• January 1, 2007
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

The Devilish Drift

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Just what are we willing to do for money? It's a question that gets asked fairly often, usually in a truth-or-dare setting, but it's relevant to the whole concept of business. The question speaks to what value we assign to objects and actions, and is really the basis of commerce. What we buy as well as what we sell tells a story about us. I recently ran across an auction on eBay for a human soul (in the form of a certificate). To entice buyers, the following descriptive text appears: "What you are purchasing is a certificate that states 'Human Soul Of [Seller] Is Now and Forever the Property of (Buyer).' You will also be purchasing my handwritten journal to be sent out 29 days after purchase. I will also listen to and consider all of your life advice and participate in the religion of your choice (free service with purchase)." The current bid for this priceless gem? Twelve bucks, plus $3 shipping and handling. (Classic!) Here we have an entrepreneur identifying a commodity and putting it on the market. Unfortunately, he didn't really think things through, as evidenced by the low bid. In fact, this image inspired the following conversation between my girlfriend and myself: Meaghan: "Participate in the religion of your choice"? Marshall: Well, he is selling his soul, ya know. Meaghan: Yes. But changing religions for $12? There are easier ways to get $12. Marshall: Agreed. He should have set his reserve higher. Clearly, the opportunity isn't right. Souls are easy to find, and TV and movies show us that people will offer their souls for sale at the drop of a hat. It's a buyer's market. Offering to change religions isn't a premium or special promotion, it's standard. What this joker should be doing, I regret to say, is something a little more dishonest. Souls may be in plentiful supply, but what does one look like? You don't know. Nobody knows. James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, doesn't even know. So what you do, see, is you sell the same soul over and over again! Giving out a certificate of ownership is folly: Leave no paper trail and you're free to operate. Hey, as long as you're selling your soul, there's no reason to be scrupulous about it. Selling your soul doesn't have to be an actual transaction, of course. In fact, most of the time it isn't, and is really a metaphor for the premise I started with: What are we willing to do for money? Or fame? Or power? Or security? Businesses exist to earn money, but they can't do it without customers. The difference between success and failure is often whether those customers are enthusiastic about the company's products and services, or merely grudgingly accustomed to using them. Good businesses lose the power of their reputations as soon as they begin to drift from delighting customers to taking advantage of them--selling the corporate soul. For example, there's a coffee company out there (call them Ishmaels) that used to be a delight, and now is a source of substandard, overpriced coffee cranked up with sugar and frills, not to mention snippy baristas with an inflated sense of their own importance. I was never a big fan, but I used to think they were at least a good business. Now I merely accept their presence, like death and taxes. I'll give them my money when necessary, but always with the feeling that I'm feeding a beast. Unrestrained greed, believing your own hype, forgetting who it is that makes you a successful business, the Dark Side are they. Beware the Dark Side. Contact Senior Editor Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com.
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