A peek inside the buyer’s (your) brain

When you’re given an option between multiple choices, how are you making those decisions?

A good sales person knows how to frame her pitch; to give you options that are not really options but rather several pseudo-options that lead to the same thing – You buying something or adopting her idea.

Almost all decision making is done on an unconscious game-theory level.  Like our ancestors, our decision making model is based on gaining the absolute highest amount of benefit for the lowest amount of cost.  Most of you will recognize this as economic theory.  Same stuff for less cost equals value.  Economic theory is based on human behavioural theory which is based on animal behavioural theory.  Animals, on average, will consume more calories than it burns to acquire those calories. Otherwise everything would be starving and evolution wouldn’t take us far beyond sponges and other sessile filter feeders.  All animals studied are observed to make some sort of economic calculation to take in the probability of gain versus loss.  Pack animals like wolves, instinctively hunt weaker and younger prey because they are easier to kill and therefore burn less energy to take down.  Scavengers will feed on smaller carcasses that are nearby than larger carcasses that are further away because that extra distance introduces a dangerous variable – namely getting eaten.  How do birds and bees know how far to forage before returning back to their nests?  Because at a certain distance, the law of diminishing returns kicks in.  Going further means more at risk than can be gained.

This makes perfect sense to us.  How come it makes sense to them?  After all, they’re just ‘stupid’ animals right?

Much like a peacock's dangerously pointless tail...if it doesn't get you killed, you get to mate

It makes sense to us because this model of thinking has been coded in our behaviour early in our ancestry.  Any organism that can’t do this math will have either have starved to death or been trampled to death with their genes meeting an abrupt end.  Any tendency towards behaviours that maximize gain versus potential loss allows genes to carry on to the next generation.  i.e. genetic fitness.

The buyer’s brain, same as your brain, same as the brain of primates on which experiments were conducted, are shown to store and constantly update information about probabilities.  Monkeys are seen to adjust their behaviour, just as you do, when visual variables change.   It’s the same reason you don’t drive across town to save 50 cents on grapes but you would drive across town to save $500 on furniture.  With monkeys, scientists can see which neurons fire in response to the reward gained versus the effort to procure that reward.  Different regions of the brain light up depending on whether the reward was worth it or not.

But you’re obviously smarter than that.  You are, after all, the pinnacle of evolution.  (Actually, not even close.  The fact that our species can be soundly wiped out by any number of viruses, bacteria or prions should remind you of that.)  You’re not a genetic automaton (although advertisers would like to think you are,) you have free choice.  Actually so do all other organisms.  Except with them, we call choice ‘unpredictability’.  Hard-coding risk/gain calculations is just as detrimental.  If every single member of a species made the exact same calculations, all would come to the same conclusion.  This would make it easy for predators (including viruses and bacteria) to pick them off because of too much predictability.  Unpredictable behaviour allows for variation which allows the forces of evolution to select the most favorable  behaviours. But, just as advertising proves, most people (organisms) will respond in a predictable manner.  Look no further than the line-ups on Boxing Day.

I say Boxing Day – you think sales.

Closing sales becomes less about the perfect pitch and more about the best guess of probabilities.  Google is all about guessing and analyzing buyer behaviour.  Their data set is humanity.

Remember this:

1.  Our species evolved as a prey species, not a predator species.  We started off as scavengers, picking up caloric bargains when we can.  Humans are risk adverse economically.  We would rather not lose money than take a chance to gain wealth.   A guy who jumps out of a plane for kicks might take weeks to decide if he wants to buy a new coffee table.  Why this happens is another entry.  Your sales pitch needs to emphasize potential loss from inaction just as much as potential gain.

2.  Humans have no information about the future.  ALL decisions are based on probabilities.  99.99% certain is not 100%.  Humans, on a whole, are terrible at predicting anything on the spot. (The reason why they still use 0.99 on price tags.)  If you’re a buyer, understand that a good sales person will try to mess with your calculation of probabilities.  That’s why studies and statistics always favour the guy selling.

What we call free choice is just a very fast calculation of probabilities.  The more choices there are, the harder it is to make the calculation.  If you’re selling, present fewer choices.  Look at the greatest brands, are they known for a hundred products or are they known for just one or two?

Presentations, job interviews and sales pitches are all just means to make the listener or buyer see the hidden probabilities you present.  The trick is knowing how to present them.

When you understand how to do this, you will close at around the 70% mark.  (or is it the 80% mark…or maybe it was 65%)