Selling A Better Mousetrap–(Or Butter Spray)
In the late 1800’s Ralph Waldo Emerson is given credit for the metaphor that has proceeded every great idea…”Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door”. The first problem is Mr. Emerson didn’t actually say that quote. The phrase is actually a misquotation of:
If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
The second, and even more important problem with the mousetrap quote, is that it’s just not true. It’s not enough to have a great idea. That great idea has to be sold. There is no greater frustration than having a terrific idea shot down.
In 1987 I had this idea for spray butter. I was in the Air force at a base picnic and watched as Airman from every walk of life put butter on their ears of corn. It was painful to watch. ..And kind of gross when they rolled an already bitten piece of corn back onto a stick of butter. So pecking away at my 1965 Smith and Corona I fired off a bunch of letters to the leading manufacturers of margarine and butter….My idea? “Mista” Butter. (Yes, a ridiculous play on “Mr. Butter”–but my original thought was the butter would spray in a cool mist–Hence, Mista Butter) I received one letter back, and it politely told me that they would hand my letter off to their marketing department. No grand rewards, no earth-shaking discovery. My little idea just shriveled up and died without the power of persuasion.
When I arrived back in the states several years later, every margarine company in the world had a spray butter. Go check your refrigerator–I bet you have one in there right now–well, thank me!
America knows how to generate ideas. What the average creative doesn’t know is how to sell them. Everything has to be sold. Apple computer’s first ideas came from Steve Wozniak, a brilliant programmer. The name Apple would have never been a household name if the sales guy, Steve Jobs, didn’t pour in his marketing magic.
Sales, advertising, and marketing are all skills that need to be honed like any other profession. It takes years of mastery before a salesperson really knows how to motivate the person with the checkbook. That is why just about every product or service has the sales side and the research/production side. It takes both left and right brain thinking to get the public to embrace something new. The number one thing for a company to realize is decision makers aren’t interested in you..They really aren’t. All they are interested in is solving their own problems.
Even when you do find a way to solve their problems, they still have to be shown and told. Trust needs to be established. If your incredible new product scratches the itch and makes your prospects pain go away, you need to prove it. Over and over again.
The world doesn’t have an idea problems. It has selling problems. If everyone was put on some type of commission plan, the human race would advance 20 years overnight—-And have plenty of “spray” options–maybe ketchup and mustard would work!?