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Why You Shouldn't Use Apple's Sales Strategy

I know Apple is supposed to be the byword for everything wonderful and, as a Mac user, I am an enthusiast. But I'm not a blind follower and there are aspects of Apple Computers that are less lovely than perhaps meet the eye.

Chief among these is its use of competition to motivate employees. According to a recent 'confession' by an Apple store employee, sales metrics are posted so that everyone can see them. "It shows you how much money each person is pulling in for the company. If you aren't doing very well, you start getting manager meetings, and they sit you down and try to figure out why you aren't selling more."

Competition as Motivator?
In other words, they're hoping the salespeople are competitive enough to want to appear at the top of the list - or at least afraid of turning up near the bottom. "We aren't paid on commission, but you fear for your job if you're not selling enough." In the current economic climate, no manager needs to say anything to ratchet up that fear.

This is exactly the same sales technique that Lehman Brothers used. Brad Ruderman worked there, and here's how it made him feel: "I was so motivated to gain acceptance. It wasn't greed. I didn't need anything. It was about my personal scoreboard with everyone else. Sometimes there'd be three days left in the month and I didn't hit last month's target so I'd push the envelope to do some things not always in the best interest of my client. I lost all morals, all ethics, in the interest of staying in the game."

Competitive management games like this are simple and well understood: they provoke everyone's competitive instincts in the hope that they'll boost performance. The regular and predictable downside is that they also result in employees cramming products down customers' throats that they don't want and subsequently regret. Almost every fraudster I've ever interviewed cut his teeth in this kind of sales environment - not least because it taught them how persuasive they could be when selling junk.

Selling Junk
"We're supposed to sell AppleCare product support with just about everything, and honestly, those aren't that hard to sell, since they aren't a bad deal. But we're also supposed to push MobileMe, and that's really hard to sell."

(It's really hard to sell because it's really hard to explain because it's really hard to use - evidence, if it were needed, that the company doesn't have a magic touch when it comes to everything. Nor does it have consistent genius in making software simple; MobileMe doesn't sell because it's a bear.)

Many managers like to think that they can manipulate human competitive instincts to produce record-breaking results. In doing so, they almost always display a naïve misunderstanding of just how powerful competitiveness is. Once let loose, it will trample over everything: not just ethics and morals but common decency, a secure sense of self and of the law, a love of collaboration. It was management techniques like this that left homeowners in houses with mortgages they couldn't afford and portfolio managers with derivatives they didn't understand.

You can argue that being left with a bottle of $50 iKlear Apple Polish I didn't really need isn't the same scale of iniquity - and I'd agree with you. But Lehman Brothers is bad company to keep. And preying on individuals' insecurities in order to boost the corporate profits of a company already sitting on a mountain of cash (and I write this as an Apple shareholder) shames everyone.

For further reading:

Will Foxcomm Rallies Persuade You to Buy that iPhone?
Why Apple Isn't Invincible
Why Secrecy Works for Apple
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia C.C.2.0

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