Confession of a Lifelong Salesman: The Two Faces of Persuasion


I have a confession to make.

I haven’t always been as comfortable in my own skin as I might let on. For years I’ve been at odds with myself. Having spent over 20 years in sales and marketing, I’ve walked the line between my area of expertise and my moral compass.

I love working in sales. Properly done, it’s a challenging and fulfilling profession that benefits all parties involved.

But as there usually is, there’s another less altruistic side to this coin. It’s the darker, greasier side of persuasion that often puts me at odds with my beloved field of expertise. The side I don’t want to be associated with.

The Slow, Justified Death of Old-School Marketing

I’ve often likened persuasion to a hammer.

In and of itself, it’s just an innocent tool.

Put it in the hands of someone who’s both skilled and ethical, and they can make amazing things happen, but if you put it in the hands of a devious sociopath, it can become an instrument of destruction.

All around us still is a prevalence of the old, schmutzy 1950’s Mad Men style marketing: Catchy, big claim headlines and so-called persuasive language that is meant more to open wallets than it is meant to help.

(By the way… if you focus on helping people first, wallets tend to open on their own!)

On television, you’re fed a steady diet of commercials featuring P.T. Barnum-esque carnival barkers shouting ridiculous promises at you day and night.

Turn on the radio and you’re bombarded with those auto sales commercials and their ultra-fast, super long disclaimer at the end that negates every claim in the ad.

And online, your inbox becomes so clogged with long, rambling offers and emails that I can only assume are meant to wear you down until you give in.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t even read those types of emails anymore. They’re just SO boring.

It’s almost insulting. Old-school, loud marketing often assumes the consumer is an easily malleable simpleton who can’t see through the manipulation.

Why Consumers Control the Game

But there’s good news for marketers with integrity. The times, they are a-changing my friends.

Not too long ago, consumers were a captive audience for the media. With relatively few choices, consumers were easier to target… and in some cases, to fool.

Welcome to the information age, marketers of tomorrow.

Today’s consumers have nearly infinite choices and can access much more information much faster, so they’re more sophisticated than ever before. They know what they want, and they’ll tune out everything else.

Consumers aren’t hostages to traditional television anymore.

DVR’s allow them to speed right by any offer they find uninteresting or insulting. Not to mention they can now turn to NetFlix, Hulu, RedBox, Amazon Prime, and any number of other digital entertainment options if they choose to.

It’s also easier than ever before for them to tune out radio ads if they choose to. Today’s consumer can easily switch between local radio, satellite, Pandora, iTunes, Spotify, and so on.

Our options as consumers are nearly endless.

Waiting for New Leaders to Emerge

And guess what, internet? Your day of reckoning is coming, too.

Fair warning to old-school internet marketers: The world is changing right in front of your eyes. Ignore the change at your own peril.

Your audience is way smarter than you think. Start treating them like intelligent, valued customers, or watch them migrate to someone who will.

Look, I love sales.

I love marketing.

But sometimes I hate the tactics used in the execution of both.

People like you, the creative leaders of the future, are going to have to come up with smarter conversations that go beyond loud, glitzy marketing fast-talk.

We need to give the lip-service a rest and deliver something that actually moves the needle for our followers - or someone else will.

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