“With the internet, you can track all of your sales and marketing down to the penny with complete accuracy and never waste another cent on advertising that doesn’t work”.  Such was the promise and claim of the people selling us the internet as the answer and replacement to all of our advertising and marketing that had been used up until now.  If anyone tries to sell you a bill of goods like that, run the other way.

Let me illustrate with a true story.

Once upon a time, in a land called Fort Wayne, Indiana, my hometown, I met a man who told me he found this incredible way to prove he was making money with his online marketing.  He was so happy with his Online Miracle Money Machine that when I asked him to show me how it worked, he obliged.

No Miracles Here, just a picture of a tool shop named Miracle Machine

No Miracles Here, just a picture of a tool shop named Miracle Machine

We picked a day and a time and I visited his office.  He shut the door, put his phone on Do Not Disturb, told the receptionist to hold his calls and we began.

Before I continue, a little background.  This true story occurred in 2010 at a car dealership.  Car dealers have an incredible online marketing machine and network that is expensive, but works.  A couple years later the internet company I was with tried to build an even better online marketing machine for car dealers but it was not worth the expense in dollars and hours.

So the man I was talking with was the internet sales manager for a local car dealer and he was being called on by his peers around the country to share his wisdom and to teach others how to build their very own Online Miracle Money Machine.

With a gleam in his eye and the confidence of a lion, he spent the next 40 minutes showing me how his Online Miracle Money Machine worked.  It involved getting pictures of their cars matched up with “tested” descriptions of each vehicle and getting the info out on a half dozen websites and directories.  His Online Miracle Money Machine was able to reach potential buyers up to 1000 miles away and sure enough, while we were talking, someone from California was looking at one of his vehicles online.

With his Online Miracle Money Machine, he was able to tell his boss how many people were looking at their inventory each day, and which cars and trucks had the most views and all kinds of other data that was fascinating in a geeky kind of way.

And then I asked him about the big picture.  I asked him how he connected the dots down to the actual sales.

The Online Miracle Money Machine fell apart as a foolproof business model with this question.  “How do you track the source of each vehicle sale?”  His answer was that the salesperson gave the customer a form to fill out that included a how did you hear about us question that the customer was supposed to answer along with the other paperwork.

But not every customer answered the question on the form when presented by the salesperson. The Finance Manager was supposed to be the back up to the salesperson to make sure the question had been answered on the form, but that wasn’t working either.

Only about 40% of the customers buying cars at this dealership attempted to answer this question.

And the validity of the accuracy was undoubtedly questionable.  Let me restate that last sentence in plain English.

The information was unreliable.  With all of the technology and wonderful things that the Online Miracle Money Machine was doing, the one thing they were not able to accurately determine was how much money the Online Miracle Money Machine actually made.

This is because humans are involved.  Humans, like you and me. We often don’t know why we buy one thing instead of something else.

Last Saturday night my wife and I visited our usual place for dinner and ordered something we had once before.  What influenced us to go to that restaurant originally and become regular customers?  Why do we order a few specific items off their menu and ignore the rest?  What was the reason we had something different this last visit?  Does anyone care?  Or is the restaurant owner and her staff just happy to see us week after week after week as one of their regulars?

I’ll spend sometime in the future discussing Return On Investment and Measuring What Matters and similar subjects.  But today the lesson is to beware of any Miracle Money Machines, online or offline.