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Jeff Bezos and the Shoe-Store Owner: How to Build Instant Rapport With Your Customers

by Aman Basanti  |  
September 26, 2011

In this article, you'll learn...

  • How the CEO of Amazon used rapport to persuade Zappos to sell
  • Four steps to building rapport with your target market

In April 2009, Tony Hsieh, founder of online shoe retailer Zappos, traveled to Seattle for a meeting with Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to discuss the potential sale of Zappos to Amazon.

Though Hsieh wasn't enamoured of the idea of selling (he had already rejected Amazon's first approach in 2005), he felt it might be the only way to save his life's work.

In the midst of the 2009 financial crisis, Zappos's board of directors, trying to safeguard its cash flow, wanted to cut back on the corporate-culture spending that was consuming valuable resources. For Hsieh, however, that was not an option. His whole business philosophy revolved around investing in and building a strong corporate culture.

"It would have reduced our expenses in the short term, and I don't think our sales would have suffered much at first," Hsieh said. "But I was pretty sure that in the long term, it would have ruined everything we had created."

Hsieh's Dilemma

Despite Hsieh's conviction, the board remained sceptical, and the discussions were deadlocked. That sparked fears the board might fire Hsieh and hire another CEO willing to take a hard line on profitability versus company culture.

"The threat was never made overtly, but I could tell that was the direction things were going," Hsieh said.

Hsieh and Alfred Lin, Zappos's CFO and COO at the time, started searching for a way to resolve the situation. Selling the company and starting another one wasn't an option because; as Hsieh pointed out, "Zappos wasn't just a job; it was a calling." Their only option was to find new investors and buy out their board of directors.

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Aman Basanti writes about the psychology of buying and teaches you how you can use the principles of consumer psychology to boost your sales. Visit to get his new e-book—Marketing to the Pre-Historic Mind: How the Hot New Science of Behavioural Economics Can Help You Boost Your Sales—for free.

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  • by Jennifer Kelly. Mon Sep 26, 2011 via web

    Aman, thanks for the reminder that we need to "trive to see the world through your prospects' eyes. Put yourself in their shoes; learn about their problems, their culture, and their ways of doing things."

    I KNOW this, it's just so easy to have it slip from the front of my mind.

  • by Randall Seefeldt Mon Sep 26, 2011 via web

    Thank you, Mr. Basanti. Very good advice. You do present, though, one suggestion I'd like to rebut: I can't accept your admonition to tailor the language to the target demo - "'kool,' 'bling,' and 'lol'" in communications with teenagers, and so on.

    From my experience, it's very risky to assume that any group of contemporary consumers, even teens, is naive enough to accept as genuine any adult in a transactional setting calling them "dude" or using the word "bling," or someone like me - a New York-born Midwesterner - calling an Australian "mate." It comes across as disingenuous, as pandering - because it is.

    Far more effective, I think, to acknowledge the target demo's intelligence, social savvy and ability to phase-shift into a more formal or more universal speech pattern when they're receiving a business or sales communication.

    I think combining your suggestions one and three with a SINCERE interest in and respect for the target audience's needs and intelligence would yield a more effective formula.

  • by Aussie downunder Mon Sep 26, 2011 via web


    Great blog, except the tip to use 'g'day' and 'mate' when selling to Aussies - that's the worst bit of advice I've read in awhile. 'Mate' is passable, however 'g'day' isn't really going to hit the mark with any demographic these days, except maybe when targeting international travellers to come to Australia.

  • by Tony Tue Sep 27, 2011 via web

    I agree completely with Randall. Great article, but I strongly disagree with tailoring the language. I have often been on the receiving end of sales calls where the salesperson, who I have seldom or never met, calls on me as if we're long-lost buddies from way back. That is so transparent and disingenuous that it instantly creates a feeling of distrust before the actual sales pitch is even made. A much better approach in my opinion is to simply conduct yourself, and communicate in, a professional manner regardless of the prospect/audience. If you know what's important to them and do a good job of communicating how you can address those issues and solve the problems they have, you'll be successful.

  • by Roohi Moolla Tue Sep 27, 2011 via web

    I guess you're saying "How Jeff Bezos put himself (inadvertently) in Tony Hsieh's "shoes"?" LOL - that's that best pun I've heard all day!

  • by Marc Wed Sep 28, 2011 via web

    Very good advice.for a student like me

  • by Vahe, MarketingProfs Wed Sep 28, 2011 via web

    @Roohi Moolla That's hilarious! The shoe certainly fits...

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