Recently, I thought back to an experience I had at a Dollar Rental Car in Maui a few years ago. When I refused their daily insurance coverage, the local desk agent told me that my mainland-based insurance was not good in Hawaii. He then went on to tell me that I would be fully responsible for the replacement cost of the car I was driving should something happen to it. I would have been more apt to buy their insurance had their agent just told me the truth – that most of his compensation was based on selling their daily coverage insurance policies.
Selling fear to your customers is often the easy way out. It reminds me of the old Bugs Bunny cartoon where a character is on the verge of making a moral decision. On one shoulder, a little devil is yelling in his ear, and on the other, a little angel. The devil is offering a clear, short-term pleasure deal to the character. The devil’s path leads to immediate gratification, while the angel preaches delayed gratification in exchange for doing the right thing. The angel argues that doing the right thing now will lead to a lifetime of happiness.
In our business, the angel sits on one shoulder and says, “Sell value. Sell something that helps your customers become more profitable.” While the little devil is sitting on the other shoulder saying, “Scare them. Tell them their servers are going to crash and they are going to be held accountable. They will be flogged, humiliated, disgraced, and shunned by the industry. Unless of course they buy your product. Oh, you don’t have a good fear story? We’ll invent one. We’ll get the Wall Street Journal to write an article about it. You know, they also feed off fear.”
There is an excellent partnership between vendors and the media. Think about all the fear based run-ups that have been capitalized on over the years: CALEA, IPv6 (we are running out IP addresses), Radon, mold, plastics, global warming, the ozone hole, Anthrax. Sure, these are all based on fact, but when vendors sense a fear-motivated market, they really can’t help themselves from foaming at the mouth. The devil on my shoulder continues, “These guys will never buy value, they are fear driven. Wasn’t that Y2K thing great? Nobody could quantify the actual threat so they replaced everything, even borrowed money to do it if they had to.”
Humor aside, the problems with selling fear, even warranted fear, are:
1) It is not sustainable without continually upping the ante.
2) You will be selling against other undifferentiated products, and the selling may eventually become unscrupulous, thus forcing you into a corner where you’ll be required to exaggerate.
3) It takes away profit from your customer. Yes, the customer should know better, but investing in security is a cost, too many costs and eventually there is no customer.
4) It is a relationship of mistrust from the start.
On the other hand, if you offer value:
1) Your customer will keep buying from you.
2) A customer that has realized value from your products will give you the benefit of the doubt on your next product.
3) A high-value product may not be the first thing on a customer’s mind, but once in place, with proven value, good customers will purchase upgrades which fund improvements in the product, and thus contribute to a profitable vendor and profitable customer.
4) Value builds an environment of trust from the start.
So while sometimes it is easier to sell fear to a potential client, selling value will ultimately provide longevity to your business and leave you with happy customers.