Monday, April 25, 2011

A Goofy way to sell

Does this ever happen to you?

Someone wants you to buy their product. Or join their movement. Or whatever. You politely let them know that you aren't really interested. And then the following happens:

-They ask "why" and then try to overcome your objections
-They present facts that "prove" that you should be buying or doing what they want
-They feel your reticence is simply a result of your ignorance
-They act visibly unhappy with you, as though you were responsible for their emotional well-being

How well does this approach work? Well, suppose that a successful company like Disney decided to try it. You are at a travel agency planning your next family vacation, and someone dressed like Goofy comes up to you and has the following conversation:

Goofy: Ah, hy-uk, hi folks! Are you nice people planning a vacation?
You: Er ... yes
Goofy: Well, I've got a great idea. How about joining me at Disneyland?
You: We weren't really planning to go to California.
Goofy: Well, shucks, that's OK. You could go to Disney World in Florida. This is a nice time to go to Florida, isn't it?
You: But Disney is so expensive. To be honest, we just want to spend a long weekend visiting Aunt Matilda downstate.
Goofy: You know, lots of people say that. But they don't realize how much fun it is to go to Disney.
You: I don't really like the crowds and the lines. We just like to go off and spend time together as a family.
Goofy: You could go at off-peak hours and the lines aren't as bad. And Disney is a great place to be together as a family.
You: Look, we're really not interested.
Goofy: (hangs his dog head down and throws his arms down)

Now, quick question. If this was your experience every time you contacted Disney, how likely would you be to call Disney? And how often would you vacation there? If this was how Apple treated you inside their stores, how badly would you want that new iPod? Is this approach more effective than simply having a great product or service that people *want* to purchase?

So why is it that just about every contractor, retail store, and political party still treats me this way? Obviously they still feel it's an effective way to sell to people. As for me, I think it's pretty Goofy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Go for it! Or not!

Near the beginning of the movie "Ice Age," a turtle decides to try an evolutionary experiment: he hurls himself off a cliff exclaiming, "I can fly-y-y," before landing with a resounding thud on the back of his shell.

I got thinking about that turtle yesterday while I was reading Seth Godin's new bestseller Poke the Box. It's a short book with an even shorter premise: start things. People who "poke the box" are people who go for it instead of waiting for permission.

It's a compelling argument. But then, a little later, I read a NY Times article about a 70 year old woman in California who continues to work because she has no savings, despite a long professional career. Why? According to her, she kept plowing her money into business ventures that never succeeded enough to sustain her today. Was she poking the box too?

Same thing is true in the job jungle. Godin makes a good case that being an instigator in the workplace is better than being a sheep. So why is it, when I look back over most places I've worked, that the foot soldiers generally have stable careers while many managers – e.g. the instigators and box-pokers – frequently get whacked? I've seen so many bright people lose their jobs as companies keep looking for better quarterly numbers, a "new direction," or the latest leadership flavor of the month.

It's an interesting juxtaposition. Poke or not poke? Lead or follow? Start or wait? Succeed big, or keep ending up like the turtle?

I think part of the answer lies in the difference between initiative and risk. Let's face it, stories about risk-takers are inspirational. They sell books. But most truly successful people I know are actually pretty risk-averse. They become really good at something, often over a period of years. They test the waters instead of just taking flying leaps. They poke the box when the time is right, but they also know the difference between being brave and stupid.

I also believe that poking the box isn't for everyone (and suspect that Seth agrees). There are lots of good people out there who would probably be better off being great followers than mediocre leaders. Pushing them otherwise would be like trying to start a rock group composed of people who hate rock and roll.

Still, Godin makes a good point, as he usually does. Now I feel like going out and poking a few boxes.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Tractor Supply Challenge

I will do almost anything to keep my wife happy. Which is why, although I've never quite seen the point of having live animals in a household, we have always had a male Siamese cat. And trust me, there are few relationships that are more codependent than Colleen and Simba.

Part of this codependency is that while I don't get fed fine steaks every night, Simba is treated to Royal Canin Siamese formula and Intense Beauty cat food. I mean, come on – when was the last time you saw special Tabby formula cat food? But my sweetie gladly pays a stiff premium to purchase exotic disco cat food for her exotic cat, who then turns around and bites her anyway.

So recently, I stopped by a local Tractor Supply store and purchased two 39-cent cans of their cat food – about 1/3 the cost of Intense Beauty – and proposed a challenge to my sweetie. Put out a plate of each brand, first thing in the morning, and see which one Simba liked better. She graciously agreed. So ... on the left is a can of Royal Canin Intense Beauty cat food, and on the right is Tractor Supply Paws & Claws Chicken flavor, replete with a cat smacking its lips.

Add one hungry, impatient cat and the challenge was on.

First he sniffed at the Intense Beauty, which was his usual fare.
Then he went over to the plate of Tractor Supply and started actually eating it, with gusto. Hah-hah! Victory was mine! 

But not so fast. After a couple of bites, he walked away ... came back ... and devoured every bite of his plate of Intense Beauty. And according to my sweetie, made a motion over the Tractor Supply as if to cover it up. I was so devastated that this next picture was even blurry, as my hands shook with despair.

So what did we prove? That Colleen was right, as usual. And that, as I should have known for the past few decades, being surrounded by beauty of both the human and animal variety can be expensive. But all things considered, it's worth it.