Comments and emails about the first article in this series (NLP and Sales 1) got me thinking about what works and what doesn’t work in dealing with potential customers.. and about one of my pet hates in selling: the ‘We are proud to announce’ tactic. In this approach the selling company runs a campaign along the lines: We are proud to announce…

… the launch of our new range/catalogue/etc

… the appointment of Jack or Jill to our team

… the opening of our new store

… our new brand/logo/livery

Yes, they’re proud of these, which is fine and laudable, but to think their customers should be in the least interested is quite amazing!  What they are actually conveying to their customers is ‘we’re self-centred and self-serving – and quite uninterested in you – except insofar as how you can help us make more money!’

Who cares!

The company is thinking ‘they’ll be impressed by us!’ The customer is thinking ‘So what? What does this mean for me?’

This self-congratulatory approach is very common. It’s selling ‘your’ way rather than the customer’s way!  The customer is not interested in what you are proud of. Amazing as it may seem, the customer isn’t even interested in you. The customer is interested in… the customer.

WIIFM: what’s in it for me

So if we wish to influence customers we’d better start thinking their way and from their point of view – because that’s what they do.

In NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming we talk about ‘meeting people in their model of the world’ i.e. learning what it is like to be somebody before we attempt to influence them. Stephen Covey (of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame) suggests the same thing i.e. first understand people and them begin to influence them.

Customers are interested in themselves and their needs. If you want their attention and their interest and their custom you’d better look at things from their point of view and pitch your message in terms of their needs, their solutions, the benefits for them, etc. In other words you’d better start thinking about what it is like to be them.

In NLP we have a deceptively simple little technique for developing this attitude. It’s called Perceptual Positions or Different Perspectives and is a way of developing the ability to put ourselves in other peoples shoes.

Self-centred marketing in action

This was how I was thinking a little while ago as I drove out to one of our NLP Core Skills courses in the New Forest. I was thinking along these lines because the Different Perspectives technique was one of the topics for the day. So I began looking out to see if I could come up with an example of this self focused approach to sales and marketing to use in the session.

It turned out that there were examples everywhere!

  • The huge sign outside the newly built block of flats which shouted ‘Only 5% left!!’ Yes, not surprisingly, they were counting how many sales they had made 95% no less – nearly there!!! And well done you! But, looking at it from the customer’s point of view, who cares! It might have been better to have said something like ‘Only two flats left!’
  • Driving along the dual carriageway I noticed a van ahead of me in the inside lane with eye-catching livery. As I drew nearer I could see a phone number on the van but not what they sold. As I passed them I got a glimpse that it was something to do with websites. Lovely paint job. Poor selling job. If the van had a simple ‘we sell great widgets – now here’s how to contact us’ it might have worked in the few seconds in which a customer might be exposed to the message.
  • And just before I left the dual carriageway I noticed a couple of other vans with company name or product – but no easy way of contacting them that was easily discernible.
  • Finally I passed a farm selling their own produce. They’d got a large hand written chalk board outside their gate “Organic meat and vegetables here”. A simple message – written in a way that enabled passing traffic to quickly get the message. Because they’d thought about it from the customer’s perspective.

At the NLP Core Skills course the group came up with lots of further examples of their experiences of self-focussed rather than customer-focussed, thinking. Which suggests how many opportunities exist out there for a more consultative approach to selling – an approach that asks what the customer is proud of… rather than tells what the company is proud of.


  1. Simon Roskrow on 14th December 2009 at 9:26 PM

    One of those stories that really sticks in my mind (it may be apocryphal, but perhaps not) is the people who designed the livery for Shell petrol tankers (I used to work there). They looked at a specific example of their tankers from the customers’ point of view – the rear view…

    A decision was taken to exclude any branding from the back of the tanker, on the basis that, if you were sitting behind one, there was a significant risk that you would be a little annoyed, and therefore associate being annoyed with Shell.

    As far as I know, Shell tankers are (or were) the only ones with no branding on the back…

  2. Reg on 14th December 2009 at 9:34 PM

    Great point, Simon, and nice example of taking the time to look at it from the customers’ viewpoint – in this case quite literaly. And it beings to mind the hugely expensive but self-centered campaign “The car in front is a Toyota” – wouldn’t make endear me to them nor, for that matter, to the car in front! :-),

  3. Jonny on 15th December 2009 at 7:52 PM

    Whats interesting is, how sometimes, customers can be interested in annoucements, being proud of achievements, etc. However, that said, there has to be a degree of trust and rapport beforehand. I suppose it goes back to the ‘old school’ of building relationships with each other. If an annoucement is made which fits in with your customers own values, etc, then maybe it can build the relationship. I suppose if organisations generalise with annoucements, which they tend to do, it can look cheap and tacky. So, if sales annoucements are made, they need to be done with caution. Specific success stories / case studies tend to be more usefull, as they can give reassurance, credibility, etc….

    • Reg on 15th December 2009 at 8:50 PM

      Fair point, Jonny, that the customer can be interested. I think this is more much more likely to happen if the company has developed a win-win relationship with them. Like you say it goes back to that ‘old fashioned’ concept of building a relationship with the customer – which you and I aim to do. But don’t tell everybody or they’ll all be at it! 🙂

  4. Terry Banner on 20th December 2009 at 4:42 PM

    Good points, always focus on a customer. It often happened that marketers switch to what they think is beneficial to their customers. I think the best way to create effective and accurate marketing messages is to listen to your customers and take notes, you will learn a lot just from it.