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Sales & Selling

Great Ideas Don’t Persuade

A great offer coupled with a well-reasoned presentation will get your audience engaged and your customers lining up, right? Yeah, not so much.

The world’s most creative and important products, inventions, and solutions were nothing more than ideas until someone persuaded someone else to do something. Great persuaders bring ideas to life. Persuaders make things happen.

The greatest historical achievements ever created are the results of persuasion. The empire builders, the Caesars and Napoleons, won by persuading others to follow. Cities and civilizations were built with persuasion. Columbus persuaded Queen Isabella that he could reach the East, India, by sailing west; then persuaded her to finance his ships.READ MORE

Data Lost, Emotion Won: Lessons from a Shock Election

Neuroscience is clear on this: The emotional brain drives decision-making. Given the right circumstances, it can easily overcome a cognitive disconnect created by evidence. In the war between logic and emotion in the brain, the fight is over before it’s begun.

Big data can be compelling. But the emotion brain is irresistible. Among the mountain of forensics this election is sure to produce, one of the most provocative is how the media, and the data they relied on, were so spectacularly wrong about the likely outcome. How and why did almost every predictor, prognosticator, and pundit so completely and uniformly miss or ignore what was really going on in the electorate?

Mike Barnicle, the famous Boston based journalist, put it this way:

What has happened here – and you could see this coming, you could really see this coming – too many people in our business, they missed the one real draw that brings a lot of people to the polls. And it's emotional. The ability for people to feel something about their candidate, and to feel that they can access their candidate emotionally.

From Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer prize winning biographer, historian, and political commentator:

What Trump provided was an appeal to the emotions of the people. He told a story. He had a story that was understandable: 'I'm going to make America great again.' People feel that the country has passed them by; people feel that they want something different. And everything else on the other side was a series of programs. They might have helped people in lots of ways, but they didn't connect emotionally.

Donald Trump, by contrast, offered questionable ideas, irrational solutions, and vague policies. And though few media observers missed his ability to connect more effectively with supporters, they vastly underestimated the emotional power embodied by voters desperate for change. The critical lesson here for sales and marketing? Find the pain. Locate – or even create – the discomfort that begs a solution.

From the neuroscience perspective, emotional displacement of the type that emerges from fear or uncertainty is fertile ground for persuasion.

Trump supporters heard from their candidate what many others also heard that was ill-conceived or even offensive. But they also got what they didn’t get from anyone else: visibility. Recognition of their hardships and fears, and someone to take them seriously. The media failed in virtually all of that.

“People want to see themselves reflected in the stories being told,” said Michael Steele, former chair of the RNC. “That’s a lot of the animus that’s directed toward the media – that they don’t see themselves as being represented.” It was all-too easy for the media to dismiss the support of such an easily lampooned figure as Donald Trump. And it came at a cost to their basic integrity as investigators.

Selena Zito, writing for The Atlantic back in September, was one of the lone voices seeking to draw attention to the real circumstances and attributes of Trump supporters. She articulated a significant and even profound difference in how Trump’s messages were being interpreted by different audiences:

The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.

What’s the basis for this ability on the part of Trump supporters to filter messages and find meaning that resonates? Belief. Whether justified or not, belief that comes from a strong emotional connection can rationalize almost anything. It’s the kind of belief that constitutes a holy grail for a brand or a salesperson. It only happens in the emotional brain. And it’s precisely what Clinton failed to achieve. All the ground game and all the polling data in the world could neither predict nor account for the zealous fervor of an emotionally driven electorate.

There was perhaps just one media figure who was as harshly critical of Trump as he was deeply sympathetic to Trump supporters – a deft cognitive task abdicated by most of the rest of the press.  In his widely acclaimed documentary, Trumpland, filmmaker Michael Moore addresses head-on the often troubling rhetoric of the then-candidate, and it’s relationship to his supporters:

Whether Trump means it or not is kind of irrelevant because he’s saying these things to people who are hurting. And it’s why every beaten-down, nameless, forgotten working stiff, who used to be part of what was called the middle class, loves Trump. He is the human molotov cocktail that they’ve been waiting for. The human hand-grenade that they can legally throw into the system that stole their lives from them.

Business leaders, marketers, and salespeople need to be investigative journalists when it comes to their customers, and they need to do a better job than the majority of those who covered the 2016 presidential campaign. Data need not be rejected, but neither should it be relied upon to the exclusion of direct engagement with customers to learn their plight and to connect on an emotional level. Leave the building. Make eye contact. Ask and listen.

As the great Bob Woodward of The Washington Post relates:

I had a city editor tell me very early on: “Get your ass out of the chair and go there.


Trigger Basics: How to Engage the Emotional Brain

The most successful people in the world are those who can get things done with and through others. By applying new scientific breakthroughs, it’s easier than ever to get “Yes!” decisions and actions.

Getting others to act on our ideas, proposals, solutions and offers is what business is all about. Even the most solitary professions eventually have to rely on engagement and support from others if success in the wider world is to be achieved. Marketers, salespeople, and entrepreneurs rely even more on the ability to get attention, engagement, and decision. If we hope to become more successful at influencing others’ decisions, it stands to reason that we might start with a deeper understanding of the human decision process in the first place. Easiest place to start? How about a brief look at our own decisions…

Life’s Challenges

Let’s face it, life is a challenge. But it would be worse – much worse – if it weren’t for the role the emotional brain plays in making our lives less chaotic.

Consider this: Every day is an avalanche of decisions. Get out of bed now or snooze? What to wear? What for breakfast – stick to the diet or enjoy? Which route to work? Stop for gas now or on the way home? Listen to the news or some new music? Which music? At work it’s the same. Get that report out first or answer the emails and voice mail? Take a call or let voice mail pick up? What are the boss’s priorities? What are yours? Whose do you execute first?

All day long, requests and decisions drive activities. The need to decide is incessant; the issues never stop, never let up.

Dealing with this many decisions sounds difficult. It could be. If we had to use logic, reason, and cognitive thinking – if we had to rationally evaluate and think through each decision – we’d be trapped, locked in place, unable to move in any direction as we analyze, evaluate, contemplate, measure, and critique the options. We’d wind up dazed and immobile.

Nature’s Triggers to the Rescue

Fortunately, nature – by way of our brain’s limbic system – has provided us with a highly effective, simple solution to easily get through so many decision-making moments. This system resides in the most primal area of the brain, and is activated by our own personal databank of internal “triggers.”

The take-away summary from recent brain research focused on this “emotional center” is this:

We are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.

What is a trigger? What is this powerful internal navigation tool that initiates quicker, easier decisions? A trigger is an emotion-based, “gut-feeling” shortcut that helps us avoid the pain of rational thinking, of laborious cognitive mental analysis. We are pre-programmed to comply with offers, opportunities, and requests when those request activate the appropriate triggers.

The secret for persuasion success is to determine which triggers can be activated for each situation. The odd irony of this need for quick, easy, emotion-based decisions is that the more sophisticated and complex our lives get, the more information we have, the more we need and rely on simple ways to help us make those decisions. The smart entrepreneur, executive, or sales rep understands this need and communicates accordingly.

The exciting science of live brain imaging reveals that one emotion-based brain component, the amygdala, is the first to receive most outside stimuli – requests for decisions. The amygdala has two choices. It can make an immediate emotion based decision tapping into the life long database we build. Or, if no prior emotion is triggered it can send the request to the pre-frontal cortex for lengthy, rational, time consuming cognitive evaluation. Here’s a newly discovered scientific fact: Reason and logic do not persuade. They might back up an emotional decision, but they do not heavily influence the decision.

To get what you want through others you must activate their emotional triggers.

How Exactly Do You Activate an Emotional Trigger?

Triggers are activated when communication engages the emotional brain faster, easier, or more strongly than it does the analytical brain. Triggers remain dormant when communication gets “stuck” in the pre-frontal cortex, in the “brain pain” of analysis. Persuasive communication makes a beeline for the limbic system, where the amygdala can drive perceptions and decisions with such irresistible force as to be completely oblivious to facts or evidence.

Of course, it’s ideal if facts and evidence also support your “triggerized,” persuasive messaging. But if all you have is facts and evidence alone, your likelihood of being persuasive will be extremely small.

Although persuasive communication can function in every mode or dimension of message transfer – across all five senses and through the elements of every media channel (e.g. words, symbols, pictures, audio, etc.) – a lot of persuasion can be accomplished through essentially two aspects of written or verbal communication: what we say and how we say it. A simple way to think about this is activating triggers by either topic  (the content of our communication) or tactic (the style of our communication or the words we choose).

Understanding what the triggers are and why they work is like getting the essential strategic guidelines for persuasive communication. But then it takes some practice to fill in all the tactical details to really make it work. Here’s a classic example of a tactical (versus topical) persuasive communication solution, a brief video we often use in our learning programs as an especially compelling example of “words matter” when it comes to persuasion:



Want to Be More Influential? Steal Your Customer’s Glasses.

“A prudent question is one half of wisdom.” – Francis Bacon

How much easier would selling be if you could really see things through your customer’s eyes? Here’s how the pros do exactly that. It’s a process called value profiling and, like many effective techniques, it is not complicated (most salespeople just don’t know it or don’t do it).

SKILL TARGET: Find out what your customer wants, and emphasize those features and benefits which meet their criteria.

It sounds simple, but the steps in the process are critical:

PRIORITY ONE: Develop in advance the questions you intend to ask.

PRIORITY TWO: Include the following:

  • A Consent Statement: Launch right in to “20 Questions” and you risk putting your prospect on the defensive. Plus, you sound like every other “consultative salesperson” out there. Instead, preface your probe with a permission or consent statement: “In order to develop a proposal that best meets the your needs, I’d like to ask a few questions. It’s time well spent, because then I can zero right in on things that are most important to you. Is that okay?”
  • A General Question: “What criteria do you consider most important when purchasing something like this?”
  • The Value Profile: “Which is more important, price or total value?” “Is service a critical issue?” “Do you prefer standard widgets, or custom order?” “How relevant is delivery time?”

TRY THIS: List at least five specific “value” questions you can ask on your next sales call.

Armed with this information, you can develop a highly effective presentation that says to your prospect, “Here’s what you said you wanted.” Then give your customer back their glasses.

The Friendship – Influence Equation

The idea that facts and logic are not very powerful influencers has long been suspected. But not until the advent of live brain imaging has there been such strong evidence to support this theory.

With real-time imaging technology, we are learning more than ever knew about how the brain really processes information. We know more than we ever have before about what really influences others’ decisions and actions.

“Your brain is not a logic machine,” reports top neurologist,Dr. Richard Restak, author of the book and PBS series The Secret Life of the Brain. “Emotions and feelings about something occur before you’ve made any attempt at conscious evaluation.”

The Friendship Trigger

Of the seven primary emotional triggers, the Friendship Trigger is both critical on its own and as a prerequisite for activating the other triggers.

Since birth, the emotional part of our brain has stored data for the friendship trigger. Infants bond with whomever cares for them. Bonding creates trust and liking. We are emotionally hard wired to respond quickly and favorably to those we like, trust and are similar to us.

The secret to successfully activating the other person’s friendship decision trigger is, well, to be a friend. How do we do that? We must share common interests, common feelings and common bonds. When we share common interests, we become friends, we activate the trigger. The great news is that activating the friendship trigger is easy.

Does the Friendship Trigger work?

Bill, a sales rep, needed a critical operation and wanted the world’s best surgeon. Problem: The surgeon took few new patients and would only operate on perfect candidates. Bill didn’t fit his mold. The doctor was a real curmudgeon, and as Chairman of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at one of the worlds top hospitals, a very busy guy. Bill was told to be brief, quick and deal only with the data and facts – no small talk.

Bill violated all he was told. Entering the office Bill asked, “So doc, what do you like to do when you are not working so hard?” The rather surprised doctor glared at Bill for a long minute, and then motioned him around to his side of his desk. He said, “I love blue water sailboat racing.” He logged into his yacht club’s Web site where his 65-foot ocean racer was featured with all his racing credits.

Now Bill is not a sail enthusiast, but he is a boater. They talked about the pleasures of boating. They bonded. They became friends. At each meeting Bill asked, “What’s new for the yacht? He regaled Bill with new GPS equipment, new Kevlar sails and racing stories. Wow! They’re friends.

By activating just one persuasion trigger, Bill persuaded the world’s top surgeon to operate on him. And thanks to that trigger, Bill is alive today. Is the Friendship Trigger powerful? Bet on it!