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The Truth About Emotional Sales and Empathy

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You have to be more empathetic and have more emotional intelligence to do well in sales. But what does that mean, and what specifically should you do to increase your empathy? David Priemer, author of Sell the Way You Buy and owner of Cerebral Selling, knows a thing or two about emotional intelligence and empathy. In this episode, we'll discuss why empathy is so important during the sale, and what you can do to increase yours.

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Check out the four sales fundamentals every top performer masters, how to use value-based selling to increase your leverage, and how to improve your remote selling skills as the world becomes more virtual. 


The Truth About Emotional Sales and Empathy:

Full Transcript

David Priemer:
Unlike IQ, intelligence quotient, which is believed to be set from birth, EQ, emotional intelligence, can be learned. And part of the way you do that is through pattern recognition. Now, in the sales world, what that would mean is if I went out there and I used a tactic and it pissed the customer off, right? If I was not emotionally intelligent, I would be oblivious and like, “Ah, I don’t know. I was doing my thing and they got pissed off. I don’t know. There must be something wrong with them.”

David Priemer:
But so if you want to become more emotionally intelligent, what you need to do is whenever you use a tactic, whether it works or whether it doesn’t. When the tactic works, we get all excited, and we don’t think about it, but when the tactic works or it doesn’t, you need to ask yourself like, “Why did it work? Or why did it not work? What were the sequence of events either in what I did in the mind of my customer that brought about that outcome?” And if you’re able to link your actions to the outcome, you’ll become more attuned and sensitized to how those two things are related, and your emotional intelligence will increase. So that’s the way it’s done through pattern recognition.

Liston Witherill:
That’s David Priemer, and he wants you to sell the way you buy. In fact, he wrote a book by the same name. David’s concerned with how the brain works, in particular how people navigate the buying cycle. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s exactly what we explore right here on the Modern Sales Podcast. And David had one thing on his mind when he stopped by the show; emotional intelligence. It’s that pesky term you hear over and over again. You need it to sell because it’ll guide you to your client’s deepest motivations, the stuff that makes them worried sick, the stuff that makes them wonder about the future, the stuff that threatens their business and their world as they see it. They want something better. And to understand what’s keeping them in pain and what you can do to help, you’ll need some emotional intelligence for that. But if you’re not naturally inclined to be more emotionally intelligent, can you change, and how much?

Liston Witherill:
On today’s episode of Modern Sales, I talk to David Priemer about how to develop your emotional intelligence, why it may be a mistake to be authentic in the sale and why your business case may be killing some of your deals.

Liston Witherill:
Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast that’ll help you sell more by understanding how people buy. I’m your host Liston Witherill, founder of Serve Don’t sell. And I dig through academic research, interview people inside and outside of sales and nerd out on psychology, economics and neuroscience to figure out how people make decisions. And I am on a mission to change the way 100 million people sell so that buying B2B services can feel as good as a pot of freshly brewed coffee the moment you wake up. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Liston Witherill:
If you’re listening on Spotify, hit that follow button so that you don’t miss a single episode. And if you’re listening on iTunes or Apple Podcast, please subscribe and leave an honest review as long as it’s five stars. It does help me get the word out sincerely so that we can together change the way 100 million people sell. Thanks in advance for your help.

Liston Witherill:
Now, a quick announcement before today’s show. I’m opening up a workshop to help you close more deals using a highly consultative approach. During the workshop, you’ll learn the core sales process, work on three skills that’ll help you make every meeting more productive, not just your sales meetings, and make your offers more compelling by telling transformational stories to your clients. The workshop is delivered online and remote in a four-week sprint format, and it’s made specifically to help you sell more services. So if you’re a business owner, account executive, account manager, a consultant, professional services provider, this is for you. It’s 100% focused on closing. No management. No prospecting here. If you’re interested in joining the workshop or finding out more about it, just head over to servedontsell.com/workshop to learn how it works. That’s servedontsell.com/workshop for more information and to sign up.

Liston Witherill:
Now for today’s show. This podcast is all about understanding how people buy. The reason is simple. You’ll be more effective if you sell the way people buy, but it’s more than that for me. It’s also about being of service to people, like genuinely helping them. Imagine this. Someone doesn’t buy anything from you, but you were still able to help them in a short 30-minute call. You do that, right? Me too. But it takes emotional intelligence to be truly helpful. You have to understand people and what they need. You have to read between the lines and ask good questions, and emotional intelligence will lead you to ask yourself the tough questions: what you’re good at, how you’re helping people, and how you’re falling short.

Liston Witherill:
But the data is clear. A lot of us lack emotional intelligence. In fact, it’s more than half the population that lack the emotional intelligence we need to be truly effective. The number will shock you. What percentage of us have emotional intelligence, and what can you do to improve your own? I’ll have the answer with my interview with David Priemer right after this short break.

Liston Witherill:
Welcome back to Modern Sales, and I am here with the author of Cerebral Selling, David Priemer. David, how are you today?

David Priemer:
I am great, Liston. Great to be with you.

Liston Witherill:
Thank you for being here. And did I get your name right? I’m conscious of that.

David Priemer:
You did. Yeah. Priemer. You got it, like I said, as a Canadian, which you’ll hear. I mean, I say process and project and about, so if your listeners are catching that, people want to somehow Frenchify my name and say Priemer, but you did a great job.

Liston Witherill:
Okay. Awesome. All right, so we’re off to a good start. So I wanted to start here. The name of your book is Sell the Way You Buy, and you say to do that. And I think if everyone did that, though, they’d almost certainly focus on the most pleasant experiences they’ve had, which aren’t necessarily reflective of the best or most successful buying experiences. So depending on what we sell, we may not be able to deliver a super satisfying experience. We may have to give some bad news or even make our client feel uneasy or uncomfortable. So how do we think about balancing those two things?

David Priemer:
For sure. Well, when people here sell the way you buy, the first thing people think of is the empathetic angle, which is just treat people the way you want to be treated. If a tactic wouldn’t work on you, then why would you inflict that on your customers? And that is certainly an element of sell the way you buy and selling with empathy. But more so than that, it really involves you understanding how you buy, the pathways and mechanisms by which you make purchasing decisions, which do not always involve this empathetic element.

David Priemer:
So I’ll give you this example. Let’s say my wife asks me to do something, take out the garbage or fix this or whatever she asks me to do. The question is, do I do it the first time she asks me? Do you know the answer to this question? Do I do things the first time she asked me to do things?

Liston Witherill:
My guess is it’s going to be a not always.

David Priemer:
Yeah, I’m less than consistent in that area, right? And so she has to ask me a few different times to do it. And then eventually I do it, and I’m not angry with her. And, in fact, doing these things are in my best interest. So when you think about how do you buy, sometimes when you’re going out to make a purchase you need to be nudged in that direction of that purchase even if it’s something you know you need to do, and it could be something like, for example, you need to get on the treadmill, right? Because you need to get in the best shape of your life for lots of reasons. And maybe it doesn’t take the first time and someone keeps nudging you, your doctor, your partner, your significant other says, “Liston, get on the treadmill.”

David Priemer:
And when you eventually do, when you feel better, you’re not angry at that other person. So sell the way you buy is all about thinking about how do you actually buy? And people sometimes can be reluctant to engage. They can be lazy. They don’t know the scope of solutions that are out there that are available to them to help. And so your job as a seller is to go out there and bring the future to your customers, even if it means being … I don’t want to use the word aggressive, but politely persistent when you know it’s in the customer’s best interest.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. And the way I would frame that is delivering bad news, right? So sometimes I may have to tell someone, “It’s not going to be quite as easy as you think,” or, “The thing that you want is not something that I can deliver in the time period you’re asking for it, and here’s what’s more realistic.” So let’s go to the example that you use, though, of a personal trainer, right? This is one of my favorite examples because I’m an avid gym goer. I love to lift weights. And I don’t personally have a trainer, but I see a lot of people with trainers. And I’d say the majority of training clients like to stand around and talk to their trainers.

Liston Witherill:
Now, if I’m a trainer, I really want to get people results, and I know I’m not going to get them results by standing around and talking to me. I’m only going to get them results if they’re working the entire time. So how do I reconcile those two things, what people might want versus what they actually need to get to their destination?

David Priemer:
Well, this I think goes back to this concept of whatever solution you provide, you’re not for everyone. Think about that for a second. No matter what product or service you put out, think about who you are not for, right? Now, some of these people can get into your sales funnel and gum it up. But if you go out there and you almost hold that lightening rod out and you say, “Look, here’s who I am for. I am a personal trainer, but I’m not here to be your friend, okay? I’m here to get you those results.”

David Priemer:
Here’s an interesting story. So I’m one of these people. I go to the gym but more recently with a personal trainer because I like someone telling me what to do because I don’t think I would do those things if it was just up to me. That’s the way I buy. I want someone to tell me what to do. And I started seeing this trainer for about a year or so, and he was a good guy and we would meet for an hour. That’s our training session. And then I stopped going to that particular gym. I went to a gym closer to my house, and I started working with a different personal trainer who was more experienced, and he said, “You know what I do? I don’t do one hour training. I do 45 minutes. You know why?”

David Priemer:
He says, “Because most times, and personal trainers when they train you, it’s a lot of times standing around, and it’s a lot of just wasted stuff. We do a little bit of abs and a pushup here and there at the beginning, and in the end we stretch.” He’s like, “You don’t need to pay me for that. Do all those things ahead of time. When you’re here with me, you work.” And I’ll tell you I’m now with this trainer, and I work harder and more often and with fewer breaks, but that’s what I signed up for, right? If I wanted to sit around and talk, then I wouldn’t be happy with my personal trainer.

David Priemer:
So part of the thing that he did, which was great, was that he put that out there and he said, “This is what I believe. Here’s how I work. If you like this idea of the way I work, then you’re going to be for me. And if you’re not, hey, look, that’s okay too. There’s other people who are the talkie trainers, right?” So that’s what you can do as a seller is put that vibe out there, lead with what you believe, and you will attract those like-minded customers.

Liston Witherill:
There’s a stat in your book about empathy that really stood out to me. And you mention that only 36% of people are what are considered highly empathetic. I don’t know exactly how that was determined, but that means 64% of people, one out of three essentially, are not and have a lot of room for improvement. What can they do to improve? What are some actions or exercises or things that they can do to become more empathetic?

David Priemer:
Yeah. So the statistic is actually around emotional intelligence, and this was a study of I think about 500,000 people. And the idea was how quickly can you observe feelings and emotions in yourself and other people? Are you attuned to what those emotions are in yourself and other people and then act on them, right? And that’s the definition there that they use of emotional intelligence. And the idea is that 90% of high performers also have a high percentage of emotional intelligence, but most of us, two-thirds of us, are not able to intercept those feelings and react to them.

David Priemer:
And unlike IQ, intelligence quotient, which is believed to be set from birth, EQ, emotional intelligence, can be learned. And part of the way you do that is through pattern recognition. Now, in the sales world, what that would mean is if I went out there and I used a tactic and it pissed the customer off, right? If I was not emotionally intelligent, I would be oblivious and like, “Ah, I don’t know. I was doing my thing and they got pissed off. I don’t know. There must be something wrong with them.”

David Priemer:
But so if you want to become more emotionally intelligent, what you need to do is whenever you use a tactic, whether it works or whether it doesn’t. When the tactic works, we get all excited, and we don’t think about it. But when the tactic works or it doesn’t, you need to ask yourself like, “Why did it work? Or why did it not work? What were the sequence of events either in what I did in the mind of my customer that brought about that outcome?” And if you’re able to link your actions to the outcome, you will become more attuned and sensitized to how those two things are related, and your emotional intelligence will increase. So that’s the way it’s done through pattern recognition.

Liston Witherill:
But it feels like a little bit of a chicken or the egg, and this is something I’ve struggled with because you and I before we started recording, talk about how we both do training. And one question that I always ask myself is like, “How much can I give someone that they don’t naturally have?” You could be the best basketball coach in the world, but you can’t create LeBron James, right? And that’s just an extreme example. But if someone is already low in empathy, that also implies they’re fairly low in self-awareness because they have trouble understanding what are they doing and how does that relate to cause and effect socially. So does that person even have the wherewithal to become more empathetic?

David Priemer:
It’s interesting. So this was a thing that we actually talked a lot about when I was back at Salesforce, and we would hire and train lots and onboard lots of sales reps, and some of those reps ended up being successful and some of them did not. And one of the questions that we asked ourselves was, “What’s the problem?” If someone has this … It doesn’t matter what challenge you’re experiencing. We’re talking about emotional intelligence here, but it could be anything. What’s the problem, and can we teach it, and do we have enough time to teach it in the way we need to? When I think about, a lot of sales leaders have this question about, “When should we let a person go?” The triage is what do they need? Can we teach it? And do we have enough time to the level that we need to?

David Priemer:
And so to your point, if someone is really bad at emotional intelligence and linking these things, then from practically speaking from the perspective of your business, do we have time to help them get better? And how much better are they going to be? Are we going to spend a year working with this person to get them back to neutral? Because that’s not a win, right? So I think you have to be honest with where that person is on the spectrum of learning. And can you teach it? Yes. But do you have the time and bandwidth to do? That’s a whole other … And how good can they get? That’s another consideration for sure.

Liston Witherill:
So in other words, just to translate, what I’m hearing from you is if two-thirds of us could stand to improve in our emotional intelligence, maybe it’s just the upper third of that two-thirds that we would want to focus on improving who also have the coachability factor of being able to listen to feedback and make adjustments.

David Priemer:
Well, yeah. I mean, it’s partially the capability but also the desire. There’s some people who are just happy with themselves and they don’t want to get better, right? A lot of people want things. It’s interesting, especially being in the training world as we are. A lot of people want things. A lot of people want six-pack abs and to be in the best shape of their life and to make a million dollars being in sales or play in the NBA or NHL, but not everyone’s willing to do what it takes or has the ability to get there, right? And so part of what we need to recognize as individuals is like, “What is our natural ability? How should we be investing in ourselves?”

David Priemer:
There’s actually quite a lot you can do if you are motivated to get better, but the reality is when you look at the spectrum of eight players and people who are really good at anything in the society, it’s a small fraction of people, right? And that goes for sales or sports, whatever you happen to do. So you can go a long way just by being motivated and putting in the work honestly to get better.

Liston Witherill:
So you’ve talked about authenticity in your book, and I just want to explore that a little bit. Why don’t we just start with a definition? What does it mean to be authentic during a sale?

David Priemer:
When you think about authenticity, the thing that people always consider … Let’s say I’m working with you and interacting with you. The question is, do I believe you are behaving as you yourself, right? Are you putting on an act? Are you putting on a persona? There’s probably a textbook definition in terms of fidelity to some prototype or whatever it is. But that’s the thing. From a human interaction standpoint, when you’re in front of me and you’re delivering a pitch or asking me questions, especially when you’re in sales, I’m thinking to myself, “Is this person acting as themselves? Are they putting on an act here? Are they saying these things because marketing told them to say these things? Are they asking these questions because their boss is listening and they’re putting on an act?” So it’s the extent to which I believe you are behaving as yourself as you would in normal everyday life.

Liston Witherill:
To me, what you’re talking about really is trustworthiness. Do I believe what you’re saying, and are you telling me the truth? The thing that I think is interesting about authenticity is it’s often used in contrast to this idea of self-interest, right? So as a salesperson, a common problem we all run into is you have a little bit of an incentive to say to the customer what you think they want to hear because you think that’s more likely to get them to say yes, and there’s some offsetting factors, which we can talk about another time, but that’s what a lot of people think. Some people are, though, just genuinely, authentically self-interested. Should they be authentic? Are they meeting the standard by just saying, “You know what? I don’t really care that much about the client. I just want to close the deal because I want to make my commission or my quota?”

David Priemer:
I don’t think those things are exclusive, being authentic and being trustworthy. They could be related, but you could be an authentic jerk, and that’s just the way you are. There’s lots of people like that in society. So I still think you’re being authentic in terms of who you are. It doesn’t mean I have to trust you or believe what you say. I think it’s more like being true to yourself. I think that’s the thing. Authenticity is hard to fake and easy to spot. For example, when a telemarketer … Do you get telemarketer calls?

Liston Witherill:
Unfortunately.

David Priemer:
Oh yeah. I get more telemarketer calls than actual phone calls from actual people these days. But when a telemarketer calls you, how long does it take you to tell that they’re reading from a script?

Liston Witherill:
You’re asking someone who likes to quiz people who call. I’m always like, “What is the next step in the script?” Almost always they are. At least I assume they are. And it’s pretty easy to tell I would say.

David Priemer:
Yeah. I mean, if you’re a listener out there or you’re listening, you get these calls too. How quick is it? It’s interesting. In the same way, for those of you who are out there who have kids that come to you and proposition you, right? If you have children, relatives, they come to you and they’re about to ask you for something like, “I want a lift or permission to download an app or a treat.” I can tell immediately when my kids are about to proposition me for something. That inauthenticity switch gets triggered, and all of a sudden they start behaving differently.

David Priemer:
Same way with telemarketers. What does a telemarketer do? They’re out there, they get a script shoved in their hand, they say, “Call these people and say this.” And it becomes very difficult to reconcile that in their own head because they would probably not act the way they’re being asked to act in normal everyday life. And so they’re putting on a little act, right? And so this idea of they come off as inauthentic and people are very receptive to that, right? So whatever your true self is, whenever you try to suppress that, you end up in the inauthentic zone, and there’s tells that you give off.

Liston Witherill:
Like what?

David Priemer:
So it’s interesting. I was reading most recently a book called Talk Like TED, and in it there was this really interesting study. I probably have it up here on my computer as we speak. I think it was an FBI or a CIA trainer. And one of the things that he said. Here we go. He was an 18 year veteran of law enforcement trainer of the CIA, FBI, NSA and so on and behavioral analysis and interviewing and interrogation. And he did this experiment and what they came up with he said that, here’s the punchline, “When you’re delivering information that you don’t believe or are lying about, you manifest the same behaviors as suspects in criminal and espionage cases who are aligned to officers or agents.

David Priemer:
And so what are all these things? It’s just looking in different directions or stumbling on your words or all these little tells, sweating, whatever it is. These are all little things that when you try to suppress your authenticity happen. And so, yeah, we’re not interrogation experts here in sales, but yeah, there’s lots of physical manifestations. Even if you’re on the phone, you can tell. Here’s what I would say. You can tell the opposite, right? So oftentimes what I’ll say to people, and maybe if you’re listening here and if I were to ask you, “Can you tell that I love what I do?” I love having conversations like this with you, Liston. I love helping people and modern sellers connect with customers in an authentic way. And hopefully, you can tell just by my tone of voice and my enthusiasm, right?

David Priemer:
If I was trying to sell you something that I didn’t believe in, and you all have experiences, whether you’re buying a car, a toaster, the telemarketers. We all have experience of people trying to sell us things they don’t believe in, and you can tell.

Liston Witherill:
And so is your advice if you’re selling something you don’t believe in to quit?

David Priemer:
Here’s the thing. If you’re selling something that you categorically don’t believe in, so I’m selling you a product, I know this product is crap, I know that it’s going to fail on you in the first month, then yes. You’re going to be challenged and emotionally encumbered. But the bigger problem and challenge is that most of us when we sell things, we sell, if I can call it, normal things, right? So we sell CRM software and we sell toasters and we sell iPads. We’re not feeding children in third world countries, and we’re not splitting the atom. We’re not curing disease. Most of us we’re in our sales motion.

David Priemer:
So while I might believe that my toothbrush is the best toothbrush, the question becomes, how do I manifest the same level of conviction and passion around that toothbrush is I do when I’m talking about my favorite sports team or the song that I used to listen to with my dad when he took me to hockey practice as a kid. So that’s the big challenge for people is like, “Not I don’t believe in my product,” but it’s more, “The product that I represent is a normal everyday good product that I need to somehow manifest an emotion around.”

David Priemer:
I do a lot of work with customers on that, but that’s the bigger, more pervasive issue. It’s less about people selling stuff that they hate or don’t believe in because that, yes, I’m not here to comment on your social situation, but especially in sales, if you’re selling something you don’t believe in that sucks, not only are you going to manifest this inauthenticity, but you’re going to have a body trail of unhappy customers, and that’s no good for anyone.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. I agree with that. I guess I just wonder if getting the same level of enthusiasm for what you’re selling, Salesforce, for instance, when we know the failure rate of a CRM implementation is between 30% and 70% by some measures, typically 50 to 60%. So every other client’s not going to succeed on average. The likelihood that you could be as enthusiastic about that as your favorite sports team just seems pretty close to zero. Am I wrong?

David Priemer:
No, you know what? So here’s the thing. And I know it’s very challenging for a salesperson to go out and be encumbered exactly to what you said, “Hey, look …” And even in our business, right? So I go out and I train a customer. Okay, what is the outcome that that customer is going to experience? Are they going to experience a revenue lift? Are they going to experience greater rates of retention? They could experience all those things, but it’s not all on me, right? It’s on you as the leader to reinforce that content, to make it live, to hold your teams accountable to doing that. And so it’s like personal trainer, right? So if I’m going to go to the trainer, are they guaranteeing weight loss and strength? Only if I do this stuff and only if I eat right when I’m not there.

David Priemer:
So here’s the thing. I don’t think a personal trainer should be emotionally encumbered by the fact that they’re not providing the outcome the client is looking for when part of that is on the client, right? They know they put out a great product. What you do with that product after I leave or after the sale is done a lot of that is still on the customer. I think it’s a challenge that salespeople, especially when let’s say they join a company and they hear challenges about their customers implementing the solution or whatever it is. That can be a problem.

David Priemer:
But my recommendation is think about the customers who are most successful with your solution. What is it that they do? And when you go out and you sell your solution, talk about what your best customers do. You’re not trying to obfuscate the fact that not everyone can be successful with what you do, but the idea is that, “No, if you buy our product and you do these things, you’ll be successful.” And as a salesperson, I shouldn’t be emotionally encumbered by that because I know a lot of those things are not necessarily in my control.

Liston Witherill:
So let’s talk about empathy for a second again in a really practical hands-on way. So across every single metric we know that selling takes more time, more effort, more input to get the same level of output, more emails, more LinkedIn messages, whatever it is that we’re measuring. How can we balance the need to be empathetic with each person, especially from a prospecting perspective while still driving the output we need, knowing that we’re limited by time?

David Priemer:
So it’s interesting. I’m actually working with a client on this now. I think one of the things that people sometimes … There’s a lot of answers to that question, but here’s the one that’s most top of mind is that you can’t help everyone, and not all the opportunities that you’re working on are worth the same to your company or organization. And so if you have a bigger strategic opportunity or strategic customer, then yes, 11 phone calls, 15 emails in a politely persistent value added I’m sending you resources kind of way is great.

David Priemer:
But if you’re selling something that’s not super expensive and to a customer that’s not extremely strategic, you need to be mindful of how much time you’re investing. And this was actually something that I took away from Salesforce a lot where we would tier our accounts, right? You have a certain number of accounts. I can’t put the same level of effort into all of them. I’m not talking about if you’re an enterprise sales rep with three customers. That’s a different story. But if I got 10, 20, 30, 100, 300 customers, I have to pick and choose where I invest my time, right? So that’s the first thing I would say is like tier your customers. Think about where your greatest opportunities are, your customers that are most likely to be successful and spend a larger percentage of your time on those.

Liston Witherill:
You said there were many answers. What’s another one?

David Priemer:
Well, so another one is to think about how can you offload some of that responsibility. So now there’s a lot of technology out there that allows you to remain in contact with the customer and have those touch points without having to have you physically or manually kick those off. So for example, you have technologies out there like the Outreach.ios of the world where you can create a cadence for a customer, so they know that, “Hey, look, in order to get in touch with this customer, there’s going to be 16 different touch points. And the first one’s going to be an email, then there’s going to be a LinkedIn invite, and then there’s going to be a followup.”

David Priemer:
And some of those things can be automated, right? Some of these things they’re very clever now with how you can insert a certain degree of personalization at scale so you don’t have to touch them. So that’s another option is to take the load off knowing that you’re going to need all those touch points. They don’t now all have to be personal right from you and the investment of your mind-sharing time.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. I think at some point they were using Outreach.io. We’re using a tagline, and I see it doesn’t look like it’s on their website now, but the tagline was something like humanization at scale. And I just thought that was so hilarious that they could say that with a straight face. But I agree with you. I mean, automation is something that I think everybody needs to learn in sales. And also, I think one piece that I would encourage people to do that comes along with automation is the research that goes into how do I make this relevant to everyone receiving it, and what pieces of it do I need to personalize so that it does feel actually relevant to everybody receiving it?

Liston Witherill:
How could you and I talk without bringing up Amos Tversky and Dan Kahneman? So Thinking, Fast and Slow is a very influential book, I mean, groundbreaking book really, on the way we make decisions as human beings. And one of the ways you applied it in your book was around selling ROI or the business case, and you’re encouraging people to think twice about doing that or at least think very carefully. What do I need to know about the downside of selling on a business case or ROI pitch?

David Priemer:
When you think about how people buy, certainly if you’re in business, you must have some kind of ROI, return on investment, right? This is a financial calculation of expected return. Someone invests in your product, service. They’re going to make money or save money or some way, right? And that’s good. But the problem is that’s not actually how people buy. Salespeople are conditioned often to talk about value like, “Go out and sell value.” And sales leaders use that battle cry as a proxy for ROI like, “Go tell your customers they should spend money with us because if they do, they’re going to save money or make money.”

David Priemer:
But value is actually not a calculation. Value is discretionary. It’s subjective. So if I were to say, “Where did you go on your last vacation? What was the ROI of that, okay?” Now, you believe that where you went on … You believe there was ROI on vacation. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have invested in it. But if I said, “Okay, well, what was the ROI? What was the ROI of going to there versus another place?” That’s not how the human mind works. You buy based on feelings. I always talk about this statement. Do you ever hear the statement, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM?” Have you heard that?

Liston Witherill:
Of course. Yeah. Which is a statement about buying the market leader. Yeah.

David Priemer:
Right. But what does that mean? It doesn’t mean IBM is the … IBM may not be the best solution for you, but they’re out there, they’re reputable, and there’s a certain association with the brand, and it means I’m not getting fired because there’s a fear and security element to it. That’s not ROI, right? And so this idea of value and ROI are two different things. And so I do believe that ROI is a component of value, but even those of you who are out there who are putting together business cases for your customers, the only thing that’s really important about the business case is does your customer believe it? And you do that-

Liston Witherill:
Of course, yeah.

David Priemer:
And what do we do? We have assumptions that our customers gave us. We bake that into the case, but at the end of the day, they look at it and they say, “Oh, that’s …” If you’ve ever put together an ROI for a customer or business case, and it shows a payback of two weeks and you’re like, “Okay, crap. No, they’re not going to believe that. Okay, I need to change the assumptions.” What are you doing? You’re crafting a narrative for the sole purpose of emotional buy-in, right? So let’s just call it what it is. You’re selling a feeling that that calculation gives your customer. And so I’m not saying don’t do ROI. You should go ahead and do ROI, but appreciate the fact that they’re actually not buying the financial calculation. They’re buying the feeling and the rigor that went into that calculation because at the end of the day everyone’s buying feelings.

Liston Witherill:
That’s true. However, I think it starts to break down once people are buying in larger groups. And so I was curious to hear from you as the group expands. First of all, we know the likelihood of any change happening just declines rapidly once we get more than one person involved in that decision, especially more than two. It just falls off a cliff. But my thought is you do need a rational basis to have a shared language about why we’re going to buy something as a group. I agree. The story is also important, but it does seem to me that the business case or ROI becomes more important the more people are involved in the decision.

David Priemer:
It’s true. Well, companies create these buying committees because the idea is if you can buy by committee, you will actually try to disperse some of the emotional elements of the purchase, and yet it’s interesting with everything going on in the world now with the pandemic, and I see people buying up PPE and let’s say governments. Big hospitals are buying up all these things. I’m forced to wonder. Are they aggressively negotiating for these things, right? They have buying committees and procurement processes, but now they’re in a crisis. What that means is that they have a very clear and present emotional motivator. I suspect that some of the rigor behind these multi-team purchasing processes are being thrown out the window.

David Priemer:
So I think it’s true when you’re buying by committee that emotion is somehow dissipated, and yet think about what happened after 9/11 or all of a sudden someone brings a gel or aerosol onto a plane to make a bomb, and now all of a sudden the airports are investing in liquids and gel detectors, right? How much rigor do you think in pricing went into that when there was a clear and present emotional reason for the purchase, right? I think it’s still incumbent upon us sellers is to figure out what is the objective of the organization not to circumvent these emotional parts, but to align ourselves to reduce the friction to sell.

Liston Witherill:
Well, David, you have been nothing if not very well-informed and very thought-provoking here. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. I’m sure a lot of people listening to this will want to learn more about you. Maybe even get in touch with you. What should they do?

David Priemer:
Everything you can find is on my website, cerebralselling.com, so one word cerebralselling.com. And you can hit me up on LinkedIn. And the book is called Sell the Way You Buy, which you can get on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo, wherever you buy books. So lots of different ways in this day and age to find me. And by all means, if you think there’s a way I can help, feel free to reach out. I give away tons of stuff for free, so on the website I have a link to my YouTube channel, which is Cerebral Selling as well and tons of content. So by all means avail yourself of all that stuff. It’s my pleasure to help.

Liston Witherill:
Fantastic. And of course, all of that is linked in the show notes. David, thanks so much for being here.

David Priemer:
What a pleasure, Liston. Thanks for having me.

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