From Brent’s Desk
I swear… this is a true story.
Yesterday as I was filling up my car at a local gas station, an enterprising youth approached me and started to pitch this “amazing new product” that would do wonders for my car. One squirt and a wipe with a chamois (which he demonstrated on one window by the way) and all my windows would repel water, not show fingerprints (which would also be great for stainless-steel appliances), not streak… ever, and no longer fog in the morning dew. On top of that, if I used this “amazing new product” on my front grill, bug guts would no longer stick, meaning less effort to clean, less wear and tear on the paint. My car would be much more attractive, have a higher resale value, be more aerodynamic, which would lead to higher fuel efficiency and cash savings in my pocket. I simply could not afford to be without this “amazing new product” for one more second. In addition, it’s an all-natural product (which for some reason is why they didn’t need to list the ingredients on the outside of the bottle) eco-friendly, earth-friendly, and cheap at only $40 for a 1 litre size bottle. BUT… if I act today, he will throw in 3 more same-size bottles, AND a chamois… free.
I know… right. How many of you just rolled your eyes? And I must admit that I was pulling for him right up until he said “and if you act today…”
However, before we write this off, let’s dissect this enterprising youth’s approach. He was actually doing an excellent job of following a proven recipe guaranteed to increase sales. The recipe is highlighted in any of the multitude of “Seven Steps to something-or-other that leads to mansions, fast cars, yachts and the good life” style of self-help book or sales training seminars that have become an industry unto themselves of late. In his pitch;
He approached me as I started to fill my car… meaning, I could not walk away. For the next three to five minutes, I was trapped and he had a great opportunity to control the environment.
He didn’t just tell me about it, he demonstrated his product on my own windshield, but he didn’t do the entire windshield, he only did the passenger side. Now, if I want MY side of the car to look as good as my passenger’s side, I must buy his product and clean my side of the windshield too.
He was friendly, smiled, and even joked around a little. He was smooth, and in his delivery, it was hard to recognize the formulaic nature of his pitch. I liked this guy and I instinctively wanted to please him. After all… didn’t he just do me a favour by cleaning half of my car window?
And the most important thing was… he sold the “sizzle.” He didn’t try to sell me the “insert long unpronounceable petrochemical trade name,” he tried to sell me on the fact that bug guts wouldn’t stick to my car and I would save more money.
He did everything he was “supposed” to do to make the sale… and therein lies the problem.
Now you might say, “Hang on a minute… aren’t we “supposed” to be making sales?”
The short answer is of course you are. Without sales, you do not have a business. Making sales is the single most important job you have, but there really is a difference in how you make the sale, and what in fact you are selling. Now before I explain the difference, let me first give you a brief history lesson in two parts.
The very first business in our human history would have been one of convenience for both the buyer and seller. Think of a time long ago when man was still hunter/gatherer. Part of the job description of the hunter included actually making the tools that were used on the hunt; this was called flint knapping. Now you can picture that eventually, for whatever reason, one of these hunters became an exceptionally skilled flint knapper, I mean not just good, but “way better than any of the other hunters” good. And we can also picture the possibility that because of age, or injury, or simply not liking hunting, this skilled flint knapper desired to stay in the camp when the other hunters went out on their hunting trips. But this was OK, because invariably in the group of hunters would be a certain individual who excelled at hunting as much as our flint knapper excelled at flint knapping, but who, for whatever reason, hated or struggled with the task of knapping flint. A simple bargain would have been struck where the flint knapper would agree to make exceptionally good spearheads for the hunter, thus making him even more efficient in his hunting; and in return, our hunter would agree to save a portion of the kill for the flint knapper. All is good; everyone is free to concentrate on what they are best at; everyone benefits.
There is a story written in the annals of billiards about one Jack Carr, who, in the early 1800s, was one of the first to master the art of “twisting,” or, putting spin on a cue-ball. With this ability, he was able to make seemingly impossible shots that simply amazed his opponents. He swore that these were made possible by the use of a “twisting chalk” that he had invented and coincidently offered for sale. One had simply to apply this magic powder to the tip of one’s cue and the frequency of “miscues” was greatly diminished. Naturally, demand for this magical product was immense, and at a mere half-a-crown for a pillbox sized container, it was a bargain indeed. After all, it was less than the weekly wage of a common labourer at the time; a weekly wage that at the time, was paid for a 10-hour day and 6-day workweek I might add.
Well, Jack made a veritable fortune for a while selling the benefits of this magical product. You can imagine his dismay when it was eventually revealed to the public that twisting chalk was in fact simple ordinary chalk that had been ground up and dyed blue, and whose price as a commodity was roughly the same half-a-crown but measured per ton instead of per pillbox. As one might expect, his market evaporated literally overnight.
Okay… I know what you’re thinking. Like true entrepreneurs, you’re probably thinking that you wished you’d thought of that, and you now wonder if there is a similar product that you can apply this technique to so that you too can make your millions.
I’m here to tell you that even if you found such a product, you shouldn’t do it.
It is natural that we as entrepreneurs would identify with another entrepreneur, particularly a seemingly successful one. However, we are also all consumers, and my question to you is, how would you feel if you were one of the people that had paid such an exorbitant price for an item that you later found out was really… well… since chalk is in fact simply dug out of the ground… literally as cheap as dirt? And it’s not just that the price was high, but wouldn’t you feel that you were purposefully misled? I know I would.
“But hang on here,” you might say. “How can I be misled if the product does exactly as advertised? It did do exactly as advertised, didn’t it?
Well… yes it did. It prevented miscues and made it easier to spin the ball. But we had been sold on the illusion of this “magic” power and now we find out that it’s not magic, it’s not even close to being magic, it’s common chalk, available everywhere, almost for free. Even if we only concentrate on manufacturers who are truthful in what they specifically tell us (because we all know there are some out there that absolutely do tell bold face lies), there is a concept called a “lie of omission.” A lie of omission occurs when an important fact is purposefully left out in order to foster a misconception. Lying by omission includes failures to correct pre-existing misconceptions.
There is a very famous story regarding a hotly contested 1950’s election in America where a George Smathers won the election by claiming that his opponent and incumbent Claude Pepper was;
“a known extrovert,” practiced “celibacy” before marriage, practiced “nepotism” with his sister-in-law, sometimes in front of other people, “matriculated” with women in college, that his sister was “a thespian” and his brother “a practicing homo sapien.”
Even after the election, these true but purposefully misleading statements plagued Pepper right up until his death.
A lie of omission fosters, and in fact relies on, ignorance in the populace, but it is still a lie and personally, when I find these, I feel ripped off. And because we currently seem to be in the middle of a trust deficit, apparently, I am not alone in this.
Indeed, recent research indicates that consumers today have little to no confidence in large corporations, our media, our education systems, and even our own governments. A CNN poll in August of 2014 indicated that 87% of Americans simply did not trust their own governments to do the right thing “always or most of the time.” According to Edelman, a public relations firm that creates an annual “trust barometer,” elected leaders themselves did even worse with fully 90% of respondents not trusting them. And last year, for the first time ever, an online search result was more trusted than a news journalist. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09eDlatXIB4 ).
Here in Canada we have nothing to brag about. We dropped from a mediocre score of 60 in 2014 to an unacceptable 53 in 2015 on Edelman’s trust index scale (an average of a country’s trust in institutions, government, business, media, and NGOs).
While it is disheartening to watch trust levels around the world and across the board drop year after year, it’s also to be expected. In order to be trusted, one must first be trust worthy, and quite frankly, many of these institutions and organizations simply haven’t been. We hear over and over how important trust is; how it takes a lifetime to build trust and it can all be destroyed with one single callous act; we teach “the boy who cried wolf” to our children, yet somehow we forget these lessons when we’re older.
Still, trust does matter. When people trust companies they are more likely to buy and pay more for their products, recommend them, and defend them. And when I said earlier about making sales, that it depended on how and what you were actually selling, I was referring to the fact that ultimately, we are all selling trust.
Ironically enough, there appears to be at least one exception to this systemic decline in trust and it all revolves around the leadership of the organization. Family owned and small or medium sized businesses are trusted significantly more than are large corporations.
In a previous article (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/shall-we-play-game-why-youre-better-off-trying-win-brent-kreuger?trk=pulse_spock-articles) I discuss not just the altruistic moral or ethical reasons for being worthy of trust in your business dealings, but the enormous financial benefits there are associated with it, and the extra wealth it creates for you specifically and for society in general. However, there is a catch, and that catch is that businesses must be in it for the long haul. They must be part of the community, trying to build a sustainable client base. In many ways, they need to rethink how we measure success and they absolutely cannot use our current textbook (or government) model which uses a single yardstick based solely on money. We need to add a great many more yardsticks. We need to start factoring in esoteric values for things like happiness levels (for both the entrepreneur and their employees), family time, contribution to community welfare, contribution to the environment, and simply their ability operate their business and to do no harm in the process.
Wow… doesn’t this sound like a typical small business? Maybe there is a reason they have this trust advantage.
Our hunter/flint-knapper is just such a business. He’s not there to make a quick buck; he’s in it for the long haul. He has built up a secure client base that he services on a regular basis. It is to his best advantage that his clients survive. His own survival actually depends on him helping his clients thrive. He has skin in the game. His business, both as a seller and buyer, is literally based upon providing (or helping to provide) the steak. The steak is the thing that gives you sustenance… it feeds you… it is sustainable. You know exactly what you’re getting.
Our Mr. Jack Carr, on the other hand, sold his product based upon the sizzle and his business didn’t last very long. Sizzle is fleeting, it gives no sustenance. It attracts your attention but you cannot eat it and you certainly cannot survive on it. Your steak only sizzles while it’s on the grill, but it could be old and grizzly and you wouldn’t have a clue until you bit into it. Remember, your steak always stops sizzling within seconds of it being delivered to you and only then do you know if you are getting a good steak or not. Selling sizzle makes it hard to inspire a trusting long-term relationship. Sizzle is a mail-order spouse; it’s a candy apple, all glossy and shiny on the outside and maybe good, but potentially rotten and wormy on the inside. It’s nothing but a promise from a politician, it’s the shiny car ad with the Photo-Shopped woman across the hood.
Personally, when I recognize how advertisers are trying to manipulate me, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I see so much of the sizzle now that my first thought has become “and what are they not telling me.” Maybe I’ve become jaded and I’m part of the 90% who no longer trust. I now have a bad impression of the car even before I look under the hood, and I always look under the hood. And… it’s exactly why I did NOT buy the amazing new ecofriendly bug-gut de-sticker without the ingredients listed on the bottle. Even if it had worked exactly as promised I was almost positive that its number one ingredient would have been… chalk.