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How would Rome’s Crassus pitch a data science product?

This article covers the Crassus style “fire and hose” marketing technique.


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Garry Tiscovschi

3 years ago | 2 min read

What does the “Richest Man” in Rome have to do with data science? It’s not to do with the technology but how it’s sold. This article covers the Crassus style “fire and hose” marketing technique.

When Crassus wasn’t busy dying to Parthian horse archers, he grew an immense fortune as a General and real estate mogul but also by initiating the first Roman fire brigade “start-up”.

A fire brigade may seem like an obvious service to us today, but it clearly wasn’t obvious to the generations of singed Roman denizens that inhabited the eternal city before Crassus.

Crassus would wait for a potential customers’ houses to ignite before strolling over in the heat of the moment to pitch his service.

With his client literally in the hot seat, Crassus sold his service quite quickly. Waiting for high stakes was almost too effective as a selling strategy and the General began to exploit it.

He would often negotiate to transfer the burning hot property itself to his own real estate empire before putting it out for a miserable purchasing price. (Plutarch & Perrin 1989)

The technique the politician used to sell his services was very powerful. Crassus may have exploited this power in an extortionate way to add more homes to his growing collection, and this had its own consequences for him, but that doesn’t mean lessons can’t be drawn from his story.

By letting the customer see the problem at hand (fire) and have them invested in it, the housing mogul could sell his solution (fire brigade) in an extraordinary way.

Had Crassus tried to sell his product to random Romans by talking about how good he was at organising things and how well trained his 500-man brigade was, could he ever had sold it so quickly and for such high prices?

As fans of data science, we often get caught up pitching our product’s awesome features and “how smart we are” for designing them. This is a self-centered approach.

As we drool over the intricate details our sick new application of that Spiked Neural Network, we slip in the puddle we’ve created and forget the customer. The user may not share our enthusiasm for how perfect that R or Python code is.

Conclusion:

How I think Crassus would pitch a data science product? He would think from the user’s perspective to get them invested both rationally and emotionally.

Raise the stakes. Illuminate the burning issue you will solve for the user first, then maybe how great you and your product are. Before you can have the user’s attention they must know why it’s important.

When your client feels that they would be losing out without you they can feel as if they are buying your solution rather than being sold your sales pitch. (Carnegie 1981)

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