Cheese and Whiskers

Marketing expert, Dean Jackson, uses the metaphor “Cheese and Whiskers” to talk about the attractive, and repulsive, aspects of salesmanship and marketing.

A mouse has simple motivations: Get the cheese, avoid the cat.

As human beings living in a consumer world, advertisers and salespeople stalk us for sales us at every turn – like a cat hunts a mouse. So in the past few decades, we’ve developed finely tuned senses for avoiding “cats”.

Cats have whiskers that give themselves away. We can recognise a cat by the whiskers on its face. So anytime a mouse sees big whiskers, it knows to run away!

When it comes to marketing and sales, most companies try to poke their whiskers in our face. They talk about themselves: “We’re the best!”, “We’ve been in business 20 years!”, “We can do this, that, and the other thing!” As consumers, we tend to run away from this kind of “me-centric” marketing.

On the other hand – just like a mouse – we’ll rarely say “No!” to some very good cheese.

Rather than approaching a prospect with a sales pitch in your marketing – you’re far better off approaching with some piece of value to the consumer that is all about them.

One example Jackson uses is of a no-strings-attached, free room cleaning offer. It’s ideal cheese to sell cleaning services, and it completely disguises the sale.

In another example, a service that sent postcards on behalf of restaurants to patrons with upcoming birthdays, offering birthday celebration enticements like a free meal, was having trouble getting the attention of managers for their sales pitch.

After emailing 3,600 potential customers, this service received ZERO interest in its offer.

So, rather than selling the postcard service via traditional cold-calling or cold-emailing, the company took a different approach. They began a sales conversation with a simple one-line email.

“Do you do birthday parties?”

Every employee is empowered to do two things in an organisation – say “No” to sales pitches, and say “Yes” to potential opportunities to make a sale for the organisation. So, typically the response would come back:

“Yes, of course, we do. How big is your party, and which date would you like to book?”

The postcard company would then respond:

“Perfect. I’ve been working with [existing client] in [location] on some birthday marketing, and I’m looking for somebody to work within [prospect’s area]. Could you accommodate 5 or 6 birthday parties next month?”

Already the sales pitch has begun, but instead of talking about features or advantages of the service, the whole conversation has been around an outcome – with all “whiskers” in the sale hidden from view.

The conversation moves to a video that explains the process. Then a time-limited offer for a test mailing to just 200 clients for $199, with a money-back guarantee (time-limited as “We’re putting together our print run for the month ahead next week”.

Hiding Your Whiskers

You don’t need to take such an in-depth (and somewhat convoluted) approach to “hiding your whiskers”.

In fact, tiny tweaks can make a massive difference to your sales.

For example, a successful property investor client of mine runs a mentoring program. The program is a significant (five-figure per year) investment – has a track record of helping investors to become financially free that is unsurpassed by any other provider – and uses sales conversations to filter prospective proteges.

But – as high-pressure sales calls are common in the real estate investing industry – prospective proteges would actively avoid giving the impression that they were interested in the program to avoid the potential “pressure-pitch”.

Simply reframing the sales call as a “free strategy session with an experienced mentor” (and outlining the value delivered on the call – value that was already being delivered in the sales conversation) led to a massive increase in sales leads almost overnight.