Cobbling Together

What I thought might have been an original idea is proving less so.

We’re in the age – just beginning, really – of Cobbling Together our livelihoods. Jobs, investments, consulting, part-time gigs, income producing recruitment; all these will go into one big hopper with enough cash flowing out of the bottom to keep us afloat. Hopefully. The goal is to add enough assets (live and inanimate) so that we don’t have to go to work each day.

If we have skills that are in demand, we’ll likely still have a job to go to, one that will give us surplus cash for savings and luxuries. The number of arenas in which this is true will shrink, probably more quickly than you’d imagine. Which is why setting ourselves up for days containing more than one activity is the future.

Like Dan, a new colleague. He has a part-time sales job, a part-time IT job, his own IT customers and he delivers sailing yachts too. His is a textbook Cobbling Together life, one that he’s been working at for a couple of years at least. There’s nothing new under the sun…but it will be new to a lot of people in short order. Welcome to your world.

Threats

The threat was workaday, routine, almost thrown off as a procedural matter, but it was a threat nonetheless.

Reading from a script, she advised me that my government would take action if I failed to carry health insurance for any period of time. She didn’t just rush in, she knew it was a priority, telling me that she had to read this piece of information to me, but this was a priority among all the other pieces of bureaucratic swill sitting on the screen in front of her.

Someone had impressed upon her the essential nature of hammering home the punitive consequences of the Affordable Care Act. (Note the non-reference to ‘health’ in the official title.)

So much for a government of the people.

Coupons

Reinforcing the search for a bargain is the humble coupon, a tool retailers – how much retail experience do you have? – use seemingly without discrimination.

I don’t get it. Coupons work if your goal is to see people through the door. The question then becomes one of margin and loyalty. Do we want sheer numbers cycling through the store, or are we looking for people who will return with or without coupons?

In other words, do coupons drive returns or merely a further search for coupons?

Seems to me that the coupon-wielding customer is only valuable to the extent they extend their purchase beyond the loss-leader products. My short-time informal survey says: No. Human nature is self-determined, so if you’re looking for bargains via coupon, to then buy something at full retail is an incongruity; it voids the internal logic of using coupons in the first place.

Smarter people than me spend a lot of time and money creating and publishing coupons for their business. If that’s your model, then great. But if you’re in search of a retailing relationship with long-term returning customers, coupons don’t work. They’re the hook-up of selling. Make sure you use protection.

This used to be my favorite.

Sales; the last frontier, or so my current employers think.

In an interesting turn of events, three management types encouraged me to lie as part of my standard script this week. They were all panicked at the impending arrival of even more important management types, scrabbling to cover any visible holes, and so did a wee role-play. My task was to correctly (ahem) divert attention away from one product onto another, with the goal of selling the second. I guess it goes without saying that the second is more profitable.

My view is that selling is about fulfilling a need. In the case of, say, wine, the need is more subtle than one might think. More subtle and also multi-layered. As a luxury item, there is no need for wine other than those we create. The need for alcohol is one not so shiny part of the decision to buy, and is the easiest to sell, because it sells itself.

No, it’s the social and intellectual needs that are harder to nail down. Wanting to appear knowledgeable, worldly, sophisticated (whatever that means) superior, tasteful and part of an elite drive the choice of one particular bottle over another.

The difficulty in attempting to overtly sell to any one of those edifying aspirations is that it also involves the opinions of third parties, and their tastes and biases. I’ll give you an example.

A woman wants to buy wine for a dinner party. She’s preparing supper for her best friend and her husband, and of course herself and her husband. That’s four different tastes and biochemistries, four different palates, four different senses of smell, four different tasting histories. Thai people, for instance will have a different taste history from Esquimaux, and that will affect their enjoyment of an individual wine apart from the pure nose and taste.

So the woman wants to impress someone with some wines that complement the food. She wants to move up from her usual $10 per bottle wine into something more expensive. Without tasting, she won’t even know how she likes the wine, let alone her husband and guests. This doesn’t even start with the perception of name, label, bottle style, fame of winemaker and so on. It’s a quagmire of mantraps…or wine-sales traps.

The salesmen then resorts to creativity – lies – to reassure the customer that all the above needs will be met, with the most profitable bottle possible inside her budget. It’s a fools errand. One example of such a lie, as recommended by my employer, is: This one used to be my favorite (the non-preferred purchase) but this (thrusting bottle into uneasy customer’s hand) is now.

It’s dishonest, cheesy, short-sighted and plain low-rent. I’ll have no truck with this junk.