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Hacking the Brain to Win More Sales

Originally aired 5-6-20

How to Hack the Brain to Win More Sales

Sales is a game of the mind. If you are selling to the wrong parts of the brain you have almost no chance of winning. The brain processes information in predictable ways and understanding how data is processed in the mind can be the difference between closing the deal and killing it. In this Propaganda, Grant will show you how to sell to the right parts of the brain to ensure your message is accepted and communicated in a way that the mind understands.


Today, we are going to talk about neuroscience and I will make some complicated neuroscience principles very easy for you to understand. My goal is to walk through, at a high level, how the brain operates so that you can modify your pitch, to whom you communicate, and how you communicate which will maximize the opportunity for you all to make money.

I want you all to write down or type down your pitch. That is, the one to three sentences that you say to describe this is what you do.

If you are not a business development person, a CEO, or someone in a selling capacity, try putting yourself in the position of someone in a business development capacity, and write down what you think you’re all about.

Ok, now put that away but keep it close, you will need it for later.

All right, so here we go. Today, we’ll first walk through some basics around understanding how the brain’s natural processes operate. And, we can only understand that if we know this guy, Jean Piaget. If you took psychology 101 in school, you know who this guy is. He was an epistemologist, which means the study of knowledge.

And what he did was he kind of hijack some basic philosophical principles, particularly from a philosopher named Immanuel Kant. So two things, in particular, are essential to understand what Jean Piaget did.

One is understanding a schema. A schema is a structure of simplicity. It is a way that your brain creates shortcuts to understand complex things and make them simple. So to give you an idea, if you drive home from work or the store or something, and then the next thing you know, you’ve arrived at home. You think back, and you’re like, “Well, I guess I came to a stop at that stoplight by my house, and I turned left, but I don’t remember doing it.” This is because your brain already knows how to do those things and doesn’t have to participate actively. It means you were thinking about something else. These shortcuts are essential to understand because those shortcuts are how your brain categorizes pieces of information.

Inside of schemas are things called schematic markers. Schematic markers are objective triggers that your brain uses to remember things. Now, the brain is not very good at remembering things. So, for instance, if you think back to a significant event in your life, that could be your wedding or the birth of a child, or even like a traumatic event, your brain will put a fixed schematic marker around that event.

When you think back to that event, you can recall many details. You can picture the weather, your feelings, or the people there. And, even though you might remember things vividly, many of those details are incorrect. The studies on this are shocking.

If you want to question your whole existence, look up studies on flashbulb memory and how bad our memory is. I’ll say this; if you ever get accused of a crime, and an eyewitness is involved, you should be terrified for your existence because the human mind does not recall details very well and it will make up details to fill in the blanks. Even more terrifying is that you can actually pass a lie detector test with the made up details. You will be convinced those details are correct even though they never happened or didn’t exist.

So these two things, a schema and a schematic marker, it’s essential that we understand. So schema is how your mind can simplify things in your life. And a schematic marker is a specific or significant event that your mind will use to recall how your brain is structured and both of these operate very similar to how a file cabinet works.

As an illustration, when you open a file cabinet, your eyes immediately go to a specific place. So, who can you tell me where your eyes go?

[many typed comments in the chat]

The tabs and you’re right. Your eyes go to the tabs. And your eyes go to the tabs because those are navigation items that indicate what’s inside those folders. So the things written on tabs tend to be what we call objective.

Objective means they’re the same in everybody’s head. So, for instance, what types of things will you see if you’re looking at a tab on a folder? Things like names, addresses, labels like bills, and employee names. And if you were to sit at someone else’s desk and look at their folders, you should be able to easily navigate quickly and figure out what goes where. And the major reason for that is that those items written on tabs are objective.

The opposite of objective is subjective. It’s critical that we understand the difference between objectivity and subjectivity. Objectivity means thighs are the same in everyone’s head, and subjectivity means things are different in everyone’s head.

For example, a number is objective. If I say the number 5, that is the same value in everybody’s head. But if I say “a small number,” that might be a different number to everyone. Similarly, if I say something costs $50, there is no confusion, but if I say something is expensive, that number will likely be different to everyone.

This is critical to understand because your brain will cast away subjective descriptions. After all, it’s looking for what is referred to as an objective hook. An objective hook is also a schematic marker. It may be a simple schematic marker, but it is how your brain leverages information, categorizes it, and puts it into these folders.

Because your brain operates very similarly to how a file folder or a database works, you must convey something objective, not subjective. Contrary to some, communicating in subjective terms doesn’t increase your memorability. You might be able to recall a specific emotion, but if you can’t recall what is written on the folder tab, you screwed up as a communicator. So, that’s one of the reasons you can remember what happens in a commercial, but you can’t remember the name of the company advertised in the commercial.

Now let’s talk about how the brain assesses value. Ours senses help us navigate the world around us now. So, who knows what the most dominant sense is?

One of our senses is dominant over all others; who know what it is?

[many responses are populated in the chat]

That is right, it is your eyes. Your eyes are the most powerful sense. Does anybody know the reason for extra credit as to why your eyes are your most powerful sense?

The reason that your eyes are the most powerful sense is that it is the sense that gives you the highest probability of identifying danger. Ultimately, your brain’s primary responsibility is to keep you alive, not to solve problems or create beauty or anything like that.

So if your brain’s job is to keep you alive, the best way it can do that is through your eyes. Your eyes work in a visual frome which is a two-by-one box. The first thing that your brain does is it applies value based on the size of things that it sees. The only reason it does that is that it’s trying to figure out, is there something there that could potentially kill me?

[slide shows two squares, one twice the size of the other]

So if you’re looking at these two squares, one is twice as big as the other. Let’s say the one on the left represents a bus. And the one on the right represents a bike. Without you realizing it, your brain will instantly and naturally assign more value to the larger square, the bus, only because it has a higher probability of killing you.

[slide shows 4 squares of equal size]

Let’s say you have four squares like this, and they’re all the same size. Which of these has the most value? For instance, red is the first color to hit the eye. Side note, if you want to do something with immediacy, red is the first color to hit the eye. Red has longest wavelength on the lowest frequency, and inversely blue is the last color to hit the eye. So, your mind assigns a little bit of value based on color.

So, color aside, which of these boxes will your mind assign the most value to? Now, remember that your mind is a finite instrument. It doesn’t do a very good job figuring out things with no boundaries. So like the idea of an ever-expanding universe, we might be able to conceptually wrap our heads around that, however, we don’t truly understand it because the mind cannot assess and understand things without finite principles.

So, your brain would look at a situation like this, where you have four objects that might be of equal threat, and then assign them a value. And if that value was a percentage what would that percentage be? Who’s super good at math? Each one of these boxes is what percent? 25, right? They have an equal amount of threat as far as our minds are concerned. They each have a value of 25%.

So what does this have to do with sales? So here’s something to consider when you communicate what you do to someone; many times, your gut instinct is to talk about what you do which is typically of list of the actual things that you do. After all, we tend to ask people “what do you do?”

We always think remodeling companies are the worst abusers of this rule. For instance, this is an excerpt taken from a local remodeling company from a radio commercial a few years ago. They announced the name of their company; “Hi, we’re so-and-so, and we do kitchen remodels, bathroom remodels, decks and patios, finished basements, hardwood flooring installs, foundation repair, plumbing, electrical, room additions, window and door replacements, and commercial remodeling.

So that’s not an uncommon commercial. And what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to say something that’s going to resonate with you. They’re hoping they will list all these things, and hit a pain point and you will think; “We want to finish our basement add a new room, or there is a crack in my foundation I’ve always wanted to get that looked at.”

They’re hoping they’re going to say something that gets you. Here’s the problem. The problem is that’s not how our brain works. So, for instance, if you get out of bed, imagine it’s dark outside, and you walk into your bathroom, and there’s water on the floor. Your first instinct is that you need to call a plumber. You don’t think “I should call a remodeler who happens to do plumbing.” That’s not the way that your brain works. And unfortunately, this remodeling company has to spend a lot of money to buy advertising to cover all of the possible scenarios that can arise in your home and that match what the can do.

If you have water dripping from your ceiling, what will you Google? If you are a specialist in plumbing, you essentially stand for one thing. You will not only be organically at the top of Google if you’re doing all of your content correctly.

Going back to our box example from earlier, let’s talk about what happens when you’re listening to the announcer on that radio commercial when is going down the list of all the things this remodeling company does. When the announcer says “kitchen remodels” which is the first thing he lists, the value of that idea in our head is 100%. You think, this is a remodeling company and they do kitchen remodels, got it. But then he says “bathroom remodels” and what do you think just happened to the value of that company in our head? The value just got cut in half. Well, they do two things, kitchen remodels and bathroom remodels. Then the announcer says “decks and patios.” What happened again? Cut in half. Then he says, “finished basements and hardwood flooring installs and all they are doing is halving the value of their company with each new idea.

Now, the announcer is listing off a lot of things – which doesn’t take into account that the average person can only remember 4 things out of a list of 10 – so it seems from the companies perspective that they are covering all of their bases which likely feels good to them. The problem is that by the time you get to the end of the list, your brain has already decided this company does many things, but they likely aren’t a specialist at any of them and that is what we are genetically predisposed to look for, the specialist.

The reason is that your brain naturally gravitates towards specialization, the same part of your brain that assesses threats. Your brain is looking for a specialist because a specialist has a higher probability of keeping you alive. It doesn’t matter if it’s finding food or shelter; you always want that specialist because it increases your likelihood of survival.

Now let’s talk a little about how the brain uses emotions to help make decisions. For that, you first need to know about Antonio Damasio, famed neuroscientist at USC. His area of study is in consciousness, and he spearheaded work in understanding how the brain uses emotions and how the brain’s limbic system impacts decision-making.

One of the things his research brought to the forefront was his schematic marker hypotheses about 20 years ago. His premise was that the emotive sectors of the brain are responsible for all the decisions we make in our lives.

The frontal lobe, or “smart brain,” is responsible for complex thought and operates like a calculator. It works slowly and is excellent at analyzing things. However, the emotional brain is impatient and, most of the time, will decide without considering the calculations that our smart recommends.

That very important frontal lobe of the brain helps us solve complicated problems and has allowed for the development of mathematics and engineering but if you force it to make a decision it freezes up because it is not its job. It operates similarly to how a feedback loop works in software. Constant analysis with no output. It’s not a good thing. It needs the emotional brain to make the decision and move on.

One of the biggest mistakes we see people make in sales is that you need to talk to the correct part of the brain. We falsely believe that a correlation exists between complexity and value, and as many good salespeople know, the absolute opposite of that is true. We incorrectly associate sounding smart with motivating someone to make a decision so we speak to that smart brain even though it isn’t responsible for ultimately making the decision.

One of the reasons we typically make this mistake is because when we build or communicating a product or service you have created, you generally use complex problem-solving to create it. So we reguritate the details of how we assembled the product assuming that the receiver of the information will arrive at the same conclusion that we did. Unfortunately, by communicating these details we force the interaction of the logic brain and decrease our probability of convincing someone to purchase the product.

Instead, we should communicate to the emotive brain in simple value based terms. Talk about what the value of the product is to their life, what the experience will be like use the product and the implications it will have on their future if they use the product.

Here are three specific things that you need to take away from today:

We just went over one, whatever you communicate needs to be objective. If you want it to be memorable, it must be objective. If you use a subjective idea, your brain will toss it away, going off into the ether because your brain must find that objective hook to make something memorable.

Second, your idea must be singular. If you are communicating lists or feature sets you are ruining your opportunity to make a sale, the brain does not buy feature sets. The brain buys ideas. So if you sell software or a piece of machinery and sell a feature set, you are losing. And because you’re not talking about something singular and understanding which of these things have the highest emotional resonance, you risk having one of those features kill your deal.

The third is you need to be talking to the emotional brain. The emotive brain is the buying brain and anytime you communicate something that contains logic, you are scaring the brain away from the sale. So, stop doing it. If you are trying to get someone to think or problem-solve, especially at the beginning of a meeting, you have screwed the deal up. You might as well get up and leave.

So these are three simple tricks on how the brains a natural operation that you can use to make sure that the messages are saying aren’t scaring the brain. You’re talking to that. You’re talking to the part of the brain. That’s going to allow your message to get in and get the mind comfortable so you can have an opportunity to get a sale.

Earlier, I told everybody to write down your pitch. What are your one to three sentences? Now, go back and look at your pitch and re-write it using the rules you have just learned. It is objective? Singular? Does it hit an emotional nerve? What adjustments will you make? I’ll give you a few moments to do that.

[Grant Gooding spends the next 30 minutes looking at submissions from attendees and working with each to make adjustments.]

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