Chapter 4 - Urgency

I'm adding this note of caution to each page of my notes because the title is misleading: the author advocates a softer approach to persuasion, but his tactics are often still manipulative. In many instances he proposes a subtler form of manipulation, but one which is still manipulative. I don't expect he has bad intentions, but lacks sufficient knowledge in the areas of rhetoric and psychology to correctly identify and avoid manipulative tactics entirely.

Instilling others with a sense of urgency is a critical skill for salesmen. Even if you can gain a person's confidence and present a convincing argument that they have a problem, they may still hesitate to take the necessary action to solve it.

He mentioned being introduced at one conference as "a scab picker" - the kind of person who constantly reminds people of their pain when all they want to do is forget about it and get on with their lives. The author's spin on this accusation is that he helps people avoid "the tragedy of procrastination."

He suggests that people avoid solving problems because even admitting a problem requires them to commit to doing something about it, and to face the uncertainty that what they think will solve the problem will not work. Or if they do recognize a problem, they will be loath to mention it to anyone else because it reflects poorly on their character.

(EN: This seems to be setting up a straw-man for the author to wage war upon. He doesn't seem to consider that there may be a valid reason that a person chooses not to address something, nor does he seem to have had much experience dealing with busybodies - at least not on the receiving end.)

He likens a salesman interrogating a prospect to that of an attorney interrogating a witness, and avoiding "leading" them. That is, don't' tell them that they have a problem and expect them to agree but instead ask them questions that will get them to admit to the problem.

Creating and Exploiting Emotional Weakness

Life insurance is a product that is purchased not because of "what is" but because of "what if". Products that solve real and present problems sell themselves - but those that solve imaginary future problems are generally not sought out and have to be pushed.

The author suggests that his phone only rang twice in three years of selling life insurance - it's not a product that people seek out, because most people in the prime of their lives are not concerned about the possibility of dying. The result is a person who has a problem, but isn't concerned enough to take action and feels it's something that can always be done later.

In this sense, sales has become its own enemy: people are familiar with the motives of a salesman who offers "help" in the form of a product and they recognize that any attempt to make them feel concern about an imaginary scenario is merely a dodge to get them to buy a product they don't need.

This is where interrogation is useful: if you insist "you have a problem" the automatic response is that "I certainly do not." So you can't tell them about their problem, but must ask a series of "what if" questions to bring them to realize it for themselves.

Problems are like illnesses - they don't go away on their own. But people don't go to the doctor soon enough, and end up in the emergency room when it has become serious enough for them to do something about it. With life insurance in particular, it's too late to buy it when you actually need it.

The author compares the sales process to a "good professional fight" that begins very slowly. In the first two rounds, nothing happens. The fighters are merely "feeling out" one another to determine their strategy. In that sense, too many salesman make their strongest attack too soon, hoping to score a knockout in the first round. They end up wearing themselves down while showing their prospect all they've got, and save nothing for later.

Another tactic of professional fighters is to focus on points of weakness: when a boxer lands a solid blow that tears his opponent's skin, he makes that very spot the target of his following attacks. His coach and corner-men don't yell out "stay away from the cut," they tell at him to "go for the cut." And in that sense, it's good manners to avoid sensitive topics in conversation - but a salesman recognizes discomfort as a target he can exploit, and has to overcome his reluctance to hit someone where they're injured if he means to win.

"If they cry, they'll buy" is the principle - which is to say when you find and exploit an emotional weakness in a prospect, it can overcome the logical reasons they may have for resisting your push.

Of course, a salesman doesn't wish to do damage to his mark, but merely to create concern for the damage the mark will suffer if he doesn't purchase the product. The author provides a list of synonyms: consequences, impact, repercussions, outcome, backlash, and the like, as words to work into conversation as you build fear of a possible outcome.

(EN: The author suggests that this is not manipulation - suggesting that a manipulator suggests the impact of not acting on a recommendation whereas an influencer goads a person into recognizing it from himself. My sense is that the latter is more subtle and deceitful - but it is still manipulation in that it is not direct nor entirely honest.)

Mean or Merciful?

The most challenging aspect of changing behavior is creating pain and distress about a person's current situation as a means to motivate them to make a change. The author mentions one of his trainees, who implemented his tactics but remarked that it made him feel like he was being mean to people.

The author spins this a bit - a "mean" person inflicts pain for the pleasure of making other suffer, and nothing more. However, selling isn't about causing pain, but about getting people to recognize the pain they already have, and then to offer them a salve for it.

He draws a parallel to psychotherapy, which causes people to recognize their own problems. The process of doing so can be very traumatic, but it's only once they have realized the problem that the process of healing can begin.

Thus considered, it really is an act of mercy - as the "mean" thing to do would be to allow people to carry on as if their problem did not exist, until they suffer the real consequences of it.

He continues with the therapist analogy - suggesting that a therapist will often recognize what's wrong with a patient in a very short time, but will spend time "just talking" to them to get them to discover it for themselves - knowing that a patient must want to change, and that making suggestions before that point is fruitless.

(EN: What the author seems to miss is that a therapist will spend several sessions in discovery before attempting to offer a solution, whereas most salesmen are eager to close a deal as quickly as possible and are not willing to invest much time.)

The author suggests a three-step process: identifying, developing, and assessing the impact of problems. He illustrates this by means of a narrative about being talked into an expensive upgrade by a rental car clerk who identified his need (to rent a vehicle to drive to a client's premises), developed doubts (suggesting that the weather might turn foul and a compact car would not cope with heavy snowfall), and assessed the impact (unless he bought an upgrade, he could be stranded by the weather).

In the author's story, there was a surprise change in the weather and he was happy to have been talked into buying the upgrade.

(EN: which is all well and good for the story, but doesn't account for the more likely outcome that the weather didn't "surprise" him and he'd have paid considerably more for something he didn't need. People base expectations of the future on their experience of the past, so unless something unusual happens, the client feels that they have been sold something they didn't need, which leaves them a bit bitter. The rental car example is a good one in that the clerks are always pushing upgrades at people, so people are inured to it. They do not think "maybe this time, unlike the last twenty, that upgrade would be worthwhile" - but recall instead a long history of being pushed in the wrong direction.)

Positive Consequences

People are motivated to act to gain the consequences of taking action. Thus far, that has been put in a negative light -to avoid the consequences of failing to take action. But it can also be spun in a positive fashion.

For life insurance, you can paint a picture of the misery that will be visited on a person's family if they do not purchase - or you can paint a picture of the security they will have if they do.

He relates the story of his father, a two-pack-a-day smoker who could not be badgered into giving up the habit until one of his brothers died of cancer. At that point, he immediately quit.

Consequences do not have to be that dire. Consider that most people don't think of car shopping until they start to have mechanical problems with the one they have. Likewise, most people don't job-search unless they are completely fed up with their present job.

Specifically because of his insurance background, the author has been focused on "avoiding the negative" rather than "achieving the positive." And he still seems to believe that most people are basically lazy and unmotivated, but there are some who seek to achieve rather than avoid.

The same basic approach is applicable to these individuals, though the tenor of the conversation is much more casual when a person is seeking to gain rather than to avoid loss.