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The Ketchup Popsicle and the Woman in White Gloves

Imagine me, at 17 years old, pulling in to the parking lot at work: a local Tex-Mex restaurant. I leap out of my Chevy Blazer (complete with subwoofer, of course), frantically tying my apron around my waist as I dash into the daily team meeting. (The meeting started at 10:00 am. I slept ’til 9:53.) In these meetings, sales techniques and results were common discussions, as it’s when we learned of the restaurant’s “daily specials,” a.k.a. fish that needed to be cooked before we had to waste it.

“Man, you guys shoulda seen Nathan yesterday. He coulda sold a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves,” boasts our shift manager.

Okay, maybe I’m still asleep, I think. “Did he just say “ketchup popsicle?” And who is this white-gloved woman?

It took me a while to get my head around the metaphor, and many years later this fable still haunts me. I’ve heard it a few (hundred) times since, and every time I nearly choke on the same question: Why in the world is this a good thing? Why do we celebrate selling things to people who don’t need them? THAT POOR WOMAN. (I know. Polyanna over here, right? Hey, at least I have a conscience, unlike Nathan and my manager, who probably don’t sleep as well as I do.)

So what’s the point? What can we learn from 17-year-old me?

We’ve proposed, to be creative, we must have ideas, execute them, and convince others of their value. Convincing, sometimes referred to as selling, is often the hardest part, especially when we’re scientifically predisposed to assume others will see value in our work. So that’s how we treat it. We lay our wares out on the table and proclaim “I did this for you,” expecting the better of only two possible reactions: “Count me in” or “no thanks.” Fifty percent. Not terrible odds, especially when you’re in a volume game like waiting tables at a Tex-Mex restaurant.

We deserve to ask ourselves, however, whether or not we’re in a volume game when presenting. Can we afford to get our message across half the time? What’s the risk in assuming others will see the value? Do we encourage the right behavior by celebrating conversion over connection? Maybe it’s time we un-train some of the ways we evaluate our success at selling.

UN-TRAIN? That’s not even a word.

I beg to differ. One of my clients recently told me The Campfire Method® is helping her “un-train her brain,” empowering her to present what she knows is right, instead of what she thinks she’s supposed to say. Pretty cool. Imagine if Nathan was empowered to promote what his customers really wanted, instead of aging inventory the pantry needed to offload. I wonder what metaphor our manager would have used in that case.

Further, let’s project what happens next in this terrible story. Our proverbial white-gloved woman raises the ketchup popsicle to her open mouth, expecting the sweet but tart, refreshing flavor of raspberry. Met instead with the savory scent of ketchup, she naturally becomes quite cross. Will she ever return to this establishment? Is there enough Clorox in the world?

What’s the secret then? How do we know what our customers really want?

There are so many ways to get to the heart of someone’s motivations, but we can boil it down in a one-word sentence. Ask. An audience is made of people, people is the plural of person, and a person likes to be heard. That’s why understanding your audience is a fundamental part of the Campfire Method®. Embrace this responsibility and your message will live at the intersection of what your audience needs and when they need it.

Let’s not waste our time assuming… This popsicle is melting, and someone, somewhere just ordered a dry burger and fries.