Archive for October, 2007

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

The mortgage markets have really and truly returned to calm. We’re seeing no more contracting of programs and LTVs, and no more elimination of loans where the borrowers were just fine a minute ago. That’s really, really nice. Long may it last. I’ll post a list of what’s good and what’s not later in the week.

I needed to post this. Most of you know – if you know me at all – that I hate the Yankees. The Bombers losing to Cleveland was just funny in all the most satisfying ways (though not as satisfying as the Rockies winning 17 out of 18 in what is absolutely the greatest run in major league history). Today, though, I read an article that really sums up the state of American sports, and maybe world sports. How can it be any fun for Yankees fans to watch their team spend as much on A-Rod as the Diamond Backs spend on their entire payroll? Even if they win, which they don’t, thank Heaven?

I’m In the Mood to Help You, Dude

I mentioned the fantastic auction description posted on EBay. I also promised to comment on it.

There are hundreds of places we communicate with people in today’s society. Much of that communication is passive, for instance, your house. That communicates with people. What it looks like, how the yard is groomed, what door you choose for the front of the house. How you dress communicates (and very often not the way you think). We do think a good deal about this. Our business cards communicate. Our office decor. Our employees. The way we answer the phone. Practically everything communicates to the world something about ourselves.

And almost all of this passive communication says one thing very clearly: there is nothing about us that you should pay any attention to. We are just like everyone else.

We dress pretty much like everyone else, or else we dress the way people dress who are the way we think we’d like to be perceived. Our houses (in Utah especially) are brown/gray stucco garages with a house peeking out from behind. When we answer the phone, we say “hello”, just like everyone else on earth, and at the office, we announce the name of the company and wait for the caller to do something. In good shops, we might also identify ourselves and ask if we can help, though this is rare. Our business cards are either just like everyone else’s or they’re so edgy (got an octagonal one the other day) that they are non-functional. Raise your hand if your voicemail message says anything other than “you’ve reached [your name here], I can’t get to the phone right now (probably a lie – you chose not to get it, and is this actually information, anyway?), but leave me your name and your number and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible (another lie, and an obvious one).”

Right. Thought so.

So here we come to this EBay listing. First off, it’s incredibly long. INCREDIBLY long. It’s one of the 5 or 10 longest scripts in the entire EBay universe. For all practical purposes, the script has nothing whatever to do with the item being sold. Nothing. It’s a funny diatribe that sounds more like a Dave Barry humor column than an auction listing.

But what is the point of the listing? It is to sell the item. Not to describe the item, not to list the specifications of the item, but to sell the item. And this script sold the item for a price so outrageous the lister even commented on how silly it was that someone would pay that much for a generic pack of Pokemon cards. But someone did. The story, not the specifications, sold the cards. There’s a lesson there.

We get told a lot here that it would be better if we advertised. We’d make more money, we’re told. At least, we’re told, we ought to tell people what we do for a living (The Chris Jones Group is not very informative, I admit). I have to admit that this makes a certain amount of intuitive sense. But my response is usually something like “who cares what I do? Why would anyone want to do business with me if all they know about me is my occupation?”

What we try to do here is create a story, or at least, create the desire to hear our story. My business cards used to say “Christopher Jones” and “The Chris Jones Group” and in really, really small type down in the corner it has my phone number. That’s it. I got huge numbers of compliments and comments about those cards. Marketing people persuaded me to change, and since I did, nothing. Nothing at all. The cards are still plain-ish, but not as stark as they used to be. They’re too normal. There’s nothing very different about them. I’m the same as anyone else. Where the plain cards used to say “this is someone unusual – don’t you wonder what his story is?” the new ones say “here is my contact information.” Which one would you prefer?

You call my voice mail and you don’t get any of the above. I change my voice mail every single day, tell you what day it is and what I’m doing that day, when I’ll be free and can call back, and I give you at least two other ways to get in touch with me if you gotta have me right now. People sigh at me about my long messages (never more than 40 seconds), but wouldn’t you rather know that I at least came to work that day? That I’m going to be in a meeting until 1pm and can’t call you back before that? What number you can call if it’s urgent? Isn’t that better? I tell you a story about my day. You don’t want to hear it, press #, but when you leave me a message, you might want to consider that if you tell me a story, I’ll be calling you back first.

Our office is a story. The people in it are encouraged to tell stories about themselves when they deal with clients, with underwriters, with everyone. We put movie quotes on our window so people who drive by can try to guess the character and the movie. There’s a lot of traffic out there, and most cars go by twice a day. Wouldn’t you be curious who keeps putting outrageous quotes on his window? Guess what? People are. There’s a story there. We have little comics posted for passers-by. We host seminars, free lunches, we have two blogs, we do all sorts of things to tell stories about ourselves in the hopes that the people who read them will want to tell us their stories in return. Because we realized some time ago that what we do here is not lend money. We have conversations. We tell stories. We write stories. We grant wishes. And we cannot grant wishes we never hear.

Poof! What do you need?

It’s not advertising. It’s communicating. That’s what the great EBay listing did, and it’s what we try to do. In the course of the conversation, we’ll be happy to tell you what we do here. If we can help you, we will. Wouldn’t you rather do business with someone like that?