Are you desperate to prove your way is The Way?

Get the RSS Feed

The other weekend, my family and I headed north to escape the heat and relax.  Our kids were playing in an open square, and someone approached my husband with a flier. “We are doing a free event up the road, with dance and music demonstrations,” she said.

Since we thought the kids might enjoy it, we decided to go.

We walked down the street and into a really nice-looking building, with beautiful artwork and fountains.  Books lined the walls, along with big motivational posters.

Upstairs, the live dance demonstration was going on.  There were a number of people in the room moving along with the instructor, and the advanced students were quiet.

I had this strange feeling that something was not quite right.  It was just a vague hunch, since everything about the environment was really beautiful, clean and organized.

After the demonstration, we gathered in the lobby below.  We were approached by a number of people, all of them very nice.

But still the feeling lingered.

They started to talk with my husband about their program, some kind of health and mental wellness regimen.

This is when it hit me what was feeling uncomfortable:  they were clearly selling their program as The Way instead of A Way of getting healthy.

Here is what I noticed:

  • They all had smiles on their face, but they were a little too tight, as if they were working hard to appear peaceful and relaxed
  • They didn’t ask us anything about ourselves, or our own approach to health and happiness.  We could have had a productive two-way conversation since my husband is a traditional Navajo healer and I am a life coach.  Instead, every bit of the conversation was focused on explaining their program and services.
  • When we didn’t bite at buying what they were selling, they were still polite, but got a bit cold, and clearly moved on to other prospects.
  • The feeling was just off.

I don’t necessarily think they were brainwashed cult members,  I just think they had decided to employ a business and marketing strategy that stated that their way was the only way.

And doesn’t it make sense?

In this time of uncertainty, we want a black and white answers.

  • We want to know that our program will solve 100% of everyone’s problems every time.
  • We want to believe that someone’s religion will give us total spiritual clarity and perfect moral guidance.
  • We want to know that the ideal diet will shrink our cellulite-ridden behind to ideal, smooth proportions.
Gray is uncomfortable. It makes for very wimpy sales letters:
“If you spend money with me, you may get good results.  Or maybe not.”

It doesn’t necessarily make you want to whip out your credit card, does it?

But it is the truth.

When engaging in selling and marketing, you often have to be a lot more clear and direct than is comfortable in natural conversation.  As long as you have  a good sense of the value you are providing with your business, and a system that leads prospects willingly through a logical set of steps, you shouldn’t sweat it.

As my friend Naomi from Ittybiz just mentioned in her email about How to nicely turn your customers into voluntary zombies, (part of the rocking free info offered by her and Sonia Simone in their Marketing for Nice People program):

Key Concept #1:  We like to be told what to do.

In other words, and said by other people like Seth Godin, people are looking for leaders.  They want you to be clear and compelling and direct.  They want you to make it easy.

“So if this sounds like a fit for you, here is what comes next …”
“If you want this pair of earrings, here are the three ways to pay for them…”
“If you want me to fix your computer, go to this form and check off all the items requiring attention…”
This is different than being controlling and manipulative.

People I respect don’t pretend to have all the answers.  If I don’t agree with them, or buy from them, they don’t change their behavior.  They don’t view a transaction, or lack thereof, as a measure of our relationship.

They don’t pretend to have a magic set of steps or a system that will solve everyone’s problems.

They just focus intently on understanding the needs of their clients.  And providing the very best services they can, using a solid business model.  They learn from their mistakes.  They speak clearly, honestly and directly. They laugh. And mean it. Without that weird fake crease on their forehead.

Selling The Way is exhausting.

Buying The Way feels creepy.

Don’t do it (unless you want to).

Filed Under: Uncategorized

11 Responses to “Are you desperate to prove your way is The Way?”

  1. […] read a blog post  from a good friend and mentor of mine, Pam Slim. Her post focused mostly on sales and marketing […]

  2. I think people want someone to tell them that what they really aspire to in their hearts is what they can have. In the movies, it’s the superhero rescuing the orphan, if you will, but the orphan discovers that she had it within her all the time, she just needed help to bring it out. The kind of offering Pam describes is from people who are stuck on who they are — not focused on their customers. Chris Brogan said somewhere…empower your readers/customers/whatever and they will tell tell the world how great you are…. by saying WHAT THEY CAN NOW DO because of you. The important thing is not the program, it is what it does for its adherents. If it makes them dependent automatons who surrender their initiative to parrot the details of the program — how sad. But if they are free spirits who rave about how much they loved the program and what it did for them….that’s another story. No icky feeling there! I think some people have never been exposed to that alternative…..

  3. I generally agree. At the same time, I think people who take this approach are just attempting to follow self-help/entrepreneurship advice that has been pushed for the last decade or two. “Be an expert”, for example, leads people to stuff like, “92 years combined experience” on the Web site of a company with 10 people who have less than 10 years experience each.

    Many, many customers are in the market for exactly somebody to show them “the way.” I would even argue that perhaps this is a niche marketing issue to some degree! For example, you posted once about a personal trainer who advertised that he could help people with “back fat”, which you took as an effective message. I had an entirely negative response to that.

    Yes, Barbara, I remember our “back fat” discussion! 🙂

    The point I wanted to make is that people do indeed what to be led. But there is a difference when you say “I am leading you here and it is the ONLY way, and if you do something else you will lose,” vs. saying “This is my way and it seriously rocks, here is what to do if you want to follow, AND, if you don’t follow, keep rocking on with your bad self.”

    It is clarity without the cult-like overtones.


  4. Andres Vilas says:

    We really sometimes need to be told what to do. We have too many choices to take in our daily life.
    I got this idea from Barry Schwartz ( and I can’t disagree with him.
    But the case you’re telling here seems to be the opposite: “You can get whatever you want” vs “This is the only thing you need”. If those are the ends of a continuous it’d be like the normal distribution in statictics, you’ll find more people in the middle of it that can be comfortable your communications methods.

    It’s a little bit expensive to buy your book from here (Buenos Aires, Argentina) , but I’m really looking foward to reading it so I’ll get it soon!

  5. Eva says:

    It seems like a lot of people are “hungry for gray” these days, myself included! I just published an op-ed piece about embracing multiple meanings over black and white labels and it drummed up some interesting commentary (see I suspect this topic strikes a national nerve.

  6. Lisa Evans says:

    As soon as I read you had a sense that something was a bit odd, I could feel my stomach start to churn. I understand that feeling well having experienced something similar with a few folks who were a part of a well-known leadership organization. Your story reinforces the importance of listening to one’s intuition. Of course, sometimes our curiosity overrules our gut and we feel compelled to check something out, but if you smell something fishy it probably is a bad fish.

    Accepting invitations and exploring new things that intrigue us is great, but remember to run whenever a “weird fake crease on their forehead” appears. Thanks for that line, Pam. It had me in stitches.

    Lisa Evans’s last blog post..Blessed and at rest

  7. Well put! If more people acted on their feeling of unease — instead of going ahead with a purchase in these lousy situations — our economy would function on a much higher level! The cheesy products and services would disappear (or so I like to think!).

    And you also show how being a good sales person comes from being an aware consumer.

    But the truth is, like attracts like. So the people who sell like that will attract people like them….and those who hew to a higher path in doing business will sell to people who buy in the same way.

    You’ve hit on a very subtle part of doing business. Higher quality, higher ethics, higher value raises the bar for everyone. And it is *the* fundamental driver of economic growth as well as firm growth. So astute business people — especially in the services industry — are finding a way to increase the value of their offerings in the recession. And in so doing, they are building the integrity and success of their business for the long run.

    Susan Kuhn Frost’s last blog post..Get in On 2009 Social and Sustainable Business Plan Competitions

  8. Excellent advice. The services I offer have to be highly customized or they simply won’t work, but I am offering my expertise as a solution, so I think I might be falling into the “The Way” trap a bit myself. I’ve subscribed to Sonia & Naomi’s copy school, and I think the writing tone on my site can only benefit as a result. Great post!

    Catherine Cantieri, Sorted’s last blog post..Amazing Web Productivity Tools: SendOutCards

  9. Lucy says:

    Excellent article! It is so important to respect potential client’s intelligence and really be present to they have choice. When we trust ourselves and what we are selling is in alignment with who we authentically are it is easy, comfortable and fun to be with potential clients. If they say yes, you have already started a great relationship. If they say no, they will refer others to you because they had a great experience.

  10. Joseph Logan says:

    Bob Sutton is fond of saying, “Argue as if you are right, but listen as if you are wrong”. I like it.

    Joseph Logan’s last blog post..Safford disses management theory

  11. Clear and direct seems to be a recipe for success, yet is so akward for many to do – especially when it comes to asking for the sale. It all goes back to the simple selling technique of saying “Here’s what I got, here’s what it will do for you, and here’s what I want you to do next”, it works but the bluntness of it can be uncomfortable.


    Matt | Small Biz Bee’s last blog post..Four Reasons Your Customers Don’t Buy From You