A consultant friend once asked me how she should go about selling services she’d never done before. Naturally, she had fear.
She was hoping for encouragement to charge forward and ask for the deal. But instead, I told her that she should get experience performing that procedure several times before trying to do it by herself.
If you wanted to become a surgeon, should you go sell that heart operation, even if the patient is willing and you’re super pumped to perform it?
Most people attack problems by summoning courage– channeling their inner “Tony Robbins”– hoping that optimistic action will lead to success.
They’ve read about the “Imposter Syndrome” and watched too many seasons of “The Voice”, where that expert, singer, or comedian has a massive win just because they stepped out into the light.
Blind optimism and hustle get you killed, as explained by the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
Go look it up– it will forever change your perspective and change your life.
Modern society, not just digital marketing, is so complex that there’s no way you’d be able to assess someone’s expertise in the thousands of fields of study.
Even in running my digital marketing agency, there’s no way I could keep up with the latest changes in Google Ads, learning management systems, marketing automation, or whatever the latest thing is.
Even in just the narrow area of Facebook ads, there are so many verticals– that to be effective at lead generation for pharmacists is an entirely different game than for farmers.
Unable to evaluate true competency, we have to take their word for it and go by perceived authority. Perceived authority is my co-founder, Logan Young, being interviewed on CNN about the controversy with Facebook ads (cover image above).
There’s not enough there to tell if he’s actually a pro at Facebook ads, nor is the TV anchor well-versed enough to tell– he’s going to cover a bombing, changes in the stock market, and what some politician said– all in the next 5 minutes after this interview is done.
Full disclosure: I was the one who put him on TV, and since his fame, he got poached by a client.
Perceived authority means decisions made by association and heuristics since there is literally 1,000 times more information than you could consume to make an educated choice.
I had once lost my iPhone charging cable and had to buy a new one. So I went to Amazon and found it– the first choice below.
I remember looking for over an hour at iPhone cables– various lengths, types of cables, prices, single versus 3 packs, and so forth. A trivial purchase occupied an hour of my time.
The one I bought has 9,131 reviews plus enough information that it would take months to read. Last time you bought something on Amazon, how many reviews were there on all the various products you looked at?
You’d think that with MORE information being available, people would be smarter, be more informed, and make smarter decisions.
But because of this pesky thing called the Dunning-Kruger Effect– read this 5 part article from the New York Times on it (yes– it’s worth reading right now), people grossly overestimate their competency.
When the pool of information was a bathtub, we could comfortably soak and relax in it– maybe put in some bubble bath. When it became a swimming pool, we put on our goggles and could still touch the bottom with our toes, even in the deep end.
But when the pool of information is so vast that we’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we can no longer bob and have our toes touch the bottom. It’s a scary place at the bottom of the Marianas Trench at 36,070 feet down– the deepest part of the ocean.
Walking on hot coals and repeating self-affirmations alone will not bring you safely on this expedition or a successful outcome to your attempted heart operation. Likewise, being on CNN will not give you world-class expertise in digital marketing, though your friends will be impressed.
You need competence.
And that comes from experience– studying checklists and performing an operation repeatedly, as doctors do in medical school on cadavers, before live patients.
Today, someone in a group was asking for recommendations for a Facebook ads expert. Minutes later, a dozen recommendations came in– people nominating friends as well as themselves.
But no one knew what particular issue this lady had or what business she was in. If you needed someone to remove your spleen for whatever reason, a podiatrist or dentist wouldn’t be the right specialist– not even if he was the best cardiologist on the planet.
Our world of digital marketing feels a lot more like a circus than a hospital, where clowns with rainbow hair are asking you to “step right up!” trying to shout louder than all the other clowns and bearded ladies.
At some point, snake oil will give way to respected, documented practice. If you were meeting with your doctor in the examination room, how would you feel if he acted like a carnival barker– peddling buy-one, get-one-free surgeries today only.
If you’re getting Lasik, wouldn’t you prefer the calm practitioner who has done it 5,000 times without incident, such that it’s routine and mundane?
Consider how a systematic process of metrics to analysis to action is how marketing will eventually be when there are standards for measurement and execution.
Then we operate in a world of competence, not confidence- to finally break free of Dunning-Kruger. Have you looked that up yet?
About the Author
You can find him quoted in major publications and on television such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR, and LA Times. Clients have included Nike, Red Bull, the Golden State Warriors, Ashley Furniture, Quiznos-- down to local service businesses like real estate agents and dentists. He's spoken at over 750 conferences in 20 countries, having flown over 6 million miles in the last 30 years to train up young adults and business owners. He speaks for free as long as the organization believes in the job-creation mission and covers business class travel.
You can find him hiking tall mountains, eating chicken wings, and taking Kaqun oxygen baths-- likely in a city near you.