Ladies and gentlemen, attention, please! Come in close where everyone can see! I got a tale to tell, it isn’t gonna cost a dime! (And if you believe that, we’re gonna get along just fine.) – Stephen King, Needful Things
I feel like I have listened to lots of pitches, many of which sound quite plausible.
I remember being invited to a multi-level marketing seminar which had all the carefully selected components needed to help you switch off the sceptical part of your brain.
The person inviting you sat with you, ready to answer any questions.
Loud, energetic music filled the air and a procession of happy, successful people trooped up to tell you how much money they were making and how good life was for them.
At the end of the session my host turned to me and asked what I thought and when it wasn’t what he wanted blanked me completely and turned instead to his other guest who had made noises about wanting to join.
In that particular case I knew the industry, and could work out the structure of the deal – which rarely works out for the majority of people.
At a much higher level occasion I heard another speaker trot out a pitch for their technology and how it was going to revolutionise everything.
But, if you listened carefully to what they said – their focus wasn’t on anything new and the abilities they talked about clearly didn’t have a link with the technologies they were talking about.
For example, AI was mentioned a lot.
And then it happened again – a smartly dressed person giving a pitch that, when you thought about it later, had a lot of marketing sizzle but a questionable type of meat.
I don’t want to be unkind about it all – but there is a certain kind of person that is very good at telling you a story, and it’s hard to tell the ones that have something real from the ones that don’t.
In some cases, the people telling you the story don’t even know they’re wrong – they truly believe in their product, or have been told that they have to believe in order to sell it so they’ve first sold it to themselves to get that authenticity.
Which clearly means that at the core what’s they’re doing is rotten.
Now the thing is that the art of the sale is more than just the person pitching one on one, or to a group – it’s now spread to the Internet.
Where people are being sold all kinds of things that they buy using emotion.
I’ve recently reviewed a couple of prospectuses for crowd funding and I’m quite curious as to exactly who gets value from the deals the way they are structured.
The promoters get free money effectively in exchange for offering discounts on the products they sell – a self funding proposition.
The people who sign up get shares that have no dividends and that can only be traded within a private market.
The main shareholders retain all the control and rely instead on selling a feeling – the feeling of “feeling good” in exchange for cold hard cash – and I wonder whether they think they’re really doing a social good or if they’re sitting there wondering how the heck they could con all these people out of so much cash.
Because here’s the thing about an investment.
It needs to give you a return.
If it doesn’t put money in your pocket then it’s an expense – borrowing Robert Kiyosaki’s very pithy description of an asset.
And an “investment” that gets you to spend more money is not an investment – it’s a long con.
When I look around it’s clear that the days of the persuasive salesperson are anything but numbered.
They’re probably just at the start of a huge growth phase.
There are so many ways now to confuse people and make them think they’re getting value when in reality they’re just handing over money they’ll never see again.
And the solution is probably not regulation – expecting someone to step in.
It’s the oldest advice out there.
Let the buyer beware.