Your Customers Are Not as Stupid as You Think They Are

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I live for numbers, data, formulae, and patterns. Ask me to look for correlation and causation (causality), and I giggle with glee; neck deep in graphs and excel sheets, I’m like a kid in a candy store. Yet, like all data nerds, I can tell you with absolute certainty that just because there is a connection between A and B (correlation), does not mean that A caused B (causation).

What the heck does this have to do with sales?

Everything, my friends, everything.

I’m going to use my favorite 2001 film, Legally Blonde, as a prime example.

Believing that her boyfriend is about to propose to her, Elle and two friends go shopping to find the perfect dress  for the occasion. They enter an exclusive boutique and start trying on dresses. The saleswoman comments to another associate, “There’s nothing I love more than a dumb blonde with daddy’s plastic.” She grabs a dress off the Clearance Sale rack, and removes the “half price” tag. Approaching Elle she says, “Did you see this one? We just got it in yesterday.” Elle fingers the dress, then the price tag, and looks at the saleswoman with excitement. ELLE: “Is this a low-viscosity rayon?” SALESWOMAN: “Uh, yes—of course.” ELLE: “With half-loop top-stitching on the hem?” SALESWOMAN (smiling a lie): “Absolutely. It’s one of a kind.” Elle hands the dress back to her, no longer pretending to be excited. ELLE: “It’s impossible to use a half-loop topstitch on low-viscosity rayon. It would snag the fabric. And you didn’t just get this in, because I remember it from the June Vogue a year ago, so if you’re trying to sell it to me at full price, you picked the wrong girl.” The saleswoman slinks off, embarrassed.

Here we have a classic mistake; often when training people on how to sell to target demographics, we give a list of variables to keep in mind to adjust our pitches.  It’s pretty clear the sales people in this particular boutique were told that people with more money buy more costly goods with less effort or thought than someone who has to save for a purchase.  They were probably also told to believe that these individuals tend to be dressed a certain way, often come from families of wealth, and (if younger) may be financial dependent on a wealthy parent(s). So here Elle Woods comes by, she’s positive in all of her variables to the sales person, and boom, she’s labeled as an unintelligent little daddy’s girl who doesn’t know periwinkle from teal.

Wow.  Instead of a quick sale, the designer boutique is left with a customer who is never going to come back and will share her experiences with all of her social networks.

As soon as you reduce the humanity of your customers to variables, you remove their intelligence from the equation – you reduce them to just being another sale, another number, another tick, and guess what? That’s a really quick way of losing a loyal customer.

Here’s the difference between 2001 and today: Elle Woods did not have a huge online social network where she could openly talk about her treatment at the boutique, tag it, and create a large conversation about their problematic service. Today, within minutes of poor treatment, the loss of one sale may become the loss of a thousand sales.

Unlike a variable, a human is capable of influencing others. Unlike a variable, a human is capable of holding a grudge.

Keeping the humanity in how you look at your target demographics is simple:

  1. Treat them as the intelligent beings that they are; assume that they have made a conscious effort in their decision to look at your product. Even in cold sales, they are making the conscious effort to hear your pitch. Embrace this, acknowledge this, and never forget this point.
  2. Correlation does not equal causation, and assumptions make a YOU-KNOW-WHAT out of you and me. You cannot just assume that all of these little pieces of data are puzzle pieces that together make up every single individual customer.
  3. Trends and insights are that: trends and insights. They are used to find out key demographics and the currents that move your target demographics – using them as a cheat sheet profile ignores the diversity that your targets each have within them.

And now if you excuse me, I’m going to practice my bend and snap*.

* A snap is the fourth derivative of the position vector with respect to time, with the first, second, and third derivatives being velocity, acceleration, and jerk.


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Photo credit: Boutique Open via photopin (license)

One thought on “Your Customers Are Not as Stupid as You Think They Are

  1. Joe Cardillo says:

    No doubt we could spend another 10 years saying correlation is not causation and still come up short (h/t to the ever amusing Spurious Correlations: ). One thing that’s embedded in your observation is that there’s a whole world we don’t even know about for each customer / person in our audience. It’s really foolish to try and control that world, or to assume that just because you’ve got some data about what they’re doing online that you know what motivates them.

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