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The price is the MacGuffin

If you are a fan of a truly good story, you may notice the plot continually revolves around that central object that all characters pursue as if their lives depended on it. It’s the golden briefcase in Pulp Fiction, the letters of transit in Casablanca, that little vulnerability on the Death Star in Star Wars. These literary and cinematic vehicles are known as MacGuffins.

The MacGuffin is the object that keeps the audience interested in the lives of the story’s characters. Rarely are these MacGuffins items that would or could exist in reality. We never know what’s inside of the golden briefcase, but only know it’s really valuable. The letters of transit are a promise to escape Nazi persecution, but would the Nazis really honor their validity if they didn’t want to? That little flaw in the Death Star pursued by Luke Skywalker is a ridiculous fiction, but we root for our hero nevertheless.

It’s not the MacGuffin that keeps us intrigued, it’s the underlying story that matters most. We see two criminals carting around a briefcase and feel compelled to root for them when Samuel L. Jackson’s badass character strives for personal redemption. We ignore the fallacy of the letters’ validity while rooting for the promise of a better life outside of fascist persecution. We forget entirely that an engineer wouldn’t have overlooked the flaw in the greatest construction project in outer space while cheering for the triumph of good over evil. So, you ask, what does the MacGuffin have to do with sales? My answer is: Everything! The price is the MacGuffin.

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It’s the easy object to hover around in the absence of alternative motivations. Just like the characters in the stories, we attach all importance to the singular object of the price. It’s the object that appears so real to us as characters in the plot of our sales movies that we never stop to imagine an alternate reality.

I’m reminded of the hilarious Geico insurance commercial that takes place in a horror movie. One terrified teenager pleads to the others as the try to escape the crazed murderer in the hockey mask, “Let’s take off in the car that’s running,” to which another teenager wisely counsels, “Are you crazy? That’s the first place he’ll look. Let’s hide behind the chainsaws!”

If an outside observer were watching our movie, they’d scream at the screen for us to forget the price for a moment. It’s the MacGuffin. The real story is the sale. The total cost of doing business is infinitely more valuable than the price. The audience members would remind us that saving 4 cents on a 2×4 doesn’t justify the cost if deliveries are delayed, accuracy requires additional deliveries, materials are out of stock, invoices are inaccurate, or a host of other factors that drive up costs.

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With all this logic at your disposal, it begs the question: Why? Why do we fall for the plot line in the movie? I would suggest that the answer is speed. Speed kills. Speed is the enemy of profit. It behooves the buyer to speed up the buying process as the means to shop the market. Therefore, the buyer seeks multiple prices from different vendors and presumes they will all be alike. They are not going to take the time to discern the different factors of total cost.

In your movie, you need to realize that the moment you give your price, you’ve lost all power. The shopper believes they no longer need you after receiving it because you’ve done nothing to distinguish your value. Your career is a movie, and the plot unfolds as you choose. To this, I say change the MacGuffin! Instead of the price, make your MacGuffin about total cost. It’s a better script to follow.

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