The folly of false equivalence

9 fallacies that trip up wine and spirit businesses and professionals

The premise that correlation does not equal causation is not as greatly appreciated and understood as it should be.1 The idea is fundamental to the sciences where differentiating between signal and noise is at the heart of ascertaining the truth. It is no less useful a concept in the world of business. Teasing out the root cause of problems is what makes the engines of commerce run ever more efficiently.

False equivalence is the reason why people so often confuse correlation with causation. False equivalence is a logical fallacy; simply described, it’s what happens when you attempt to compare apples and oranges. Any budding baker has experienced the consequences of false equivalence when they mistakenly substitute baking soda for baking powder in a recipe.2 It’s a lesson not soon forgotten.

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In the wine and spirit business, the effects of false equivalence go beyond a nascent sales rep confusing Pouilly-Fumé with Pouilly-Fuissé. Both businesses and professionals can fall into the mire of poor decision-making when they equate two things as being equal when they are not. Here are nine common false equivalencies to be mindful of:

  1. Buyer intent is not the same as buyer action.

    If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to sales ruin is paved with the intentions of well-meaning buyers. There’s a gap between intent and action. Good luck measuring intent. Good luck paying bills with intent. Intent is a fickle promise; it’s action in the form of a purchase that matters. If a customer intends to purchase at a later date, then have them pick that date.

  2. A company’s success is not the same as its employees’ morale.

    Sales are up! Customer count is up! Why isn’t everyone celebrating? You won’t find your employees’ happiness on a spreadsheet or dashboard. Don’t assume that because a company is meeting its goals its employees are happy. They might be miserable because of everything they’ve done to meet those goals.

  3. Possessing product knowledge is not the same as knowing how to sell.

    Learning the product is not without its merits. After all, wine and spirit professionals should know their producers and their goods better than almost anyone else. However, there tends to be an overweighting on product education to the detriment of sales training. Is your company equipping its salesforce with both?

  4. Product promotion is not the same as incentivizing sales.

    Swag, a cash bonus, a “free” trip.3 These are ways of promoting a product or producer. They are not the same as incentivizing a sales team. There are better ways.

  5. “Running a company is not the same as leading it.”

  6. Having quality products is not the same as having a quality company.

    Your company represents some of the finest and/or best-selling products available in your market. That doesn’t mean your customers are happy. Or your employees. Or that your company is socially responsible. A reputation is built on more than just the legacy of products offered.

  7. Management’s wants are not the same as the market’s needs.

    When you’re sitting on more dormant inventory than ideal, that’s not a market problem. The market knows what it needs and what it is willing to pay for it. It is up to the company to meet that demand in a way that is hopefully profitable. An understaffed department costs a company in the form of expensive mistakes, hiring, and training. The current labor “shortage” is a not market problem. The issue is that management is not willing to pony up the necessary resources to pay living wages.

  8. Solving a customer’s problem is not the same thing as making them happy.

    Think about the last time you were on the phone with a customer service representative (for plane tickets or food delivery). Maybe there was an exchange of emails. Did they solve your problem? Hopefully. Were you happy or merely relieved the experience was over? Don’t confuse fixing a customer’s problem with building customer loyalty. Good systems should have ensured there wasn’t a problem to begin with. When there is a problem, the process of resolving it shouldn’t involve making the customer compromise or exert extra time or effort. In wholesale and distribution, solving a customer’s problem isn’t usually about going above and beyond as much as it is merely upholding your end of the bargain.

  9. “A portfolio is not a plan.”

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The absurdity of spurious correlations has spawned a wonderful website where one can view the relationship between the number of people who died by falling in a pool with the number of films Nicholas Cage has appeared in.


It can also happen when you switch the amount of sugar and salt in a chocolate chip cookie recipe—not that I would know.


Salespeople aren’t stupid. They know that earning the “free” trip will require them to work 5 extra hours a week. For what? To go on a work trip? That might incentivize some, but not many.