[Ken Kifer's Writing Pages]

ARTICLE: The Power of Negative Selling

How using negative selling techniques damages the sale of honey and how to sell honey without using negative information. This essay is provided as an example of effective argumentation.

The Power of Negative Selling

Published in Gleanings in Bee Culture, October 1986

NOTE: This article was written for beekeepers and therefore assumes the reader is familiar with the honey business and its problems. "We" in the article refers to beekeepers, of course. I think those who are not beekeepers can follow the argument without much explanation, although you may not understand all the details. I do need to call your attention to the following facts: 1) Honey has a long shelf life, so "freshness" has no real meaning; 2) there is no difference in any way between "raw honey" and honey that has been heated carefully to prevent granulation ("turning to sugar"); 3) "pasteurization" is unnecessary with honey which naturally destroys any bacteria (although some kinds of honey, due to high glucose content, must be heated to avoid granulation); 4) sugar fed to bees to prevent starvation does not harm or even appear in honey; and 5) some honeys are naturally dark and others naturally light. All these statements are based on careful, scientific tests, and all agree with informed opinion. Also, the person who is not a beekeeper should not worry about old combs, etc. If the honey tastes good, it has been processed correctly.

I am including this, not as an essay on beekeeping, but as an example of argument.

I have made some minor corrections and changes to the text.

When I was a boy, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale was a best seller. I'm not sure that positive thinking has ever helped me, but I know that negative thinking has hurt me time and again, so I would consider it more powerful. Now in selling, we are supposed to accentuate the positive, but I have never read what happens if we don't. However, I have seen it happen in selling honey, and I want to pass along a warning.

The first time I became aware there was a problem happened this way: I was in a tobacco shop buying an uncoated pipe, and I asked if I could treat it with beeswax. "Where do you get beeswax?" "I'm a beekeeper." "Do you have any honey with you?" "Yes." "Well, go get some." I made several half-mile round trips to the van and back, and each time the honey was sold to someone else before I returned. The woman who owned the shop was beside herself with enthusiasm and acted as if she had never been able to buy honey before, even though two stores in the same mall sold it regularly. She wanted to sell my honey in her shop, which got me pretty enthusiastic. But when I returned to deliver a few days later, she was cold and nearly rude.

I worried for a long time about what I must have done wrong on that sale. But the truth of the matter is that I had done nothing to make the sale and nothing to lose it. The power of negative selling had done both. Before I had arrived, the woman was already convinced that the majority of honey was worthless and that is why she was so excited about having the real thing! But before I returned somebody must have given her reason to doubt my product also.

Now that I sell at Trade Day, I am well aware of the problem. "Did you make this honey yourself?" "Why is it so dark?" "Is this pure honey?" These questions are asked in a hard, sharp, suspicious tone of voice, as if I was guilty of something. Other questions seem to indicate a direction: "Is this wild honey?" "Has this honey been cooked?" "Do you feed your bees sugar?"

It seems as if the organic movement must be behind such questions, but there are few of these outlets in my area. Why should people who don't worry about pesticides in their vegetables, salt in their hot dogs, or sugar in their peanut butter worry about whether I feed my bees or not? Indeed, further remarks often reveal beyond doubt that the source of their worries is a beekeeper. For instance, I have been informed that honey can be darkened in brood combs, by being heated, and by being stored for a long time. I'm sure they were informed by beekeepers; after all, this is fairly sophisticated knowledge. But why were they given such negative information? And why did the beekeeper also not explain that some kinds of honey are naturally dark?

I have in mind's eye a sort of sleazy beekeeper who slinks up to a new customer and says in a greasy whisper, "Don't buy that honey! It's got corn syrup and other gunk in it. They had to boil it because it wasn't ripe. It's old and worthless anyhow."

But the truth is, the originator of these suspicions is probably a clean-cut, God fearing, all-American type. He says, "Buy my honey. It's 100% pure, and don't accept anything that isn't. It's raw and wild, not like that stuff they sell at the store. It's never been cooked (or it's thoroughly pasteurized). It won't turn to sugar because I don't feed sugar to my bees. I use only new combs and not old, moldy ones. It's fresh off of the hives, so you better but it quick before it gets old." In fact, if he only says that it's pure, wild, uncooked, and fresh, he's still saying that there's something wrong with other peoples' honey.

And, if you stop to think about it, he hasn't given people one reason to buy honey, only many reasons why they shouldn't.

A long time ago, I working milking cows for a couple of months. The operator let manure, blood, and penicillin get in the milk. But have you ever heard a milk company advertise, "We always clean the manure off of the cow's sack." Of course not. So why should we have to explain the difference between a brood comb and a honey comb to people who have never seen the inside of a beehive?

"But," you ask, "how can I claim my honey is superior if I can't explain how I'm more careful about processing it?" Very simple. Let them eat a bit. I don't care what kind of ultra-sophisticated, ultra-modern, or primitive-makeshift equipment and processing you use; I don't care if you are the best beekeeper or the worst; I don't care if you have 10,000 colonies or one; I don't care if you honey is as black as ink or as clear as air; you will never sell a customer a second jar of honey if he or she doesn't like the first.

After all, the reason you should be taking extra pains in extracting and packing your honey, or in producing comb honey, is so your customer will be delighted with the taste and come back again; the reason is not so you can have some snide remark to make about what someone else does.

What do you do when a customer won't taste any? Why you describe the taste of your honey and tell how the aroma, flavor, and color come from the flowers from which its made. Look at Charles Mraz' article in the June [1986] issue of Bee Culture for an example.

I don't recommend, however, that we try to sell honey as a health food. I feel that warning people against the use of sugar has pretty much backfired on us. You can waste a lot of time explaining the difference between one kind of sugar and another, and still not make a sale. In fact, even if honey were the greatest health food of all time and the customer knew it, I doubt we would increase our sales.

Perhaps a better way to sell honey is to convince people that it's illegal, immoral, or harmful. Look at the sales of soft drinks, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Why the local store makes more selling cigarette papers than it does selling honey. People know these things are bad but buy them anyway. In this regard, I am interested in the coming Promotion Program. I think a TV ad showing a boy sneaking honey to put on his bread will do more for us than if the Surgeon General announced that honey eaters live five years longer.

No, don't tell people that honey is good for them. Don't tell them how wonderful bees are. Don't complain about cheap foreign honey. Don't tell them about the man you think is selling corn syrup (tell the state though). Don't put down sugar. Don't talk about processing. Instead, talk about flowers and their wonderful aromas. Explain that honey contains essence, the flavors, and the aromas of flowers (and you should learn which). Talk about bread made with honey. Or hot cakes with honey. Or chicken or ham baked with a honey glaze. Or ice cream made or covered with honey syrup. And do what Steve Tabor suggests -- Eat honey yourself.

Comments | DIRECTORIES: | The New World | Writing | Thoreau | Home | Bike Pages |
PAPERS: | Hamsters | Nelson-Denny | Computers | Lefthand |
WRITINGS: | RedRide | The New World | Negative | Firewood | Any Cave | J'ville | Carbiding |
http://www.kenkifer.com/writing/negative.htm | copyright © 2000 Ken Kifer