The danger in presuming you know what your prospects are thinking

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Picture it: June. Southeast Texas. HOT.

I’m talking swamp-in-the-seat-of-your-pants HOT.

I’m on the hunt for a new car because after my car accident, I’d been stuck driving my stepdad’s old Ford pickup truck. The one with the bench seat, the loud engine, and the open-all-windows variety of air conditioning.

I arrive at the 5 billionth dealership I’ve been to in just a few short months.

I’m armed with weeks’ worth of deep-dive cost comparison info from Kelley Blue Book and a VERY bad attitude.

I know what I want and I’m here to get it.

But I’m Texan, so I put on a smile. ‘Cause that’s just what you do when it’s time to get shit done.

I walk into the blissfully cool command center of this dealership, and a vulture of a salesman immediately swoops in.

I imagine he was anticipating easy prey, someone who wanted a “pretty” car.

Little did he know…

Like machine gun fire, I rattle off what I’m looking for.

I’ve done this song and dance before, and had been let down by salespeople who spoke directly to the male travel companion du jour (ignoring me – THE BUYER – completely).

Or, they stubbornly showed me vehicles I had zero interest in, but that I suspect would have greatly padded their bottom line.

But this vulture kid catches me off guard…

…he takes me to a car that seems to perfectly fit the bill.

Pleasantly surprised, I slowly circle the car, inspecting every inch of the exterior.

I quickly figure out this car is way overpriced for the mileage. Plus, the back bumper has one side that’s hanging a good 3-4 inches below where it should be.

Lopsided. Totally safe. Right?

As I round the car and come back into view, he cheerfully blurts out, “I know what you’re thinking – it’s perfect, right?!”

And I went from 60 to zero in about 0.3 seconds.

Maybe I wouldn’t have had such a drastic reaction if he’d been closer to what I was actually thinking…I don’t know.

But he was so far off-base in his assertion about what I was thinking that I found it repulsive.

My kneejerk sarcasm kicks in and I tell him, “yeah – that back bumper is perfectly suited for the junk yard. And technically, it’s what I’m looking for. But this car is not even remotely worth that price.”

He nervously rebuts with, “Well, how much does it cost to replace a bumper? It can’t be that expensive.”

And reply, “I’m going to assume you’ve never been rear-ended. Count yourself lucky, sir.”

In an instant, that easy sale became pretty difficult.

What just happened?

From all outward signs, everything seemed to be going well, right?

He had what I wanted. He talked directly to me.

But this eager young salesman made one teensy mistake that instantly turned me off.

And it’s a tactical mistake I see copywriters make all the time.

…He presumed to know what I was thinking.

And a psychic he most certainly was not.

Now, as copywriters, we spend hours, days, weeks, months steeped in research.

When you know so much about a particular customer avatar, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know what’s really going on in their mind.

But don’t read too much into it, or you could fall into the mixed signals trap, where you misinterpret the signs you’re seeing in another person.

But more often than not, telling your market what they’re thinking is gonna do one of two things:

1) Inspire a toddler-like reaction called “rebounding” where the prospect says NO YOU DON’T, and you’ve lost them.

2) Accidentally repel your prospect because they don’t identify with what you’ve said, decide “this ain’t for me”, and you’ve lost them.

The great news? There’s a really quick fix.

Stop telling them what they want.

You’ve seen it before, so it should be easy to recognize…

“I know what you’re thinking…why is this price so low? How can you afford to do this?”

Actually I was wondering where the buy button was so I could see the price and decide whether reading your letter was worth 5 minutes of my time.

“This deal is so hot you’re gonna want to get out your wallet!”

Fat chance, buckaroo.

This is why long-time copywriters talk about entering the conversation in the prospect’s mind.

Much like joining a crowd at a bar, you’ll have more success inserting yourself into the conversation if you listen and join in when you have something relevant to say.

To quote the Copy Chief and John Carlton,

Good salesmen know that a good sales process often involves getting interest with logic and rationality, but selling on emotion.

And the emotional appeal relies a great deal on the know, like, and trust (KLT) factor.

The salesman could have easily learned what makes me tick from asking me questions and/or paying attention to the way I came in to shop (which was…admittedly hostile).

He could have learned WHY I needed a new car (I was relocating across the country for grad school) and discovered an entire set of unasked questions that could have led me to a car I didn’t even know I wanted!

If you spend all this time getting to know your prospects, you need to show them you know.

But also how to say it without saying it.

And if I need your product, and you KNOW that I need it, the best way to persuade me is show me that you understand my needs.

Show is ALWAYS more powerful than tell.

It’s how get your prospect to insert THEMSELVES into your story and naturally see you as the solution to a problem.

You tell a story that conveniently hits on all their pain points and shows your understanding.

You demonstrate the product so they can see for themselves how it will solve their problems.

You invite others to share their experiences so your prospects can see your product working for them.

To put it bluntly: prove your case, and you won’t ever need to articulate that you know what they’re thinking and activate that NO YOU DON’T kneejerk reaction.

Have you ever encountered this in a sales pitch? How did you react?

 

For more snarky advice on how to get good, visit Angie’s blog.

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Angie Colee
Angie Colee
Angie Colee is a Senior Copywriter in retail by day and rockstar blues vocalist by night. She is obsessed with marketing strategy, simplifying complex ideas, and making her cat the next internet sensation. Life goals include trademarking her awesomely red hair and figuring out how to drink hot coffee without burning herself. If you’re ever in the San Francisco bay area, look her up.
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