A sales parable

(for maximum humor value, mouse-over the dashed lines.)
Long ago, before the mists of the dot com era wafted down upon the masses, I worked at a company that made bananas. I traveled to a customer site with Tim, the company’s top salesman to observe his crafitness.

After we met with the Zookeeper and Primate Custodian, Tim went through the familiar sales spiel, highlighting the importance of bananas: high in potassium, a good source of energy while cycling, and in fashionable yellow. He was about to segue into the specific differentiators our bananas had, when the Zookeeper (the decision maker) asked the question: Can your bananas be used to kill someone?

I maintained my poker face, waiting for Tim to respond. With three words, Tim demonstrated why he drove the Porsche and I the Miata. Those words: “Why wouldn’t it?”

What Tim knew was most (90%) of the time, this response would start the Primate Custodian on a runaway train of thought rationalizing ways that a banana could theoretically kill someone. Because the Primate Custodian had implicitly supported this, the Zookeeper is now in the frame of mind to believe bananas are weapons of mass destruction and he should send military advisors to Ecuador to secure the crop from terrorists!

I thought of this as I was reading “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (Paco Underhill) last week. Underhill’s book reminded me Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. Cialdini’s book is interesting and unnerving because you can see many of the principles being applied in different situations. The book is definitely worth reading, but to summarize the six areas:

Principle Explanation Example
Social proof People follow the lead of those they know To influence the CTO, Tim appealed to the IT Director.  The IT director’s buy-in put social pressure on the CTO.
Authority People defer to experts who provide shortcuts to decisions Tim was able to engage the IT Director in thinking out solutions to the problem.   The IT Director has more technical credibility with the CTO than Tim.
Liking People like those like them, who like them Good salespeople are great at discovering common interests and establishing a rapport.
Reciprocity People repay in kind You know those solicitations you get that include free address labels?  The donation rate is typically doubled by including the labels because they “guilt” people into wanting to contribute back.
Consistency People fulfill written, public and voluntarly commitments Any Management by Objective (MBO).  The Communist intern camps used this technique with great efficacy.
Scarcity People place additional value on what they perceive to be scarce Diamonds.  They’re not rare, but the businesses with interests intentionally keep the supplies under control.  To a lesser extent, this occurs with oil.

3 thoughts on “A sales parable”

  1. I just added Why We Buy to my list at the library website – I used to do this years ago when I worked downtown next to the library and I had totally forgotten the joy of it! I aded the Cialdini book, too. They both sound fascinating.

  2. After reading the Underhill book, I found myself wandering around grocery stores looking at how things were actually implemented. I had never thought much about the “landing zone” as you go into stores, the “butt brush” concept (aisles need to be wide enough) or multiple placement of items. Underhill’s not going out of business anytime soon, that’s for sure.

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