I have endeavoured in this Ghostly spoof of a little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their businesses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Your faithful Friend and Servant,
(With all due respects and a wink to the spirit of C. Dickens)
The Grok was from Mars. There was no doubt whatever about that. His arrival was duly noted and registered by the various authorities at NASA and the governmental agencies associated with Immigration and Naturalization. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
Self-styled e-commerce guru Ebenezer Marketer followed news of The Grok’s arrival. He read the Martian decided to hook up with FutureNow, a consultancy passionately advocating the application of traditional offline sales techniques to the wild, wooly and entirely new frontiers of commerce on the Internet. “Traditional sales techniques? Bah-humbug!” Marketer blathered as he proceeded to overwhelm his staff with demands to devise many new and improved forms of e-mail, banner advertising and newsletter campaigns, and to research the latest bleeding-edge technological innovations.
One December day, one of E. Marketer’s clients called on him.
“Yes, Tiny Tom? What can I do for you?” Marketer continued at his calculations, paying little real attention to his client.
“Excuse me for bothering you, Sir Guru, but the wife freshly made these Christmas cookies. The family’s quite amazed with our Stick Shoppe being on The Internet and all. To think our sticks, canes, walking supports and umbrellas can now be available to anyone anywhere.” Then his voice trailed off, “Even though it’s nearly paupered us so far.”
E. Marketer waved a casual hand at Tiny Tom, ignoring his last comment and indicating where he might place the plate of cookies. “And so they should be amazed! And imagine how much more amazed they’ll be when we add this new layer of technology to your website.” He turned to his computer, called up a program and demonstrated an animation of an umbrella that opened and pirouetted on the screen. “This is just a small part of what we have in mind for your online 3-D store. Next best thing to being there, Tom,” he said with the certainty of an astronomer predicting the sun will rise.
“Well yes. That would certainly be novel. Can’t say as I’ve seen anything like it.” Tom hesitated, “But that’s going to cost, isn’t it?”
“Entertainment, Tom. That’s what these savvy online shoppers crave. Sure, it’s going to cost something up front. But you’ll recover that and more in no time when the profits start rolling in like never before. You’ll see.”
“Well, it’s about those profits, now that you mention it. I don’t think we’ve turned one yet. Sales just don’t seem to be what they ought to be, and I keep getting the feeling I ought to be selling these folks, helping them along like I’d do in my real store. And with my current closing ratios, I can’t see how I’m going to manage paying for this ‘new layer of technology’. There’s little enough now, I’m not even sure I’ll be able to bring home a Christmas turkey for the missus.”
“Patience, Tom. Traffic is the key. And the more cool stuff you show people, the more traffic you’ll get, don’t you see? That’s why you’re lucky to have an expert like me helping you. Besides, you can’t ‘sell’ people on the web – you’ve got to lure them.” He dragged out the word ‘lure’ as if he were trolling for dupes. “I’ll have the design boys work up that 3-D store concept, and we’ll have it on the site by end of the week. Then you can sit back, put your feet up and watch the money roll in.” Marketer cut short any further discussion by clapping Tiny Tom on the shoulder and escorting him out the door. As he returned to his calculations of click-through rates, he shook his head and muttered again, “Sales techniques? Bah-humbug.”
That night, E. Marketer climbed into bed with a mug of warm milk and the latest issue of The Annals of Advertising, which contained an article on targeting banner ads so they reached the right eyeballs. During a passage about incorporating Flash, he drifted off to sleep.
E. Marketer woke suddenly to find a short, green creature with five eyeballs tapping him on the arm.
“Hey dude!” His smile reached all the way out to where his ears would have been if he had any.
E. Marketer blinked. “I know you from somewhere.” He blinked and looked again. “You’re that Grok thing from Mars.”
“Actually, just now I’m the Spirit of Commerce Past. I’ve got some cool stuff to show you.” The Spirit held out his hand.
“I’ve got a busy day tomorrow. Call my secretary and schedule an appointment, would you? Maybe we can do lunch.” E. Marketer rolled over dismissively.
“Hey!” The Spirit sounded irreverently cheerful. “The fun’s just starting, Ebbie. Let’s go.” The Spirit took E. Marketer’s arm and led him into an ethereal mist.
“Where are we?” E. Marketer pinched himself to make certain he was awake.
“We are in the past, Eb. I’m here to show you what commerce has always been about.” And with that, the Spirit escorted E. Marketer through a history of sales. They witnessed the early practice of barter, the specialization of vendors, the emergence of a money economy. The Spirit toured E. Marketer through the development of centralized markets, then retail stores, road shows, door-to-door sales, direct mail and telemarketing. The Spirit pointed out the various technological advances along the way that aided seller-buyer communications, from smoke signals and lights to the telegraph, telephone, television, fax and finally, the personal computer.
Every now and then, the Spirit stopped so E. Marketer could overhear conversations. He listened to customers asking lots of questions that salespeople happily answered. He saw the smiles on the faces of buyers as they left with parcels in hand, feeling confident of their purchases. Along the way, the Spirit pointed out dynamic examples of the critical five steps that comprise the sales process.
They returned to E. Marketer’s bedroom. Crossing his arms and tapping his toe on the carpet, he frowned at the Spirit. “So what was all that supposed to be about?”
“People, Eb. That’s what commerce is all about.” The Spirit smiled broadly. “I know it’s strange, but even after all those years, humans still cling to their basic ways of thinking about and doing things. They’ve got needs, Ebbie. They want to buy, and they want to be sold. They like getting nose-to-nose; they want to feel there’s an understanding human somewhere on the other end of the exchange. They want information, persuading, reassurance. They want to trust the dude they buy from.”
E. Marketer looked unimpressed. “Yeah? Well, it’s a brave new world out there. The Internet has changed everything. It’s revolutionized the way we do business. People will cope.”
The Grok rolled three of his five eyes. “Did you notice something real important while I was giving you the Grand Tour? No matter what technological advance was wowing the folks, successful business still sold to their customers in the same way. Wake up, Ebbie. Technology is only the medium; it’s not the message. It never was. Didn’t I just show you that?”
“Right. So, can I go back to bed now? As I said, tomorrow’s a busy day.”
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!” he cried. “This can’t be written in stone. Oh, tell me there’s a different future possible, a happier future, one I have a hand in helping to create and not destroy.”
When last we left Ebenezer Marketer, he was standing in the middle of his bedroom after a three-Advil- night of being escorted through the Ages of e-Business Past and Present by a parade of exceptionally brilliant Green Spirits, each of which bore a striking resemblance to yours truly.
Wanna know what happens next? As if you couldn’t guess!
E. Marketer gave himself a pinch and winced at the result, then raced to his mirror. Looking in and finding his own reflection, he took to laughing a little insanely, “I’m here. This is really me! And I’m not standing on the precipice of my office building.” He raced to his window and threw open the sash, craning his head far into the crisp morning air. Everything looked comfortingly normal.
His first act was to buy a turkey, which he delivered in person, for Tiny Tom’s Christmas dinner. The missus invited him to dine, and he obliged, spending his day and evening picking more at the wealth of Tiny Tom’s sales knowledge than the meal’s trimmings. In fact, on the spot, he offered Tiny Tom a consulting position with his firm (and was to retain several other new staff with backgrounds in sales and consumer psychology).
During the days that followed, E. Marketer gnomed away in his office, leaving his staff to muse at the explosions of chuckles that would emerge from behind his closed door and wonder if they should start looking for new jobs. But the chuckles only reflected his growing enthusiasm for a whole new way of looking at online sales. Soon, they became very familiar with previously unknown considerations such as AIDAS, the sales funnel, what makes people buy, scent, trust and privacy, customer service, loyalty, web analytics, the continuous improvement process, A/B and Multivariate testing and the now-famous term E. Marketer coined: EON (Ease of Navigation).
People still marvel at the complete change that came over E. Marketer and his e-commerce philosophies. It wasn’t just that he became far less pompous in his dealings with folks; the new leaf he turned over that day wound up making both his own business and the businesses of his clients more profitable than any had imagined. Old E. Marketer was showered with praise and became a model for all thriving e-enterprises. True success and satisfaction were his at last.
Everyone knows E. Marketer wound up subscribing to Grokdotcom. What they do not know is this: every time a new issue appeared on his computer screen, the small green character in the upper left-hand corner gave him a salutary wink!
This story was originally written in 2000 by Lisa T. Davis and edited recently by Bryan Eisenberg to refresh the links in the story.
Happy Holidays from the FutureNow family.