How many of you are familiar with "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" (New York: Random House, 2007) written by Chip and Dan Heath? If you've read the book you may remember the concept of the 'curse of knowledge'. This concept comes from an experiment conducted by a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford. The experiment involved a "tapper" and a "listener". The tapper's role was to pick a well known song –"Happy Birthday", "Star-Spangled Banner" etc.– and tap out the rythm (on a table) to the listener. The listener's job was to listen to the rythm being tapped and guess the song.
Prior to the experiment being conducted, the tappers were asked to predict how often the listeners would correctly guess the song. Their prediction? 50%. However, listeners only guessed correctly 1 time in 40. Why? Chip and Dan Heath explain:
"It's hard to a be tapper. The problem is that tappers have been given knowledge (the song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it's like to lack that knowledge. When they're tapping, they can't imagine what it's like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song. This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has "cursed" us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can't readily re-create our listeners' state of mind."
How does this relate to sales and salespeople?
How often do salespeople get in front of prospects and make a presentation of their company and it's products and/or services and recite their features and benefits and then afterward write in their call report what a successful meeting they had with the prospect! They talked and the prospect listened. The salesperson asked the prospect if they had any questions and the prospect said 'no'. A successful meeting right? Wrong! The curse of knowledge strikes again!
The curse of knowledge hits salespeople because they can't imagine what it's like for the prospect not to know about the salesperson's products or services. Because they don't know what the prospect's mindset is like (the prospect's world) they wind up talking only about what they do know–their own 'world', which is made up of their product or services.
And here is where the sales call runs off the tracks. The salesperson fails to get the prospect to talk…so they can listen to the answers…and ask good, tough, timely questions…to identify the problems that must be solved. This is the key to consultative selling.
The curse of knowledge will impact a salesperson at all points of the sales process but never more so than at the front end of a sales call. It's at this point that the salesperson should be positioning their company, themselves and describing the types of problems they help their customers solve. Ideally, all of this sales messaging should be designed, structured and delivered to focus on the prospect's world, their problems, their issues, their concerns to avoid the curse.
If this part of the call is done correctly, the prospect will engage, the meeting then becomes a conversation with questions being asked and answered and information being shared. Compelling reasons to buy begin to be uncovered and an agreement to move to a solid next step is agreed upon. Now what do we have? A great meeting! The curse has been undone!