Here's the inside running: certainty sells a lot faster

Archie is a bit small. He's a February baby so in the Victorian system he is sometimes close to a year younger than some of the boys he plays footy and basketball against.

Archie is a bit small. He's a February baby so in the Victorian system he is sometimes close to a year younger than some of the boys he plays footy and basketball against.

He'd like to be taller, he will be one day. I grew six inches in six months when I was 12. He's 10. His time will come. But until then we have been extolling the virtues of being a small sportsman, one of which includes being fast. Fast as a leopard as his mum calls it and like Archy in Gallipoli before him, he is.

But we should have known better than to try to deceive the innocence and clarity of youth, because Archie pulled a question out the other day.

"Dad, who runs faster, tall people or short people? Because we saw this really big guy on TV today called Lightning Bolt. He's the fastest man in the world and he's huge. So who is faster, Dad, tall people or short people, because if I was 100 metres tall I reckon I could beat Lightning Bolt and if I was one millimetre tall I reckon I'd struggle against a slug. Are you sure small people are faster, Dad?"

Using extremes is a great tool in any debate. Push a point to its outer limits and its more common impact will quickly become apparent.

It wasn't the first time I'd seen the use of extremes to make a point. I went on a sales course when I first joined broking in 1982, a one-week residential course on how to sell financial products. They used it there.

After a few personality tests and some brainwashing about the brand, we went on to discuss what it is to sell a financial product. To sell a financial product they told us you had to sell "happiness", only happy customers sign papers and in the financial product world happiness was defined as "the expectation of an improvement in your standard of living".

That's quite a technical phrase. "The expectation of an improvement in your standard of living." Not actual improvement in someone's standard of living, just the "expectation" of an improvement in their standard of living and the truth was that if you actually improved someone's standard of living you rather ruined the equation because they would no longer, on that theory, be happy. So all you had to do was sell the expectation.

How did you do that? With the line "Buy this product and you will get that boat, that house, that car, that happy retirement" that thing that you want but won't get unless you buy our product.

That opened a debate about whether financial products did actually improve your standard of living or not. The answer to that, obviously, was that you couldn't know, some would at some times and some wouldn't.

You couldn't and wouldn't know for sure. But that wasn't the point. The point was to make a sale and the way you did that was not by telling the truth that you couldn't possibly know what the performance of the financial product would be, but by selling certainty. The certainty that the financial product would live up to their expectations and improve their standard of living.

To explain how certainty worked they wheeled out its extremes. If you knew for certain, they told us, without doubt, risk free, that a share price was going to go up you would exploit that certainty with every dollar you had and every dollar you could borrow. Offer certainty and customers will leverage themselves to the hilt to invest.

If on the other hand you stated the truth that a share price might go up but it might go down, the customer would be paralysed by doubt and you wouldn't sell a thing.

Bottom line: the more certain the pitch, the more they will invest and the more uncertain the pitch, the less they will invest. Whether a financial product delivers in the end is an unknown and simply not the point.

The point was to make a sale and given the same product the salesman that sells the most is the one that projects the most certainty. Certainty sells, so adopt it. It works no matter what you're selling.

On which note: Small people are definitely faster. "Trust me, Archie."

Marcus Padley is the author of sharemarket newsletter Marcus Today. For a free trial go to

InvestSMART FORUM: Come and meet the team

We're loading up the van and going on tour from April to June, with events on the NSW central & north coast, the QLD mid-north coast and in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. Come and meet the team and take home simple strategies that you can use to build an investment portfolio to weather any storm. Book your spot here.

Want access to our latest research and new buy ideas?

Start a free 15 day trial and gain access to our research, recommendations and market-beating model portfolios.

Sign up for free

Related Articles