How Not to Get Eliminated
Elimination is a thinning-out strategy. Avoiding elimination is critical to being able to stay in the game.
TOO MANY CHOICES
Larry is in the market for a new television for his bonus room. He has a 40-inch flat screen in the room at present, but it’s not big enough. Larry loves football and wants a far bigger and top-of-the-line quality screen for him and his soon-to-be-envious friends to enjoy. This purchase will be pricey and not altogether essential; it is an extravagant luxury.
Larry begins his buying journey reading online reviews, checking Amazon and CNET, and trying to get a feel for how to balance the debate between size, picture quality, and price. On a visit to Costco, he spends 30 minutes moving from television to television. At Best Buy he stops to look at no less than 10 sets.
The problem: There are simply too many choices. Larry’s head will explode if he attempts to do a comparison of every television at every price.
The solution: Eliminate options.
HOW THE BRAIN PROCESSES INFORMATION
We humans have advanced brains. We can process a great deal of information. But it’s so much easier and a lot less of a headache if we narrow our options. Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, says, “A greater variety of choices actually makes us feel worse. By restricting our options, we will be able to choose less and feel better.”1
That makes sense for Larry who is trying to decide which TV to buy. It makes sense for a young couple in the market for a new home. It even makes sense for the purchasing agent in a multinational manufacturing operation.
Elimination of choices is a common and legitimate purchase decision strategy. You probably knew that instinctively, but let’s get into the psychology behind all this.
The brain processes information at an impressively high rate. The room where you are sitting at this moment has countless data points coming at you at the same time.
Most of that data is processed in the nonconscious part of the brain. As you read this, you are probably not paying attention to the ambient sounds in the room (air conditioning, computer fan, refrigerator, etc.). Oh, wait—now you are. The sounds were there the entire time; I just elevated them from nonconscious to conscious status.
This handy little brain strategy is a part of what the experts call dual-process theory. The brain processes the overwhelming amount of available information via the nonconscious. Only a small portion of our decisions are made in the conscious brain.
What does this tell us for follow-up? Keep your presence visible, out there in front of the nonconscious part of the brain, but keep things simple.
THE LAW OF LEAST EFFORT
Why does dual processing happen? Because the brain is always looking for shortcuts. The brain is an incredible energy-saving machine. It is constantly and creatively identifying ways to simplify.
This is all an attempt on the part of the brain to alleviate cognitive strain, which happens when we have to do a lot of conscious processing of information. The fact is that decision-making is far easier in moments of cognitive ease, when we rely on what feels right, sometimes even without thinking much about making a decision.
In fact, the brain follows a simple but powerful psychological hack:
Easy = Right
The easier something seems to me, the more right it feels to me.
This is why so many companies are structuring their processes to make it easy for a customer to do business with them. Chewy.com has a set-it-and-forget-it strategy for how to buy pet food. Many car dealers have initiated fixed pricing with no haggling. Indochino even makes it easy to purchase a custom-made suit.
To the customer, easy = right.
CONNECTING THE DOTS
So, where does the elimination strategy fit in all this? Elimination is the easy way to simplify offerings, and that shortcut provides us with significant cognitive ease (and easy = right, right?).
Let’s go back to Larry for a moment, as he continues his television shopping adventure. He has far too many choices, and that makes for cognitive strain. His brain will search for a decision-making shortcut in order to alleviate some of that overload. Larry’s brain will send him into elimination mode. He will begin to eliminate some of his options in order to set the table for an easier decision. But here’s where it gets really interesting. Larry will begin eliminating options . . . and he won’t even know it.
That’s right—most of the elimination process takes place subconsciously. If it doesn’t look right or if it doesn’t feel right or if it doesn’t trigger a positive emotion, the buyer will make quick subconscious decisions to eliminate the option. There is a reason all the televisions in the store are showing dramatic scenes of the Italian coastline or an African safari or an action-packed football game. The goal is to trigger a positive and dramatic response.
We could put this elimination process in Marie Kondo terms: Does something bring you joy? If not, it’s out of consideration.2 That joy moves us forward; the absence of joy causes us to scuttle the option.
A quick note to marketers: This elimination strategy takes place in the simplest of ways. Sloppy wording on a website. Poor product displays. Abrasive colors. Any or all of these unintended “features” can lead to quick and nonconscious elimination. The tiny details matter!
TWO TYPES OF ELIMINATION
When it comes to do sales follow-up, there are two very different types of elimination:
1. Active elimination: “I hate that product and I’m not buying it.” This occurs when prospects make a conscious and reasoned decision to reject a specific offering. The price is too high. The specs are wrong. They just plain didn’t like it all that much.
2. Passive elimination: “I forgot all about those guys!” This occurs when an offering simply falls from a prospect’s mind. Your average customer has a million things to think about on any given day. The more time that elapses without a refreshing of the offering, the more likely it is that the customer will just plain forget about that option.
Active elimination is going to happen. We can’t be all things to all people. But passive elimination is an unforgivable sales sin. We must never through neglect and inattention fall out of the consciousness of our prospects.
Follow-up is your safety net against passive elimination. And, most important, it is completely within your own control!
Remember the story earlier in the book about the ghostwriter who offered to help me and then disappeared? What happened that caused me to reject that service offering? Passive elimination. There was no follow-up, so I simply forgot about the service as a viable option. By the time I did get some follow-up, I was already committed to—and excited about—a different path. (Our next chapter explains why speed of follow-up is so important.)
Sales follow-up is your protection against passive elimination. The prospect might eliminate you for all kinds of legitimate reasons. After all, we cannot be all things to all people. But passive elimination must never be the reason that a customer says no.
If customers forget about you, you’re sunk. It’s really that simple. And if you fail to recontact as you should, they will surely forget.
On the other hand, follow-up—when done properly—is happily memorable. Customers appreciate the efforts of a helpful sales professional because it keeps them connected to the product they love and are seriously considering. In fact, follow-up helps the customer to eliminate other options. Take that, competitors!
YOUR STRATEGY FOR AVOIDING ELIMINATION
Fortunately, the path to avoiding elimination is not that difficult. It really comes down to one word: consistency. If you are systematic in your approach and if you devote just a short time every single day to the effort, you can avoid the trap that so many salespeople fall into.
Suppose you are selling janitorial services to a company that owns several office buildings. You make your initial pitch and you send a quick email by way of a thank you. Then suppose you do absolutely nothing for the next 30 days, at which time you send a second email.
In that 30-day period your potential client has likely talked to several competitors, vetted the choices, and made a decision. And even if no decision has yet been made, it doesn’t matter; so much time has lapsed that the prospective client has forgotten about you. You lose the deal because you are, in essence, a total stranger. The prospect doesn’t even remember your name!
To avoid elimination do the following religiously:
• Review your strongest leads every day.
• Review all your leads at least once a week.
Get into the daily habit of asking yourself, “How can I move this sale along today? What can I do to eliminate the barriers to a purchase decision?”
That constant focus will go a long way toward staying active, creative, and motivated to get that sale across the finish line. Consistent follow-up keeps the customer emotionally engaged.
Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Sales Bible, says, “I think the faster you follow up, the more wow there is in the sales process.”
Starting with that early follow-up and maintaining a consistent pattern of value-added communication keeps you in the game, with a little “wow” in every interaction. It’s hard to be forgotten when you’re right there in front of the customer at every turn.
My wish for you is that you become absolutely paranoid about passive elimination. I don’t want you to sleep well if customers are slipping away when you could have done something about it.
Resistance is real. Resistance will tell you to let those prospects go.
Be better than Resistance. Be the champion your customer needs you to be!
1. Think about the last five times you lost a potential sale. Was each due to active elimination or passive elimination?
2. For one of your past missed sales that was due to passive elimination, after reading this chapter, what would you do differently now?
3. Imagine you’re the customer. Think of the last time you shopped around for a big-ticket item. What did the salespeople do or not do that got their product or service eliminated? What did the winning salesperson do?
4. Which is easier? Doing the follow-up work to keep a customer engaged or trying everything under the sun to get a customer reengaged once you’ve been passively eliminated?
5. Apply the idea of eliminating passive elimination in your personal life. Pick an area where you’re being ignored or forgotten and take bold action.
Now Do This:
I want to throw out a challenge to you right now. Seriously, read this section, and then put the book down and do the activity while the idea is fresh in your brain.
Think about your five prospects that are most in danger of passive elimination, who might just forget about you if you do not follow up soon. What can you do to reengage those prospects right now? How can you reignite the relationship? What would stir their emotions? How can you serve them best?
Be bold. Be daring. If you picked prospects who were in danger of elimination, you were about to lose them anyway. Why not take some chances? What’s the worst thing that can happen?