Imagine this scenario: You have a great product, but it isn’t simple. It takes a fair amount of explaining to get prospects to see the value. Problem is, these prospects think they know exactly what you’re selling.
“I get it,” they cut you off. “Your product is like x…”
“No,” you insist. “It’s completely different…”
“Well, I’m sure it has a few wrinkles. But it basically does y…”
“Not at all,” you counter.
“The thing is, we’ve already got an x that does y. Listen, I gotta run.”
If buyers aren’t listening, it’s not because they’re rude or because you’re boring, according to one study of customer behavior. They’re just trying to manage their day.
Like all of us, buyers have way too much to do and not enough time and energy to get to it all. And when the brain is challenged by that kind of stress, it does the smart thing: It looks for shortcuts and simplifications. One way is by using what scientists call a “schema” – a set of thoughts and behaviors that works sort of like an autopilot. “I’ve encountered this situation before,” the buyer’s brain tells itself. “And so I will respond the way I always have in the past.”
The urge to simplify is neither good nor evil. It’s something we all do every day. When you leave for work in the morning, do you plan the route from scratch? Probably not. You’ve gone to work before, so you go the way you’ve gone before.
The same thing happens in sales. People use schema to streamline their buying behavior. For example, they think, “I don’t buy anything over the phone” or “I only buy from vendors I know.” Those could be good decisions or terrible ones, but either way they let the buyer move on quickly.
When you’re prospecting, you’re trying to get the prospect to do something different, so schema usually work against you. One way to disrupt them, the study found, is by being “atypical” – that is, by not being what the buyer expects. If buyers can’t quite peg you, they can’t attach a schema to you. And therefore, the study found, they’re more likely to listen to what you have to say.
This research helps explain why some of the best salespeople don’t seem to fit the mold at all. They look like an absent-minded professor. Or mumble when they talk. Or have some other oddity that makes the buyer slow down and pay attention. You have to find the style that works for you, of course. But there’s a real benefit in being the unexpected salesperson.
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