Rogue Ink

October 6, 2008

Why Sales Patter Kind of Sucks

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 5:22 am
Tags: , , , ,

So I’m joining a leads group in my local Chamber of Commerce. This is very cool, because it makes me feel like a grown-up. I’ll explain what a leads group is in some other post when I’ve got a better handle on what goes on and I can figure out whether I’m for them or against them. At which point I shall take a righteous stance on one side or the other and woe betide those who dissent.

Trouble is, I don’t know if a leads group is a worthy investment of your time. Because I apparently was not at the leads group meeting that Thursday. Instead, I found myself in the middle of a sales pitch for a ‘success’ seminar lead by a dude named Brian Tracy, who is apparently (according to the always-helpful Wikipedia) from Canada, so be it known I am holding that illustrious nation responsible for the following story.

Don’t fret, James. You don’t want to KNOW all the stuff I hold the U.S. of A. responsible for. Paris Hilton, for a start. Oh, and Australia is responsible for Crocs. Just so everyone keeps track here.

So this guy walks into a room . . .

He’s short. Notably so. I might not have noted the short (being as we were all sitting down, he was standing, and heights tend to get a little skewed in that situation) except that he was so obviously compromising for it by being well-groomed, and well-dressed, and holding his chest about four inches out from his sternum. There is a relaxed quality that most people who don’t much think about their appearance have, and this guy lacks it. Now, I’ll grant you he didn’t go the alternate route of getting all shy, but over-confidence is equally unnerving. It lets us know you’re compensating for something, and then we simply must find out what. (Low sex drive? Secret garage full of old Star Wars memorabilia? Third nipple?)

This is also true for guys in nice cars. You can tell the sort of guy who has a nice car because he’s just really into cars, as opposed to the kind of guy who has a nice car because he thinks everyone else is into cars. Even if you have never consciously had this thought, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This guy had the physical appearance equivalent of a midlife-crisis car draped all over him.

He was also, just so I’m not ragging on him all the way through, quite good-looking. Nice jawline.

And starts to ask us about our small businesses.

Which is kind of nice. We go around the room, we give the ten-second version of the elevator speech, everyone smiles at everyone. We feel congenial, banded together, pleased with ourselves for not accidentally saying ‘like’ when we have repeatedly told ourselves to do no such thing (what? I’m young, and my generation says ‘like’ a lot. It’s a horrible habit, I’m working on it. YOUR generation probably smoked, and that’s way worse for you).

So that’s all good. He asks us whether we need to improve anything in our small business running, and we of course all confess that we do, except for a very tall grumpy guy looking put upon directly across the aisle from me, who maintained an expression throughout this session that is probably best described as ‘smells something foul in his sister-in-law’s house and is waiting for the right moment to undercut her by drawing attention to it’.

As it turns out, he had the right idea.

Presentation guy asks us about our strengths and weaknesses.

He’s got a little chart. We write things down gamely, rating our ability to do certain things from 1 to 10. If you’re interested, the stuff I suck at is prospecting and procrastination (even in my faults, I am alliterative). Everything else I’m fantastic at. No, really. I rock at everything else.

There might’ve been some sevens in there, but whatever. Seven’s a lucky number.

He gets motivational.

Fear is the mind-killer, he says. No, he doesn’t, because most people aren’t dorky enough to get a Dune reference. Instead he uses some handy acronyms – False Evidence Appearing Real and Forget Everything and Run. Fear is a bad thing. We get it. Stop being afraid. Get out there and do your business up right. Awesome. We’re all feeling motivated and groovy, like we can conquer the world.

Then he name-drops.

He picks up a book from the table and starts talking about how it changed his life.

Now, all the way through this whole presentation, this guy has had a patter going. He’s gotten us to finish sentences with him – “How do you eat an elephant?” – “One bite at a time.” Stuff we know, stuff that gets us involved with him. I can hear the patter, it sounds like patter, it sounds like the sort of voice a frat boy puts on when he’s read The Game one too many times and thinks he can pick up Madeleine Albright if he wanted to. I knew it was coming.

But I still felt like a jackass when it did.

He sells.

He sells us the book, the man who wrote it, the man whose seminar he’s hawking. We all like him by now – of course we do, he’s likeable, he’s used all the techniques sales people use to endear themselves to their audience. I watched him do it. I know what’s up. When he asked us to spend $500 to see a day-long seminar – go now, we won’t be back through Denver for another two years! (OFFER ENDS NOW!) – I was not at all surprised.

And I still felt kind of used.

The problem with sales of this kind.

Sales copy does more or less the same thing. You’ve seen websites and ads like this all over the web – “I made over $1,000,000 with this technique and so can you. This book shows you step-by-step everything you need to get a great career going in a new field. In just one week, people who have read this book got an average of five new clients. Start your new career today.”

“Oh. Cost? Right. Um. Tell you what. I’ll patter at you for another eight pages, get you really psyched about this new career of yours, and then tell you the cost, okay? At which point one of two things will happen. Either you’ll get really pissed at me for dragging you along for all that time, building up your hopes only to discover it’s $120 for the package, which is way too much of an investment for a book that’s probably going to wind up to be a scam, OR you’ll be in such despair you’ll think, well, I guess I’ll buy it anyway. Maybe this one is for real.”

I saw people at this seminar have the exact same thought process. Words are words whether spoken or written, and sales patter is the same throughout the kingdom of communication. The way that these guys make money is through those people who feel guilty. They’ve come this far, they might as well take the chance. Maybe it’s for real. Maybe it will work. Those are the people who buy.

Which is good for them. But it sucks for you.

Sales patter is very, very rarely the prelude to a product you want. Sales patter is there to disguise the product itself. Good products don’t need patter – they stand by themselves, you don’t need to be convinced that you want them because you really, really want them. You can tell that they’re worth hiring because their statements are straightforward and unambiguous. They don’t need to say things like, “And one guy who bought this product came home and found an elephant just waiting for him in his front yard! He’d always wanted an elephant, ever since he was a boy! A childhood dream came true because of this product! Also there was cotton candy! And acrobats! And a fire-breathing dragon that unfortunately set a small community alight but OUR GUY WHO BOUGHT THE PRODUCT WAS UNHARMED! HA!”

Companies who have something worth selling have statements that usually run something like, “I’m very good at this. You should hire me to do it for you.”

The Difference Between Buyers and Clients

Sales patter gets a lot of admiration because sales copy and sales patter tend to get buyers. I’m not denying this. They definitely get buyers. However – and this is a big however – they don’t get clients. If you actually go through with buying the book and it’s the same drivel you’ve heard a million times before for free on blogs, you’re never going to buy from them again. That’s okay – they’ve got your hundred bucks. And there’s a lot of people out there just waiting to be lulled by patter.

Getting a client – one who will stick with you for years to come, who feels loyalty for you, who is grateful to you for always being exactly what they needed – is far, far different from getting a buyer.

People who are seeking buyers are like the people who run Vegas. They only need you to come once. They’ll show you a good time, they’ll make you feel special for a bit. You’re taking a chance, going crazy – WHOO! But then, at the end of it all, you’ll feel kind of used and you won’t know why. You signed up for it, after all.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas because you’d be too ashamed to admit you did it anywhere else. If I’d signed up for the day-long $500 seminar the guy wanted me to sign up for, I’d never admit it to anyone. Because I would have been had, and I would know that this was my own secret shame, to be confessed to a priest and maybe a bartender immediately after.

Don’t fall for sales patter, seriously. It’ll make you get that old-vodka taste in your mouth and an empty wallet, and you won’t have anyone to blame but yourself.

And the short guy. And Canada.

Subscribe. I will denounce more people tomorrow, I’m sure. Maybe weasels. The weasels totally have it coming.

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