In a scene from the movie The Social Network, the story of the early days of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and his partner Eduardo Saverin are riding in a taxi after their first sushi-restaurant meeting with Napster founder Sean Parker.  Eduardo had been lobbying to sell ads on Facebook, and Mark had been resisting because he thought it was too early. (Facebook had 75,000 members at that point, in 19 colleges.) The issue comes up again during the cab ride, and Mark reminds Eduardo that Parker had said that being “cool” was the best thing Facebook had going for it, and ads could ruin that. Mark then quoted Parker directly:  “Selling ads would be like throwing a party and having it end at 11PM.”

Eduardo responds that he has to worry about paying for the party, and Mark shoots back this line: “There won’t be a party if it’s not cool.”

This is a great lesson for ditching the pitch: Don’t turn a genuine encounter into a sales conversation too quickly. Be patient. Earn the trust of the person you are dealing with, and you will earn the right to have your discussion evolve into a sales conversation. And never, ever, let it turn into a sales pitch.

Imagine being invited to play golf by a friend who sells insurance, and realizing by the 3rd hole that the only reason he invited you was to pitch you life insurance. Imagine talking to a neighbor at your street’s block party, and realizing that his enthusiasm for the conversation is really just eagerness to sell you new siding for your house.  In either case it might be possible to turn you into a customer, but not if they do it too quickly. Once you see the sales pitch coming, you duck.

In hindsight, it’s interesting to see that Facebook now has many “uncool” things about it that it didn’t have back in its early days – ads, stretching the limits of using member data, open to everyone (not just college students).  Facebook clearly gets away with this – it’s the #2 trafficked website on the Internet (after Google.) But Zuckerberg and Parker were right, the party would have never happened if it hadn’t been cool first.

Have patience. Let’s the party get going. Relax and have a good time with your customer. You’ll know when it’s time to start selling.


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