Why Even The Best Offers SUCK

I’m visiting my parents in northern California at the moment. They live on a lake with water sports – boating, jet skiing, etc.

The other day I was down at the dock, getting all crispy, working on my tan.

Two of my parent’s neighbors, a husband and wife, came down to ride their jet skis.

As they were prepping to go out, they told me, “Derek, you can ride these jet skis anytime. You can come get the keys from our house whenever and take the jet ski out as long as you like. There’s a gas can over there. Here’s where we keep the lifevests. Take ’em out whenever you want. Now. Tomorrow. Fourth of July. Whenever.”

I was polite and said, “Thank you. That’s very nice of you. That’d be great.”

On the inside however, I felt a bit uncomfortable about the offer. It would mean I’d have to take action to ‘borrow’ something from them…something big and expensive. Essentially, I’d be asking for a HUGE favor every time I asked to ride the jet ski. Although it was a fantastically nice and generous offer, it’s a difficult one for me accept.

When they got back about 30 minutes later, the wife came over to me and said, “You’re next.” And she practically forced me to get on the jet ski. She gave me a lifevest. She handed me the keys and showed me the basics of using the jet ski.

And in a matter of moments I was out on the water.

This offer was different. It wasn’t me going to them to ask for the keys. It was them handing me the keys, saying, “Go for it… NOW!”

If these were extremely close friends of the family, I’d have no problem with the first offer. The second offer, however, more closely suits the nature of our relationship.

I’m not going to ask to borrow your expensive toy no matter how much you tell me it’s OK and you don’t care. If you reverse it, and practically force me to use it, then of course I’ll use it.

Now, our other neighbors, who are related to the husband and wife, heard that I used the jet ski.

I was walking by their house and they stopped me. The woman said to me, “Hey, we have a boat that’s just sitting down there. Why don’t you and your dad take it out? You can use it whenever you want.”

This was the same offer and do you see how hard it is to take?

This is an incorrect way to frame offers.

A more correct offer would be something along the lines of, “Hey, we have a boat down there. Why don’t we take you and your family out for a ride?”

I really don’t want to take out your $30,000 dollar boat by myself when I don’t really know you that well. But I’ll take a ride in it with you whenever you want.

This also highlights the importance of sequence.

  • First, offer to take us on a few rides.
  • Second, at some point, offer to let me drive.
  • Third, come to me later and hand me the keys. Force me to take it out. I’ll feel much more comfortable at that point.

Dean Jackson has a brilliant little metaphor for offers like this — say you’re at a friend’s house and he says, “Hey, there’s food in the fridge, help yourself” vs. him walking up to you with a platter of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and saying, “Would you like a cookie?”. In the first scenario you’d feel uncomfortable ‘helping yourself’. In the second scenario you’d feel awkward turning the cookie down.

Even if your offer is out of this world, if you present it incorrectly, in a way that makes the prospective client feel awkward, you’ll lose them.

People don’t want to use up other’s time or resources (things tend to change when it’s friends & family). I don’t want you to lose money doing something for me. I don’t want you to lose hours of your day doing something for me.

But if you just do it, and offer it to me, giving me little choice NOT to accept, then I’ll love you forever.

Think about that.


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Derek Johanson

The personal blog of Derek Johanson.

2 thoughts on “Why Even The Best Offers SUCK”

  1. The implication of “I have it and you don’t” doesn’t come across well. The offers are usually intended to make you feel like a second class citizen but they do. I have worked with people who were homeless and wish that everyone could read your article. It might change the way that aid is given and received.

    People who are poor often volunteered with an agency that I worked with. Many of these people who were in need but wanted to help others. I’ve seen people cry because they received a gift box of food and people cry because they had to ask for one. Never have I seen a person cry because they received a food box that was just “left over” after distribution.

    To get the leftover box, the volunteers had to fill out the same forms as did anyone else. Frankly, we always had volunteers who sometimes needed the box as badly as did some of our clients. But, the difference was in how the offer of the box was presented and in the self-esteem of the recipient.

  2. I had to chuckle when I remembered this article when I was staying at a hostel in Florianopolis recently…

    As a pretext, let me say that I never go shopping for fine chocolate. It’s just not something I do… But towards the end of dinner one night at the hostel I was staying at, in walks a lady carrying a box of chocolates. She opens it right in front of me and asks, “Would you like a chocolate?” They looked delicious, so of course I bought one. It was so good that I bought another one. And just as she was leaving, she gave me one for free with a smile.

    Needless to say, she or her husband would return every night to sell chocolates to me and to the others staying in the hostel. And the reputation grew that this was the best chocolate in the area. They would sell dozens of chocolates every night.

    And night after night, these budget-oriented travelers would buy these chocolates, even though they would never go shopping for them during the day.

    I’ve very rarely gone looking for chocolate… but this time the chocolate came looking for me. Irresistible.

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