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It’s pretty obvious that I’d be interested in a film called “Things People Want.” That’s kind of my beat.
In this case, this 20-minute, 1948 film, produced by the Jam Handy Organization for Chevrolet, tells us a story about two kinds of people: those who want things (you), and those “who help them get what they want” (salesmen). The protagonist is a young salesman named Evans, played by none other than John Forsyth (who will always be Blake Carrington to me).
Evans gets a talk from his boss. Selling is positioned as a rationally created science, with specific rules and formulas, as sure as physics. Evans figures that the most important thing for a salesman is to know the product. His boss reminds him of the elements of “The four step sale.”
1. Finding prospects. (Again: you.)
2. Creating the desire to own. (Example: “that flapjack operation over there,” and their clever presentation.)
3. Getting the decision to buy.
4. Delivering the product right.
Makes sense to me! But some of those steps sound a little bit difficult. So, we get a few tips, illustrated by Evans’ absurd stick-figure drawings. Let the prospect talk, for instance. Don’t argue: Instead use the phrase, “Yes, but…,” which allows the salesman to “get in [his] licks.” Like letting them know that the product is “tops,” and that it’s “got what they want.”
But Evans’ boss seems a little testy. Here’s the key, he says, and while it takes him a while to get to the point, he eventually drives it home: “What do people want?”
Well, Evans is perplexed. Back in his office, he smokes a cigarette or five, and ponders this question. What do people want? Eventually he looks that guy from The Lost Weekend. Finally, as he opens a fresh pack of butts: A disembodied voice! A hallucination? No. It’s a voice in his own “noggin,” there to help him out, by telling him what people want. People, turns out, want exactly six things. Comfort. Safety. Economy. Performance. Durability. Appearance.
Then the voice gets clever: Why all the smoking, Evans? You picked your brand because of its performance, didn’t you, Evans? “Yeah, that’s right,” Evans agrees, preposterously. What he takes from this is the epiphany that what he has to do is figure out what “the prospect” is looking for, from that list of six, and then show them (convince them? bamboozle them into believing?) that “my product is the answer.”
“The things people want,” Evans muses. That’s the ticket!
The best thing about all of this is we are never told what Evans sells. Because it doesn’t matter! “The product” can be anything – anything can serve as the answer to “What people want.” Is this possible? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that anything can be made to seem like the answer to What People Want. No, because often we realize after we’ve bought it, that this wasn’t really what we wanted, it’s just what was available.
But that’s not Evans’ problem, of course. It’s yours.