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Please Take My Money.

A few months ago, the world lost a visionary.  He changed so much about the tech world, but more than that, he changed the way everyone uses technology.  I am currently reading his biography, and one thing that stands out is that Steve Jobs wasn't the greatest inventor, designer, or engineer of our time.  What made him such a valuable person was his ability to bring it all together, and to sell it.  And by sell it, I don't mean just the products that Apple made.

Long before Apple became the text book case for business students, Steve Jobs was pushing views that were different from the norm.  The second computer produced by Apple is a fitting example of this.  More than a good computer, it was a good idea - the idea that computers should be simple, un-intimidating, and ready for use by the masses, right out of the box.  This was a far cry from the convention of the day - computers were assembled by hobbyists who bought kits and parts at electronics stores.  It was Jobs' ability to sell this revolutionary idea that made the difference.  While Steve Wozniak was the brain behind the amazing chip design in those first Apple devices, it was Jobs who took them to the world.  Woziak would have given the great tech to the world in a ready to assemble kit.  And they would probably have went the way of the betamax.

Steve Jobs superb salesmanship and marketing prowess was a critical factor in the success of Apple.  He motivated an entire company to make products which had a unique appeal, and he singlehandedly took Apple from the verge of bankruptcy to being the second most valuable company in the world.  All of this underscores an important fact which is often missed by professionals - it's not enough to be good at what you do, you have to be able to convince others of this as well.  You need to be able to sell your skills, your product, your competitive differentiator, or whatever it is that your business is built on.  This applies equally to individuals as it does to companies.

A recent experience underscored the importance of this to me.  I was exploring some options for doing a course in massage therapy, and I narrowed my options down to two schools.  I visited each and got brochures and basic information.  I had a pretty good idea which one I would choose, but I was of two minds mainly because the one I preferred cost four times as much as the other!

Having decided to surrender my wallet and sign up for the one I preferred, I went there to register and pay the fee.  But I was still hesitant, and delayed a bit with the form.  Like any consumer, about to spend a wad of cash, I wanted them to make me feel good about my purchase.  So I started talking with the staff at this school, explaining to them that I was comparing two courses and wanted to know what made theirs better.  The person who was dealing with me said she knew little about the course and referred me to the instructor.  At this point I was certain that I'd get this excellent pitch about why they were a better option even though they were more expensive.  I expected to be told about how much more I would learn, and how superior their course was to the competition.  They would wax poetic about how the other school was like a Lada, and they were the Mercedes Benz of the massage world!  I got none of that.  The instructor simply said to me that she knew nothing about the other course, how it was taught, or what it covered.  Furthermore, she seemed surprised when I told her that her course cost four times as much.

At this point you'd think I'd walk out and go spend a quarter of my money at the other school.  But I had already been sold on the course by a friend who recommended it.  So I started probing.  I asked about the size of the class, and discovered that the classes there had a smaller student complement than the competition, so there is more opportunity for individual instruction.  I also probed a bit more and learned that they provide all the material needed for the course, as well as hands on training with actual clients.  The competing school required you to take your own material as well as subject to practice on.  These people had a compelling and superior product, but probably didn't even realize this!  In the words of Hugh Laurie: "idiots"!

That experience is quite the opposite of what should happen. Here it was that I walked into this business place, and had to convince myself to give them my money! There is something glaringly wrong there.  Granted, no one likes pushy sales people - they give the profession a bad name.  But no business can survive without effectively selling it's product or service.  Advertising is not enough - that just puts you in the game.  Every business needs people who are either passionate about the product or service, or can fake it.  In fact, your staff doesn't have to like selling, they don't even have to be trained to do this.  What is needed is interest, and a little knowledge.  Had that instructor possessed even a basic idea of the course which was offered by the competing school, which is literally down the road, then she would have been in a better position to help me make my decision.  How many potential students could they have lost because of this fundamental flaw?

My advice to this school would be to go spy on the competition!  They are right next door to you.  Take a walk, get a brochure, ask some questions!  And when a customer asks why they should give you their money, they last thing you want to say is that you don't know.
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