Avoiding Snake Oil – Part 1

Avoiding Snake Oil – Part 1

TRANSCRIPT: Small and medium sized businesses are getting taken every day because things like new technology, social media, Search Engine Optimization and Marketing, and Online Directories have created a new breed of ‘snake oil’ salesmen. All of these have value and all can be important, but all of these can and do have ‘snake oil’ elements.

“So, what is ‘snake oil’?” you ask. ‘Snake oil’ is an expression that originally referred to fraudulent health products. Now, really any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit can be called ‘snake oil’ and those who knowingly sell these products to you are called ‘snake oil salesmen.’

So the question you might have is, “Steve, how can I spot ‘snake oil’ today?” Well, there are lots of clues that can be given off. For example, what if it’s an overly-complicated product? If it’s a product that’s too complicated for even the salesperson to explain to you clearly and in ‘laymen’s terms’ what your expected ROI is or what the expected benefits are, it is a product I will not recommend.

What about long-term agreements? If you are a small or medium size business, there is no reason to sign a long-term agreement especially for technology unless it’s to your benefit. For example, if it’s a product that could go up in price in the long term, you might want to ‘lock-in’ a lower price. But, certainly, services and technology are changing so fast today there is no reason to ever sign anything longer than month-to-month.

How about a lack of visibility or reporting? Lots of products being sold today are trying to sell you on engagement impression and you don’t know how those will affect your business.

One way you can spot ‘snake oil’ is to ask for references but not just the five references that salesperson has in his pocket. We’ll talk about that later – how the big businesses are not being taken by ‘snake-oil’ salesmen.

Another way you can spot ‘snake oil’ is that a lot of industries have ‘rating sites’ which, allegedly rate the vendors; the problem is that you don’t know if those sites can be gamed. How about ‘industry awards’? There are a lot of ‘snake-oil’ companies today that will tout all their industry awards. The problem is – industry awards can also be gamed and bought. In fact, lots of industries will give awards to anybody.