Imagine the shock. You look at your cable bill and find a charge of $70 for a pay-per-view event you never bought.

I called Verizon to complain. After a twenty-minute phone call, they completed their investigation.

“Sir, it appears you ordered the show from your remote,” he said.

I guess one of my kids bought it by accident. It serves us right. We should have set up parental controls, right?

I explained to the nice man on the phone that my son bought it by accident. We never watched it.

“You can verify from your records we never actually watched it, right?”

“Let me check with my supervisor and see what we can do.”

He got back on the phone a few minutes later and broke the bad news. They would NOT remove the charge. It didn’t matter if we watched it or not.

We argued back and forth for a few minutes and he said he would try to talk to his supervisor again. He promised to call back by the end of the day. Of course, he never did.

I can’t really blame them. This was my own fault. I was frustrated but not angry.

Here’s Where They Lost Me

After telling me they couldn’t remove the charge, he then tried to sell me on a faster internet connection.

He recognized my agitated state. My voice and words gave it away. Did he really expect me to spend more money after telling me they would not refund me? I doubt it. Then why go ahead with a cheesy sales pitch?

Simple. It’s their policy. He had no choice. Given discretion, he probably would have thought better of working in a sale.

Policy Trumps Judgment

His ill-timed sales push irked me. Now I’m thinking:

“How do I get back at these guys? How can I recover my $70… and then some?”

It turns out I have a few add-on subscriptions. I’ve been meaning to cancel these for months. Now motivation kicks in.

Canceling these add-ons saves me $17 per month. With fifteen months left on my contract, that’s a savings of $255. Subtract the $70 and I walk away with $185. Rather, Verizon loses $185. That gives me emotional gratification.

My response may lack logical justification. Let’s face it. We’re emotional creatures. We don’t act on logic. I’ll figure out a logical way to defend it later.

Your Advantage

This experience reminds me why bigger companies face disadvantages against smaller rivals.  They’re too rigid in their rules. They don’t trust their people to use their own brains.

This is what happened in the United Airlines debacle a few months ago. They forbade employees from exercising judgment. They couldn’t offer additional money to get someone to give up their seat.  You can’t write a policy to cover every scenario.

As a smaller fish competing against bigger agencies, I know there is one advantage I can always exploit. I never let Policy get in the way of good judgment.

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Sometimes, we don’t have what it takes to do a job. At first, it seems doable. As time goes on, you realize you’re in over your head. You come to a painful realization – you will fail.

It happens to me just about every week.

Yesterday, I stopped at the hardware store to pick up a few parts. I needed to fix my grill and a handle on a toilet.

How hard could it be? I figured an hour of work would save me money. Plus, I wouldn’t need to schedule a repairman.

Of course, these things never turn out as planned. I made the classic mistake of using best case reasoning. 

Best Case Reasoning is when you estimate the effort involved to accomplish a goal based on best case (often unrealistic) scenarios.

Sound familiar?

Most of us are overconfident in our ability. We’re also overconfident in our ability to predict the future.

Once we get down to doing the work, we realize the truth.

“Wow. This is a lot harder than I expected. “ 

Best Case Reasoning In Business

Awareness of this tendency helps you in your day to day life. It also gives you a leg up in business.

You see, your customers and prospects use Best Case Reasoning too. Instead of buying your services they think they can do the job themselves. You know they lack the skills to do it right. You know they’d be better off just hiring you.

Here’s the problem.

Telling someone they’re in over their head invites resistance, if not defiance.

“Don’t tell me I can’t do it. I’ll show you!”

So, how do you make that clear without insulting or challenging him?


The single greatest persuasive tool at your disposal is a demonstration. Show that what you offer requires unique skills. Show your prospect he’s in over his head should he choose to go it alone.

The simplest way to do that is to tell a story. A YouTube video demonstrating all the steps (and tools) involved in doing my repairs would have prompted me to hire a professional.

Reading a story about someone like me who struggled with the same problem might have also led me to call a professional.

The Story Telling Secret Nobody Talks About

Here’s what they never told you about stories. They work best as pre-emptive tools. Don’t wait until someone says “I can do this on my own. I don’t need you.”

At that point, your demonstration becomes more of an argument. It feels more confrontational than informational.

Tell your story before Best Case Reasoning comes into play. It leads them to your desired conclusion before they even think of the objection. It clears a path so they say “hey, I need your help,” before you get into your pitch and before he overestimates his ability.

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How Far Will You Go To Sell Your Product?

It was a hot and uncomfortable day. The kids begged us to take them to the zoo. We knew it would be uncomfortable. Still, we caved in. We decided to go.

Going to the zoo always gives me mixed emotions. It’s a thrill to see animals I would otherwise never see.

Yet, when I see two lions stare at me from behind a fence, I feel sorry for them. They’re imprisoned against their will. They’re unable to live a life they evolved to live.

Some of these animals are rescued, rehabbed and then released back into the wild. This is the case of the sea turtles. Most of the baby sea turtles do not make it into adulthood. Natural predators and human intervention disrupt their normal development.

The zoo rescues the sea turtles as babies. They nurture and care for them until they reach an age where they can survive on their own. Once fit for survival, they release them back into the wild.

Playing Mental Gymnastics

For all the conflict I feel about caged animals, the zoo does good work saving many of these animals. This allows me to reconcile my enjoyment of going to the zoo.

Most of us don’t really think about it but we do this sort of mental gymnastics all the time.

When you feel conflicting thoughts about something,  you need to somehow reconcile those thoughts. I have conflicting thoughts about going to the zoo. Keeping animals caged bothers me. But I reconcile that by recognizing the good work they do in rehabilitating animals.

The Same Discord Rattles Us In Business

We may not agree with the values or practices of a big business. We decide to shop there anyway. How do we justify it? Our absence could cost jobs of innocent workers.

Some in marketing and sales resort to the lowest of practices to lure customers. They justify it by stating their product saves lives or transforms lives. In some cases that may be true. Most of the time they’re fooling themselves. In both cases, it’s just mental gymnastics.

How far can you go to sell your product without crossing an ethical boundary? Here’s advice I give whenever someone questions the ethics of persuasion, sales or marketing.

If you try and sell someone the Brooklyn Bridge, no sales or marketing tactic is justified. If a loved one suffers from a drug addiction and needs rehab to save his life, no sales or marketing tactic is off limits. Everything else is a gray area.

Just about all of us operate in that gray area. We don’t sell snake oil. Nor do we deal with life and death decisions. You only have your own moral compass to steer you in the right direction.

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My $1,000 Gas Grill Died. Here’s Why I Let It Happen

A few years ago I spent way too much money on a state of the art grill.  Since then, the place that sold it to me sent offers to perform routine maintenance. I ignored every single one.  They promised to keep my grill performing well. They promised it wouldn’t break or run into a problem. Their claims were solid. They were believable. But I never took action. Inertia got the better of me.

Yesterday, I started up my grill and nothing happened.

“Hmm. Maybe I’m out of fuel. I’ll go fill up the tank.”

I attached the new tank and tried to start it up. Again, nothing happened. It failed to start.

The obvious thought popped into my head.

“Why didn’t I sign up for the maintenance plan? I need this fixed.”

Later that afternoon, my wife and I spent an hour watching YouTube DIY videos. It was a total waste of time.

Prevention Never Excites Us

My behavior was predictable. Preventive actions are a tough sell. There’s an old saying in marketing:

“People will empty their pockets to fix a problem, but they won’t pay a dime to prevent it.”

That’s exactly what happened with me. I had multiple opportunities to prevent issues with my grill. It would have cost me but a few dollars.

Inertia kept me from taking action. This is a typical human reaction. We avoid taking action on future problems. We’ll go all out on the cure once faced with a problem.

Look no further than healthcare. How many people avoid healthy eating and exercise? Years later they’ll empty their pockets trying to lose weight or fix health issues.

Reframe Your Pitch

Lack of motivation keeps us from taking action to prevent problems. We’re not lazy.

We’re hardwired to act on urgent threats.  There’s little urgency to avoid a problem you may face in the future. What’s a seller to do?

What if there is no urgency in your product or service? What’s a seller to do?

Reframe your arguments. Position your solution as a cure to a problem they already have. They may not be aware of their problem so you need to make them aware.

Look at these two headlines and tell me which one compels you to take action.

Keep Your Grill Running Smooth. Get Our Maintenance Plan To Prevent Future Issues.

Sounds logical, right? Compare it to this emotional argument positioning the same service as a cure.

If Your Grill Is Six Months Old, It May Be Leaking Gas. This Routine Maintenance Keeps You Safe

The second example hits you in the gut. It positions the argument as a problem I already have (but not yet aware of).

Selling your prospect on prevention is a logical approach. It’s tough to get them past the inertia on logic. I knew the maintenance plan on my grill would help me. I just couldn’t bring myself to take action.

Positioning the service as a cure to a problem I already had would have motivated me to take action.


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The Oldest Form Of Manipulation In History… And It Still Works

In sales, marketing or persuasion we often get carried away with facts and details. One is never enough. Two is never enough. Can too much spoil your message?

I ran into this problem last night.

My wife prepared lamb burgers for dinner. She got these “pita like” pockets called salad pockets. This surprised me. We try to eat healthy unprocessed food. I questioned her about it.

“Salad pockets?” I asked

“Yeah. I was shocked. There are only a few ingredients. It seemed a better choice than pita bread.”

I studied the packaging for a moment. I noticed something unfamiliar.

“Fumaric acid. What on earth is that?”

“Let me see. No idea.” She said

Before my comment about fumaric acid, my wife thought she made the healthy choice. The package claimed minimal processing. It had only five ingredients. That was enough information to create a story. She believed these salad pockets were the healthier choice.

It Doesn’t Take Much To Create A Story

When I looked at the packaging I added one more element to the story. I mentioned the fumaric acid. That extra piece of information changed the story.

One extra piece of information changed our opinion from sort of healthy to unhealthy.

Her omission of fumaric acid was unintentional. Professional manipulators use selective omission on purpose.

They use it to frame their narrative so you come to the desired conclusion.

Your audience creates stories from limited information. It took only two pieces of data to trigger a narrative about the health aspect of salad pockets.

We Can’t Help Ourselves

We all do this. It takes conscious effort to step back and avoid drawing conclusions until you obtain more information.

With only a few pieces of information, you create a nice, neat story with no holes. The data play nice with each other.

The more information you add, the more the story changes.

Look at successful marketing messages. They’re simple stories with one or two pieces of information. They’re not complex whitepapers. It’s the only way they control the story you construct in your mind.

Compare these two examples. This is a fictional company but notice the conclusion you draw in each story.

First story: Jim Smith took over a software company near bankruptcy

He sold off non-performing divisions

He went all in on partnering with Google before they became a household name

The company is now worth billions

What story did you construct in your mind about Jim Smith?

Revised story: Jim Smith took over a software company near bankruptcy

Debt holders went to court and forced him to sell non-performing assets

He tried to sell the B to B software to division but couldn’t find a buyer

He opted to partner with Google to help cut expenses

He tried to sell his company’s interest in the partnership for $50 million. No takers

He tried to sell his company’s interest in the partnership for $25 million. No takers

The partnership started making money so he took it off the market with plans to sell it for $100 million

When it became clear this would be the cash cow for the company, he ended all plans to sell it

The company is now worth billions.

Now, what’s your opinion of him? How did your story change?

Get my number one persuasion strategy for free. Click here.

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Desperate people repulse us. This is true in dating, sales and marketing, and life. We crave what’s scarce. We’ve all been on both ends of the spectrum. I saw this scene play out last night.  Here’s what happened.

My wife and I couldn’t get out of the house fast enough. The kids were in good hands. We went out to a nice local restaurant for a short-term escape.

After we ordered, another couple sat down at the table next to us.

This is is a big restaurant with separate small dining areas. We could hear their conversation. It was obvious they were on a first or second date. As I eavesdropped on their conversation, something else became obvious. 

The Date Wasn’t Going Well

They lacked chemistry. The guy rattled off question after question about her job. She answered dutifully. It all seemed mechanical in nature.

I give the guy credit. He kept at it. I know the feeling. You hope that if you just give it time things will change.  One more question. One more benefit to show your awesomeness.

Of course, that never works. It only makes things worse. It makes you sound needy and desperate.

It’s no different in marketing or business. The more you try to impress the more needy and desperate you sound.  That’s a turnoff in dating, marketing and life.

Take Your Power Back

What’s a better approach? If you sense your audience, reader or date lacks interest, do two things.

  1. Recognize it
  2. Make yourself unavailable.

“I get the feeling you’re not ready to take action on … Feel free to unsubscribe.”

“I think we both agree. This date is going nowhere. Let’s call it a night and get on with our lives.”

This is a win-win approach. There are two possibilities.

Worst case, you cut your losses and save time.

And the best case? Your sudden carefree attitude may make you more desirable. We’re drawn to what we can’t have (people who shun us). We disdain the clingy and needy ones.

In Thomas Green’s 48 Laws Of Power, Law 36 advises us to “Disdain What You Cannot Have. Ignoring Them Is The Best Revenge.”  In this context, it means don’t chase what you’ve been denied. Ignore it. Shun it. It means nothing to you. By losing interest in the other person, it makes you more desirable. It’s one of those quirks in human nature. We crave what is scarce.

You see examples of this all the time.

We desire to do business with the busy salesman, not the one begging for customers.

And my own experience: Before I started dating my wife, I struggled to get dates. Once I was off the market, women showed more interest in me. I know I’m not the only one with that experience.

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We’re Always One Final Hurdle Away From [Fill In The Blank]

Just one more hour and we’ll be in the clear. That’s what we said to each other as the surgeon went into the operating room. My son had a minor procedure done. As a parent, any surgery is a nail-biting experience no matter how minor.

An hour later, the doctor emerged. He told us everything went well. They brought us in to see our son,  He was scared, groggy and confused.

“In a few hours, he’ll be back to relative normal.”

Sure enough, a few hours later he was playing like nothing happened. It was a relief.

The doctor told us to expect an interrupted night of sleep. The Tylenol only lasts four hours.

“He may wake up from the pain.” 

At 3 AM, he woke up crying and coughing. With a little coaxing and pain meds, he went back to sleep. We knew it would just be one or two bad nights and we’d cross the final hurdle.

With each challenge, we were one final hurdle from getting back to normalcy and relief.

The Final Hurdle Illusion

That’s how things are in life. There’s always one more hurdle before you reach relief, success or any other goal.

It’s true for kids, parents and adults of all ages.

It’s motivating to think that way when we’re shooting for a goal.

“Just one more skill and I’ll land that dream job.”

It’s comforting to think this way in times of trouble.

“Just one more night to get through before things are back to normal.”

I’ve repeated a similar phrase in mind countless times in my life.

“One more course on writing and I’ll be a good writer.”

“One more customer and I’ll feel secure in business.”

“One step away from crossing that threshold to [fill in the blank]”

The Marketing Advantage

I’ve wasted a lot of money on books and courses I didn’t really need. Some were useful but not really necessary. In marketing, we call it

The Final Hurdle technique.

The seller presents their product as the last book you’ll need or the missing link to fixing your problem. It almost always works.

By instinct, we all feel there’s one more hurdle to overcome before we reach our goal. By presenting your product as the final hurdle before reaching their goal, you confirm what they already believe (or want to believe).

This is true for all of us, myself included.

Is it ethical to use this technique?

Like any other tool, it depends on the context.

Does your solution make it possible for your customer to reach her goal or solve her problem? If yes, use it as you see fit.

Sometimes our solution solves the first or second problem among a string of goals. In those scenarios, avoid using it in your pitch. Not every tool fits every situation. This is a powerful persuasion tool in the right situation. Force fitting it weakens your overall message.

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The Art Of Apologizing… With Strings Attached

I’m now three weeks into my new gym membership. I don’t recall this practice at my previous gyms. Maybe I failed to notice.

A lot of apologies take place at gyms.

“Were you using this rowing machine? Sorry, I didn’t realize it.”

“Oh no. I just left my towel over here. Sorry for the confusion.”

That was a small exchange yesterday with another gym-goer.

A few minutes later I witnessed another apology. A woman apologized to another woman for almost getting in the way of her crunches.

There’s nothing wrong with these small apologies. It’s part of the human experience. What makes these apologies pleasant is the backdrop. They’re among strangers in a public place. Plus, the stakes are small. You lose nothing with an unnecessary apology.

Where Apologies Go Wrong

Compare that to the apologies we hear and tell in business or relationships.  These aren’t simple ones like we hear at the gym among strangers.  This kind of apology comes with strings attached.

Never Ruin An Apology With An Excuse – Benjamin Franklin

In business or personal relationships, you risk something when you apologize.

If I apologize for poor service, he may ask for a refund.

If I apologize for missing my deadline, I may lose my job

This fear influences the apology.  We add an excuse to relieve ourselves of any responsibility.

Sorry for missing the deadline. The finance department was three days late in giving me the numbers.

Benjamin Franklin despised these apologies in the 1700’s. Must of us share the same opinion today.

At the gym, among strangers, we risk nothing with a simple, no excuse apology.

In business, we feel the need to add an excuse to every apology. Common sense tells us a straight up apology fares better than one with excuses. Still, it’s hard to resist the lure adding in that excuse.

Let’s Test Which Apologies Work Best

I would love to split test these opposing apologies.

If you deal with customers, try this out.

For half of your apologies, try the following verbiage:

“Sorry. I screwed up. No excuse. Let’s see what we can do to fix it.”

For the other half of your apologies, try this alternate formula:

“Sorry your inconvenience…” + [add in your excuse]

Change the words around to match your personality if you wish.

Evaluate the response after each apology. Do you get a more favorable response with or without the excuse?

Let’s find out after two-hundred-fifty years. Did Benjamin Franklin have it right?

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I hate when people talk about their “superpower.” I find the term so arrogant.

Now that I took a stand, allow me to be a hypocrite. I claim two superpowers in life. I don’t talk about them much because neither power serves any useful purpose.

My first power isn’t that unusual. A friend of mine has the same one. It makes for interesting dinner party conversation. That’s where the usefulness runs out.Whenever I go out to eat with a group of friends, I always remember what everyone orders.

Whenever I go out to eat with a group of friends, I always remember what everyone orders.

A few weeks ago, I recalled a time we went to dinner. It was a group of eight. Seven of us ordered the herb crusted salmon. One ordered the shrimp scampi.

The first time my wife and I went out for dinner after buying our house I ordered the braised lamb with cannelloni beans.

Like I said, it serves no useful purpose.

But if you think that power is useless, wait until you hear this one.

For some reason, I remember the name of almost all obscure musical artists of the 1980’s.

Yesterday, the song “I just died in your arms tonight” played in the background of some movie on television. I was upstairs at the time. I heard my wife tell my son that she forgot who sang it.

“It’s The Cutting Crew who sings it,” I yelled downstairs. Nobody heard me. I didn’t get the recognition.

The Superiority Effect

Here’s my confession.

Despite my superpowers’ lack of utility, I enjoy when someone recognizes me for it. We sometimes call this the superiority effect. We crave recognition for the skills which we feel superior.

It’s a form of validation.  It feels good when someone recognizes you for your awesomeness.

We all feel it to some degree and in various aspects. We also look kindly on people who recognize us in the areas we feel superior.

There’s a catch. Overt or fake praise backfires. They see where you’re coming from.

Subtlety Wins Out

Instead of writing or saying

You are so knowledgeable about xyz. Tell us what you think.”


“I’ll defer to your judgment for any question about xyz.”

It’s a way to recognize their superiority without being showy. The receiver of that communication appreciates the recognition and validation of her expertise.

This works whether you communicate to a market, coworker, prospect or friend. If you write to a group of financial advisors you should be able to find out what skills they value most. All it takes is a bit of research.

Win A Supporter For Life

Pay attention to what they write, what they say and the questions they ask. That kind of unsolicited communication reveals more about what they value and where they hold themselves in the highest regard.

If you see a Facebook profile that reads “I bring home the bacon for Company XYZ” – You can bet that person thinks he owns superior sales skills.

Use your observation skills to gather what’s important to them. With subtlety, recognize their superior skill. You’ll win a supporter for life.

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Can we really predict the future? Maybe humans are so predictable it leads us to believe in our supernatural abilities?

Anyone who’s ever sold or marketed something will identify with this experience.

You’re in the middle of a sale. Your prospect promises you an answer by the end of the day Friday.

Friday morning rolls around. You think to yourself:

“No big deal. He’s got the rest of the day to respond.”

You avoid nagging your contact. You don’t want to appear needy.

Now, it’s mid-afternoon on Friday. There’s no communication. You sense it. The deal is off. You don’t know it for sure but your soul feels it.

Most people hate delivering bad news. It’s uncomfortable. Instead of delivering bad news, we shy away from it.

The end of the business day closes in. Still nothing. I send an email.

“Hey Tim – Let me know if you want to move forward. I have someone else asking about your timeslot. What should I tell her?”

With that email, I accomplished two things. I made it easy for him to say “No.” By mentioning someone else was interested in hiring me, it takes the pressure off. Second, it let me push him for an update without sounding needy.

I heard nothing the rest of the day.

The next morning, I received a terse email sent from his mobile phone.

“Go ahead and take the spot. Going through some internal re-alignment. The project is on hold.”

At least I had an answer.

That’s one way of dealing with predictable behavior. A mentor of mine long ago taught me a more valuable lesson.

The Art Of Unpredictability

This mentor made his living off unpredictability.

When you act, write or talk like others expect, they dismiss you with little effort. They do it on autopilot because they’re so experienced at it.

When you act, write or talk in a way incongruent with your counterparts expectation, they lack the experience to deal with it. There’s no autopilot response. They need to think about it first.

Incongruity Holds Interest

When we write incongruent things it holds the attention of our readers. They need to stick around and see how it all plays out.

A story about a Wall Street Trading Wiz who graduated from Harvard is predictable. Nobody cares. They’ve heard it before.

A story about a Wall Street Trading Wiz who immigrated here from Africa and never went to high school is unpredictable. There’s an incongruity with becoming a trading wiz, never going to high school and immigrating from a poor country.

How did he do it?

What’s his secret?

If someone like him could do it, so can I.

We feel an urge to find the answers to those questions.

Create Your Own Unpredictable Stories

Here are two strategies add unpredictability.

It requires just a small amount of creativity and thinking.

In regular business or personal communication, ask yourself these questions.

How will my [prospect, peer, clinet] expect me to react?

How can I react counter to their expectations and make it easy for them to respond in a favorable manner?

In a sales and marketing situation, you want to use incongruity to create unpredictable stories that hold interest.

What is unusual or out of place or out of the ordinary?

What will make my reader think: “Wow. I gotta know how this happened?”


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