If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. But if you introduce antiseptics to the medical community before The Germ Theory of Disease is discovered, then the world might fire you and drive you insane. That’s literally what happened to Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian physician who made the claim that doctors’ unwashed, dirty hands carry diseases that kill patients.
Semmelweis was dead at 47 after two weeks of brutal beatings and mistreatment in a Viennese insane asylum when Louis Pasteur developed Germ Theory a couple decades later. Few attended Semmelweis’ funeral. Today, the tendency to automatically reject contrary evidence is often called the Semmelweis reflex and you experience it every time you find yourself pitching to a dial tone.
The question is, how do you market your ground-breaking service or product and avoid Semmelweis’ ruin? Here are three guiding principles: Lead with whatever rings a bell, show beats tell and a soft sell.
1. Lead with whatever rings a bell: When explaining your unique business to prospective customer, limit the details to those which apply to the customer. They are less likely to reject your idea as foreign if you meet them on familiar territory. However, you also never want to connect your product or service to something familiar. This creates misunderstandings and can result in negative assumptions. You can’t create opportunities from the inadequacies of your competitors if you gloss over your differences in a failed attempt at clarity.
2. Show beats tell: Visual aids, video, trials or samples are a must if you hope to overcome any aversion prospects may have to the daunting mental task of learning about how your unique offering works. If you present the information in an overwhelming or confusing manner that makes too much work for the prospective customer, they’re sure to close their minds and deafen their ears to what you have to offer. I found that when we switched our sales tactics from mere cold calling to leading with an example of our service in action, that prior experience made prospects far more receptive to the idea behind it.
3. Make a soft sell: It’s like Newton said — every force is met with equal and opposite force. So it stands to reason that the harder your sell, the more adamant your prospects’ resistance. They may never have encountered anything like your business before, but they certainly know their share of pushy salespeople. And, since novelty is naturally met with skepticism, you have to meet doubt with patience and understanding so that you can take baby steps toward a successful conversion. Our prospects typically connect with us at at least three points of contact before a business proposition is formally discussed — the trail sample we offer, the follow-up introduction once they experience the sample and finally, an appointment with a sales representative.
It may be too late for Semmelweis to enjoy the recognition and success he deserved, but it’s up to you to ensure that others develop an adequate appreciation for what you’re doing to improve their lives. Apply these principles to create micro-marketing experiences and develop a customer base that will follow you from nameless anomaly to paradigm shifting phenomena. Along the way, your biggest skeptics can become your most enthusiastic believers — all because you broke down barriers before they laid more bricks.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
Image Credit: CC by Merlijn Scharn