The Unforgiving Human Funk

Insight Alert!

While scouring the press on this slow news day, I came across one of those “hmmm” items that get a little initial attention in the talk shows, and then fade away.

As a marketer, however, this is the juicy stuff that can help wake up your slumbering Inner Salesman.

The news came from a study by the Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards… and if you can’t trust them, who can you trust in America today?

Okay, I have no idea who they are, but I know a number of financial planners, and they’re all pretty hooked into the varieties of greed that exist in the human heart. Their job, mostly, is to take chaos and create order… in the lives of people they otherwise would have nothing to do with.

You have to be worth some serious bucks before a planner will return your call. If you’re a rookie in business right now, one of your long-term goals should be to become the sort of financial mess a planner will deign to help straighten out.

Anyway, what this Board of Standards just released is a report verifying what most people who study human behavior have long suspected: Over 70% of lottery winners sqaunder it all away, eventually. A third have to declare bankrupcy.

We’re talking about people who score lottery wins of hundreds of millions here.

And they just do not have the skills to handle the windfall.

Psychologists will tell you that most people have a comfort zone they like to maintain. They crave routine, they crave the same things over and over (like eating in the same restaurant every week), they crave a daily life they can predict.

But they aren’t aware of these cravings. In fact, they will complain about the routines.

If you’re young and full of piss and vinegar, you may have experienced the opposite need — a drive to break free of the predictable and familiar, an urge to throw yourself into the strangeness of the wide world and test your ability to survive. This is why small towns in middle America continue to get smaller — the young-uns are leaving in droves for the bright lights.

But for most people, that urge drains away… replaced by a longing for the familiar and the predictable. If you’re lucky, you retain a taste for danger and newness… at least a little bit. In my experience, people who get to travel a lot in their youth continue to yearn for travel as they age. However, they want that travel to be a little less chaotic.

The world turns on routine. People get up to alarm clocks that never get changed, drive streets so familiar they blur in passing, perform duties at redundant jobs that require a calendar to remind you what day it is. And, for the bulk of the population, they like it that way.

Most of my readers are entrepreneurs. The successful entrepreneurs need to be reminded of how the rest of the world operates… because successful entrepreneurs are fidgety folks, always screwing around with their lives so that routine barely has a chance to settle in. The wannabe entrepreneurs hover at the doorway to this world, astounded at the amount of unpredictability required to move to each new level of success.

Easy test: If the idea of working without a safety net thrills you, you have entrepreneur blood in your veins. Welcome to our world. If the idea causes an anxiety attack, you may be better off with a desk job somewhere, getting a paycheck.

For entrepreneurs, it is imperative that you understand human beings better than they understand themselves. This can cause some painful self-evaluation, but in the end you become a better person for your insight.

And what you learn also helps you become a killer salesman. You cannot sell well if you are blind to the motivations, desires, and weak spots like greed in your prospect.

Thus, the importance of this lottery infomation.

People buy lottery tickets because their greed gland kicks in. They think they want a life filled with cash. It’s a hazy, vague kind of thinking, but it opens their wallet.

Yet, winning often stuns them. I live in a town filled with casinos, and when friends visit, we almost always trek down to the gambling floors. People will pour cash into machines and throw it across felt for hours… and yet, if they win big, they almost exhibit a sense of altered consciousness that makes them act silly. “I never win anything,” they often say.

So why do they continue to gamble?

I will tell you this — many people who regularly buy lottery tickets will hear about this study, and believe it totally. Regular guy wins the lotto, wife leaves, friends hate him, he ends up in the gutter, broke. It’s the kind of story that would circulate even if it was bullshit… the fact it’s often true will just amp up the rumor factor.

But no one will stop buying lottery tickets. Think about that. What does that tell you about human behavior?

If you sell information — or if the main benefit of your product or service is a better life — then you, too, are selling dreams. Most people believe they want a “better life”… and believe that more money can help deliver it. People who have been there know this to be untrue, mostly… but other folks still want the opportunity to find out for themselves.

You cannot get hung up on the idea that many of your customers will not follow through with what you offer. They won’t read what you write, won’t watch your DVDs, won’t act on any of your advice. This doesn’t mean you aren’t filling a need in their life — it just means that, no matter how much you push and cajole, you cannot force them to become motivated to move forward.

With most information, the reality of moving forward is very much like the reality of suddenly becoming wealthy. Your life becomes so different from what you were comfortable with before, that you get discombobolated. Lose your sense of balance, of who you are and where you fit in your circle of friends and family.

Climbing out of your comfort zone requries a little skill at redisovering who you are and what you want. It also challenges everyone around you, and that can cause emotional havoc. What do you say to friends when the conversation turns to complaining about rich people, or about trouble paying the bills? How do you handle that first pitch from an in-law to borrow a bunch of money… only to discover they have no intention of ever paying you back? What happens to your self image when you catch people talking about you behind your back… because you’re no longer “one of them”?

It’s not the money that ruins lottery winners. It’s the sudden collapse of their comfort zones. When you no longer need to go to a job, you have 40 hours a week to fill up. If all your friends are from the job, you’re now a stranger in a strange land.

Consider all these implications. If what you sell requires any kind of change — even if it’s just a small change — then no matter how excited you get your prospect, he will resist buying if you take him too far out of his comfort zone. He probably won’t even understand his own resistance.

This is one of the biggest obstacles you will encounter. I consult with people all the time who have a great product, but can’t make the sale because they are simply flabbergasted when rational prospects hesitate to buy.

No matter how good your product is at helping people create better lives… often, unconsciously, they are just happier in their familiar funk.

Know your obstacles. Don’t try to sell in the dark.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

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  • nicolas hall says:

    hi john,

    just a note to say i really enjoyed reading that, and i think your bang on.

    all the best


  • Hey John,
    this is truly profound stuff.

    I sell stuff that gets peoples head clear on why they’re here, what they want to do to achieve their dreams and a simple 1 2 3 step by step system to do it…

    My “friends” ( and that’s an ever diminishing circle ) think I’m nuts and while they say “Yeah great stuff….fabulous training” etc etc etc ….Not one of them has followed through in any meaningful way.

    Cheers John for turning on the light.

    Mike ( Hua Hin Thailand )

    PS Have fun in Dubai and remember to check out the indoor ski slope…

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