Perception vs Reality – A Personal Example

I was asked the other day in reference to a line I stated in one of my posts if I could extrapolate a little more on exactly what I meant about the “perception” aspect. Here was the line they were asking about. It was in a rant I posted about my utter frustration with surveys.

“Remember tools are useful, but in the wrong hands or deployed willy-nilly they can turn into weapons used against you that can ruin what sometimes is more dear than reality. i.e., A customer’s perception that you are as good, as you think you are. Or, that you actually do care as much as you say you do.”

To many it may seem self-explanatory however, the discussion it moved I found interesting as it progressed. When I gave the following example I could see light bulbs go on everywhere so I thought I’d post the example here.

Years back when I was cutting my teeth in office management after just being promoted from working on the docks in the meat industry, I was taught (as in shown) a lesson in human nature (or buyers psychology) that has never left me.

I started at a fascinating time when most businesses were still run via adding machines, hand written ledgers, invoices and more. There were no “fields” to type the numbers or info then get the calculated answers. You had to add each number yourself entering every single digit into a desk calculator.

Sometimes there were hundreds of entries 3 or 5 digits long with decimals out 2 or 3 places. You would have to hand write each one, then add them, (twice for accuracy, if not – rinse repeat from scratch only to then hand it off to one more person that would double-check you) before the orders could go out the door. Today, I can still use a calculator and add pages of numbers without looking at my fingers nearly 30 years later.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 5.47.22 PM Of course this was done on a calculator similar to any desk top still used today. (e.g., One that has a roll of paper attached. Not a pocket style.) However, what we still had on a few of the desks even by that day’s standards were

Friden Electro Mechanical Calculator
Friden Electro Mechanical Calculator

these gargantuan Friden Electro-Mechanical Calculators. These machines were incredibly loud, stood as tall as they were wide, weighed well over 30 pounds, were like having two cinder blocks on your desk, and almost mind-boggling in their mechanical complexity. Although they were inefficient to use any longer they still served a purpose that no other could fill.

We used one routinely at the desk where customers would come in and pay for items C.O.D. (cash on delivery) or pay on their outstanding balances. I was an outspoken proponent for why we should get rid of these. Too my thinking they were just inefficient and no longer needed in an “out with the past and in with the new” implied tone. The owner (who had taken me under his wing and I owe a great deal to my career) sat and listened to my explanation, then he showed me what I was not paying attention too.

As I stated earlier this was the meat business. And during this time it was routine that a store or person would come in and purchase a large side of beef or multiple cases of product weighing several hundred if not thousands of pounds and pay C.O.D. (and I do mean cash!)

These items were routinely sold in tonnage quantities and the prices per pound were let’s say for example $1.50 per pound. So a person would come into the office with a slip provided by the docks with their weights listed and needed to be tallied.

He sat me at the main desk where one of these machines stood and right next to it was what we still use today, a modern paper printing desktop calculator. He said, “OK, how much money do you need to collect if I have two sides of beef weighing 1438.35 lbs. at $1.78 per lb?”

Like greased lightning I punched the keys in the desktop and said near immediately, “$2560.26” “Right” he said. Then he asked, “Anyone ever ask you if your numbers are right when you sit here at times? Maybe they have even asked for you to double-check and add them again?”

I replied, “Sure, happens all the time, no biggie, I just do it, no issue on my end.” Then he said, “Do that same calculation on the Friden.” And so I did.

It took what seemed like a lifetime (was only a few seconds in reality but compared to instant, it was a lifetime) the noise, the gears crunching, the carriage moving, and more. Then when it finally stopped I had to look carefully to make sure I read the numbers correctly and said, “Yep, they’re the same, $2560.26 What’s the point?”

He said the point is, “They are the same, but really they’re not. You say to a customer you want them to hand over to you $2500 after adding on that electronic one – they’re going to question your math all the way out the door. They’ll probably even add it up themselves on the back of an envelope in their truck, and then again on a calculator when they get back to their shop. But standing here, in front of that machine, as it churns, and whirrs, and seems to take forever to come up with the same number? They’ll never question it. They’ll say too themselves “it must be right, look at the work it did to calculate it.”

He was absolutely correct. I have never forgotten that lesson. Although we do like to think of ourselves as smarter than average, or on top of more things than another, we are still human. And in being human, there are times where perception trumps reality.

Not everywhere, not every-time. But knowing that in this digit-age where it’s too routinely taken for granted that speed is always better: there are places where perception trumps reality, and sometimes for the better.

It’s in the knowing that there is, as well as the continuous looking for, then utilizing the when, where, and why to correctly make use and apply it that will keep you ahead of your competition more often than not.

For a great many in this digital aged, binary coded era have forgotten: On the other side of all screens is another screen with a human face reading what’s there. And sometimes speed is not the only concern for what is to be shown. Sometimes, a little theater is needed; even if it makes the sales process just a little bit slower.

For there is no better time in a sale than a customer that perceives your offerings as unquestionably valued, and believes with a qualified “yes” in their minds – gladly pays you for them. For that is time well spent.

© 2014 Mark St.Cyr


For those wishing to really see these machines in action I found a Youtube™ clip of exactly the same machine I used. It’s about 9 minutes long and shows the machines attributes in detail. However, for those that want to get right to the quick, start at 6:00 minutes in. You’ll see exactly what I was trying to describe above. That is basically what it sounded like if you were calculating the example I used above. And as what was alluded too earlier: he was absolutely correct. I was never questioned regardless of the amount, and became so used to using it, calculating took on an almost theater like quality. In a way it’s too bad this nostalgic part of a simple task is now gone. It truly was something you didn’t see everyday and now – you don’t see it at all.