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Read a Chapter: The Contrarian Effect

Tuesday, 1 Jul 2008 | 5:23 PM ET

Your potential customers have had it. Feeling empowered by endless options and by the ability to screen out unwanted offers and fend off bad behavior committed in the name of sales, they

are taking a stand. Instead of staying quiet, they are telling everyone about it — and using a megaphone to do it.

Frustrated with a pushy salesperson or organization? You've got recourse... and a public place where you can rant. If you want justice and a place to vent, visit RipoffReport.com, a web site “ by consumers, for consumers, ” where you can fi ll out a report and detail your complaint for the world to see. As of February 2008, you can browse 306,256 reports (and counting) to discover who ’ s worth doing business with and who ’ s not. Although there are often signifi cant credibility issues with sites like these, it doesn't matter. They do exist and your potential clients know about them. Even if you do nothing wrong, you can still be “ called out ” on these sites, which is unfortunate (welcome to the world of Web 2.0). But if you are doing something wrong, brace yourself. You can be sure to find yourself on one of these sites sooner or later.

RipoffReport.com is just one of many outlets angry customers can use to fi ght back and potentially damage the reputations of the offending parties. Want to “ out ” a bad salesperson or unethical organization? Now there are a million ways to be heard. Post your grievances on your blog, on YouTube, on a user forum, or anywhere else you find other customers like you who will help you spread your story.

Whistle - Blower

That ’ s what Vincent Ferrari decided to become. Frustrated over the treatment he received from the AOL customer service rep when he tried to cancel his account, he decided to fight back. Fortunately, he made the smart decision to record the call with the AOL rep. With proof of the bad behavior right on the recording, he posted the audio for the world to hear. And, boy, did they! MSNBC even picked up the story, giving thousands more potential AOL customers the opportunity to see why they should choose another Internet service provider.

Sure, it ’ s possible that this one particular sales rep at AOL went against company policy with his efforts to discourage Vincent from canceling his account. But not likely. Most likely, that customer service rep was just “ doing his job ” and doing what he ’ s been told to do: Acknowledge the customer ’ s wishes, but do everything you can to save the sale. Unless you want to end up on MSNBC, on YouTube, or on a popular blogger ’ s site, you might want to think twice before using some of the typical sales tactics. Unless your offer is relevant, timely, and focused on the needs of the customer, you ’ re signing up for a game of Russian roulette. You never know when the average Joe or Jane you're courting as a prospect has an ü ber - successful blog

out in cyberspace. As a result, you are not only jeopardizing the immediate sale but risking the loss of future sales, discouraging referrals, and possibly even risking your very reputation without even knowing it.

Unlike Apple, many sales professionals and companies don't see the connection between how you sell today and how you are perceived tomorrow. Nor do they fully understand that what you do in the short term to convert sales and make your numbers can create negative residual effects for years and years to come. When a salesperson, company, or industry uses the typical tactics over and over to speed up sales and force customers to buy before they are ready, it results in a particular perception of the sales professional, company, or industry. Think used - car sales people, door - to - door peddlers, or snake - oil salespeople.

Each individual act builds upon the one before until there's a strong perception or belief in the public eye about your organization or industry. A perception that usually persists whether it ’ s true or not. A perception that's very diffi cult to change once it ’ s entrenched in the minds and hearts of potential prospects. Because most folks will simply accept the groupthink about what it's like to do business with you or others in your industry without investigating it for themselves. Of course, the group has a lot to say about you and what you do.

No Man Is an Island

The aggregate, or sum total, of the actions of all the sales professionals who have gone before you does affect how you are perceived before you even greet a potential customer.

If you are a car salesperson . . .

Know that your prospect has heard that “ all car salespeople are crooks ” and may think you ’ re like that guy from the used car lot.

If you are a Realtor . . .

Realize that your client may believe that "you can't trust a Realtor" and has heard horror stories about shady real estate agents like the ones depicted in David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross.

If you are in life insurance . . .

Bet on the fact that your customer has heard this Woody Allen quote: “ There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman? ” In fact, she ’ s probably heard it more than once (and wonders if it ’ s true about you).

If you are a financial advisor . . .

Know that movies like Boiler Room and Wall Street negatively affect how your prospects and potential customers feel about you and your industry.

If you are a mortgage broker . . .

Don't underestimate the effects of the subprime mortgage crisis on your ability to win the trust and the business of customers who have only read about it in the papers. Just because they weren ’ t victims of the scandal doesn ’ t mean that they trust you.

If you are a recruiter . . .

Understand that many people think of you as a “ head hunter, ” which is not a term of endearment or a vote of confidence for your industry.

I f you are in the business of selling . . .

Know that your prospects are not interested in doing business with you when they receive a postcard addressed to “ [Name] or Current Resident. ”

Before using one of the typical tactics, think twice about what the “ group ” may say or do in response that will far outweigh any potential benefi ts of cutting corners and doing it your way.

I Can Quit Anytime

The fan of the typical tactics asks, “ What ’ s the big deal about using the typical tactics every now and then, especially when you know you ’ re not the slick, shady sales type personified by pop culture?

Here ’ s the big deal about using the traditional strategies: Not only do they have the potential to kill sales and harm relationships with customers, but they negatively affect you. Typical tactics have side effects that can impact your own confi dence, morale, and integrity over time. Using pressure tactics just this once or telling a white lie to close that last sale for the month may not signifi cantly impact your integrity of conscience. After all, your boss told you to make one more sale or else. But what is the cumulative effect on you over time of using the typical tactics as part of your way of doing things? What is the effect of using the typical tactics in order to keep your job and make your numbers?

A furniture salesman from Colorado certainly didn't think his daily actions could affect his health until he became increasingly short of breath for no apparent reason or cause. Although he was overweight, he didn't smoke or suffer from exposure to mold or dust. Yet Dr. Cecile Rose diagnosed him with hypersensitivity pneumonitis after looking at his damaged lungs. Fortunately for him, Dr. Rose took a chance and asked him about his eating habits.

"This is a very weird question, but bear with me. Are you around a lot of popcorn? ” Dr. Rose inquired. Shocked, the man replied, "How could you possibly know that about me? I am Mr. Popcorn. I love popcorn."

A s it turns out, the Colorado man had a habit of consuming popcorn at least twice a day for more than 10 years. And, as part of his daily ritual, he inhaled the buttery fragrance after opening the bags. Unfortunately, he now knows that the buttery smell is actually heated iacetyl, the chemical responsible for his chronic lung condition and shortness of breath.

According to a New York Times article:

Heated diacetyl becomes a vapor and, when inhaled over a long period of time, seems to lead the small airways in the lungs to become swollen and scarred. Sufferers can breathe in deeply, but they have difficulty exhaling. The severe form of the disease is called bronchiolitis obliterans or “ popcorn workers ’ lung, ” which can be fatal.

To some, Mr. Popcorn's daily habit may seem extreme or excessive. But, to him, it seemed to be a regular part of his routine. One that seemingly produced pleasing results and felt comfortable enough that he didn ’ t see a reason to stop or reduce his popcorn consumption over the 10 - year period.

Mr. Popcorn's seemingly harmless daily habit of consuming microwave popcorn proved to be nearly fatal. No doubt he would have thought twice about ingesting popcorn on a daily basis if he had known that the habit would create a series of unforeseen side effects and unintended consequences.

Ignorance, Error, and Immediate Interest

According to the Law of Unintended Consequences, an idea first introduced during the Scottish Enlightenment and later developed by twentieth - century sociologist, Robert K. Merton, almost every action generates at least one unintended consequence. In other words, each cause will likely produce more than one effect, one of which may be unforeseen or unintended. And, depending on the action, that additional consequence may be a good thing or a bad thing. While there are positive outcomes, most unforeseen consequences are negative or perverse in nature.

According to Merton, good intentions are not enough to predict or prevent unintended consequences. As part of his research, he identifi ed fi ve potential causes of unintended consequences:

Ignorance
Error
Immediacy of interest
Basic values
Self - defeating prophecy

The first three causes, in particular, are relevant to sales and sales professionals in the following ways.

Ignorance. Given that it is nearly impossible to know everything about every subject, lack of knowledge or understanding or interpretation can lead to unforeseen consequences. In other words, even the best intentions can result in negative outcomes. So the sales professional with the noblest of intentions can still produce unintended negative outcomes as a result of using the typical tactics.

Error. Incorrect analysis of a problem often leads to negative outcomes, as does adopting habits or behaviors that may have worked in the past but may not apply to the current situation or be the best way to achieve the intended result. As Neil Rackham discovered during his research for Spin Selling, many sales professionals incorrectly conclude that closing tactics are the reasons for sales success when in fact they do more harm than good.

Immediacy of interest. In a Web article describing Merton ’ s work, economist Rob Norton explains that Merton ’ s third reason refers “ to instances in which an individual wants the intended consequence of an action so much that he purposefully chooses to ignore any unintended effects. ” This includes acting for self - serving reasons or acting with the immediate payoff in mind rather than the long - term interests. As Norton explains, “ That type of willful ignorance is very different from true ignorance. ” This describes what happened to Fred, the financial advisor, who chose to ignore the possible implications of speeding up the sale with Natasha in order to achieve immediate results.

Even in the most ideal circumstances, it is clear that the typical tactics produce one or more negative unintended consequences. They create consequences that impact sales, reduce repeat business, discourage referrals, and affect company reputations. They create consequences that incur time, money, and energy above and beyond the original scope and budget. They create consequences that often detract signifi cantly from sales results, so much so that the time, money, and energy needed to combat the unforeseen side effects outweighs the original benefits of using the tactics.

Here’s the rub. Whether the negative unintended consequences come as a result of ignorance and error, as with Mr. Popcorn, or immediate interest, as with the salesperson who wants instant results so much that he ignores the potential negative long - term effects, these u ndesirable consequences cannot always be controlled and certainly cannot be eliminated entirely.

Thankfully, knowledge, awareness, and experience can help reduce the negative effects created by true ignorance, lack of experience, incomplete data, or incorrect assumptions.

After observing thousands of sales interactions over a 10 - year period as part of his research for Spin Selling,

Rackham is no longer an advocate of closing techniques as a way to increase sales success. He chooses better and more effective ways to serve his clients and allow them to buy.



The Red Pill or the Blue One?

Now that you are fully aware of data documenting the harm of closing techniques, choosing, for example, to continue using closing techniques would be a reflection of immediate interest, Merton ’ s third cause. Choosing to act with knowledge of a laundry list of negative consequences is similar to adopting the behaviors of the recreational drug user. That is, you would be using the closing question tactic with full awareness of some of the documented harmful side effects they cause and with a decision to risk the additional unforeseen consequences in hopes of the receiving the immediate “ hit ” or payoff that closing appears to produce. While the typical tactics won't scar your lungs like the heated diacetyl, they can have a cumulative effect on your mental and emotional state. Perhaps you are fatigued from the never - ending regimen of 100 calls per day. Perhaps you are worn out from calling a list of prospects who don ’ t want to hear from you — and often let you know that fact. Perhaps it ’ s the slimy feeling you get when you tell a slight fib or use a closing technique to convince a prospect to take the next step in working with you because you ’ re under the gun to make sales.

Maybe it ’ s the pressure you feel to make your numbers and to hit certain goals, despite the reality that most prospects don ’ t seem interested or willing to buy right now. Maybe it's the corporate culture, which favors company profits and short - term wins over long - term success and lasting relationships. Maybe it's the high turnover, the “ revolving door effect, ” that serves as a constant reminder that you have to make your month - end numbers — or else.

Regular doses of the conventional way of selling may be impacting your physical health, your attitude, your emotional well - being, your confi dence, and the way you see yourself. Is it worth using the traditional approach at the expense of your health and overall happiness — just to make a quick buck and instant sale? We think not. Many sales professionals are not required to use the typical tactics. Hopefully that is the case for you.

Whether you work for a sales organization with lots of rules or one with few to no guidelines, you do have a choice in how you behave. You can choose to use the traditional sales approach or you can decide to be a contrarian. You decide whether to push for the immediate sale or to do what ’ s best both your customer and for your long - term success. You get to determine whether to tolerate the potential side effects of the typical tactics or to put yourself and your customers first.

That's What Makes the World Go Round

"Dream on," says the veteran sales professional who relies on the typical tactics to produce sales. “ Everyone knows that sales are all that matter. It doesn ’ t matter how you get there, only that you do."

The sales professionals working for a company that advocates the typical tactics may want to sell differently but feel they have little or no choice in how they make their sales. With the fi erce competition all around and their job security on the line, the bottom line is what matters.

This should come as no surprise, given that the main objective for a publicly held company is to fi nd ways to make the shareholder price and value go up. Many companies live and die over whether stock prices and overall metrics are increasing from quarter to quarter. And while companies can cut costs, reduce infrastructure, or lay off employees to boost profi ts, the market usually frowns on this type of behavior. As a result, the burden of quarterly growth falls on the shoulders of the sales department.

This focus on and desire for short - term profi ts and immediate sales is certainly not confi ned to publicly held companies. Rather, it is a reality that extends to privately held companies, smaller fi rms, and solo entrepreneurs.

Call it globalization, increased competition, or the inherent human desire for more, but smaller companies and entrepreneurs want their piece of the pie as well. Why? Making a sale today is more than simply focusing on sales growth or increasing shareholder value. The drive to make something happen today goes deeper than that.

It's about the desire within every sales professional to win. Closing a sale today means that you not only satisfy a customer ’ s needs and earn a commission but that you can experience victory and the satisfaction of a job well done. In a world where competition is fi erce and the playing field has been fl attened, as described in Thomas Friedman ’ s book, The World Is Flat,

it pays to make a win as soon as possible. Because every sales professional knows this to be true: There are winners and losers in the game of sales.

Winners and Losers

According to Gregory F. Christiano, the 1950s were a great time to be a kid. For Christiano and his neighborhood pals growing up in the Bronx, the world was their playground — literally. Instead of sitting in front of TV sets to play Xbox and PlayStation, the kids who lived around 184th Street between Washington and Park Avenues

ayed street games, the kind that all his friends knew and loved. As Christiano explains, they could create, play, and compete in an infinite number of ways:

We made use of the walls, the stoops, courtyards, sidewalks, curbs, sewers, manhole covers, parked cars, lampposts, fire hydrants, even the red fire alarm box at the corner! Everything on the block had potential; nothing was untouchable and became an integral part of play.

W hile there were no rulebooks to read or referees to declare a winner, all the kids knew how to play. And they knew who won and who lost. If your pal shouted, “ Last one to the stoop is a rotten egg, ” then you knew you had just lost the game of “ Foot Race. ” If you lost, you could always call for a “ Do Over, ” which meant you had another shot to win the point or win the game. Winning is important, whether you ’ re the kid from 184th Street or the sales professional who wants to be the best on your block. Since everyone wants to win, it ’ s understandable that big companies and small fi rms alike are not interested in building relationships and growing long - term opportunities at the expense of short - term profi ts and immediate wins. After all, today ’ s sales and successes mean that you can stay ahead of the competition and maintain market share.

But is winning by using the traditional sales approach really the best way? NCR president John Patterson decided to win by crushing his competition any way he could. That decision resulted in a one - year jail sentence for antitrust violations. Phil, the Mazda car salesman, tried to win by speeding up the sale, and it backfi red, since Rob left the dealership and bought a Prius instead. While winning is important, it does matter how you get there.

How can you win in a way that doesn ’ t harm the customer or create negative side effects in the process? How can you win in a way that doesn ’ t sacrifi ce your long - term potential or your reputation for a sale in the moment?

Pushing Rocks up a Mountain

"But it's nearly impossible to win when it requires doing something akin to pushing rocks up a mountain," says the advocate of the old - school strategies.

In Greek mythology, there ’ s a myth about a god named Sisyphus. The son of Aeolus, King of Thessaly, and Enarete, Sisyphus had a reputation among the gods as being a big troublemaker. He was known for robbing and murdering travelers along the roads in Corinth. He betrayed the secrets of the gods and even chained up the god of death, Thanatos, preventing Thanatos from reaching the underworld. Fed up with his antics, Hades intervened and infl icted a severe punishment on Sisyphus.

As a penalty for his betrayal, he was banned to the world of the dead and was required to push a rock up a hill — over and over and over again. Once he reached the top of the hill, the law of gravity asserted its infl uence, causing the rock to roll immediately back down the hill. The pull of gravity on the rock meant that Sisyphus had to go back down the hill to begin his work of pushing the rock up the hill all over again.

From the perspective of the gods, it was the perfect punishment for the one who had betrayed them. Sisyphus had to push the rock up the hill for eternity, never making progress or experiencing one moment of relief from the labor and suffering that came as a result of his punishment.

Because the laws of his world meant that the rock would always roll downhill once Sisyphus had pushed it to the top, his efforts made no difference and seemed ultimately futile. No matter how hard he tried, he could not do enough to overcome the law of gravity that counteracted all of his efforts.

Unless you are condemned to a life of endlessly pushing a rock up a hill, you probably won ’ t do it voluntarily. Well, you might try it a few times and then realize that your efforts aren ’ t going to make much of a difference or be strong enough to bend the law of gravity.

Attempting to change the status quo, groupthink, and worldview regarding the typical sales tactics similarly requires effort, focus, and intention, not to mention a different strategy than merely pushing a rock up a hill. Why? Like it or not, individual sales professionals, sales execs, companies, and consumers have all bought into the “ reality ” of what sales means, a reality built upon the typical sales tactics. Many customers and sales veterans alike are resigned to believing that closing techniques, pitches, and other strategies used to speed up the sale are just “ how things work ” — elements that society fi nds “ acceptable ” as a means of selling products and services. And, like the law of gravity, many erroneously believe that this worldview is extremely diffi cult, if not impossible, to change. After all, what ’ s the big deal if you tell white lies about your service so that the prospect will go ahead and buy? It may not be ideal, but that ’ s the way everyone ’ s doing it . . . .

Everyone's Doing It

At any rate, that ’ s what Kyle, the sales associate working for the hardwood floor company Michael contacted, seems to think. After reading the company ’ s web site and doing some research on its services and offerings, Michael set an appointment with Kyle to clarify some questions he had

about the quality of the product and the level of service the company would provide. Although Michael wanted to discuss matters over the phone, Kyle insisted that he visit Michael at his house to better assess his needs.

When Michael asked Kyle about something he had seen on the web site, Kyle explained that "what you see is not always what you get" and that "selling the sizzle" instead of the porterhouse steak (selling less value than you promise) is a common practice:

I want you to understand that what we have printed on the web site is not exactly true. But you can understand . . . that's just marketing. That's how things work.

Because Kyle accepts the typical tactics and traditional paradigm as standard, he couldn't see any problem with his company's posting less - than - accurate information on its web site and with his using that information in an attempt to close more sales. He couldn't see why he wasted Michael's time by coming to his house and trying to sell Michael on the idea that "this is how things work."

Michael's complaints and protests fell on deaf ears, since Kyle didn't conceive of doing things any other way than how they had always been done.

Kyle might have been worried about losing the sale if he thought other hardwood fl oor retailers had adopted the contrarian way. But he believes that most of them haven't — which is a bet he's making without evidence and without proof that his assumption is really true. But until he gets wind of the company that is doing the opposite, he's not concerned in the least whether his customers agree with "selling the sizzle" to speed up a sale. As long as everyone else is doing it too, he doesn’t have to:

- Feel guilt or have any ill feelings as a result of using the typical tactics Consider the implications of using the typical tactics day after day on his customer relationships and on his own well-being

- Worry about changing the status quo (since he believes it's not possible to do so)

- Accept personal responsibility for his actions and consciously choose how he wants to sell

As a sales professional working for a company that operates with the standard paradigm, he believes his responsibility is to sell in the way that his company asks him to and to produce its targeted results. While he may dislike or question the typical way from time to time, he understands the benchmarks he has to hit. And with that, he can quit worrying about whether the typical tactics are the most ethical way of doing things. He can shrug off comments from customers who protest and push back when the typical tactics are used. Right or wrong, that's the system — and he believes his success depends on thriving within that system. Too bad that Kyle doesn ’ t realize he can play by a different set of rules.

The Full Monty

If you've ever seen the World Series of Poker, then you understand the importance of secrecy. To win the poker game, the players must have skill, the ability to calculate which cards are left in the dealer ’ s deck, and the finesse to cover up or artfully hide their own hand. The player who succeeds in doing this wins.

Unlike the poker champion, the most crafty and secretive salesperson loses big. In the heyday of the typical tactics, keeping secrets and telling little white lies to make a sale may have worked. Not anymore. There's been a big shift in the market — one from secrecy to radical transparency. A shift in which customers want — and require — full disclosure and total honesty.

The customer - driven demand for honesty and full disclosure is another compelling and profi table reason to

adopt the contrarian approach. Grounded in a concern for what ’ s best for the customer, even if that means being honest about the limitations of your products or services, the contrarian approach allows you to be radically transparent and open with potential prospects and clients. When you choose to be transparent, customers know it and tell their peers and friends that you're the person to call when it's time to do business.



Radical Transparency

Jay Love knows the benefits of full disclosure and radical transparency. As the founder and CEO of eTapestry.com, he understood that his target market — nonprofits — would more easily trust his company and recognize the benefit of its services by doing the opposite. So Love documented the entire sales cycle and sales process in a downloadable podcast that is available on the company ’ s web site. In doing so, he explains that the eTapestry sales cycle was uniquely designed based on customer feedback and created to foster relationships — whether a potential client buys or not.

Obviously, the company ’ s strategy is working. As a result of its exponential growth, Inc. magazine named it one of the fastest growing companies in 2007. In fact, eTapestry ’ s sales grew so much that Blackbaud, the industry leader, acquired eTapestry in 2007, allowing eTapestry to maintain its sales process and culture as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Like Softrax, eTapestry increased its sales and gained loyal customers as a result of its focus on customer needs and its decision to be radically transparent, an important example for sales professionals, like Kyle, who still resist making a change.

Nothing Less Than the Best

Kyle and others who are afraid of doing the opposite can act like a deer caught in the headlights. Driven by fear of rocking the boat, they cling to the old way, believing they will escape the pain, the loss, and the fallout they will experience if they make a change. In reaction, they do just enough to get by, believing that enough companies will stick to the status quo. Fat chance.

Unlike Kyle, sales professionals wanting to go from good to great or companies wanting to be remarkable understand that change is inevitable and essential. The typical tactics can no longer produce a dramatic improvement in sales, since they are the same strategies that created the current reality and that have been used for years. As Albert Einstein observed, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

After releasing his wildly successful book, Permission Marketing, in 1999, Seth Godin appeared to have hit the top of his game. After all, Permission Marketing spent a year on the Amazon Top 100 list and four months on the BusinessWeek best - seller list. A runaway hit, the book also appeared on the New York Times best - seller list and was named a Fortune Best Business Book.

Then Seth did the unthinkable.

He released his next book, Unleashing the Ideavirus, for free. Instead of reaping the rewards and success, Seth did the opposite. He gave his ideas away for free to anyone who went to his web site or to online bookstores, such as Amazon.com, to download a free copy of his e-book.

The risk paid off. Unleashing the Ideavirus became the most popular e - book ever written, with more than 2 million people downloading the free digital version. But Seth's success that came as a result of his taking the contrarian approach didn ’ t stop there. Seth went on to publish a hardcover version of the book, which hit number 5 overall on the Amazon best - seller list and was featured in USA Today and the New York Times.

You can enjoy incredible success and benefi t from the long-term payoff that Seth and eTapestry have experienced when you decide to let go of convention and adopt the contrarian approach.