Perception vs Reality

What is real to a business professional can be based entirely, partially or totally on perception. Then there is the whole business of self-fulling prophesies. And let me further complicate things and intrigue us with the fact that to be something you must envision it first. The truth remains that your perception is your reality, with or without you having a foot in the real world.  Let’s examine some scenarios based upon “live” experiences that illustrate how perception vs. reality can shape the outcome and performance of sales circumstances. 

When a person tells themselves an unequivocal thing, and they are convinced that it needs no scientific or mathematical substantiation because they have established it as a fact themselves, they do themselves an injustice. Without proper research, and if based upon perception alone, many things can be adopted as truth when in fact they are not. Since, as of this writing, our client base is comprised of piano dealer/principals I will stick with piano related examples. Here are three interesting cases in which the names are changed to protect the “guilty”:   

In this first biographical story we’ll call the piano dealer Amy. We currently don’t have a client anywhere with that name, so I know I’m safe. We had been monitoring Amy’s leads on our dashboard and could see that they represented a cross-section of piano related interests. Some entry level, some intermediate and some baby grand and grand piano comments had been observed, so it appeared her market was responding as they all do when you back the lead generation harvesting equipment up to the field, with a mixed bag of online piano related interest. Regardless of the fact that we’d been monitoring the responses and were able to see what they looked like, when we called Amy to service her, she made this statement: “These are all bottom feeders, there aren’t any high-end opportunities here! I am very frustrated; I don’t feel like I’m getting anything back from my investment. I’ve called and e-mailed every single lead you guys have given me and they all either just want to sell a piano or buy a grand for $300! I’ve tried everything, and nothing works. I going to take this digital marketing back in-house. We got just as many leads that way and it didn’t cost me as much.” 

Amy was not a happy camper. Her perception was that all of the leads were inadequate in quality because people didn’t want to engage and talk about fine pianos. The only folks who were talking to her were people with either no budget to speak of or one of those consumers who have a piano that’s been sitting around for years with no one playing it, which they would rather get something out of than look at anymore. You can plainly see how her reality was grown.  None of the quality leads would engage. Instead of examining the follow up protocol, she was convinced that the problem was the targeting, or she deduced, “Why else would I not be getting return calls or e-mails?”  This is a difficult situation for us as a direct response digital agency because we can see that the leads coming in have the same general makeup of those in markets enjoying a lot of success, and we suspect that the follow up protocol needs a bit of polishing, but it’s bit awkward when you have to ask a client to shine a light on their own activity.    

The perception here is: Since she has not been able to create dialogue with the high-end buyers, they simply aren’t being provided. 

The reality is this: Her leads are the same caliber as everyone else’s including those who have sold Steinway grands and Spirios, Disklaviers, C-series grands and hand-made Shigeru’s from the LeadFlow leads. She just has not found a way to engage these types of buyers with her follow up protocol and lack of commitment to qualify and disqualify, because it is a lot of work.   

In the second biography we’ll call the dealer Bob. Bob was using direct mail which was integrated with a Prospects International “EventFlow” campaign. One immutable reality is that mobile phones are used for most everything other than “live” conversations. Talking on a phone, sad to say in many instances, is NOT the preferred method of communications of retail prospects. 

This fact manifested itself clearly in this particular recent GOB (going out of business) sale and confirmed how fast the consumer has been changing the way they interact. Bob called, very concerned because when the mail went into homes, his phones rang very sparsely. Some calls did come in but not at the expected rate. The quandary that the client was in was that in another part of that same state less than 18 months prior, with the same card in a smaller market, the phone calls were much stronger. So how do you go to a larger market, send more mail and get less phone calls? Legitimate concern, right? I think so. When he called, it surprised me because if you can’t count on the phone to ring for a GOB what can you count on in the world of piano events? What did this mean? Not only to this particular market but to the world of events in general? It begged the question, “Who moved my cheese?” to quote a famous title.

When the conversation was over, I went to the Prospects International dashboard to see if there was any digital activity during the days the mail went into homes and here is what I found – Yes! There was an easily discernable pattern, or what can be called a definite “spike” in the activity. For the first two weeks of the GOB the digital campaign was yielding nicely, 3-5 leads per day. When we examined the Wednesday after the Monday the mail was introduced into the market, it jumped to eight leads, then on Thursday to fourteen, on Friday to eighteen, Saturday to twenty-one, Sunday down to twelve and on Monday back down below ten per day where it stayed until the campaign was over.

Summary: from Wednesday to Sunday, the five-day window in which the mail went into the homes and was read, 73 leads came in. If you subtract the average four per day that were already coming in, it is safe to surmise that approximately 53 extra leads came in as a result of the mail drop.

The perception here is: The mail didn’t work. It didn’t move the market.

The reality is this: The market moved in a large and discernable way, just not the way it used to. Follow up techniques must be adjusted in this digital age.

For my third and final biography we’ll go to one of those top eight markets where there is a very strong Chinese segment presence, and the dealer we will call Mark. We were getting ready to do a major event with a well renowned arts organization who gave us a mailing list of patrons. Mark has formulated the fact in his perception that the only homes in which to invest marketing within his market are Chinese ethnicity folks who live in 1 million dollar-plus real estate value homes. This narrow vision of who he believes will buy a Steinway grand piano is steering his decision making as he decides who to place ads in front of for this event. He assumes that Chinese is the dominant ethnic group that attends this arts organization, and that 1 million dollars is the lowest he should target as far as their home value is concerned. His belief (because of his visual inventory) was that there was an abundance of Chinese oriented consumers living in million dollar-plus homes and that they made up the best opportunity for new, large grand piano sales. Then the arts organization provided a list of patrons, which he believed would support this belief. 

We profiled the patrons on the list provided and found that the million dollar-plus homes only made up 12% of said list. Yes, the Chinese ethnicity made up 28%, a big piece of the pie; but 28% means that there are a whole bunch of other persuasions who also attend the fine arts. In fact, when the profile came back not only were 72% non-Chinese, but the vast majority of the home values were in the $700-$999K segment and only a small portion (12%) were above that magical 1-million-dollar mark. Therefore, he was as they say, leaving a lot of “meat on the bones” by using such a narrow view of where he believed ALL of his ad dollars needed to be aimed.  There is no doubt that he could paint a picture of his perfect client, but his perception of the entire pool of potential buyers was skewed by that “perfect buyer profile”. 

Furthermore, additional research discovered that in his market of approximately 6.1 million people in approximately 1.5 million homes only 61,000 of them or 4/10 of one percent were a million dollars in value or more. His perception of MANY of the affluent zips was that you couldn’t even live there unless you spent at least a million dollars on your home, when in fact a lot of affluent people with high net worth and the capability of buying a fine piano, live in homes between $700K and $999K. The other factor is psychographics – many, many times people who have a deep love for something will buy out of emotion regardless of the demographics, which makes psychographics an important part of the buyer profile. Summary: a narrow view will “micro-market” a retailer into far less opportunities than actually exist.

The perception here is: The only prospects to try and harvest are Chinese in million-dollar homes. 

The reality is this: The Chinese are an important sliver of the possible grand piano buyers in this market. There are many wealthy people just below the million-dollar real estate benchmark who attend the arts organization with which he partners, who should be considered, and they are not all of Chinese ethnicity. He has a talented Chinese sales associate who does a fantastic job of selling Chinese prospects, which also weighs into his information gathering and perception. He is shackling his reach, unnecessarily.

OK, I’ve breeched my promise again. I went over 4 pages, but when you are citing biographical situations you must tell the entire story for each example or you can’t effectively state your case, so I apologize and promise to make the next article as short as I possibly can. 

Here is the point of this writing: It is not efficient or effective to make decisions without the benefit of science and math to confirm and support your expenditures. I’ve heard it said that “a person’s perception is their reality.” I have found this to be true in servicing our clients and have learned to do the research needed, before having a firm opinion. My firm opinion is this: Instincts are great and very helpful in “one on one” selling situations BUT if you are in charge of making decisions that affect the course of a company, therefore the lives of many people, large decisions need facts to make them the unequivocal direction to be taken. 

Perception is sometimes confirmed by research, but just as often is not. Why not perform “due diligence” and make sure before you dig your heels in? Wow… I said all that to just make that one point? Yes, in retrospect and based upon the feedback we get at Prospects International, this topic was worth the investment- mine in the time to write it, and yours in the time to read it. 

Please check the facts and do the research before you make a decision. Please also do yourself a favor and check your ego at the door before you sit down to make an important marketing decision. Egos don’t sell; servicing does. Many people who believe that they have all the answers fall into the trap of using their perceptions as their barometer. In their minds they think, “I’m an intelligent person on this subject; I just need to set the course.” Then they abandon the important homework that would support or adjust their direction. Because they have a healthy trust in their perception, they let it solely guide them. It’s a bad choice. If you fly by the seat of your pants, you could easily get caught with them down. 

Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistakes of logic – Edward de Bono

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