Archive for June, 2011

Perception, Reality, and Statistics

Perception – Nuclear power is dangerous.

Statistics – Adjusted for the kilowatts produced 4,000 people die due to coal related issues for every one due to nuclear related issues.

Nuclear power sure seems dangerous. It worries us a lot. But we don’t worry much about coal, even though statistically it’s much more dangerous for the power we get from it.

Perception – But nuclear power has great potential and unknown dangers.

StatisticsShow that coal ash is more radioactive then nuclear waste.

Perception – Big, bulky vehicles like Hummers and Jeeps are bad for the environment.

StatisticsShow that vehicle manufacturing techniques and ingredients have a significant enough impact on the environment to, in many cases, more than offset the loss due to poor fuel economy.

Reality? Too many variables to really know in most cases. So much depends on how data is interpreted, what assumptions are made, etc. For instance, not long after the release of the paper showing the environmental advantages of owning a gas-gussling jeep there was a rebuttal published that cast serious doubts on the conclusions drawn. Both papers seem reasonably credible on the surface.

Yet another reason why people can hold such widely disparate opinions — or opinions that seem to fly in the face of what appears to be conclusive evidence. In the battle between perception and reality perception usually wins…for a while…


Fear (our own, and that other’s thrust upon us) causes us to pay too much attention to things we aren’t good at, and not enough at things we are.

Consider this quote from Apple’s Tim Cook. “This is the most focused company I know of, am aware of, or have any knowledge of… We say no to good ideas every day.” Cook then pointed out to analysts that every single product the company makes would fit on the single conference table in front of him. “And we had revenue last year of $40 billion.”

You aren’t generally going to win, or even get ahead, spending all your energy shoring up weakness. Success comes from maximizing your potential, from leveraging what you do well.

Fear can be a nasty and destructive monster when it gets hold of us.

Wake Up and See the Objection

The obnoxious, blabbing commercial playback device at BP fuel stations

So some crack marketing genius somewhere gets the idea: Let’s stick audio playback devices on the fuel pumps so as soon as the customer — who chose our fuel station over the ones on the other three corners of the intersection — starts fueling we pummel them with commercials to entice them to come inside and spend more money with us.

It may sound brilliant on the surface. He probably got a big promotion. It may have even appeared to work at first. Inside sales may have risen. I wouldn’t know. Perhaps some customers are reminded they need a gallon of milk and will go ahead and go inside to buy it there instead of hitting the grocery or corner convenience store.

But the plan is flawed. First, it isn’t executed very well. The audio is annoying — no doubt designed to cut through traffic on a busy intersection. But more importantly it ignores the fact that customers don’t want to be involuntarily assaulted with advertising, least of all when they are stressed on their way to or from work, or hurried to get the kids from school, whatever. As a friend of mine writes about regularly, this sort of intrusive marketing is old school. Its effectiveness is waning fast, and organizations that continue on with it are more than ever perceived to be eroding trust and alienating potential customers.

Okay, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it sounded like a good idea at the time. But where is the follow up? Who really is looking at all of the factors to see if it’s working, and who has the judgement to weigh the various factors? Dollars is one measure, but it’s not strategic. It doesn’t tell you what is happening with your brand. Perception.

Here is a clue: have the machine count how many customers take the extra action to hit the mute button to silence the message. What does this mean? Here is the next clue: when so many people are hitting the mute button that the plastic covering over it has worn off then it probably means you are bothering your customers. Further, when so many people have hit it that the plastic has worn off, AND the button has stopped functioning you have a bigger clue, not to mention customers who are even more annoyed that they cannot shut the stupid thing up.

Every single one of these at the station I normally use has completely failed — their buttons no longer mute the audio.

Maybe when you have to keep replacing these units due to failed mute buttons you wake up and smell the objection. Or, do you just think, “we need a better mute button?”

Money over Mouth

If you’re asking someone to do something for you — even if it’s just answering a question — it’s healthy to at least give some consideration to what that service is worth.

Respect that people need to make money. When you use their time — especially where it relates to their profession — it costs them money to help you.

Pay them. Do something for them. At least know that you owe them.

Saying “thanks” to the sales person who explains how it all works to you isn’t helping them. It’s nice. Cordial. But that’s still for you, to make you feel better. It does nothing for the other person.

Put your money where your mouth is. Paying drives home what things are really worth.

Why We Like Drum Solos

The beat is the element of music most anyone can relate to. We’re still biological creatures and respond viscerally to the right stimuli. Anyone can relate to hitting things. It’s cathartic. It’s exciting to watch — physical (compare that to watching a trumpet player). The more bombastic the better. It’s easy to discern the correlation between what is being heard and seen (much more so than other instruments). In short it’s accessible.

When you are devising marketing and sales messages think about the drum solo. How can you make your message easy to understand? How can you make your message accessible so it shows up as relevant to the customer taking care? How do you appeal to basic instincts (concerns)? You’re way ahead of the game if you can devise a way to trigger basic biology. Sex does sell, except when it doesn’t.


I manage a large team of sales people. One thing I am regularly working with them on is the idea that they have to prove themselves worthy before customers will trust them. They don’t start off on parr with regular people, as humans, they start off in the hole, as sales people. They have to fight to get up to being treated as a regular human.

Why? Because some sales people have earned this negative characterization. It’s a shame all sales people have to pay the price for the errors of a few, but that’s just how our culture works. Sales is one of relatively few professional jobs where there are literally no objective qualifications and standards. One doesn’t have to pass a test to call himself a professional sales person. There is no peer review. Nothing. (Exceptions, of course, being things like real estate.) The measure of a good sales person is in the results obtained. Fair enough, I say, if a bit one-sided. But it opens the door for a lot of questionable decisions made in the interest of short term gain. In the long run the results will reveal the truth, but along the way damage can be done, not just to the individual, but to the profession as a whole.

The good, ethical salespeople have to operate in an environment of built in circumspection and find ways to establish trust and rapport in spite of it. That’s a challenge, though those who do it well are compensated well.


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