Let good, simple, and open sell itself

Jul 5, 2016 · 4 min read

Often, we start worrying about marketing spin before we even have a product. “How do we highlight the best features and downplay the bad?” We focus on spin. But marketing shouldn’t be a complex system either. Marketing is a real skill that works best when it is simple and open.

Huckster salesmen don’t like good, simple, and open products because they don’t have an angle to spin. The default bullshit engine of a salesman is bothered by simple and open products. But the future of our connected economy is based on empowering customers with the information they need and letting them decide and give us feedback on their choice. It’s open.

Do you know how hard phone carriers have worked to sell their convoluted, painful services? They have to dress up all these terrible programs with different marketing programs and keywords. It isn’t as bad as it used to be since customers are demanding “unlimited everything” more frequently, but time was when they had different data plans for different phones and the justifications for this made no sense.

I’ve bought several smartphones at this point. I’ve heard the pitches of salesmen as they try to convince me that a complicated model with added-on features might serve my needs. Sorry, I just want the most simple, open one. A few years ago, I had a salesman try to convince me to buy a Windows netbook with Microsoft Office installed and a capacious hard drive. He could not fathom why I wanted Ubuntu with a small, solid-state drive. “You don’t really get the concept of a netbook, do you?” I thought. It’s a browser with a keyboard. That’s all.

These complications and convolutions annoy educated consumers. We want straight information so we can make the best decision. So being good, simple, and open sells itself. There’s no need for your web firm to try to spin its services as better than your competitors if you’re open enough. Let the consumers see what you’re doing. Openness creates engagement. Bullshit creates distrust.

One agency where I worked hired a motivational speaker to come talk to us. One exercise he had us do was to answer “Excellent!” when he asked the question “How’s business?” Obviously, I answered “Pretty good, I guess” every time he got around to me and it drove him nuts. He had several other exercises meant to instill in us the power of positive bullshit. The problem is that when a customer can see your business has taken a turn, and you reply with an empty positive exclamation, at best you look like a liar and at worst you seem self-deluded. It’s always better to tell the truth.

This salesmanship fakery has passed its prime. I have no doubt it worked well when a customer couldn’t look your business up on Yelp to see what other people think of you, but we live in a different age. Better to get ahead of the criticism and be open by default. You can relieve yourself of the burden of salespeople who don’t know the product or technology and simply tell the truth.

Consider the agency where I worked with the majority of sites built in closed source .NET applications, hosted on the agency’s server, and containing compiled code that no client could view. The agency hated openness and tried to control content updates for every client. They had more sales people and project managers than coders because they had to work hard to convince clients what was good about their services and then manage everything heavily for the clients.

Contrast this approach with a web agency with whom I work whose offerings are open and open source. They build every website for their clients in an open source platform and they set up hosting for their clients so that the client owns it and can cancel or walk with their code at any time. Clients can manage their site content without the agency. The business owner sells every site. Clients see that it is a low-risk relationship for them to become a client so the agency doesn’t need an army of salespeople.

Building a simple and open business is a good thing. We can dedicate more time to creating good work and less to trying to package it. We can let marketing teams focus on doing their good work when they’re not burning energy by figuring out spin.

good.simple.open is a book about doing better work by focusing on simplicity and openness. It is only $5 on Kindle, or $10 in paperback.