Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.”

Dr. Lee De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube and father of television.

The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”

A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.

People in this community just won’t support local business.”

The anonymous president of a local service business, explaining why his P&L failed to match his projections.

That won’t work here.”

For a number of years I was involved in local radio sales training in markets as large as Orlando, Florida, and as small as Mineral Wells, Texas. In nearly every case at least one of the local sales people (and never one of the top billers) would speak up to explain why the training wouldn’t work.

  • “My customers won’t make appointments. They want me to just drop by when I’m in the neighborhood.”
  • “My customers won’t plan for several months at a time. They just want to know if I have any good deals today.”
  • “My customers will never pay that much.”
  • Without fail, those same customers did prefer the next sales rep to stop dropping in unannounced, and preferred to work from appointments. They appreciated multiple month plans. And, when presented with the advantages, they frequently opted for the more expensive advertising programs.

    Expectations determine outcomes.

    In Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson’s 1968 Pygmalion Study, elementary school teachers were told that some of their students were academically gifted and could be expected to perform well, even though they had not previously shown any signs. The teachers were given the names of the “academic spurters,” who in truth had been selected completely at random.

    At the end of the school year the “academic spurters” showed an average increase of twelve IQ points. Some showed an IQ increase of as much as 20 points. And the teachers also reported these students were better behaved, more intellectually curious, were friendlier, and had greater chances for success.

    Rosenthal and Jacobson concluded the teachers had subtly encouraged the performance they expected to see. They spent more time with the special students, were more enthusiastic teaching them and showed more warmth to them than to the other students.

    This was unconscious on the part of the teachers, but was acknowledged by Rosenthal and Jacobson as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” – a false definition of a situation evoking a new behavior which in turn makes the originally false conception come true.

    Expectations determine outcomes.

    The negative version of a self-fulfilling prophecy is sometimes called the “Not Invented Here,” syndrome – a pejorative that usually indicates someone would rather fail than to admit someone else has found a workable solution.

    We see it evidenced by the “People in this community just won’t support local business” company president or the “My customers won’t make appointments” salespeople. They have a vested interest in proving their conclusions to be correct. If someone from outside came in and demonstrated a better way of operating, they’ll be forced to admit their own failures.

    Consultants know to expect a certain number of these people in any organization, and to expect them to push back when presented with new solutions to the existing problems.

    Sometimes a few will see the advantage in the new solution. More often they are so committed to proving their own view to be valid that the organization can’t grow until they’re replaced.

    Replacing a salesperson is fairly straightforward. Replacing the company president is not.

    Expectations determine outcomes.

    So, here’s the challenge, especially if you’re the company president. Assume from this point forward that every problem has a solution, and you just haven’t found it, yet.

    Stop insisting “This won’t work.”

    Stop asking “Will this work?”

    Instead, ask “How can we make this work?” Then keep asking until you find a solution that does.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Got questions about changing your sales staff’s expectations? Drop Chuck a note at ChuckMcKay@ChuckMcKayOnLine.com. Or call him at 317-2073-0028.