The 30,000 decisions of your customers.
And how YOU can become one of them.
Let’s say you’re selling some new software for lawyers that makes being a lawyer easier than any other law software out there. You can’t wait to show all the lawyers who, once they see it, you’re sure, will buy it. You can almost feel the fine leather seats of your impending Maserati as you walk into the first law office ready to make your first sale.
Before you can even fire it up on the laptop the head of the firm asks you one simple question, “Are any other lawyers using this software?” You go blank for a moment and try to tell him how it’s new and that…sigh. A few moments later, you’re in the parking garage staring at your Camry wondering what happened.
So why did that lawyer want to know if the software was being used by other lawyers? Wouldn’t it be better if NO other lawyers were using it so he could have a leg up on the competition? Yes it would be but that’s not how humans make decisions.
The average gainfully employed person over 35 makes about 30,000 decisions every day. From the moment he wakes up until he sets his alarm clock before going to bed, he is making choice after choice after choice. Just like a muscle, the brain gets fatigued making all those individual choices so it looks for an easier way to do so. Think of it this way, if you had a pencil factory and you needed to move 30,000 pencils from one room of your warehouse to the other how would you do it? Would you pick up one pencil, walk it over to the other room and then go back and get another one? Absolutely not. You’d put them in boxes, stack the boxes on a forklift and drive them over en masse.
Your brain is looking to do the same thing. You drive to work five times a week by pulling out of your subdivision and making a left. On Saturday morning you head out to the gym by pulling out of your subdivision and making a left. Unfortunately, your gym is in the opposite direction so why did you make the wrong turn? You did so because your brain stuck that decision in a box with a lot of other decisions that almost always get made in the same way. It’s playing the averages to reduce its workload. If your brain had to qualify every decision individually you’d be exhausted before noon.
So, let’s get back to the lawyer and why you’re staring at a Camry instead of a Maserati. A hard working lawyer, while still making the same number of decisions a day as you, probably makes more individual decisions that can’t go into a box. If you go on decision autopilot and pull out of your subdivision the wrong way it’s no big imposition. If a lawyer goes on decision autopilot, his innocent client might end up in jail for 20 years.
So the lawyer employs a “tribal” kind of decision shortcut. She wants to know if the other folks in her tribe have done the work of vetting this product for her. If other lawyers are using it, and especially if big expensive lawyers are using it, then she doesn’t have to go through the trouble of making all the decisions that are required to evaluate it. We all rely on our tribespeople to shortcut our decision-making. We ask our neighbor who cuts his grass. We ask our brother-in-law who built his website. We ask our best friend who delivered her baby. The more important the decision, the higher we go up on the tribe scale to seek advice. We may ask the owner of our neighborhood gas station to suggest a good place to buy tires but we wouldn’t ask him for a suggestion of a good brain surgeon to remove a tumor. For those kinds of very complicated and difficult choices, we turn to our most trusted tribespeople to help us with the heavy lifting of such an important decision.
So now you’re at another law office and you get the same question. This time you lie. “YES,” you say, “we’ve sold this software to some of the largest firms around the country!” This brings up a rather complicated issue regarding the truth and how best to use it to serve everyone. Is it a good idea to lie just to sell a product? On average, the answer is no. The answer is especially no if the software you’re trying to sell top the lawyer is really just an old copy of Pac Man. However, if you have a product that you know conclusively is top notch, will do amazing things in serving your customers and just needs a little push to get it into their hands then you have to look at the conversation very differently.
When the lawyer asks, “Are any other law firms using this software?” What she is really saying is, “I’m concerned that I might make a bad choice in purchasing this.” When you respond, “Yes, a lot of law firms are using this,” what you’re really saying is, “I know that you’re concerned but I know for a fact that this will be a very good decision.”
So while, yes, you lied to make the sale, the fact is that this law firm will be better off and more profitable with your software than without it.
Another way to get around this tribespeople decision shortcut is to let her know that, while her direct tribe has not signed off on this software, that similar tribes have. An accounting firm uses it. A product research company uses it. Other companies who have professional people making important decisions use this software. You are now letting her know that even though her people haven’t bought in, her kind of people have. Now you’ve expanded the circumference of her tribe. It’s no longer just a lawyer tribe, it’s a professional business people tribe.
Your best bet is to do research before you go on a sales call. Use LinkedIn and Facebook. Determine all the different tribes your customer is a part of and how they connect back to your product. Perhaps she’s an avid cyclist. She plays tennis. She’s a mountain climber. She’s a sharpshooter. Draw a circle around her and the other people indicating that her tribe has already accepted what you’re selling as valid. You want to go on a meeting armed with a lot of information.
If you don’t know who you’re meeting and you can’t do research, take a look around their office. Do they have trophies, plaques and citations that indicate the tribes in which they participate? Add credibility to yourself by announcing that you are a part of her tribe. You’re an avid cyclist too. You play tennis. You don’t rock climb but you do ski.
Clearly, being a part of your customer’s tribe doesn’t guarantee a sale but it does move the needle forward. The more connections you can make between you and your customer, the less decisions they feel they need to make and the further down the path to closing a deal you go.