we’re headed in general.

That’s interesting — very old-school, which I think some people don’t trust anymore.

I think we’re headed into this very intimate era of wanting to do business with people we know, like, and trust. You’ll want to do business with people you want to have a glass of wine with. It’s exciting. It’s old advice, but it got lost in the digital. And we have tools to make it less intimidating.

Tell me about the process you take clients through.

First, identify who your top clients are. Start seeing those people as real people who are truly wearing and enjoying your jewelry.

Then, engage. How do you run into them virtually? You need to create ways to run into your best clients virtually. If they are on social channels, I like to recommend you actually follow them. When we can find them we can bump into them. Spend 30 minutes a day commenting on client posts—true and meaningful comments that give you that back-and-forth. Every three months connect with your best clients. That can happen via email, and can also happen via DM. Things like “How is your dog doing?” It could also be about jewelry, like “we have a new shipment of emeralds, and it made me think of you because we made you that emerald ring.”

Lastly, there’s the call to action. After you’ve been going back and forth with a light conversation, you start moving more toward business. This is the “Now what?” question you’re answering: “Should we get on a video chat?” “Should I send you items on approval?” “Should I add to your wish list?”

Selling virtually is just like staffing another store. It’s not “perfect, people now can shop self-serve.” It’s actually “Now I’m online, I need someone to staff this store.” People have a feeling sometimes that it won’t be as much work.

Tell me why this methodology works so well.

Because people are hungry for this kind of interaction. I don’t think people understand the celebrity and influence [jewelry retailers] have in their clients’ lives. You always remember the person who sold you your engagement ring, or an important piece of jewelry. I’ve had students reach out to people they’ve sold things to after eight years and they’ve made a sale.

“I was thinking of you” are the best words in the English language. If you’re getting those words from someone, it has a magic to it…and these younger audiences have never experienced clientele-ing like this. We’re finding they love it!

This holiday will be different because of COVID-19, which is still wreaking havoc on many retailers. How can sellers boost their bottom lines?

It comes back to knowing your top clients and facilitating private showings.

The first touches for holiday should happen now. It’s about seeing if you can build wish lists with your best clients. Send jewelry to their house in a curated jewelry box; give them something tangible. How can you make sure jewelry is getting into your clients’ homes?

I think we have to recognize that our highest-net-worth clients won’t be the ones who are out and about. But these are the clients who are hungering for cultural experiences. The more we can invite them to exclusive jewelry previews, the better. The sales are pretty incredible from these showings. You’re [combining] a designer, a celebrity retailer, a level of education, maybe a wine expert comes into it…. It doesn’t have to just be jewelry.

Photo: Kathleen Cutler (courtesy of Kathleen Cutler)

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JCK Magazine Editor