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106. Sometimes, I wish we sold physical products

Mostly because it would be simpler. Not because I think I’d be better at it or because I’d be more successfull. But it would definitely be simpler. And Pine and Gilmore are to blame. Sorry, Joe, but you’ll agree in a moment.

Selling commodities requires work

Say you’re in the grapes business. You have a vinyard, and it produces grapes. In today’s world, those grapes can be sold in many places. Directly to consumers who come to the farm? To local markets? To wineries? To international markets? Through middlemen?

The grapes you produce can end up anywhere on the planet. There are plenty of options. But at the end of the day, you’re selling grapes, not horses, toothbrushes or pianos. This gives you some sense of focus.

Selling products is the next step

Let’s say you’ve tired of the grapes business and have become a winery boss instead. Now, you sell your bottles of exquisite alcoholic delight instead of the grapes that go to make it.

Who do you sell to now? Locals? Tourists? Restaurants? Supermarkets? Wine merchants? Companies? Party planners?

Do you produce one type of wine, or many? Do they all go to the same buyers, or does that vary as well? How do you find your markets and how do you get them to buy from you?

Opportunities are vast and complexity is high. I tried my hand a bit at this when we were selling swords. That was interesting as hell, but also quite challenging.

Now, let’s talk about selling services

The other day I heard about perhaps the most awesome job ever. A dog masseuse. We’re litterally talking about a person, who makes her living giving massages to dogs. How cool is that?

It also sparked my curiousity. Who does she sell to? Does she have a clinic/parlor? Does she do house calls? How does she market herself? Are some dogs more suited for receiving massages than others? How’s the competetion? Is it a dog-eat-dog situation?

Back on track. Being a dog masseuse sounds incredibly specialised, but even so, it’s a service that must require a lot of thought put into selling. I can see endless ways of finding customers, and though most of my ideas are probably terrible, some of them might be good.

And that’s for this highly specialized service. If it’s something more general, it gets even more tricky. If you’re a painter, do you do all sorts of paint jobs? Only villas, bikes or miniatures? Do you work alone or in a team? How does the money flow work and how do you figure out how to not try to do everything at once?

I mean – the painters I know are pretty versatile!

Selling experiences? It’s crazy

To be honest, I think the dog massage is just as much an experience as it is a service – especially for first time customers. And there are tons of experiences out there that get sold every day. Laughing coaches. Fake boyfriends. Sensory deprivation. There many ways to make money.

Selling an experience adds on yet another level of tricky, especially if it’s not location-specific. For good reasons, climbing Mount Everest works best if you’re actually on Mount Everest, but mountain climbing as an experience is a different case. And if you’re a laughing coach? You could easily take your business to a different country!

I have no clue how a laughing coach does business development, but I’m sure it happens. And I’m sure that around the world, aspiring laughing coaches are wrangling their hands and trying to figure out how to pay rent. Who are the customers? How to reach them? I’m sure it’s no laughing matter.

As an experience designer, I’m my worst enemy

At our company, we sell experiences. That’s complex enough, and one of the biggest time sinks I know is sitting down and talking about markets and sales strategies. There are simply too many variables, so it often ends in useless thought exercises. But at least it’s concrete.

We also sell our expertise, and that is on a different level altogether. Frankly, it’s insane. It’s a bit like being a jack-of-all-trades and wearing surreal glasses you can’t take off. I catch myself thinking about experiences and have ideas constanty blowing through my head

I walk into an airport toilet and get excited about the door handle. Yes, there’s a blog post on it. #63. I’m like that. I eat a burger at a food stall, and end up chatting with the owners/cooks about how they can stand out from the crowd. I go to Disneyland and am fascinated by the queue experience.

It also makes it nearly impossible to sell myself. My skillset is just getting more diverse and harder to explain as I get older. I can run a children’s birthday party like a champion and I can come up with five new way of organsing meetings in five minutes. I can do high level corporate consulting and I can twist my mind about how electrical bikes could change cities.

But when people ask me, I rarely mention all these things. I tell them that I’m a larp guru, because while that’s weird and unusual, at least it’s reasonably defined. I don’t say that I’m a relationship expert (where are my clients?), a leadership coach or a motivational speaker. And while I sometimes say that I’m an experience designer it usually produces blank looks.

Last week in the Netherlands, I was introduced to someone at the drinks section of a conference in the meetings industry. “You’re the adventure guy, aren’t you?” It wasn’t wrong. It just felt strange. But at least adventure guy sounds less pretentious than experience designer and more fun!

Sometimes I just want to go back to being an arms dealer. At least then, I knew what I was selling.

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Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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