If your sales reps are as conscientious as I hope they are, they no doubt spend a good bit of time explaining stuff to buyers. After all, nobody’s going to buy what you’re selling unless they have a pretty good understanding of it first.
But there’s behavioral research that suggests your reps may not want to explain everything to their prospects — at least not all at once.
The research we’re talking about comes from Evan Polman, a marketing professor at the University’s of Wisconsin’s business school. Polman and his team carried out a series of experiments on the topic of curiosity. Specifically, they wanted to know whether curiosity would move people to engage in a desired behavior — which in the case of a prospect, would be buying from you.
In one experiment, the researchers tried to increase the use of stairs over the elevator in a building by exploiting what Polman calls the “curiosity gap” — i.e., a delay in answering an intriguing question, or clarifying an ambiguous situation. What the team did was put up signs with trivia questions by the elevators. One sign stated that the answers could be found along the staircase. And indeed, this technique boosted use of the stairs by 10%, because people couldn’t resist finding out the answers to the trivia questions.
In a similar experiment, the team posted jokes and punch lines in the produce section of a grocery store. By getting the subjects of the experiment to walk throughout the section to satisfy their curiosity about the punch lines, the researchers raised the purchase of fresh produce, also by 10%.
Here’s how Polman explains what was going on: “People really have a need for closure when something has piqued their curiosity. They want the information that fills the curiosity gap, and they will go to great lengths to get it. Our results suggest that using interventions based on curiosity gaps has the potential to increase participation in desired behaviors for which people often lack motivation.”
Translation for salespeople: When you give buyers a fascinating tidbit that suggests an interesting story behind it, they automatically want to know more. And they’ll be more likely to do as you ask in order to find out that something more.
Minding the gap
Reps can use the curiosity gap in any of a number of ways. For instance, they might:
- “Tease” the buyer in an e-mail or voice mail. When you leave a message for a prospect, try to pique their curiosity by NOT explaining in full why you called. Instead, say something like, “I’d like to talk to you about a business trend you may not have considered, and which may be affecting your bottom line.” You can do something similar in an e-mail. The idea is either to get them to respond or to pick up the phone next time you call.
- Begin sales calls by activating curiosity. When you first sit down with your prospect, ask a few questions without answering them. The idea is to get buyers to think about what they already know about the topic and, more importantly, what they don’t know, to highlight the curiosity gap.
- Introduce a real-life customer story and ask the buyer how he/she thinks it turned out. Instead of simply telling your prospect how your offering helped another buyer, set up the situation and get them to “write” the ending. This will build curiosity and whet their appetite to know what actually happened.
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