How to Sell to the Affluent

I want to tell you about four people.

One drives a $400,000 Maybach (a luxury auto I also own), and a $360,000 Bentley, wears a diamond-encrusted one of a kind wristwatch, and lives in a 2-floor penthouse in New York in which he removed walls in order to create a big home theater. He is as ‘new rich’ flashy as can be.

The second guy splurges on $500-a-box cigars, his custom shoes cost $500 a pair, his oddball vehicle stable includes an actual M47 tank, he has ownership interests in over 100 businesses, and is a significant stockholder in companies like Weight-Watchers and Wal-Mart.

The third guy wears only perfectly tailored Armani suites, has a large motorcycle collection, and has several homes each worth upwards of $10-million.

The fourth guy calls himself a beer-and-pretzels guy, wears jeans and rugby shirts every day, drives a 5 year old car, and owns a huge home with only a few rooms in it furnished, but he also owns and uses a Gulfstream V, and famously makes large purchases and investments.

Who are they?

The first guy was expelled from high school and never finished, and after being rejected by every company in his industry that he submitted his demo product to, produced it himself and started selling it out of the trunk of his car. He is now worth an estimated $560-million.

The second guy is an immigrant, rejected by many potential employers, and made some of his money with a kitchen table info-marketing/mail order business. He began buying cheap real estate before he owned a home of his own or even had an apartment of his own, while bunking with friends. His estimated net worth exceeds $300-million.

The third guy grew up in a trailer, with his mother and a series of “step-fathers.” He worked in a rock quarry, as an adding machine salesman B2B door to door, and at an ice cream stand, before being hired as an announcer by his biological father – from whom he later bought the small business from in 1982, grew it, took it public, and made it into a multi-million dollar enterprise. His estimated net worth exceeds $500-million.

The fourth guy has benefitted from a little luck and fortuitous timing – he sold the second company he built to Yahoo for $5.7-billion, just before the internet crash. But he’s from a blue-collar family background, and he stared his first business after working, selling, scamming, and paying his own way through college. He became a millionaire from it by age 31. His estimated net worth exceeds $1-Billion.

Do You Know These Men? The first rich guy is Jay-Z. The second, Arnold. Third, Vince McMahon. Fourth, Mark Cuban (You see him now on Shark Tank.)

There are many commonalities in these four men, as there are in virtually all made-from-scratch rich and, as in these cases, super-rich entrepreneurs and investors.

Napolean Hill would get pretty much the same results if he did his “how they think” study with people like this today, as he did in the 1920’s with Carnegie, Ford, Edison, etc. Hill did not then make a “modus operandi” study, but if he had it would hold very similar information as would a study of the advertising, marketing, promotion, personal promotion, media, and investment strategies of these four.

But, instead of looking at that, let’s consider how these super-rich fellows spend their money, and what they maybe think and feel about their spending.

How They Spend Their Money

Cuban is most transparent in not caring about some things and thus being relatively cheap in spending on those things, while caring a lot about other things and spending on them, ludicrously. Nobody needs a Gulfstream V; not for speed, security or convenience. But if you could closely examine the other three, you’d uncover the same fact.

To Arnold, fine cigars and enjoying them is of earth-shaking importance. You can be certain he reads Cigar Aficionado magazine. As Governor, he even challenged the anti-smoking rules at the state capitol. He also cares passionately about ownership of iconic American companies and quality real estate, like shopping malls. I am certain we could find other things he has no interest in at all, and may very well be buying ordinary goods at ordinary prices in those categories.

Appearances, status, peers’ opinions seem to matter to them all, although maybe less to Arnold than the others. Cuban bought an NBA basketball team, McMahon took a stab at a new pro football league and his wife poured money into a U.S. Senate campaign, Jay-Z wants to be known as something much bigger than a rap mogul; he has a vodka brand, an apparel company, and minority ownership in a pro basketball team.

People buy things that reinforce or raise their prestige. The self-made rich tend to (try to) buy respect and respectability. They are also intensely, perhaps obsessively competitive. Visibly, notably winning, leading, having the biggest, the best, is important to them.

They all indulge themselves, expensively, and openly. There is none of the (artificial) humility of a Warren Buffett here. Schwarzenegger recently re-told his story of buying the tank on the Kimmel show – and clearly relished the telling of it. Cuban is happy to have you know his $41-million Gulfstream is the largest online purchase in history. Jay-Z didn’t just buy a fantastically expensive watch – he had a custom Audemars Piguet made.

And what do you think they think about their indulgent and lavish and mostly showy spending?

They are obviously uninhibited. I would imagine, if challenged about it, they would say – contrary to Obama’s ideas – that they created it, they built it, they earned it and earn it, and they’re fully entitled to keep it and spend it any damn way they please. They share hardscrabble starts, and they appreciate and respond well to ‘hustle’ and hustlers. They have all been underestimated underdogs.

This gives you valuable insight, as a marketer or sales professional, engaging such people, whether worth a mere million or ten million or hundreds of millions of dollars.

The rich, famously said, “are different than you and me.” In some important ways, yes they are – so we sell to them differently. On the other hand, people of modest or very modest means still indulge themselves, beyond their means; the poor go out to dinner and squeeze it onto a nearly maxed out credit card. People with very low incomes and horrible credit still buy brand new cars instead of very carefully shopping for pre-owned cars – watch the TV ads aimed right at them. People with very limited income still compete with and worry over the opinions of their own peers, and seek status or respect from what they buy, own and display.

Never think that the amount of money a person has somehow alters his basic, human motivations and impulses.

One thing about the rich we can all agree on: they do have more money to spend with you. You are here for the simplest of reasons and the right reason: it isn’t any harder; certainly not proportionately harder, to sell to rich customers than to ordinary or poor ones, and it’s worth the heightened difficulty in getting the opportunity.

Let’s not shirk from the challenge. Find ways to elevate your game, and attract and sell to richer customers, at higher, more profitable prices or fees.