News & Buzz
Grasshopper is everywhere
In the new sell, ideas do the work
What do you do with your ideas? How do you get them traction? It used to be you made a sales pitch—to venture capitalists, to customers, to your boss.
But today young people are deconstructing the sales pitch—paring it down to its core information and parodying the BS that surrounds it. The nail in the coffin of spin might have been last Tuesday, when Google purchased You Tube, and the twentysomething founders of YouTube, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, made a home video to announce one of the most significant corporate acquisitions of the year for consumers. The video starts out with the two of them talking about the benefits to the consumer—lines that may or may not have been scripted and sound a lot like spin.
But then Hurley says of YouTube and Google, “Two kings have gotten together.” He appears to realize he has lost himself in generic salespeak, and he laughs.
Then someone says, “Just keep going.” So he does. He starts making Burger King jokes. Among young people, there is a general dislike for the classic idea of sales.
“Our company is not a sales-based organization,” says Siamak Taghaddos of GotVMail, a virtual phone service for small business of Weston. “Not in the typical sense. We educate people. I’m a firm believer in letting someone make their own decision.”
Sales spin only works if you have a monopoly on the real information. In an era where information rules and everyone can get it whenever they want, there are scant opportunities to credibly slant the truth. Instead, you just have to put it out there and hope it works.
Spin doctors on sales teams are out, and authentic communication is in. This is why many companies do not have a sales button on their website, but they do have a blog. The blog is a way of giving information authentically and efficiently, the best path to acceptance.
The power of authenticity for the new generation cannot be overstated. Guy Kawasaki, former Apple Computer evangelist and founder of Garage Technology Ventures, is a notable voice of authenticity on his blog, Signal Without Noise. While most people with Kawasaki’s experience rely on their authority, that is, the power of their reputation, to push through their ideas, Kawasaki is not afraid to rely on authenticity instead. He feels obligated to give out real information, useful information, information that has value to his readers.
As a blogger he initiates conversations with his readers rather than issue one-way declarations. He posts each day with an understanding that his resume is not as important as the usefulness of the information he provides right now. The tacit agreement is paying off: In the pool of millions of blogs, his is one of the 50 most popular.
So what do you do both to act on your idea and to be able to convey it effectively and authentically? Here are six things to consider:
Jettison the stupid stuff. “Ninety percent of selling an idea is having a good idea,” says Kawasaki. “People think that the difficulty is marketing and sales. But if you have a good idea, then you can really screw up in marketing and sales” and still succeed. So stop focusing on how you are going to pitch, and come up with the ideas that pitch themselves by virtue of their genius.
Become the anti-salesman and slip under the radar. One of the common complaints young people have about working in big companies is that no one listens to their ideas. Outside a company, entrepreneurs have a good idea and move on it. But inside a company there are customs and guidelines for starting new products. Kawasaki says, “Being an entrepreneur and an `intrapraneur’ are more similar than different. The key for an intrapraneur is not trying to get permission.” He concedes that you will have to step on peoples’ toes, so you should do it only after you have a version of the product ready to go.
Start a conversation instead of a canned speech. People are looking for information and have little tolerance for fluff. So if you want someone to believe in what you’re doing, be a good on your feet. “It comes down to being able to handle questions quickly and well,” says Brian Wiegand, CEO of Jellyfish, a shopping search engine. Because the Internet turns the idea of authority on its head, people want to contribute to a good idea instead of being handed a good idea. So when you want your idea to have traction, “let people add their ideas to your own so they like the idea more,” says Wiegand.
Find people who need you. Kim Ricketts creates book events at corporations. Like most good ideas, bringing authors to companies fills a need—in this case to give employees the chance to hear new thinkers. She also fills a void for publishers, who want new ways to sell books. Ricketts’s events exemplify how good ideas gain traction quickly, with little or no marketing, because they answer a customer’s problem.
Focus on the information. Often, an in-person sales pitch to a young person is like an IM message blinking on-screen to a baby boomer: unwanted interruption of information processing. If you’ve been selling for decades, tone it down, because you sound desperate to a new generation, and also a little dishonest. If you really have a good product, the facts will speak for themselves.
And pay heed to people such as David Hauser, CTO of GotVMail, who says, “I don’t want to be told what to buy. I can research online myself and make the decision on my own.”
Be your true self. Taghaddos says you should worry as much about yourself as your product. “Be authentic. Lay a foundation for a company and yourself. If you are how you want people to perceive you, then people will like you and they’ll buy your product. They’ll do it without any pressure.”