A newsletter reader gave me some great feedback in his unsubscribe commentary:
The idea that your wonderful product will only be available until 11am rings the alarm bell for me and I will bet it does the same for many people.
What he was referencing was the last message I sent out about Chris Guillebeau’s Empire Building Kit, and he’s absolutely right that the sales window Chris had on it triggered people. It would have triggered me a few years ago, too.
Being an entrepreneur has changed me, though, in that I’m now more observant about what goes on the world. The truth of the matter is that we are constantly being bombarded with sales tactics, but most of the time we don’t know that it’s happening.
For instance, it’s not uncommon for restaurants to run monthly specials on, say, cheesecake. When the waiter tells us that this month’s cheesecake is the White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake, not too many people get triggered and walk out the door.
Yet one of the very reasons that restaurants do that is to get you to buy the cheesecake today rather than sometime in the future – which often amounts to never. The difference is that we don’t perceive it that way, just in the same way that we don’t perceive waiters as sellers like we do entrepreneurs. (Trust me, they want you to buy that cheesecake as much as I want you to buy something from me, if not more.)
Stop Upselling Me, Bro!
Upsells are another interesting thing that people get triggered by in online spaces. A lot of the robust shopping cart solutions have an option to cross-sale or upsell people who’ve bought something from you, and many online entrepreneurs use these solutions effectively. A few people get triggered by it in principle – after all, didn’t they just buy something from you?
Let’s return to the restaurant, though: the cheesecake mention is an upsell, as are the wine and appetizers. If you look at the prices of desserts, appetizers, and drinks and compare them to the prices of entrees, you’ll notice a discrepancy – with the entrees, you get four or five items, and depending on the restaurant, the entrees are priced 2-3 times higher than those other items. Simply put, you get a much, much higher amount of actual food for the price.
Some keen restaurants have figured out that lower-priced entrees get people to come back more often, and, since the entree prices are lower, people are more likely to buy drinks, appetizers, and desserts. The total bill for these customers is actually higher per visit, and they happily return more often than they do other restaurants that are “pricey.”
For this model to work, though, the waitstaff has to be proactive about upselling you on the appetizer, drinks, and desserts. In some ways, we expect to be upsold at restaurants, and, again, we don’t get triggered and walk out the door when our lovely waitress smiles at us and tells us about the monthly cheesecake.
Enrollment is Limited…
Another thing I’ve seen people get triggered by is online courses that have a limited enrollment. Mark Silver’s Heart of Money course is a great case in point.
I’ve seen people get triggered by three things when it comes to online courses: 1) there are a limited number of seats, 2) there’s a limited time to enroll, and 3) there are often early bird prices. Rather than handle each in turn, let’s head over to your local university.
At your local university, there are a maximum number of seats available for each class; a professor or instructor can only teach so many students. The course starts on a certain day and ends on a certain day – you can’t just walk into Calculus midway into the semester as a regular student. And, yes, there are fees for signing up after a certain date, which effectively makes the prices before those dates the early bird prices.
What’s true of your local university also applies to other educational institutions, and we may get triggered because we’re running behind or didn’t get into the course we wanted, but we don’t question the character of the institution or people offering the class. At least, we don’t after we get over the fact that we’re not the center of the universe.
Yet, when entrepreneurs use the same schemes in their offering, we do question their characters or offers. Interesting.
Buy Now and Save 30%!
Everyone loves a discount, it seems, yet a few people get triggered by the fact that virtual goods are frequently discounted when they’re launched. The idea seems to be that its value shouldn’t change – if it’s worth $47 now, it shouldn’t jump to $97 next week for no reason.
I can offer a different perspective about this in two words: Black Friday. For those not in the United States, Black Friday is the day after the American holiday of Thanksgiving in which the average, mildly crazy consumer goes completely freaking nuts because retailers are offering huge discounts on almost everything they sell.
“Savvy” shoppers know not to buy anything in November because that same item will be sold for a discount after Thanksgiving. Smart shoppers know not to buy anything from November to December because most of the crap will be discounted the day after Christmas.
But, wait, I thought that if something was worth one thing one day, its price shouldn’t arbitrarily change the next day? As I’ve said before, there is no absolute correlation between price and value.
I’ve seen entrepreneurs offer discounts on their birthdays, anniversaries, or other days of personal significance to them. It may seem arbitrary for them to do so, but why is it any less arbitrary than the insanity that happens on Black Friday?
The bottom-line is that discounts get people to buy stuff and they’re used by almost everyone who has anything to sell. We expect offline sellers to use discounts but are triggered when online sellers do the same thing. Again, interesting.
All the World’s a (Sales) Stage
There are plenty of examples of scummy and despicable internet marketers and online businesses, and I’m in no way excusing them or their actions. What has been fascinating for me, though, is seeing how people react to the same techniques used by offline businesses and marketers when they’re used by online businesses.
I understand that online commerce can be scary since you’re sending money to people you don’t know and you’re often not sure of the quality of what you’ll get. I also understand the different price points that you’ll often see for things you buy on the Internet are much higher than you’re used to seeing. These are valid fears and frustrations.
However, the technology that powers online commerce is simply a tool, and like fire, it can be used to cook or to burn. There are plenty of people who are using the fire in good ways, and they’re using the same techniques to sell their goods as offline businesses. To be triggered by online entrepreneurs for having a limited product availability window while being okay with the monthly cheesecake implies that you’re either unaware of what’s going on with the monthly cheesecake or that you have different preconceptions of the character of online businesspeople.
What I’m hoping you’ll do the next time you’re triggered by an online offer is to consider how it relates to the offline offers you’re bombarded with every day from commercials, shows, stores, restaurants, billboards, telephone books, text messages, telemarketers, books, movies, and lemonade stands.
It’s not just online entrepreneurs that are always trying to sell you something, after all.
Update 3/26/15: A great read on this is Dan Pink’s To Sell is Human which shows that we’re all selling something in one way or the other and shows how to sell with integrity.