“I am going to challenge Bill Gates…”
said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
“I am going to challenge Elon Musk…”
said Microsoft founder Bill Gates
Unless you are not connected to the internet or you don’t watch TV, you’re probably familiar with the Ice Bucket Challenge. If someone nominates you to take the challenge, you’re supposed to either donate $100 to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) research or post a video of yourself getting doused with ice water and call on others to do the same. As of Wednesday, August 27, The ALS Association has received $94.3 million in donations compared to $2.7 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 27)¹
And as of 15th September 2014 a record $113.3 million has been collected for this cause.² So what makes the ice bucket challenge hugely successful? What makes so many famous people ‘shiver’ happily in the ice cold water and then empty their wallets? We believe there are lessons to be learned from this campaign and how you too can apply them in selling.
4 Sales Lesson Learned From the Ice Bucket Challenge
Lesson #1: The Message is Delivered Creatively
Most of us have never learnt about the debilitating disease called ALS. This terminal neurodegenerative disease attacks the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Patients will be fully dependant on care- takers once the disease progresses. Research and funding have been around for the last 75 years. Yet how is it that most of us only know about this disease through the ALS ice bucket challenge?
We believe one of the reasons for its success stems from the way the patient’s stories are being told. Often funds are being raised through sharing of important information such as statistics, patient numbers and perhaps testimonies and flashes of patients before and after photos etc. during various fund raising activities. Many of us will agree that we are familiar with such stories and format. Like the old adage “familiarity breeds contempt” so we tend to tune-out these important issues and messages.
Dousing yourself with ice-cold water however is fresh, exciting and fun to watch. For a split second your muscle freezes and you share the pain of an ALS patient (to a lesser degree). Add-on the action with the 24 hours ‘I dare you too challenge to a friend’ and all for the sake of charity! Hence the entire process is fun, meaningful and that makes it easy to donate! The ice bucket challenge is a good example on application of creativity and captivating visuals in communicating ones message. Similarly in our daily sales activities to our customers; can we present information in a positive and creative way? Or do we still present information in a manner which captures the head and neglect the heart? (Yes we do agree that the delivery of information has to be within the constraint of the code of ethics)
The ice bucket challenge also directly involves the donors therefore engage them on an emotional level by allowing the message to stand-out among the noise and chaos of daily lives. How often do we engage our audience in our message? For example; do we encourage them to use our iPad, to thumb-over and navigate to the area of interest? Or do we use analogies in our conversations and paint vivid stories of patient’s recoveries and success? These are just simple examples on how we can get creative on our sales message with our clients. Perhaps the reasons why we fail to be creative with the delivery of our sales messages are because of lack of imagination and boldness. The ice bucket challenge clearly shows that getting individuals involve in the message in a creative and positive manner to get results. So can we create our own “ice bucket challenge” in selling? I believe all it takes is imagination and boldness to try out something new. This is our challenge.
Key # 2: The Spotlight Is On The Donor
Have you ever wondered why social media such as Face Book, Instagram, Pinterest etc. are hugely popular? One of the answers is because they serve as platforms for self-promotion and lifting of one’s self-esteem.
Here is a quote from Leonid Bershidsky, a Berlin based writer and contributor to Bloomberg View³ in his recent article on why the ice bucket is hugely successful:
“The exhibitionist nature of social networks has been exhaustively discussed and even credited with creating a narcissism epidemic. Narcissistic personalities do their best to exploit the networks’ potential both for self-promotion and for lifting their self-esteem. They particularly like posting pictures and videos of themselves, and of “special” people they find it flattering to be associated with.
..You get to show yourself doing something marginally daring. Everybody will see how fit, handsome, or witty you are — and how altruistic! Though the original deal was to donate to the ALS Association or pour a bucket of ice water over one’s head, people have typically done both and made no secret of it. What’s more, you get to associate yourself with all the famous people who are doing the same thing. There’s Bill Gates, who probably didn’t need the extra publicity or attention to his charity work but still built an elaborate contraption to douse himself, probably figuring he could up the ante in the ALS collection drive. There’s also Justin Bieber, who showed off his body and nominated all his fans and President Barack Obama to upend those buckets.”
The element of self-promotion is one of the key ingredients to the success of the ice bucket challenge. The ice bucket challenge provides the context where people can show their altruism while promoting themselves. The reason for its success is because the focus is on them! In our selling, I believe we can apply the same principle to differentiate ourselves. We need to ask ourselves how we can appeal to the customer’s self-interest. Can we make our customers feel flattered and proud to be associated with us? If we constantly think about how we can appeal to our customer’s self-interest, it will change the way we carry ourselves when we approach our customers. It is no longer only about our product. It is about why the customer wants to be associated with us.
I believe we should strive to position ourselves as experts in our field and be seen as their advisors rather than just sales representatives only. We should be their first source of information when it comes to enquiries about our products and the therapy that we operate in. Hence, like the ice bucket challenge that allows self-promotion, we should also be the reason why our customers want to buy our product. They like our products and want to be associated with us. This definitely requires the ‘one-up salesmanship’ if we want to attract the self-interest of our customers. And to my opinion, this is something that all professional salespeople should do.
Key # 3: The Challenge Is Extended To 3 Friends
After pouring freezing water over his own head, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Founder challenged Bill Gates to follow his lead, alongside Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Bill Gates gladly accepted the challenge and executed it flawlessly (with his impressive ice bucket contraption). In the challenge, the person was required to nominate a minimum of three other people to participate in the challenge after they had doused themselves and donated. We believe this is the other reason to the viral success of this challenge. It is not only creative, fun and able to lift one’s self-esteem but it also have an element of referral (in this case it’s a personal challenge). In sales, we call this referral marketing.
Can we get our customers to refer our solutions to someone that they know? If they are already using our solutions and enjoying the benefits, can we quote their success stories to others? Do we even ask them if we can share their stories with their peers? Imagine if one customer gives you one personal referral; think about the credibility you have when you approach the prospect with your solutions. You will be able to say “Dr.Lee asked me to see you because he believes you will benefit from the potential of this product. Can I share more with you …” Imagine what a powerful opening this will be to capture your prospect’s attention. By learning from the ice bucket challenge, we should also get our customers to give us a minimum of 3 names of individuals where we can talk to about their experiences.
Key #4: Not Everybody Will Love The Ice Bucket Challenge
The recent headline titled: “Ice Bucket Challenge: When Success Creates Problems of Its Own. ALS Association Tries to Avoid Pitfalls After Summer’s Social-Media Sensation was published on the Wall Street Journal² on the 16th September 2014 which highlights the issues faced by the association that stems from the success of the campaign. Criticism is a good thing because, if given in a right way, it brings progress and improvement as demonstrated in this article. However there are also other criticism thrown at the campaign with regards to how the money is going to be spent, the undermining of other equally important diseases, the abuse of the campaign for individual publicity and so much more. Many of these criticisms carry its’ own merits, discussion points and importance. Albeit those who are just ‘haters’ and “haters gonna hate.” This catchphrase is apt for the ice bucket challenge as we notice that even successful campaign like this is not spared of its detractors.
This shows us that no matter what we do, there will always be critics. It is a fact that people will criticize your work no matter how good your intentions or efforts are. In sales, one of the most common challenges I noticed is the lack of passion and enthusiasm especially in trying out creative means to engage the customers. Perhaps it is because we have been influenced by these ‘haters’ that comes in various forms. It could be your colleague, your boss or even your spouse that undermine your desire to stand out amongst the rest! And because we listened, we fall back to our safe ‘old–ways’ of doing things.
So the next time you decide to try something new or different, remember that your effort will be criticized. And it’s okay because ‘hater gonna hate’ and you can’t stop them. I sincerely urge you to hold on to your desire. Do things creatively, differently and stand-out! Either way there will be critics no matter what you do and remember not everybody loved the ice bucket challenge!