In 2009, a man named Rufus Griscom pitched his company, Babble, to venture capitalists. He brought in over $3 million in funding.
Two years later, in 2011, he pitched Disney to acquire the company. Disney ended up buying Babble for $40 million.
On the surface, this reads like a typical startup success story – with one important distinction.
When trying to raise funding and sell his startup, Rufus Griscom did what very few entrepreneurs would have done.
He led both presentations with reasons to say no to his pitch.
Griscom’s first slide deck listed top five reasons not to invest in Babble. And his proposition to Disney started with a slide titled “Here’s Why You Should Not Buy Babble”.
(Note: for an extended version of this story, you can read Rufus’s own post on Medium.)
He focused on the negative, and still succeeded. Why? How did it work?
And more importantly, can you do the same to increase the sales for your product or service?
That’s exactly what we’ll try to find out in today’s post. Let’s dive in!
The age-old sales art of “making the skeleton dance”
Now, first let’s examine why you should even bother attracting so much attention to what’s wrong with your product or service. Why not just talk about the positives?
There are lots of great reasons:
- Your prospects aren’t naive, and they will notice if you gloss over a potential problem. If you want to get them to say yes, tackling all the reasons they might say no is a necessary part of the process.
- Focusing on certain downsides of your product or service is an excellent way to discourage bad customers from doing business with you. If you need to disqualify certain people, it’s a much quicker and more cost-effective way to do this than, say, refunding them after the fact.
- When done correctly, this approach builds trust with potential customers, and makes them more likely to say yes. Most people are too accustomed to sales pitches that are so sugarcoated you can get Type II diabetes just by listening to them. Focusing on the negative is an excellent way to stand out.
Now, how does this strategy actually look in the real world of sales and marketing – as opposed to the world of venture capital, in which Rufus Griscom’s story took place?
Leading with the negative has been used in sales and marketing for many decades now. Most marketers agree that it was Barry Maher, the famed sales coach and speaker, who developed this strategy first.
His method is based on taking what could be considered a flaw in someone’s product or service… and turning them upside-down, so the ‘downside’ actually becomes an upside!
To illustrate how it works, let’s try an easy example. How would you respond to a customer if they called your product or service too expensive?
Let’s look at a bad response, a good response, and a great response.
BAD: “Yeah, it’s expensive… but it’s worth it!”
GOOD: “You’re right, it is expensive – and that’s why I’m confident it will deliver the results you’re looking for.”
GREAT: “Is it expensive? Yes! Of course it is! Probably more than most people would be comfortable paying. Because our product / service is not for most people. We have invested millions of dollars in original research, flying in the best people from all over the world to work with us, and developing 19 previous iterations before it was released to the public. If you want X, Y, and Z results, and you want the best product / service for the job, this is it, and $X,000 is how much it will cost.”
Can you see what makes the great response compelling? It’s the most detailed and honest one.
A truly effective sales argument will never try to bury a negative, or gloss over it when making an offer. If you want your customer to trust you, you need to be 100% straightforward and transparent with them.
If they listen to what you have to say and still think your offer isn’t the right fit for them, that’s OK. By definition, not everyone can be your ideal prospect – otherwise we wouldn’t have unique value propositions.
But if you try to feed your customers sunshine-and-rainbows rhetoric, when there’s an obvious objection looming over your product or service, and they walk out on you… you will only have yourself to blame.
Now, if you can’t sweep potential downsides of your offer under the rug like month-old dust bunnies… what should you do?
What exactly does it take to highlight the negatives in such a way that they boost your odds with a prospect, instead of hurting them? Let’s find out…
How to put your worst foot forward… and still make more sales!
We want to share with you a step-by-step process for taking all the negative aspects of your offer – and turning them into badges of honor you will be proud to show off to your customers.
1. Identify every potential downside to buying your offer.
You need to be methodical about this. Take every customer complaint you’ve ever dealt with, and examine them under a proverbial microscope. Ask your employees. Ask your friends. Ask your mentors. Ask everyone! Aim to get as much brutally honest feedback as you can.
2. Shortlist 6 most frequently mentioned negatives.
For the vast majority of offers, the common concerns always boil down to:
- Price, e.g. “Why is this too expensive / too cheap / free?”
- Logistics, e.g. “Why does it take so long to ship?”
- Usability, e.g. “It’s not very user-friendly”
- Appearances, e.g. “Why does it look so bad?”
- Functionality, e.g. “I want feature X – does it have it?”
- Policy, e.g. “Seriously, no refunds? Why?”
For Step 2, your goal is to come up with just five most common downsides that your customers are unhappy about. You’re not allowed to choose the easy ones. All of them have to be genuinely upsetting – no cheating!
3. Examine each negative and ask yourself a list of questions.
Chances are, you run a great company, and create wonderful products and services. So whatever makes your customers upset… must be there for a reason. Your objective is to find that reason!
Here are some useful questions to ask as you examine each downside:
- “As a company, why are we doing it like this, and not some other way?”
- “Does it actually help our customers in the long run? How?”
- “Does this keep out the customers we don’t want?”
- “What would happen if we did the opposite? Would it hurt our business and our customers? How?”
4. Communicate your answers unapologetically.
Each of the questions above is designed to put into words what you already know… if there’s a downside to a product or service that you’re offering, it exists for a reason. For example:
- Maybe it takes 3 weeks to ship your product because you manufacture each order individually, and your quality control is so obsessive that you never ship anything that’s less than perfect…
- Or maybe you charge premium prices for your courses because you give away most of your material for free, and your paid content is a thousand times better…
- Or maybe you don’t add some fancy feature to your software because you’re focused on making whatever features you already have the best in the industry…
Whatever the reason, you need to write down your answers and incorporate them into your sales messages. If you convey them without apologizing, or being dismissive to your customers’ concerns, you will be pleased to discover that most of them will listen to you – and understand.
As a result, you’ll either get a customer for life… or you’ll get a highly qualified prospect who will come back to do business with you when the time is right!
Give people what they need, not what they say they want
When you focus on what’s wrong with your product or service, you are doing a service both to your potential customer and to you. Because sometimes serving your customers well in the long term can mean risking their displeasure in the short term. Taking responsibility for it, and owning up to your shortcomings is part of being a great entrepreneur.
It’s also part of being a good sales leader – not the sleazy salesman everyone imagines, but an honest, assertive business owner. Someone who gives their prospect everything they need to make a decision, and doesn’t shy away from potential disagreements.
Give it a try, and you’ll be surprised at how much the quality of your customer base will go up, and how much better you will feel about doing business, and making sales!