How to sell a cannon – or not.

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My husband used to have a cartoon pinned up above his desk.  It showed a medieval war being fought with bows and arrows while the the General issued commands from in front of the command tent.  An aide had just delivered a message that a salesman with a cannon was waiting behind the tent to show the General his product.   The caption read, “Tell him I don’t have time to look at his cannon.  I have a war to fight!”

At the time, this analogy made me smile because it so accurately depicted behavior in so many business circumstances today.

The scenario seems ridiculous, but how many times have we ignored a perfectly viable and efficient solution simply because we’re too busy to stop our frenetic, and often wasted activity long enough to think things through and recognize the advantages of switching to a new way of doing things?

Whose fault is that?  Ours for being too busy?  Or the sales person’s for not articulating their pitch properly?

In my opinion, it’s the sales person’s fault.

Now, before you get riled at my unfairness, consider this:  everyone is way too busy these days and it takes something out of the ordinary to capture our attention long enough for us to become motivated to respond.

A sales person who doesn’t quickly, clearly and powerfully articulate a major benefit and hit the primary hot button of his prospect will likely not make a sale. I can just imagine that cannon sales person approaching the general’s aide.

“Excuse me, Sir.  I have something here I think your General will be interested in.”

“I don’t think so… can’t you see he’s busy with a war?”

“Yes, I know, and what I have will really help him.”

“Do you know how many sales people the General’s turned away this week?  He’s not interested I tell you.”

“Oh, but I’m different.  My product really works!”

“That’s what they all say…”

“No, really!  I promise you!  It’ll only take 30 seconds.  Please!  Pleeeeze?  I promise you the General will be so glad once he sees what I have… you might even get a bonus!  And… if you tell the rest of the generals about this I can probably even offer you a commission!”

“Oh, all right then.  But only 30 seconds, you hear?  I’ll go see if he’ll talk to you.”

Of course, the outcome is that although the sales person really did have a product that would give the General an absolute and unfair advantage over his competition, he didn’t even get past go.  All because he didn’t articulate his message clearly, powerfully and persuasively enough.

I see this happening all the time.

Everything that is written and said in business should be examined to see if it quickly, accurately and powerfully makes the correct persuasive point. If after hearing or reading what’s been said, your targeted audience can ask ‘So what?’ without the answer being absolutely clear and meaningful – that communication has been wasted.

Worse still, you’ve been temporarily lulled into a false sense of security imagining that your communication is out there working for you.  When no positive results follow, you wonder why.  After all, you’ve communicated, haven’t you?

While the actual activity of communication is vital, how you communicate is critical.

What the cannon sales person could’ve done was tell the aide,

“I guarantee that if your General uses my cannon, he’ll win this war before lunch time today.  I’ll be happy to show him how.

I think that might’ve got the General’s attention, don’t you?

Almost every situation can be turned around by the way it’s articulated. Whether it’s spoken or written, the words we use define our success or failure.  Words create images.  Images create feelings.  Feelings motivate action.  Logical or not.

That’s why you’ll see a company that experiences bad publicity will usually, as their first response, get their public relations team to begin damage control.  They understand that they have the power to mitigate disaster and perhaps emerge even stronger through re-molding public perception through the use of carefully crafted messages.  Messages that restore confidence in the company’s integrity – even if they’re at fault, the public is assured that they take responsibility and will make things right.

This level of articulation takes more than product knowledge or marketing skill. It takes emotional intelligence.  It requires an understanding of the core emotions of the market.  It also requires an ability to use words as accurately and carefully as a surgeon uses a scalpel.

Not everyone has developed this ability. It’s wise to either find someone who has it to write your messages for you – or, if you want to develop this skill in-house, hire an expert to critique your initial efforts.

Remember, your business is articulating messages all the time, whether you’re aware of the process or not. It’s a wise executive who takes control of this articulation rather than simply letting it happen.

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