Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Politics Shop

Imagine you wander into a shop one day and find yourself confronted with three sales-assistants.

The First Sales Attempt

The first sales-assistant, wearing a red tie and a crumpled ill-fitting suit, approaches you from the depths of shop and asks you to look at the product he is promoting. You examine it and realise immediately it is a product that looks something like one you have used for many years and found to be expensive to maintain and largely unreliable. At times it has been so unreliable that you have been concerned that it will stop working completely but it has still managed to stagger on.

The sales-assistant implores you not to be put off buying his lovely new, updated product and is very keen to tell you that it will provide much better performance. But as he describes the new features in very vague terms you realise they amount to relatively little and the sales-assistant, as well as using strange hand-gestures and leering at you in a rather upsetting way, seems incapable of answering any searching questions. He simply waffles incoherently and avoids direct questions. You feel uncertain about what he is offering and he clearly doesn't want to describe it in detail.

As you wander away - he rounds on you and sneers. 'Watch out for the guy with the Blue Tie - don't believe a word he says!'

The Second Sales Attempt

A few minutes later the second sales-assistant, wearing a blue tie and looking generally well turned-out approaches. "Hi. Good to meet you" he says grabbing your hand, "Thanks for coming. Let me show you my product". 

He glosses over the main capabilities and spends quite a lot of time talking about some gimicky features and shows you some flashing lights that he clearly thinks are quite impressive. As he speaks you notice a logo on the product and recall mixed reviews - some people have raved about the product and others say it was an absolute disaster. But the shiny-faced sales-assistant seems very friendly (if a little plumby) and so you decide to give his product a chance.

You start asking searching questions but rather than answer them, this guy starts repeating exactly what he has already said to you. He seems completely unprepared to answer your questions. He also starts using strange hand gestures and then looks at you pensively. You wonder why he is unprepared to make any detailed representations about the product (other than his pet gimmicky features)? 

So you try a different tack. You ask him if his product is very different to the product sold by the red-tie-guy. His face immediately brightens. "Ah yes!" he says. "It is very different. A real..". he pauses for effect, "CHANGE" he announces, beaming. He seems to like the word "Change" and keeps repeating it in rather a strange way. But when you ask him to explain the differences, to justify the 'CHANGE', he smiles, repeats himself again and again starts making weird hand gestures. Although he is quite prepared to describe his favourite gimmick features to you again (all of which seem rather irrelevant) he just will not be drawn into discussion about the things you feel are important.

You walk away a little disappointed that a possible alternative to the red-guy's product (a similar version of which you already have) doesn't seem to be buy-able. As you leave, the blue-tie-guy warns you to watch out for the red-tie-guy. "He will say anything to make you believe in his product", he warns.

The Third Sales Attempt

A few minutes later you look around for the third sales-assistant. You notice him by the entrance to the shop where he is busily talking to passers-by and inviting them in to the shop. Some do walk in, and some are pounced on by the leering red-tie-guy. Quite a few of these people rapidly leave but others stay and walk around the shop.

The yellow-tie-guy turns around and sees you looking at him. He smiles warmly and, hand in pocket saunters over. "Hi, what are you looking for?" he asks. You notice he looks younger than his colleagues.

You explain that you just wandered into the shop out of curiosity to see what was on offer really. 

"Ah I see", he says, "So have you found anything you like the look of?". 

"Well", you summarise, "I have seen one product I already have but is coming to the end of it's life and the newer model doesn't seem to offer anything more and probably has a lot of the old disadvantages. And I have seen an alternative product that has some flashing lights..."

"So when you weigh up the features of those two products which do you prefer?", he asks.

"Hmm. The thing is I really don't know because neither of the other 2 guys are prepared to explain their product's features in any detail".

"I thought you might say that", the yellow-tie-guy says knowingly. "Let me show you my product..".

He proceeds to speak knowledgeably about his product. Some of the features look good and some look poor. Having answered all of your probing questions (some not absolutely completely - but hey he's young!) he turns to you and asks the ultimate question..

"So. Having looked at all the available alternatives which would you like to buy?"

You ponder for a moment and then say firmly, "I am not going to make a decision today. But my old product has reached the end of it's life and I have to make a decision about a new one in the next couple of weeks".

"And how are things looking for my product as things stand?" he asks as you both walk to the door.

You answer. "It's like this. You seem like a nice guy, you've told me about your product, you've answered all my questions and your colleagues just don't seem interested in explaining what they are offering. So things look pretty good for you right now". You notice the red-tie-guy and the blue-tie-guy at the back of the shop arguing with each other about something.

"But of course there is an alternative" you say feeling slightly harsh. "I could just not buy anything."

"Oh yes I know", the yellow tie guy says, "That's what the red-tie-guy and the blue-tie-guy have been banking on for years. You either buy nothing (in which case neither loses to the other) or when you really need to buy something you will buy from one of them. Which, to be fair, in the past most people have. They just spend most of their time trying to outdo each other."

"So what are you up to then?" you ask.

"Well as you may have noticed. This shop has seen better days. The number of people coming in has fallen. So the reason I am walking towards the door with you is because I am going out on to the street again looking for new customers that I can entice into the shop". 

"But aren't you concerned that if you pull in the customers. They will just buy from the red-tie-guy or the blue-tie-guy? and they will just benefit from all your hard work."

"Not really" he says and then pauses and says thoughtfully...

"But if they did start explaining exactly what their products do I would be in trouble..."


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