Joe Sugarman's Triggers - Instilling Authority in the Men's Bathroom

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Tue, 2007-10-02 10:11.
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There’s always something you can say about your company to establish your authority, size, position, or intention. The consumer loves to do business with experts in a particular area.

That’s why the trend is away from department stores that sell general merchandise and toward category-specific stores that sell a line of related products. These stores have more expertise, appear more knowledgeable, and have established their authority in a specific category.

For example, for years I called my company, JS&A, “America’s largest single source of space-age products.” What I was really doing was establishing the authority of JS&A as a major supplier of space-age products. The words “single source” really meant not only that we concentrated on space-age products, but also that we shipped our products out of a single location. We may not have sold more space-age products than Sears or Radio Shack, but we shipped the most out of a single location and we specialized.

Establishing your authority is something that should be done in each sales presentation, regardless of how big or how little you are. For example, “America’s largest supplier of specialized products for the chimney sweep industry.” (One of my seminar participants was actually in the chimney sweep industry.) Or even if you are the smallest, you can always say, “The hardest working bunch of guys in the advertising business.” If you really examine your company, you will find something you can say that establishes your authority and expertise in what you are selling.

Then, after you establish your authority, you’ll be tempted to stop using the phrase that established that authority. After we had run our phrase for almost six years, I wondered if we really needed it. But there was always that first-time reader who caught the ad and needed reassurance that she was dealing with an authoritative company in the field in which she was contemplating a purchase. That phrase gave her the confidence.

Sometimes it is easy to establish authority just by virtue of the name of the company.

“American Symbolic Corporation” was a company I set up and which sounded like it was a very big company. “Jack and Ed’s Video” doesn’t sound very big at all. “Computer Discount Warehouse” gives you a pretty good idea of their authority. It has name recognition plus it tells you what it does through its name—provide computer products at a discount.

People naturally respect a knowledgeable authority. Let’s say you want to buy a computer.

You might first check with the guy in your neighborhood who is known as the local computer genius. Let’s call him Danny. He has established his authority and you feel quite comfortable going to Danny to get advice. He’ll then tell you what he thinks you should buy and from whom. Chances are he’ll recommend some retail outlet that has established itself with some level of authority. It might be the cheapest computer company or maybe the company that provides the best service. You’ll seek out the type of company or product that your authority, Danny, has recommended.

Let me give you a personal example of something that really points this out. As I was about to walk into a local business supply store in Las Vegas, a young lady came running up to me, asking “Please, could you help me?”

I was a little surprised by the suddenness of her approach and, in fact, first thought that there was some kind of emergency. “Sure, what’s the problem?”

Almost with tears in her eyes, she looked at me. “I’m about to buy a computer and I’ve picked out the one I like the most but I need somebody to tell me if I’ve made the right choice. If you know about computers, could you come in the store with me and give me your opinion?”

I agreed. She wanted me to assume the role of Danny in the example above, so I went into the store with her. The girl explained that she was attending college at UNLV (the University of Nevada at Las Vegas) and that this was her first computer. She needed reassurance from somebody who knew computers that this was a good and wise purchase. She told me how most of the people in the store really didn’t know that much about computers. I looked over the computer and, having pretty good knowledge about home computers, told her that she had indeed made a wise choice and that the computer was also a good value. I pointed out some of the technical features that would help her in her school work and although she
didn’t have any idea what I was talking about, she felt that she was making the right choice because I said so.

Relieved, she thanked me, and then went off to buy her new computer. As she was walking away, she looked over her shoulder and said, “I’ve worked hard for my money and I didn’t want to make a stupid mistake.” 

Before you bought a computer, you may have first called somebody like Danny, who was at least a partial expert on computers, to ask for an opinion. You, too, wanted reassurance and confidence about the purchase you were making—that the money you were about to exchange for a computer was going to be spent wisely. The same holds true when you buy anything of value. You just want reassurance. If, however, you can trust the sales organization staff, who themselves are experts, then you won’t need any outside expert opinion like Danny, or as the young student needed in the preceding example. It is therefore extremely important that you become an authority on whatever you are selling.

An incident that showed the power of authority happened to me when I was in the Army. I was at the Army’s Ft. Holibird spy school in Baltimore, Maryland, where I was training as an intelligence agent. I slept in a large hall on a bunk bed in typical military style. And the food wasn’t that great. But what really griped me the most was the washroom.

There was a large washroom with several shower stalls, in front of which were several sinks with mirrors where you could shave in the morning. At the end of the washroom was a large window and a huge fan that sucked out all the steam from the showers so that the shaving mirrors wouldn’t get fogged.

My gripe was simple. The fan created such a draft that it was uncomfortably cool while you showered. But if you walked up to the fan and flicked the fan switch off, somebody who was about to shave would just as quickly flick it back on again, because otherwise the mirrors would fog up.

I decided to take some action. In my spare time I obtained some poster board and stencils and prepared an official-looking sign—one that looked like a military sign. It read:

Warning:
Anybody who touches the fan switch—turning it on or off—will be subject to court
martial and removal from this school by order of Regulation 141, Sub-Part 207.
Then one quiet afternoon, when nobody was around, I placed the authoritative bright yellow sign with stenciled black letters right next to the fan.

The next morning was a cold one. I walked into the large bathroom and went directly to the fan, flipped the switch, and shut off the fan. Those who saw me looked stunned, as if I had just violated a very serious military rule. But even the guys who were shaving would not go over to the fan and turn it on. After all, that would violate Regulation 141, Sub-Part 207, and they might be kicked out of the program. It
was too big a risk even if this guy Sugarman was crazy enough to do it himself.
I took my shower without the cold breeze that I had almost become accustomed to.

The shower was warm and comfortable. Finally, I dried myself off, casually walked back to the fan, past all the fogged-up mirrors, and turned the fan back on. In less than a minute, the mirrors were all clear again and my mates who had been trying to keep their mirrors clean were relieved. I shaved with a clear mirror and then walked back to my locker and got dressed. I had used the authority of the military to accomplish a goal and it worked.

The authority of the government or some respected legislative body can also be used in the selling process. For example, when referring to my sunglasses while selling on television, I mention that BluBlockers are under the jurisdiction of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) of the U.S. government—which they are. All sunglasses are. But this gives a prospective purchaser a degree of confidence in his buying decision. Independent double-blind studies are a form of authority that people can rightfully have confidence in.

Authority can also be expressed by title. A medical doctor is more authoritative than a chiropractor. Somebody with a Ph.D. is more authoritative than somebody without one.

Authority can be expressed by age or experience. A 60-year-old executive would have a lot more authority than a 24-year-old executive if experience was a major deciding factor. A successful business person has more authority than an average business person.

Knowledge is a strong way to express authority. The more you know about your product and your industry, the more effective you’ll be before a tough prospect. It is also a proactive way to start developing your authority. Even the youngest of salespersons can be taken quite seriously if what they know is substantial and of benefit to the prospect.

Authority can be expressed by dress. Military and police departments use dress to establish authority by the use of insignia and stripes worn to show rank. The higher the rank, the higher the authority.

Incidentally, I got away with using that sign for almost a month but was finally called down to the commanding general’s office and asked why I was the only one violating Regulation 141, Sub-Part 207, of the military regulations. Fortunately, he had a good sense of humor and we all had a good laugh.

People love authority and its use in the selling process gives people confidence to make decisions and know they are correct.
Trigger 9: Authority

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