Santa Does Trust-based Selling

Some of you are partaking in the annual ritual of watching Christmas movies – most notably the perennial It’s a Wonderful Life. This is not about that movie.

Instead, I want to remind you of an interesting lesson from the seasonal also-ran, Miracle on 34th Street.

Nominally a cute tale about the existence of Santa Claus and the power of belief (featuring a starry-eyed 6-year-old girl, and the comic relief of the US Post Office dragging in all those letters to Santa as proof-of-existence), it has a hidden gem buried within about the power of trust-based selling.


The “real” Santa (a kindly old man who is or is not deluded) is employed by Macy’s in its flagship store as, of course, Santa. Santa is nearly fired by a numbers-driven Type-A middle manager for suggesting to a shopper that she buy the toy from Gimbel’s across the street.  (The cynical shopper confounds the manager by congratulating him on “this wonderful new stunt you’re pullin’.”)

This “stunt,” of course, is the Acid Test of Trust-based Selling: the willingness to refer a customer to a direct competitor, if that is the right thing to do for the customer. But it doesn’t end there, with a whimsical sappy Santa.

Macy’s President happens along and instantly realizes that Santa’s customer focus is far more effective for Macy’s than the conventional approaches to sales.  He announces:

…not only will our Santa Claus continue in this manner…but I want every salesperson in this store to do precisely the same thing. If we haven’t got exactly what the customer wants, we’ll send him where he can get it.

No high pressuring and forcing a customer to take something he doesn’t really want. We’ll be known as the helpful store, the friendly store, the store with a heart, the store that places public service ahead of profits.

And, consequently, we’ll make more profits than ever before.


If you focus relentlessly on the customer, you-the-seller will do just fine. Even better “than ever before.”

The good news is you don’t have to believe in Santa Claus to do this. You just have to follow the Four Trust Principles:

  • Customer focus for the sake of the customer
  • Long- not short-term timeframe
  • Transparency
  • Collaboration

Sometimes we view this as a paradox: relentlessly focusing on the Other ends up serving You as well – but only if you do it genuinely, rather than as a means to an end.

Paradoxical yes, but a Truth well-known to most who delve into human relationships. You get back what you put out. Do unto others. Pay it forward. Be the change you want. And so forth.

Truly a message for the season. And not just for sellers.

2 replies
  1. Mark Selwyn
    Mark Selwyn says:

    Does “we’ll make more profits than ever before” hold true if your customers make one purchase (albeit a large purchase) every five or ten years? And stickiness in 5/10 years time will lead them to purchase from whoever they bought from last time?

    • Charles H. Green
      Charles H. Green says:

      Mark, good question.
      The recommend-your-competitor moment happens rather rarely—for sake of discussion, let’s say five times per year.
      The odds are that your scenario of infrequent patron is a small subset—maybe one in five.
      The more common instance is with a fairly regular shopper. And if you factor in the dozens of people to whom they are likely to comment about the amazing customer orientation they just observed, the word of mouth advertising dwarfs your one-in-five unusual oblivious one-time customer.
      Who knows—someone might even make a movie about it and mention your brand name!
      Seriously, think about the reputation that stores like Nordstrom’s and LL Bean have earned for putting customer first.,the real power lies in the thousands of customer moments each day where that attitude shines through in tiny ways.
      Finally, my experience is that the power of this attitude is evennstronger in complex B2B businesses than in the brutal world of consumer retail.


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