Playing hard to get works in business too.
Here’s a crazy idea when running a business—pretend you’re very busy and you don’t need the customer.
Individuals tend to desire what is unattainable more than something that’s easily attainable. Perhaps it’s inscribed in our brains to naturally want to chase the people, places, things, and services that seem beyond reach. Perhaps we have a drive for competition or challenge in our brains as there’s a myriad of published social psychology research on this topic.
From a practical standpoint, as a small business owner of ten years running a men’s fitness service in California, I can attest to this line of thinking. I am a trainer, not a business person. I am quite good (at least I think) at getting men to be fit and strong. But I wouldn’t even be able to sell bottled water to a thirsty crowd standing in the middle of the desert with hundred dollar bills in their hands.
I’ve trained for years in the fitness industry, but have little formal business, marketing, or advertising experience. Sure I’ve read countless books, from 1988’s How to Sell Yourself by Joe Girard to the more recent Book Yourself Solid and Beyond Booked Solid by Michael Port. But the one thing that continues to prove itself more valuable to me than some other concepts in sales is pretending to not care. To show that I’m more unattainable than others is the key to success.
I may lose some brownie points for letting the cat out of the bag for those seeking my services in the future, but then again, social psychology is on my side no matter what.
In a 2009 study by Parker and Burkley published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, several women were shown the identical photograph of a potential dream man. Half of the women were told the man in the photograph was single. The other half were told he was in a relationship.
Although 59 percent were initially interested in the single guy, the number jumped to 90 percent when they were under the impression that he was already committed in a relationship.
According to research, our urge to go after the unattainable may be stamped in our DNA. This may help explain why prospective clients go out of their way to adjust their already constricted schedules to work with you when you tell them you’re not available for a certain hour of the day and can only see them during the hour of your liking.
When I’m at the department store and they’re out of a running sneaker in my size, I immediately want it more. I’ll ask the retail manager to locate stock in other stores from nearby locations or go online myself to see if I can find it. Knowing my habits, chances are I would not have purchased the shoe had it been readily available in my size at the store. I’d continue browsing and feeling conflicted on what to purchase.
Why is this? Is it our competitive human brain that ignites us to tackle something that is quite daunting, unachievable, or unattainable? Perhaps this can explain extreme sports from around the world with daredevil risk-takers in base jumping and speed flying even when the average death rate for these high-risk sports are quite staggering.
But it can’t explain the opposite end of the spectrum either. The last thing I wish to do when seeing a documentary about the daunting, unattainable task of climbing Mt. Everest is to get out and climb Mt. Everest. I’d much rather sit on my couch and consume copious episodes of House of Cards after a long day at work than to fuel my brain to want something I cannot attain—and I certainly cannot attain climbing Mt. Everest at this given moment.
Extreme examples asides, the idea that we desire what we cannot have is still valid. And practically speaking with my own business training men, it appears to hold weight. Not always, but more often than not and enough to warrant writing about it.
My theory in all this is I believe the last thing a customer wants is feeling that you’re hungry for money. That you are so desperate and willing do anything (in the fitness industry these are the “jack of all trade” trainers) to lure their business in. And you don’t need formal business studies to know this is a very bad way of selling something. What the customer wants is confidence in your service or product—confidence and knowledge that if they don’t utilize your product or service, you’ll be just fine. Your customers don’t want to carry the burden of being the “savior” of your business. They want to be part of your business. Show them you don’t care, pretend you’re busy, and lure them in. Once customers have subscribed to your ideas, services, or products—that’s when the magic happens. Shown them your greatness and let them know their decision to pay you was a good one after all.