Digital Sales: The Bond & the Button

[January 29, 2011]

Selling is hard work, even if some people make it look like breathing out and breathing in. Beneath that polished surface, a sales rep toils, selling you solutions to problems you never knew you had. Including, that is, your weakness for flattery. We all think we’re above it, yet most of us are easy prey. Far more subtle than praise, however, an intimate, conspiratorial sense of belonging can have a hypnotic effect.

“We know better, we the worldly wise,” goes the subtext. From there on, plenty of people willingly abandon long-cherished beliefs just to retain membership in this exclusive club. That’s where the secret of sales lies: in a knack for forging an intimate bond. We’ve all seen it in action, having experienced seduction in many different contexts. Its impact grows from a single seed: a concise answer to our “snake brain’s” ceaseless question:

What’s in it for me?

…wrapped in an envelope of inclusion with The Beautiful, the Potent and the Savvy.

“Megan Fox couldn’t pull that off, but on you? Fabulous. And it’s so affordable…”

So goes the button-pushing ritual which, when led by someone of sufficient charisma, can erase the last shred of indecision and motivate us to buy, donate, vote for—and so on into the night.

If you’re with me so far, maybe you’re as perplexed as I am by the limitless ocean of really awful Web sites. Where, for example is the seductive added value at HolidayInn.com?

“We’ve made big changes,” reads the start of a welcoming message spread out over four jerky slides.

When form follows dysfunction…
Excuse me, but that’s like saying, “Wanna go out? I’m not as obnoxious or dirty as I used to be.” Granted, this is a functional site, built to capture reservations, but that hardly matters. Contrary to popular belief, “functional” is not a synonym for “ugly.”

In fact, a half-hearted Google search instantly produces a company specializing in Web design for the travel industry. And while this is hardly the last word on the subject, ease of access to a gigantic community of creative insight makes the unbelievably hideous HolidayInn.com absolutely inexcusable.

In a similar way, the people at Utz snacks host a Web presence that’s…well, maybe a bit too crunchy. Ironically, the producers of some of the most seductive junk food on the planet have served up a singularly unappetizing experience. Seriously, with a sales pitch like that, you couldn’t sell sausages to a schnauzer.

“We have snacks” the site tells us with a blank stare, “and you can buy some now. We use the freshest ingredients.” Right. I suppose Brand X uses wood shavings from the local prison. And what could be more tempting than a group photo of the executive team? Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fine company, doing an honest business, populated by hard working, dedicated employees. But Dude, you need a makeover.

…you risk more than money, by design.
Now, I’m no one to talk. I’m pretty sure my annual expenditure on fashion accessories is less than $0.47 a year. And yet, even I wouldn’t turn up at a sales meeting in the suit I wore to my high school graduation. And that’s the point. I’m not suggesting the folks at Holiday Inn, Utz or TGI Friday’s spend millions on Web development. They just need to get back in the DeLorean and revisit the 21st century.

It’s not about money at all, really—rather a shift in perception. Today, a brand can no more present itself online with a ratty assortment of archaic design elements than a U.S. President can sell health care reform without a coherent positioning statement.

Or rather, the brand that accomplished such a feat would simply demonstrate a fundamental principal of successful sales: Making your customers feel smart, respected, beautiful and rich in every way that “really matters.” Deliver that gift and you’ve given your customers the one added value they prize most—a renewed pride in their cherished aspirations.

Should the throng of Authenticity advocates wish to cast doubt on that thesis, I would only ask what they intend by commissioning influential bloggers to pitch their wares—and where they think the source of that influence lies. Facts? Honesty? Integrity? You must be joking.

It’s all and only about that winning personality, whether it wraps itself in a horse blanket of folksy directness or shimmies itself into the most transparent form of flattery of all: An intimate grasp of a customer’s unspoken desires.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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