A useful skill
Selling is something I have to do all the time. I regularly need to hone the essence of my pitch and figure out which core idea would resonate most with my prospective customer.
Even if you’re trying to save the world by changing the way people think about something or behave, this has to be rooted in a core idea that changes the person you are targetting.
I think the most powerful ideas have the ability to change someone
…and if you harness this process then you have the ability to change the world.
First of all, a good idea has to be a combination of facts and emotions. There are a lot of cold hard facts out there that you can tell someone that should change them but don’t. One of my favourites is:
This is an idea based in fact. It is written on the side of many cigarette boxes and maybe continually seeing this message does lead people to change, but it doesn’t happen in an instant. I think some ideas have the power to do that.
However, ideas based on emotion rather than fact, such as ‘get rich quick’ or ‘lose weight fast’, seem to compel us to want to change something quicker. I think this partly comes down to the perceived benefit of a new idea.
Most of the time when we sell we’re trying to convince the customer how our product/service will make them better or save them money, but they hear this so often from all angles that it’s hard to get through all the noise. You have to somehow capture their attention before you give them your idea.
In the past, I’ve struggled with public speaking. One of the ways I’ve tried to fix this is by joining a group called Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a membership group that uses a number of techniques to help each of its members improve their speaking abilities.
One of the areas of Toastmasters focuses on is how to present a compelling talk related to a given idea. The techniques rely heavily on repetition and a predictable structure you can walk the audience through, which allows the audience to easily follow your train of thought.
One of the more interesting tips is this idea of a narrative. When telling someone a story it seems to capture their attention more than just telling them a bunch of facts – I wonder what the significance of this is? Why do we respond to stories better than other forms of structured talks?
It’s also worth thinking about the film industry. All they do is sell stories – so why are some stories more effective than others? There is also a tried and tested formula for stories with a start, middle and end, this also goes by the name of the Hero’s journey. Further information can be found here.
Comedy is also a good area to look at when thinking about compelling ideas. Comedians rely heavily on this narrative to keep audiences rapt for an hour or two.
What other situations can you think of where you can comfortably sit for that long without getting bored?
Jokes rely heavily on a narrative structure, but also on the element of surprise. Traditionally split into two parts, the delivery and the punchline. What makes the joke funny is how big a surprise you provide and how wrong the audience’s assumptions were in the first part of the joke.
Mastering the process of capturing attention centres around finding a core truth and appealing on that deeper level. Fundamentally, people want to be rich, thin, better looking. They perceive that this will lead them to happiness. They must believe that once they have your widget they will be a better version of themselves than before.
Ultimately you’re trying to sell them happiness, but the way you sell them this varies.
Persuasion is also an interesting part of selling an idea. A lot of the underlying concepts around persuasion are about finding the core truths of a person so that you can tailor your idea to touch on their beliefs in a very targeted way.
In conclusion, I think some sort of narrative structure that strongly persuades the person that they will be happier, whether by having more money, more success or becoming more attractive, are the common themes when we are trying to sell to people. We have been doing this for thousands of years, but its good to take a step back and try and understand it better.