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How to sell complexity beyond the customer’s capacity to understand

Business Storytelling, Insight Selling Apr 10, 2014 No Comments

MemoryHow can you persuade someone to buy your complex product when 90% of your presentation is forgotten within 72-hours[i]?

The short answer is you can’t. Unless you dramatically change how you engage with customers, they won’t understand why they should buy your complex product, because of the limitation of our short-term working memory.

According to memory experts, a salesperson’s 88 page power point product dump presentation will unfortunately not flow directly down through a pipeline into the customer’s long-term memory. Instead, the information must first travel through our limited short-term working memory that’s capable of remembering only 3-4 items[ii] of new information at a time. Now I’m not saying that all customers are pin heads. It’s just getting information into their heads is more like threading a needle than pushing it down a pipeline. That’s why telephone numbers are limited to chunks of 3-4, and it also explains why the best public speakers limit themselves to covering only 3-4 points, because that’s all we are capable of remembering.

But what happens when you can’t dumb down your message to only 3-4 points? If you want customers to fully appreciate the complexity of your product, you will also have to share a customer story. Because a story presents a scenario that allows the customer to form their own conclusion, without feeling pressured, your message can now bypass the conscious mind’s limited ability to absorb new material, because you don’t think a story- you experience it. As a result, your message is directly absorbed into the automatic subconscious mind.

This is important, because it’s below the surface of our conscious mind where many of our complex decisions are made.  You’ve had this experience. You’re thinking hard to try to find the answer, but it just won’t come. In frustration, you go for a walk to take your mind off of it, and then, as if from nowhere, the answer suddenly pops into your head. But what was really happening was that all of that time your unconscious mind was processing in the background, and once it arrived at the answer, it communicated the answer to your conscious mind through an emotion. In this case the emotion was certainty. Today, with EEG machines that measure brain activity, researchers are now able to prove that puzzles can be solved 8-seconds before the conscious brain is aware of it[iii].

But even though we can now prove that complex decisions are often made subconsciously, we prefer to think that major decisions are made for rational reasons, because it makes us feel like we are more in control. And yet, our conscious controlled processing in our cortex only came onto the scene around 40,000 years or so ago. So it’s weak and buggy like new software compared to our subconscious automatic processing that has had 600-million years to iron out the bugs. This explains why “we have inexpensive computers that can solve logic, math and chess problems better than any human being can, but none of our robots, no matter how costly, can walk through the woods as well as the average six-year old child[iv].”  It also explains why my 10-year old son can’t divide 180 by 12, and yet he can create a perfect parabola when he throws a ball from 50-yards precisely into the center of my glove?

So, let’s do a thought experiment on controlled vs. automatic decision making. Let’s say you are about to take on risk, and you are presented with two options:

  1. You think it’s right, but it feels wrong, or
  2. It feels right, but you think it’s wrong.

What would you be more likely to do? Ideally, you’d have both. And that’s what you can do by sharing a customer story. They have been able to prove with fMRI scans, for instance, that a story lights up the region of the brain that processes sights, sounds, tastes, and movement[v]. Thus, a salesperson can share a story with a customer, and due to the transportation effect of story, it feels real. It’s the next best thing to experiencing it live. It’s as if the customer took the salesperson’s offering out for a virtual test drive, and experienced it for themselves. Contrast the ability to potentially experience unlimited new information compared to the conscious mind’s limited ability to absorb an 88-slide power point product dump.

In conclusion, to fully appreciate your complex product, the customer has to also experience it, and this can often only happen through a story.

For more information on how to wrap your sales insights up in a customer scenario, please refer to my new book Insight Selling- Sell value & differentiate your product with Insight Scenarios.


[i] Brain Rules, John Medina, p. 234

[ii] Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2001, Nelson Cowan, professor at Department of Psychological Sciences

University of Missouri.

[iii] Incognito conscious & unconscious thought, Economist, April 16th 2009.

[iv] The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt, p 15.

[v] PhysOrg.com, “Readers Build Vivid Mental Simulations of Narrative Situations, Brain Scans Suggest,” 2009.

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The Insight Selling Implementation guide- how to turn insight into increased revenue

Insight Selling Mar 07, 2014 No Comments

300x300You’ve seen the research, and read the books. Buying has changed. With all of the advice and information available on the internet, empowered Buyers don’t need more information. What they need is to find out what all of the information means. They need insight. Read more »

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Insight Selling- How to sell value & differentiate your product with Insight Scenarios.

Insight Selling Jan 17, 2014 No Comments

Buy on Amazon click or download Chapter One click

300x300Book Description

Selling value to B2B buyers today can feel like trying to stop a freight train that’s hurtling towards the sales graveyard of commoditization and discounting.

Today, an empowered buyer has done research, has a clear idea of his or her firm’s needs, and how much the firm is willing to pay. This type of buyer does not want a salesperson to talk about features and deliver a series of open-ended questions that delivers no value. What this buyer wants is insight. So, how does a salesperson deliver insight so that it challenges the customer’s thinking without challenging the customer? Read more »

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Insight selling- How Microsoft & SAP do it better

Insight Scenario, Insight Selling Dec 27, 2013 No Comments

300x300With the rise of the empowered buyer, it is no wonder that the Microsoft, and SAP have embraced insight selling. But these companies have also learned that there is a gap between theory and the practical application, because insight selling is more than just using data, facts, and brilliance to shock and awe buyers about the error of their ways. Read more »

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Details could increase the impact of your argument by 34.9%

Business Storytelling, Insight Scenario, Insight Selling Nov 26, 2013 No Comments

In business, time is money, so the last thing you want is to waste time sitting through a dull detail laden presentation. And as you wonder where it’s heading, you ask yourself why they couldn’t have just giving you the top five bullet points so that you could get on with the rest of your day. Read more »

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Why customers get stuck in analysis paralysis & how to avoid it

Insight Scenario, Insight Selling Nov 07, 2013 No Comments

After working on Wall Street for 14 years, I’ve always presented facts and figures to B2B buyers, because that’s how I felt serious business people made decisions. This belief was backed by 2500-years of conditioning. It started when Plato said that man is rational, and that it’s our emotions that interfere with rational decisions. But recently I had an experience that called this belief into question. And then shortly thereafter, I was presented with a compelling study from neuroscience that also refuted this belief. So when these two events collided, the myth that buying decisions were strictly rational was busted. I now understood why customers get stuck in analysis paralysis, and what I could do to help then to avoid it. Read more »

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Insight Selling- what is insight, and why do it?

Insight Selling Oct 23, 2013 2 Comments

3d-150Everyone is talking about how salespeople must now learn how to deliver insights to their customers, because the internet has changed how people buy. So by the time a customer now engages a salesperson, they’re already 60% of the way through their buying cycle, because they’ve done most of their research online. So they don’t need more information from a salesperson. What they need is insight into what the information means.

But what is insight, why is it important, and how do you deliver it? Read more »

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Insight Selling- Challenger Sale or Fail?

Business Storytelling, Insight Selling, Storytelling Oct 14, 2013 No Comments

Challenger Sale PlainHow do you deliver insight to your customers so that it challenges the status quo without challenging the customer?

Well, when you get sick, do you ever go onto WebMD before you visit the Doctor? So when you show up at the doctor’s office, all you want him to do is to write you a prescription for what you feel you need? And if the market for buying prescription medicine was truly competitive, wouldn’t you also be looking for a better price? Read more »

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Sales are 20X stickier with a story

Business Storytelling Oct 01, 2013 No Comments

salesthatstickIf I told you that a fact, wrapped in an emotional story, is 20-times more memorable[i], would you believe it?

I didn’t at first. So we continued to throw facts against the customer’s wall, and they continued to stick as if they were coated with Teflon.

I wanted to believe that our value propositions could stick like Velcro, but I couldn’t until I personally experienced the power of an emotional story to make a dull fact unforgettable. And this story took place a few years ago at my son’s soccer game (see video of story live below). Read more »

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CEO of SAP recruits a Chief Storyteller- why?

Business Storytelling, Corporate Storytelling, Insight Selling, Story Selling, Storytelling Sep 12, 2013 1 Comment

SAPWhen the world’s largest business software company hires a Chief Storyteller, its news, because it’s a first for the industry.

And when the decision was made by SAP’s CEO, Bill McDermott, it becomes a great story.

  • Why, for instance, did Bill feel that the role of Chief Storyteller was so important that he personally recruited Julie Roehm 18-months ago for the role?
  • Why did he hire a B2C candidate for a B2B role?
  • And with all of Bill’s experience (Sales Xerox, President Gartner, Exec VP of WW Sales & Operations Siebel, and CEO SAP), what insights can we gain from his decision? Read more »
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Salesman conquers his fear of rejection with the latest tools

Business Storytelling, Corporate Storytelling, Insight Selling, Stories that sell, Story Selling, Storytelling Aug 14, 2013 No Comments

Joel needed new customers. But he found that he wasn’t 100% committed when he picked-up the phone, because his fear of rejection made him apprehensive. It felt like he had one foot on gas, and the other on the brake. And because customers sensed that Joel wasn’t completely sold, they weren’t interested in what he was selling, because no one wants to be rescued by a drowning man.

Fortunately Joel loved to read, and he was shocked to discover that his fear of calling new clients was due to an overactive instinct of survival. Read more »

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Pipeline up 3X largely due to StorySelling.

Business Storytelling, Corporate Storytelling, Insight Selling, Story Selling, Storytelling Jul 05, 2013 No Comments

MicrosoftOne of Microsoft’s largest partners “…increased their pipeline by exactly 3-times in under 18-months largely due to StorySelling.

Two years ago Gord Smith, a Partner at Ideaca (one of Microsoft’s largest partner in Canada), hired a bunch of new salespeople to hunt for new business, because he knew the partners were too busy servicing clients (click for video). Read more »

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“You’re in sales, you’re too stupid to understand.”

Business Storytelling, Corporate Storytelling, Insight Selling, Stories that sell, Story Selling, Storytelling Jun 12, 2013 No Comments

ArrogantWhen I asked for more details on how a customer could use our product, Tim, our Managing Director, joked: “Michael, you’re in sales, you’re too stupid to understand.” But the sad thing was that this was what he, and his delivery team really believed. And when I wanted customer stories, I only got the watered down versions from marketing. Because marketing didn’t trust sales to properly share these stories with customers, they had the executive team sand off the rough corners that made the stories interesting- to the point that they were useless. So there I was standing outside the walls of customer knowledge, trying to prepare for a potential customer meeting with the few scraps of information management decided to throw down to sales. Read more »

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Selling blind- turn the lights on with customer knowledge story coaching

Business Storytelling, Story Selling, Storytelling May 24, 2013 1 Comment

Salespeople are selling blind, because they are not being coached on customer knowledge. Without an accurate customer map, they can’t link their capabilities to their customer’s pain points. This results in lost sales, because customers are left to try to figure out why it makes sense for them to buy, or even worse, why they should care.

We’ll show you how simple it is to find, and then fill customer knowledge gaps. And your sales team will do it in as little as 10-minutes a week.

Simply have one of your salespeople share a relevant customer 2-min. story each week, and then have their peers provide feed-back. Read more »

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How to create insight scenarios

Insight Selling Mar 20, 2013 No Comments

Double the quality

After watching this video, you will be able to create insight scenarios that are far better at engaging customer than a product presentation.

If you want your insight scenarios to really pop, don’t worry, we can help. In fact, we guarantee that the quality of your insight scenarios will be at least two times better than if you did them yourself. Read more »

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One customer story sells, and another doesn’t. Why?

Business Storytelling, Stories that sell, Story Selling, Storytelling Feb 15, 2013 2 Comments

By recognizing the difference between a customer story that “Sells” vs. a story that “Doesn’t Sell,” you can see for yourself how your own customer stories can be changed so that they inspire prospective customers to buy, instead of providing them with no reason to change.

The mistakes made in the story that “Doesn’t Sell” are common. Because the effects of not having the Seller’s capabilities are abstract, the story doesn’t make the Buyer want to change, because the risks don’t feel real.

Without making the risks of not having the Sellers capabilities feel more real than the risk of change, the Buyer will stick with the status quo. Read more »

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Do poor sales figures alone tell the whole story about who to fire?

Stories that sell, Story Selling, Storytelling Dec 05, 2012 No Comments

The results are in, and it’s time to fire 15% of your sales team. But do the numbers tell the whole story?
You know, for example, that a rep’s sales can also be negatively influenced by: a) a competitor in the rep’s territory who is a star salesperson; b) a string of bad luck that may turn around, and; c) some salespeople take a little longer to turn around.

You also know that buyers today buy differently, so instead of just letting go of the poor performers, wouldn’t it be better to go through your sales team to see who is capable of prospering in this new sales environment, and who isn’t? Read more »

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32% of salespeople won’t achieve quota in 2012, but will a new sales methodology really help?

Business Storytelling, Stories that sell, Story Selling, Storytelling Nov 26, 2012 No Comments

32% of salespeople won’t achieve quota in 2012, according to a survey of 197-B2B technology companies in 2012 (source: The Bridge Group).

But will another sales process or sales methodology really help?

Most companies have tried 2-3 of them, but have they helped salespeople sell more? A sales methodology or process may provide better reports to management, and improve the sale team’s efficiency; but right now, do you really need to better forecast poor sales, or does your sales team really need to be more efficient at doing the wrong things? Read more »

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Neuroscience proves stories trump facts

Business Storytelling, Stories that sell Nov 01, 2012 5 Comments

But before we dive into the science, let’s do a thought experiment, so that you can discover what is more likely to inspire you to act, a story or a fact?

Story scenario: Imagine you are the VP of Sales for Software USA. After an overnight flight, you are walking over the Waterloo Bridge in London on a sunny April morning. You are on your way to the biggest interview of your life- to run your European operations.

After investing over $1,000 on a new wardrobe for this very important interview, you sidestep a puddle, to avoid getting your new shoes wet. Just then, out of the corner of your eye, you see a small girl fall off the bridge into the frigid water below. As she cries for help, without thinking, you jump in to rescue her.

As you emerge from the river, you notice that your suit and shoes are ruined. But that’s quickly forgotten, when you look down into the frightened girl’s eyes, and realize that she is just about the same age as your daughter. Read more »

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Provocative stories kill the status quo, and inspire customers to buy.

Business Storytelling, Stories that sell, Story Selling, Storytelling Oct 19, 2012 No Comments

Inspired to buy with stories that sell: Through the power of story, your salespeople will not only bypass the wall that protects customers from change, but also inspire them to buy.

The sales challenge: You may be surprised to hear that your biggest competitor isn’t another company, it’s the customer deciding to do nothing. Customers will not act, as long as the status quo is supported by: Read more »

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A story about a CEO who helps a tactical VP of Sales scale the business.

Business Storytelling, Sales Messaging, Story Selling Sep 28, 2012 1 Comment

I remember when the CEO invested in what I, the VP of Sales of a mid-sized company, felt was a foolish amount of money on a new Marketing Director. But what really bothered me, was what  the new position represented, change.

Although my sales team was exceeding quota, the landscape changed. And I knew if I didn’t change, I’d get run over. Read more »

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How salespeople inspire customers to invest, not resist, with stories.

Business Storytelling, Sales Messaging, Story Selling Sep 14, 2012 No Comments

Although the value of your offering is overwhelming, customers resist. Why?

More important, how will you get past this irrational wall of resistance, and make the sale?

Not only will these questions be answered, but more important, you’ll receive a complimentary guide with simple and practical steps that you can start using today, so that you can inspire our customers to step out of the status quo, take action, and invest through you into a better tomorrow.

Overwhelmed Buyers Read more »

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How to add stories to your presentations.

Business Storytelling Aug 28, 2012 No Comments

Ditch the pitch and have business conversations was the strap line on the front page of my web site.

And yet only 10% of sales people seem to be able to do this. So how does that help the other 90%? And what about the top 10% who sometimes need to present?  Read more »

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Like lightning, one story revived sales by 135%.

Business Storytelling Jun 25, 2012 3 Comments

As I watched my son’s soccer game in the rain, the clouds grew dark, and thunder quickly followed.

“If there’s lightning, we’re in a bad place ” warned the CEO of Colgate. “But we’re right next to a tall light-post” I countered. “Yes” said Scott “ but it needs to be grounded, otherwise lightning can travel horizontally, and then… we’re toast.”

Oh please, I lamented, not another overly cautious warning. As Scott droned on about the dangers of lightning, I drifted away, and thought that Scott may know a lot about toothpaste, but meteorology… I don’t think so. Read more »

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The Challenger Sale: How to avoid upsetting the customer.

Business Storytelling, Sales Messaging May 14, 2012 No Comments

To find out how to challenge the customer’s thinking without challenging the customer, I asked Matt Dixon, co-author of the Challenger Sale and Executive Director of the Corporate Executive Board, for the answer. (Click here for video interview).

Q: How do you challenge the customer’s thinking without challenging the customer?

A: If we’d found that The Challengers were obnoxious and aggressive; we’d have called them The Jerk not The Challenger.

Q: Are stories the most effective way? Read more »

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