Seth Godin: On Selling Magic

I came across this entry on Seth Godin’s blog, and I couldn’t help but think of its relevance for my own attempts to sell people things … as well as the attempt of many Christians to persuade others of the truth they think they should hear.

Our natural tendency is to blame the hearer: “Well, they are just secular pagan humanists who are hell bent on believing what they want to believe, so that’s why they don’t want to listen to my 5 point plan of salvation.” The only problem is that they didn’t feel they needed saving in the first place. Or we keep selling products that we are absolutely convinced people should have, only to find out that their world view did not allow them to embrace either us or the product.

The solution is not to keep pushing the product, or to keep selling yourself, or to try harder than you did the first time. Pay attention to the culture, and sell people what they can hear. Don’t insist that they should hear what they culturally and personally cannot.

This has a lot of relevance for me personally right now … but I have a hunch that even churches and our political leaders might benefit too. Here is Godin’s entry about a successful magician:

“Steve Cohen makes more than a million dollars a year doing magic tricks.

I will now tell you the secrets of this magic:

1. He sells to a very specific group of people, people who are both willing to hear what he has to say and able to pay what he wants to charge them.

2. He tells a story to this group, a story that matches their worldview. He doesn’t try to teach non-customers a lesson or persuade them that they are wrong or don’t know enough about his art. Instead, he makes it easy for his happy customers to bring his art to others.

3. He intentionally creates an experience that is remarkable and likely to spread. “What did you do last night?” is a great question when it’s asked of someone you entertained the night before, particularly if you can give the audience an answer they can give. That’s how the word spreads.

4. He’s extremely generous in who he works with, how promiscuous he is about sharing and in his attitude.

5. He’s very good at his craft. Don’t overlook this one.

I guess it comes down to this: if you’re having trouble persuading people to buy what you sell, perhaps you should sell something else. Failing that, perhaps you could talk about what you sell in a different way.

Important clarification: I’m not telling you to sell out or to pander or to dumb down your art. Great marketers lead people, stretching the boundaries and bringing new messages to people who want to hear them. The core of my argument is that someone’s worldview, how they feel about risk or other factors, is beyond your ability to change in the short run. Sell people something they’re interesting in buying. If you can’t leverage the worldview they already have, you are essentially invisible. Which is a whole other sort of magic, one that’s not so profitable.”

via Seth’s Blog.

Put another way — all good communication begins with respect for the hearer, and not just an insistence on the truth of the speaker. If you are trying to answer a question that no one is asking, or you are trying to sell a product that no one needs, you are going to need a few magic tricks to help you. Your truth may seem like hocus pocus to those not able to hear or embrace what you say or buy what you are selling, and that’s a sure recipe for failure. Quit blaming the hard soil and instead change the ground where you throw the seed.


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