What vaccine sceptics and potential buyers have in common

Protesters against covid19 vaccine and mask mandates demonstrate near the state capitol on August 20 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. - AP PHOTO
Protesters against covid19 vaccine and mask mandates demonstrate near the state capitol on August 20 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. - AP PHOTO

Business owners have always been frustrated with potential clients. Why can’t they just see, or hear our advertisement, pick up the phone, call us, and order?

Oh if it were so simple!

When we conduct focus groups, they tell us that “yes!” we will definitely be interested in this service, want to buy this product; yet in reality, once the launch happens, we feel as if we are pushing rope, trying to effect action.

To be clear: this is not a post about anti-vaxxers nor is it a post about vaccines. This is a sales and marketing post, but I do want you to see, that whenever something is new – service, product, or vaccine in this case, we will always have early adopters, and those of us that need more information, before we make a decision.

We no longer live in a time where people follow expert advice blindly. The democratisation of information allows individuals to take personal responsibility for their lives, including their health. Each individual decides what feels safe, and what they can absolutely live with.

In fact, we have encouraged this. We ask people to compare two products, read labels, examine ingredients, mull over specs, compare apples to apples etc, and be generally diligent. Our potential buyers’ hesitancy and by extension, vaccine hesitancy is par for the course. It is however not the end of the world.

One of the greatest risks to the long-term success of any product or service is overpromising the benefits while understating uncertainty. When we are making our product or service recommendations, we need to offer clear information about why we are different, what are our strengths and what are our limitations. The reality is we all have limitations. Similarly those who recommend vaccines — whether against covid19 or other vaccine-preventable diseases — must offer clear information about the differences among vaccines, including their varied strengths and limitations.

This is an important step in empowering consumers and reducing hesitancy especially in the case of the covid19 vaccine, where our lives might literally depend on it.

So what does it look like to be a buyer or sceptic?*

1. I’m feeling insecure. I’m not sure I know how to detect which of the finalists is the genius, and which is just good. I’ve exhausted my abilities to make technical distinctions.

2. I’m feeling threatened. This is my area of responsibility, and even though intellectually I know I need outside expertise, emotionally it’s not comfortable to put my affairs in the hands of others.

3. I’m taking a personal risk. By putting my affairs in the hands of someone else, I risk losing control.

4. I’m impatient. I didn’t call in someone at the first sign of symptoms (or opportunity). I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

5. I’m worried. By the very fact of suggesting improvements or changes, these people going to be implying that I haven’t been doing it right up till now. Are these people going to be on my side?

6. I’m exposed. Whoever I hire, I’m going to have to reveal some proprietary secrets, not all of which are flattering. I will have to undress.

7. I’m feeling ignorant, and don’t like the feeling. I don’t know if I’ve got a simple problem or a complex one. I’m not sure I can trust them to be honest about that: it’s in their interest to convince me its complex.

8. I’m sceptical. I’ve been burned before by these kinds of people. You get a lot of promises: How do I know whose promise I should buy?

9. I’m concerned that they either can’t or won’t take the time to understand what makes my situation special. They’ll try to sell me what they’ve got rather than what I need.

10. I’m suspicious. Will they be those typical professionals who are hard to get hold of, who are patronising, who leave you out of the loop, who befuddle you with jargon, who don’t explain what they’re doing or why, who ..., who ...., who ...? In short, will these people deal with me in the way I want to be dealt with?

It is tempting to be dismissive about those hesitant to buy from us. Be honest. We sometimes look at our potential customers with disdain. “They just don’t know better. Dey go ketch they backside with company C.” Yet dismissing those who are hesitant as ignorant ignores the complex ways in which people weigh information before making a decision to buy.

Similarly, blaming conspiracy theories for a growing distrust of vaccines, because refusing a lifesaving technology, particularly during a pandemic that is poised to kill, seems irrational but dismissing those who are hesitant as ignorant or anti-science ignores the complex ways in which individuals and families are weighing information and trying to make decisions that feel safe and relevant to them.

It won’t harm to revisit Stephen Covey’s fifth habit from the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, still relevant even after 30 years: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

We must first understand our customers – truly understand, not pay lip service to – and then communicate addressing all of their concerns.

Like most people, we seek first to be understood; we want to get our point across. And in doing so, may ignore the customer completely. Fact is, we listen with the intent to reply, not to understand and so don’t hear when we are given valuable pieces of information that can help us deliver a more aligned product or service.

Don’t promote a narrative that everything you do is effective and essential. Give your potential customers all the information they need so they can make what feels like an informed choice. Doing so should make it easy to assure them that working with you is both effective and necessary, and accept that there are some things they still don’t know and uncertainty is par for the course.

*Source: David H Maister, Managing the Professional Service Firm, 1993


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