““Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful.”” – Francis Scott Fitzgerald, The Rich Boy

Several years ago, I arranged a conference call between marketing guru Jay Abraham and a group of young copywriters who were being trained by AGP. Jay, a truly brilliant thinker and a warm and funny friend, had agreed to lecture our young writers in return for our promoting one of his famous business seminars.

The phone seminar had gone very well. Jay was witty and insightful. The young Turks were lapping it up. Or so I thought. Just as the session ended, AW (bright and brave) said something like, “But Jay. After you do all this – after you convince people to spend so much money on your seminars – don’t you feel bad about it? I mean, how can you look yourself in the mirror?”

Needless to say, I was mortified. Yet, I wasn’t angry with AW. He was honestly reflecting an idea he’d been taught all his life: that selling . . . the very process of selling . . . is inherently unethical.

I felt the need to speak up – to save Jay from this embarrassing moment. But there was no need. After a moment’s pause, Jay said: “I do this because I love my customers. And that’s why I can sleep at night.”

I don’t think AW quite understood what Jay meant at that time, but I know he does now. It takes a long time working in the business world to deprogram yourself from all the shallow, oversimplified, or simply wrong ideas you are taught in college. (And by television, radio, newspapers and magazines, movies, and so on.)

The Roots Of Cynicism

Two years ago, I was invited to address a group of M.B.A. candidates on the subject of success. It was a good presentation – or so it seemed. I was asked a lot of questions both during the question period and after the session ended. I was feeling pretty good. “I may have helped some of these people succeed,” I was thinking.

Then their faculty adviser, a nice man of maybe 28 or 30 years, came up, shook my hand vigorously, and said, “That was the best talk anybody ever gave our group. You have me almost convinced that business isn’t always evil.”

This was a business professor charged with mentoring the university’s best business students.

In A Related Development . . .

Last night, I had a chat with a former college professor who is working as a research director and writer for an investment service I have been advising. He asked me about a “challenge” he is facing with a story he was asked to write. His problem, he said is how to “dumb down” the information he wants to convey to a “10th-grade audience.”

At first, I made smallish, specific suggestions, all of which he dismissed. He knew, or could do, or had done that. His difficulty was more complex, he said So, since he was a very bright and very nice guy – and since I knew he needed my help – I told him what was really at the root of his writing problem.

“It’s not the reading level of your audience that is the problem,” I said. “It’s the fact that you don’t really like them. And if you don’t like them, you can never put their interests ahead of yours. In other words, there is something standing between you and the success you want as a businessman.”

“And that is?” he asked.

“It is your ego.”

Condescension. Cynicism. Where do they come from?

I’m sure there are many answers. But from my experience, in the world of business, it often comes from a single, very wrong but very deep idea: that selling, itself, is evil.

This is a very destructive belief – one that causes the demise of more than half of the college graduates who come to work for me. It’s a big, bad idea, but it‘s not overt. And it may not even be conscious. .

Sure, You Can Make Plenty Of Money And Still Be A Jackass.

I am not saying that cynical and condescending people can’t sell. Quite the contrary. Many of the biggest moneymakers I know have these traits. But if you don’t love your customer, you are going to treat him with contempt. You are going to shortchange him and give him inferior goods. You are going to ignore his requests and only reluctantly respond to his demands. You are going to ruin the long-term prospects of your business by incremental degradation (which I talked about last week). And you will have to hustle as hard for the last buck you earn as you did for the first one.

I know. I was cynical once. Cynical and successful. I came to the work force with all the worst ideas born of an American liberal arts education – and my cynicism and negativity infected nearly everyone I hired and trained.

My partner and I built a business characterized by cleverness, founded on cynicism, and fueled by the desire to win. We succeeded. At least for a while. Then everything came crumbling down. First the east wall, then the west. Pretty soon, roof and all was on the ground.

We acted as if our customers were beneath us, when, in fact, they were supporting us. When they withdrew their support (because they weren’t dumb at all, just trusting), we sank like stones in quicksand.

Six years ago, when I started working with AGP – a good company in many respects – I found that the people there suffered from these same bad attitudes. I was surrounded by bright people who wanted success and cared about the quality of their products, but snickered at our customer base. Since I had no interest in sinking back to where I had been, I initiated a campaign that I called “Calculated Enthusiasm.”

The Secret Of Calculated Enthusiasm

I called my campaign “Calculated Enthusiasm” because this was the only way I could get our jaded senior staff to understand what I wanted. I had convinced them (in theory) that cynicism is destructive, but they didn’t see themselves as cynical. They saw themselves as funny.

Thinking your customer is dumb is not funny. It is damaging. To him – but even more so to you. He can and probably will smarten up and reject you. But you will always suffer from a troubled business and you will never know why.

By agreeing to consciously and conspicuously feign enthusiasm . . . by outlawing cynical remarks from all business meetings . . . at AGP we have been able to gradually eradicate most of the cynicism in the company.

Success – Long-Term Success – In Business Comes From Giving Your Customers A Good Deal, Time After Time.

If you want success in the long run . . . and if you want to be able to look yourself in the mirror every morning . . . love your customer. Start by swearing off cynicism. Ban the condescending jokes. Desist from using demeaning phrases (like “dumb down”).

Then start to think about what your job is . . . what it really is . . . and maybe it will dawn on you that selling is – or can be – a loving act.

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