If you have a product or service or idea that has strengths and weaknesses, which one should you present first?
Avis rent-a-car in the late 1960’s almost went bankrupt. They were three million dollars in debt. Hertz was number one, and Avis did everything it could think of to demonstrate what its strengths were to its potential customers. Nothing worked. They couldn’t compete in the marketplace.
Finally, they decide they’re going to hire one of these “Mad Men” on Madison Avenue, an ad guy. The guy comes up with this campaign. You may be familiar with it:
We’re Number Two—we try harder
Anyone have a memory of that campaign? (From the floor, a participant says, “one of the best slogans in the whole world”).
The CEO went ballistic. He hated it. He said: “I don’t want to tell people we’re not the best, forget it!”
But the head of Marketing says, we have to test this out because we’re almost going bankrupt, we have to do something, shake things up.
So they go and they launch this campaign, and this campaign turned the company around. In less than a year, they went from being 3 million dollars in debt, to 1 million dollars in the black. The year after that it doubled, and the year after that it doubled. This campaign ran for a long, long time.
What this teaches us is, if you lead with your weakness what you’re signaling to your audience, or your customers, is that you are trustworthy. That you’re not going to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes. That you are somebody who is going to be honest.
There’s a piece of research that was done at Harvard, through the Harvard Negotiation project by a guy named William Yurich. His research was, when I’m in negotiation with somebody what are the two main psychological filters that I’m making my decisions through?
When we’re on the buyer’s side, the two main psychological filters that we make our decision through is:
- Do I like that person?
Which is another way of saying: Do I trust that person? Do I think that I can have a long term relationship with that person who will treat me fairly, and that later on if there’s a problem, are they going to be able to rectify it or are they going to take advantage of me? So can I build a relationship with that person?
- Second question, do I believe them? Are they credible?
When we’re on the buyers’ side of the equation, the “do I trust them?” bears more weight than: “are they credible?”
But when we’re on the seller’s side of the equation we want to come across as credible as possible. To show that we’re a subject matter expert. Or when we’re trying to sell our business, or you’re in a job interview and you’re trying to sell yourself, or you try to pitch an idea to somebody on your team. We spend all this time pitching the strengths and maybe not talking about the weaknesses at all.
This piece of research says, lead with the weakness, follow-up with the strength.
If you’re in a job interview and somebody says…and this is a classic job interview, the question…what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses? Answer with your weaknesses first, then follow up with your strengths.
If you’re at the boardroom table and people are like, okay let’s do the pros and cons on the whiteboard – go through the cons first, and then the pros. They’re more likely to buy into your idea because you’re demonstrating trust.
The other thing that this leverages is the idea of: Recency.
We tend to remember the most recent thing that we hear. The last thing that we heard is the thing we tend to remember. So if you go through pros and cons, the last thing you’re talking about is the negative thing, leaving them with a negative impression.
If you go through the strengths and weaknesses, the last thing you’re leaving them with is the weaknesses. So you want to end strong, you want to end on strength, so you lead with the weakness.