How Pulling Back the Horse’s Lips Can Increase Desire for Your Product
Face it: not everything in life is great, and that includes your products or services.
They may be better than what your competition offers, but the closest you can come to perfection is to say that your product is perfectly the way it is.
Okay, that’s rather Zen. But imperfection is a fact of life, and that’s no secret. The primary reason consumers don’t buy—assuming your product is within their means—is that they don’t believe your claims. They expect you to say nothing but nice, happy things about your stuff: “It’s the best, the strongest, the smoothest, the most flexible, the longest-lasting, the safest, the most reliable, and the most sophisticated,” along with every other permutation of superlatives you could possibly imagine.
But what if I not only told you the great benefits and features of my product but also pulled back the lips of the horse and discussed the freaky-looking rotting black tooth way in the back? I’m talking about the one or two things about the product that aren’t so great, aren’t as good as the competition, or may not be 100 percent perfect in someone’s opinion.
The advertising great John Caples advised us to “tell the dark side, too.” By exposing what may be your product or service’s weakness, you instantly instill confidence in your prospect by making her think, “Hey, he’s actually telling me where his product doesn’t beat the competition. He’s not holding back details that he’d surely prefer I not know.”
“Yikes, Drew. Why the heck would I do that? That’s plain nuts! I’d be cutting my own sales throat. My job’s to say only what’s great and positive about what I sell. Let the buyers figure out what they don’t like after they’ve paid me. Why would I want to weaken my sales pitch by talking smack about my own product?”
That’s exactly the question I was asked after delivering a seminar in Grand Junction, Colorado. First of all, being honest isn’t talking smack. It’s simply being honest. And although it may be shocking to some salespeople, it pays great dividends because it makes you appear to be more credible to your potential buyer.
Actually, revealing drawbacks is like mashing your foot on the credibility accelerator. You instantly score high points for honesty and transparency. You also reduce skepticism, suspicion, and the inertia that stems from the fear of getting taken. Talking about the downside of your product also causes the consumer to wonder if the competition’s product has that same rotting black tooth and, because the competitor probably won’t mention it, causes your prospect to suspect that there are other defects that your competition is being tight-lipped about. You suddenly seem more up front and trustworthy. After all, why would a salesperson say anything bad about his or her product for any reason other than honesty? Don’t you see? Revealing even the slightest imperfection or drawback is never viewed as a sales tactic because doing it is profoundly counterintuitive, and that works 100 percent in your favor.
The effect of this is almost magical. You become more an objective source of information than a robotic, totally partisan, commission-hungry company drone. It automatically persuades prospects to believe more of what you say because you’re now judged as someone who’s fair-minded, balanced, and interested in telling the whole story, not just things that serve your own interest.
Fact is, consumers eat this up. And why shouldn’t they? Not only does it more fully inform them before they spend their money, it makes them instantly more comfortable with you—a surefire way to grow your closing percentages.
Trying to sell to defensive prospects is like trying to drive a Popsicle through a brick wall. Until you melt at least some of their defensive resistance, you might as well slam your head against that wall; no matter how hard you try, the sale’s probably not coming. Like a water well that hasn’t been tapped for weeks, you must prime your prospects’ credibility pump before eliciting the kind of listening you need to open their minds. Believability is the number one key to closing the deal. Without it, the only closings you can expect are your prospects’ doors in your face.
Revealing the dark side ties a strategic ribbon around this powerful social proof principle. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that you slam your product from all angles. That would be foolish; you need to put a governor on the principle.
The most effective strategy is to convey only small—perhaps even insignificant —ways in which your product comes in second to the competition: something that can easily be shrugged off, things that your prospect wouldn’t care much about.
These sacrificial comparatives are like Secret Service agents charged with taking the bullet so that the body of the presentation can be delivered to the prospect relatively untouched.
For example, assume you’re a real estate agent. During your listing presentation, after you have explained to the prospect why you’re the best person to hire to sell her house, you mention two things that your competition does better or more of.
“For over 12 years I’ve been the number one choice among Palm Springs homeowners who need to sell fast and for top dollar. But I have to be honest. There are a couple of things that some of my competitors do better than me. For example, most of them return phone calls within two hours. I’m busy selling houses, so it sometimes takes me three to five hours to return calls. [Because this isn’t a big deal, it’s the perfect sacrificial comparative.] Also, many of them will do open houses. Not me! In my experience, it’s nothing but wasted time. I’d rather spend the time actively marketing to hundreds or thousands of potential prospects by using local and international media than set up open houses that are typically sparsely attended, primarily by neighbors wanting to poke around your house, traipsing through your bedrooms with dirty shoes, curious to see how you decorated. [Notice how the negative is stated but then strongly diminished by a contrasting positive benefit. This produces a positive type of emotional roller coaster, leading the prospect from short-lived disappointment (“This agent isn’t as good in this area”) to a more heavily counterweighted superior benefit, producing exactly the opposite, wholly positive response (“Oh, well. Who cares if he doesn’t do open houses for just a few people to visit if he’s instead spending his time advertising my house to thousands of potential buyers all over the world. Plus, the idea of having nosy neighbors poking through my house is a turnoff, anyway. I can live without the open house.”)]
Do you see how this sacrificial comparative helps establish credibility while doing nothing to detract from the value of your offer? It’s a devilishly effective tactic that you should start using immediately.
Just think: what are some throwaway elements of the way you do business that you can sacrifice for the sake of greater believability? Ask yourself, “What am I not?”
- Are you not the fastest? “We take a good 10 minutes longer than almost every other pizza shop in town because we create our sauce in small, handcrafted batches, unlike most of our competitors, who open big metal cans of sauce produced months ago.”
- Not the best stocked? “We don’t carry hundreds of prescription eyeglass frames like many of our competitors. We’re proud to stockfive dozen of today’s most popular high-fashion styles, not all those cheap-looking generic frames you see in most department stores. Without all the junky frames to sort through, you can actually choose a new pair of glasses in half the time because you won’t have to waste time looking through glasses that nobody would want to wear anyway.”
- Not as aggressively discounted? “True, we’re about $20 more a month than most other landscapers you see here in the neighborhood. That’s because while most of our competitors mow, blow, and go, we spend an additional 15 to 20 minutes every single week hand sweeping, power blowing, and hosing down the entire work area to make sure your entire property is absolutely immaculate. You won’t find grass clippings, twigs, green grass stains, stray leaves, or dirt anywhere when we’re done. Our route inspector also visits every property and confirms that everything on this 12-point service list is done every time. That includes everything from adjusting your irrigation-system watering times and replacing burned-out landscaping light bulbs to….”
Let’s look at a more detailed script that you can adapt for your business. Simply replace the service-specific wording with your own, making sure to retain the structure and tone. Remember that your goal is to choose relatively inconsequential points of difference relative to your competitors’ products that although positioned negatively could actually be interpreted as a benefit.
“Okay, so those are the advantages that we offer over all other housecleaning services. But in the interest of complete transparency and so that you can make the decision that’s in your best interest, I need to be upfront and tell you that we tend to take about 30 minutes longer than our competitors because we’re painfully thorough. [redefinition of slowness] For example, when we dust, we don’t dust around things; we carefully move things and dust the entire area. We also take the time to sanitize all doorknobs and light and exhaust-fan switches— three of the most germ-laden places in any house. Most other cleaners completely ignore these areas—they never even touch them. [specific negative comparative/learned secondary desire 3: cleanliness of body and surroundings] So if super speed is most important to you, you probably don’t want us. [the takeaway] Another reason you might not want to hire us is because we insist on using your personal vacuum cleaner. That’s because we don’t want to put dirt from other people’s homes into your house. That’s why we sanitize all our equipment between jobs. We use all fresh rags, wipes, and dusters. Most of our competitors aren’t so picky about these things. [negative comparative] Finally, our prices are about $3 an hour more than ordinary cleaners. That’s because we employ only legal American citizens and pay them full benefits. And each is fully bonded and insured. That means that unlike some of our competitors [negative comparative], if one of our workers gets hurt in your home, our insurance pays all the bills. You won’t get hit with a lawsuit or a claim against your homeowner’s insurance policy that can jack up your rates through the roof. Because of these three reasons, we’re not for everyone, but I just wanted you to be fully informed about the way we work.” [statement of reasonableness].
See what’s happening here? Those rotting black teeth you’re exposing aren’t necessarily bad things, but the idea is to couch them that way while simultaneously banging your competition on the same points. This is a ridiculously powerful technique that’s 100 percent free and works like a charm.