We're All Manipulators. Yes We Are

Twenty years ago when I was just a young, green, and clueless novice monk, our abbot called me in and sat me down.

“It’s not that you’re a liar, but you’ve got a problem with telling the truth. You need to change that.”

Of course, it was a bit of a blow, since I considered myself anything other than a liar, but seeing how obedience goes with being or becoming a monk, I got down to work and spent the following years contemplating ‘Truth’ and observing my behavior.

Slowly it dawned on me that he was right. I didn’t tell lies, but I tended to present things in a way that was beneficial to my goals and so I would bend the truth, rather than break it.

So I changed it. I resolved to never say anything that I knew was untrue, and never to misrepresent things in a way that suited my purposes.

Years later, after I’d become a truthful Ethic whose lips never uttered a lie (note the self-sarcasm, thank you) someone pointed out that I was manipulative. Another heavy blow. I only wanted the best for others, right? Win-win for the world etc? So why was I being accused of this?

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Nothing is as Bad as Good Advice

Yeah, I used to be flashy

Those of you who know me will remember that a few years ago, I used to drive a splendid red classic convertible. A Saab 900, 1987. Wonderful machine, wonderful handling and quite a mover. But it had some issues and it had to be repaired every now and then. My house mates at that time were unanimous: ‘Sell it. Get yourself a modern car, something decent. Martin, you’re going to burn your money on that car.’

So for once I thought I’d do something smart: I followed their advice. I’m not pointing fingers here, but it was the stupidest thing I ever did. That and perhaps that time I decided to see what would happen if I pulled the handbrake on a snowed-under road in the forest. (Not while driving my Saab though). Long cold walk to civilization, I can tell you.

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What are you selling, really?

A friend of mine is a maitre d’ on a cruise-ship. Or rather, he used to be. He’s been ashore for a year now. Something to do with alcohol and jumping in the swimming pool in his tuxedo. I find it very petty that his employer would fire him over that, I mean can’t a man have a bit of innocent fun after work?

Anyway, this friend (whom I will call Sam) was looking for work ashore and he was approached by a company that hosts a directory of local businesses on the internet. Sam’s job was to go out on the road with his laptop and 3G dongle, show the site to business owners, and sell them an online 35-dollar ad for the duration of a year. Banks, hotels, shops, restaurants, you get the picture.

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Why you're only selling to half of your customer

I snore. Pretty badly I’ve been told, but personally, I don’t believe it. Nothing ever wakes me up, not even my own snoring.

Usually, my girlfriend pokes me in the back and insists: “No snoring!” upon which my subconsciousness says: “Fuck off” and goes back to sleep. Today though, she told me about a novel way that she discovered to get me to stop keeping her up at night. This is how it works: She will prod me in the back suggestively and persuasively, while saying: “You’re more comfortable this way”. Apparently, this causes me to roll over.

And you know what? It works. I wasn’t a witness, due to my being asleep and all that, but she’s been less grumpy upon waking up and generally treats me better during the days, so I guess she’s been sleeping better, therefore I imagine her tactics work. QED.

What can we learn from this?

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Catching fish: How to talk to your prospects so they buy! (according to Ernie)

I absolutely love Jim Henson. He was a great artist and an utterly funny guy.

One of my favourite skits is the one where Bert and Ernie are in a boat, on a lake, and Bert is fishing. He’s complaining that the fish just won’t bite. (Feels familiar? Read on!)

Ernie says he can get Bert some fish, just by calling them. Loud. REALLY LOUD. Because the fish are under water and you have to shout so they can hear you. Of course Bert doesn’t believe him, so Ernie demonstrates: “Heeeeere fishy FISHY FISHY!

And sure enough, a fish leaps out of the water, into the boat. “You want another one? Heeeeere fishy FISHY FISHY!” Another fish leaps up into the boat. He does it again, and yes, one more. “Now you try it, Bert.”

Bert tries, but nothing. He tries again: no result.

“You’re not calling them loud enough Bert. They can’t hear you. You need to yell really really loud, so the fish can hear you through the water.”

Now, is any of this relevant to you, the reader? Well, if you’re in business, it’s probably the most relevant thing there is. As James at menwithpens so eloquently puts it: “It ain’t a business if it’s not making sales.”

In the world of mystical teaching, (I was a monk before) a basic premise is that the teacher must talk to the student at the level of understanding of the student. Anything loftier, and the lesson is lost.

It’s the same with marketing. No matter how well you write, if your visitors don’t convert to buyers, the way you talk to them does not connect. They leave, and will probably not come back.

In the example of Bert and Ernie, you are Bert, and I am Ernie. You try and try, you pitch and try some more, but you’re not getting enough sales. Why? Because they can’t ‘hear’ you. You’re not ‘calling’ them ‘loud’ enough.

Do I propose that you should bully prospects into buying? Shout at them? Of course not!

You’ve simply got to talk to them in a way that connects. It’s a matter of psychology. You’ve got to push the right buttons, the ones that call an interested person into action, and not the ones that make people feel like they’re being forced. Tricky? Yes. Can it be done? Oh yes, very yes. You could go and study marketing, copywriting, whatever you need to learn in order to write compelling content. If you have the time for it, go ahead. I’m sure you’re busy enough running a business though, so here is an easier way:

Hire me. I’ll catch your fish for you.

For your enjoyment: Take a break, have a coffee, watch this:

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