In my days carrying a bag I spent an enormous amount of time drilling, practicing and rehearsing my sales talk. It was painful as hell.
But that’s what one of my earliest mentors taught me to do…
I would accompany him on two or three sales calls a day and observe. I would watch him use the same sales talk with different prospects. Not exactly the same every time, but nonetheless a rote collection of questions, stories, and routines artfully molded, adapted, and sequenced to suit the situation at hand. Then we’d spend an hour or so role playing each day back at the office.
His name was Jimmy Ray Carl, most likely passed on by now, but at the time one of the most interesting, charismatic, and sensitive characters I’d ever met…
He wore brown wingtip shoes that shone like the sun… starched white shirts… and a seemingly infinite variety of sports jackets, all of them green.
Every outfit was adorned with an astonishing array of expensive jewelry — thick watches, bracelets, collar pins, tie bars and the like. And he drove a color coordinated 12 cylinder Jag.
Gaudy as he was in public, he led a very quiet private life in a weird looking triplex in the Greek part of town. He lived in one unit, rented the rest. And when he wasn’t out wining, dining, and closing six and seven-figure deals in posh restaurants he was knee deep in dust and dirt fixing a boiler or leaky pipe in the basement of one of his units.
Jimmy Ray Carl was originally from Buffalo. So whenever there was a need to do a deal south of the border, it was generally assumed he was the one to do it. Boss said. “Somebody’s gotta do the dirty work.”
During my stint as Jimmy’s protégé I accompanied him just once…
We were down for several weeks, somewhere dry, Denver I believe… surveying the customer’s needs, developing a proposal, negotiating a deal.
It was a Friday, and Jimmy was finally ready to close.
You could have cut the air in the boardroom with a knife when Jimmy asked for the order…
Dead silence for what seemed like ten minutes. The temptation to interject with some added talk to break the tension must have been unbearable, but Jimmy sat there motionless, regarding the prospect with that warm, gentle expression of his. I’d seen him do this countless times before, but never for this long.
Finally, the grey haired man sitting across the table looked up at Jimmy and said, “I just can’t make the decision now.”
I knew Jimmy wasn’t going to walk away without trying a few more things to cement a deal. After all, we were thousands of miles from home. We weren’t likely to get a better chance.
What I saw him do next I’d never seen him do before…
He looked at the man and said, “As you know, sir, we Americans have long considered Benjamin Franklin to be one of our wisest men.” And he carried on about what Ben Franklin would do if in the man’s position.
Then Jimmy drew a line down the center of a piece of paper, wrote “pros” at the top of one column and “cons” at the top of the other… and they began listing the reasons why it made sense to proceed now rather than later. I watched in rapt amazement to see how this might impact the man’s point of view.
I’d heard of this close before, but seeing it in action made me realize the psychology behind it…
One, it evoked the decision-making wisdom of an admired and respected authority figure. Two, it really is a sound method for making decisions. And three, it leverages the law of contrast. If the decision to go ahead is a good one, then the reasons for going ahead generally far outweigh those for maintaining the status quo.
Your sales copy works in a similar way…
It’s been said that human motivation is a question of the balance of pain versus pleasure. Your prospects are motivated to purchase based on a desire to obtain pleasure and avoid or escape pain.
Your job as a persuader is to uncover and vivify as many pleasures as possible that can be reasonably associated to the purchase of your product. And to minimize the pain associated with a purchase.
That’s exactly what Jimmy was doing with the Ben Franklin close. And just as there’s more to this story, there’s more to the story of pleasure and pain…
You see, there are actually four separate aspects of motivation — not two — when it comes to the pleasure/pain principle. And these aspects come together to form a useful model for identifying these pains and pleasures and working with them in your copy.
To fully understand this model it’s necessary to subdivide pain and pleasure into their respective positive and negative aspects.
Jimmy intuitively understood this when he was preparing for a call. And it’s the same kind of preparation you should be doing before you sit down to write a sales piece.
Suppose you want to sell your prospect a program of healthy eating and exercise, just for the sake of example. How does pleasure and pain influence your prospect’s behavior?
Pleasure Anticipated (Motivator) — Looks forward to losing weight, gaining energy, attractiveness and longevity.
Pleasure Sacrificed (De-Motivator) — Dreads not being able to scarf down chicken wings and beer with friends during the hockey game on Wednesday nights.
Pain Avoided (Motivator) — Wants to minimize fear of developing heart disease, stroke, or diabetes as a result of a sedentary lifestyle and poor food choices.
Pain Anticipated (De-Motivator) — Feels dieting means hunger and deprivation… not being able to control negative emotions with food. Exercise means physical pain and discomfort. Fear of falling off the wagon… the cost of the program… risk that it won’t work.
Using the model allows you to bring the unconscious calculations that go on inside people’s heads into focus. You are essentially peering into their minds and articulating the thoughts they are reflexively thinking.
To expand the list, take each point and ask yourself:
“What does this mean?” What does it mean to lose weight? … Well, you’ll be forced to go shopping for great looking new clothes. People at work will compliment you on your new looks. You’ll feel better about yourself as a person. You’ll have more energy.
And you repeat this process. What does it mean to be more attractive? What does it mean to have more energy? And you explore the full scope of the motivators and also the de-motivators.
It is the interplay of these four forces in your prospect’s mind that causes action or inaction. It’s almost as if there is an invisible scale on which they are balanced. Their number and relative importance tips the scale in one direction or the other.
The more motivating images you can pile on the “buy” side of the scale, and the more vividly you can cause them to be envisioned in your prospect’s mind’s eye, the more likely you are to create a positive decision. You want to make the pleasures gained and pains escaped seem as real as the fingers on their hands.
The order in which these motivating images are presented is also critically important. They should be carefully matched up with the worldview of those you wish to persuade.
Longevity, and the avoidance of disease, for example, holds far less weight for a young person who thinks they are going to live forever than it does for an older person whose thoughts turn increasingly toward their own mortality as the years pass. Each sees themselves and the world differently and needs to be persuaded through a different lens.
Having identified the full list of pleasures and prioritized them by order of importance, you can now develop specific promises that lead to their attainment. And you can begin developing stories that depict their future lives in multi-sensory richness and realism.
Just as motivators can be magnified and enhanced, de-motivators can be neutralized and diminished…
This is in effect what Jimmy was doing as he and the executive piled benefits on top of benefits on top of benefits on the right side of the page.
If there are apparent drawbacks to your solution, of course you want to acknowledge them and diffuse them. Jimmy called this objection handling. He had sales talk at the ready for every objection. But he didn’t need much more sales talk that day…
After evoking the spirit of Ben Franklin and working with the prospect to summarize all of the benefits (pleasures gained and pains escaped) Jimmy turned to the prospect and said, “Now let’s see how many reasons you can think of for delay.”
And then again, Jimmy shut up. He left it up to the executive to fill in the left side of the paper. Then together they counted up the many pros and the few cons and he went ahead with the deal.
…Darndest thing I’d ever seen.
Until next time, Good Selling!