My father, a lifelong salesman, used to drive a gold Cadillac, which he punctually traded in every year on a brand-new one.
When asked why he chose gold, he’d laugh and say “I want them to say ‘there goes that sonafabitch in his solid gold Cadillac.’”
In other words, he wanted everyone—clients, suppliers, competitors—to think he was doing well.
I confess that I grew up despising that kind of ostentation. Today, in business, things are so much more casual and informal, so much less “dress-for-success” than they used to be. I’m happy about that.
I was thinking about this the other day, writing my last blog post on four secrets to a profitable website. I wrote that to build trust, a website must demonstrate that you understand the client’s issue or problem. While I believe this is true, it grated on me a little bit. Over the next couple of days I had to ponder why.
Internet marketing, particularly among service providers, is so full of empathy these days. We’re always being told to ask ourselves whether we understand the client’s problem, their pain points, the issue that’s giving them trouble—the implication being that we can achieve a meeting of the minds (sale) by convincing them that we understand.
Thinking about this dynamic, which often results in the “20 questions” approach to marketing (where your copy leads with a series of open-ended questions about your potential client’s suffering), I realized that besides identifying problems, the other half of what we as service providers need to do is create an image of what the often intangible benefits we provide actually DO for people.
In other words, we have to take the intangible, and make it tangible, real, and vivid in the prospect’s mind.
Because if we come first and foremost, or worse yet, only from a place of understanding their problems… we’re so easily stuck in a negative mindset. Yes, we want to understand, and we do understand. But it’s up to us to keep the focus on the positive, on the outcome, on the effort—even as we demonstrate understanding.
I feel like I, and many of my colleagues, tend to fall into a bit of a trap around this. Because a lot of us live with problems, year upon year, that can feel overwhelming. Health issues, too little money, family dramas… multitudes of anxieties can beset us every day. Until it begins to seem (especially 3 years into this recession) that we LIVE in problem-land.
So yes, we can empathize with the client’s problems. We’ve had them too. And yes, we can solve them… probably. If everything goes right. If the client does their part. If the gods smile. It can feel really scary to promise someone that they’ll thrive as a result of something we do… when we ourselves aren’t necessarily thriving.
I think that’s the real reason my father drove a gold Cadillac: he was selling success, to himself and everyone else, as much or more than he was selling HVAC equipment.
Are you selling failure—or success? How?