Sales Management Digest

Six Obvious Ways to Get Prospects On Board
Heather Baldwin
What makes us remember some ideas and not others? It's a crucial question in the sales business and one that's explored in-depth in the book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The Heaths have essentially taken Malcolm Gladwell's notion of "stickiness" and delved into the "whys" behind it: What traits make ideas stick? How are effective ideas constructed? What make some ideas stick and others disappear?

The very definition of stickiness says everything about why you should care about this topic. According to the Heaths, stickiness refers to your ideas being understood, remembered, and having a lasting impact – in short, sticky ideas change your audience's opinion or behavior. In their research – Chip Heath, as a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, and Dan Heath, as a consultant to the Aspen Institute and cofounder of Thinkwell – the brothers found that in the hundreds of sticky ideas they pored over, they saw, again and again, the same six principles at work.

Principle #1: Simplicity. What is the essential core of your idea? "To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion," say the Heaths. Or as Bill Clinton's advisors told him in his 1992 campaign, "If you say three things, you don't say anything." Figure out your core message and then figure out how to capture it in a way that is short (no more than a sentence) and thought provoking.

Principle #2: Unexpectedness. Sticky ideas provoke two essential emotions: surprise and interest. Surprise gets our attention and interest keeps it. The next time you're meeting with a customer, throw him or her a curve ball. Jolt their attention with something unexpected. Then keep that attention by revealing gaps in the prospect's knowledge and progressively closing those gaps, or by revealing a mystery and walking the prospect through to its solution.

Principle #3: Concreteness. To make your ideas clear and memorable, they must be explained "in terms of human actions and sensory information," say the Heaths. "Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images." This is where most business communication goes awry, communicating instead with vague, jargon-laced, language-dense phrases that have no lasting impact. If necessary, use metaphors, similes, and analogies to draw parallels between your ideas and something concrete.

Principle #4: Credibility. "Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials," say the authors. "We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves." A brilliant example of this occurred in the sole U.S. presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Reagan could have cited myriad statistics about the slow economy; instead, he made his point with a single question: "Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago."

Principle #5: Emotions. Sticky ideas cause people to feel something. When the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) needed to communicate the unhealthiness of movie theater popcorn, they knew that simply stating the popcorn contained 37 grams of saturated fat wouldn't resonate. Instead, CSPI announced, "A medium-sized buttered popcorn at a typical neighborhood movie theater contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon and eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings – combined!" They had the visuals to go with it and the message hit home. It was picked up by news outlets nationwide and prompted disgusted moviegoers to avoid popcorn in droves – which in turn led to several major theater chains changing the oil in which they cook their popcorn.

Principle #6: Stories. Stories stick. You probably know this already. Weeks or months after a presentation, your audience will have forgotten your mission statement, your company history, and all that data you so painstakingly collected and entered onto your slides. But the stories you told? If they were interesting and relevant, your audience can probably still remember them.

Simple, right? In theory, yes. In fact, you probably already knew many of these principles. But in the trenches of day-to-day selling it’s easy to ignore or forget them. Surprisingly, one of the main reasons this happens is knowledge. Sales professionals sometimes know so much about their product or service they go into a call and wind up trying to share everything they know with the prospect – and none of it sticks. Or, their desire to appear knowledgeable is so strong they use jargon-laden, multi-syllable words that wind up leaving audiences glassy-eyed.

Whatever the issue, go back to these six principles before your next sales meeting. Figure out a way to communicate your core message using these principles and watch it stick to the customer – and the customer stick to you.
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