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The Secret Language of Influence: Master the One Skill Every Sales Pro Needsby Dan Seidman
Breaking Buyers’ Patterns
THE “MOST ELUSIVE PROSPECT” . . . I’m selling for a company in
Chicago. When I’m not on the road, I’m pounding the phones at my desk,
generating leads. Today, in fact, I’m breezing through my contact manager
when I stop and stare at the notes section of one record.
There’s the date and time of the last call, and next to these notes are the
letters “lvm,” short for “left voice mail.” Below this note is a string of identical
calls going back three years. We have “left voice mail” messages for this
woman forty-six times!
Now, what would you do with a prospect like that?
“What is there to lose?” I think, so I dial and—surprise—get her voice
mail. I wait for the beep and leave a message.
“Congratulations! This is Dan Seidman of corporate recruiting. You
have earned our company’s prestigious Most Elusive Prospect Award. We
have called you forty-six times—today makes forty-seven—and you have
never returned a single call. I just wanted you to know that nobody in our
entire database, with thousands of companies, has ever ignored us as frequently
as you. Thanks for not calling. And congratulations on your award.”
I hang up.
And what do you think happens? Ninety minutes later the woman calls
me! And I get an earful. “You stupid jerk! I don’t have to return anybody’s
calls, ever. How rude to leave me that message. Don’t ever call our company
again. You’re a jerk.”
I manage to get a word in—“Wow, I had no idea you’d be upset. I’m so
sorry”—and bang! She hangs up the phone.
Oh, man, what did I do? Well, at least she called me and not my VP of
Moments later, the phone rings again. It’s her! She proceeds to tell me
how awful she feels popping off at me like that. And, actually, my message
was pretty funny. And, yes, she does use services like ours. Then she asks if
I would please come in to see her next week, to talk about our offerings.
Yes, she became a client and no, my VP never did hear about my coldcalling
You’re wondering, What happened here? The story I just told illustrates
what’s called, in psychology, a pattern interrupt. Its roots are fascinating,
and the strategy is useful as you learn to better influence others.
The late Dr. Milton Erickson is considered one of the world’s great psychologists.
He perfected pattern interruption and other creative influence
techniques to help patients work through problems that result from being
stuck in a pattern of thinking or behavior. His ability to help patients
change behavior—and to stop doing those things that are damaging to
themselves and others and instead do things that are useful—is legendary.
And isn’t influencing your buyers to change really the ultimate goal of
As I mentioned in the book’s preface, as sales professionals, we need to
help prospects to change products and services—to change their minds.
And as you probably know from experience, people often follow a wellworn
path when encountering situations where discomfort occurs (a sales
rep calling, for example). Dr. Erickson revealed how we can move them off
this path and, by doing so, open up the possibility of different outcomes. In
other words, we’re going to break their tried-and-true patterns.
Learning to Respond in an Unexpected Way
So let’s return to the example of selling: Sales pros encounter similar problems
every day when prospects throw the same old objections at them: “We
don’t have money for this. . . . Let me think about it. . . . Call me in six
months.” But what if salespeople can learn to respond in an unexpected
manner? They can break that bad dialogue and create a useful conversation
that is more likely to end in a decision. But first, how did that jump from
the world of psychology to the world of business occur?
The bridge between pure psychological counseling and related business
applications was built by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, creators of
neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a technique used in psychotherapy
and in organizational change management. Bandler and Grinder studied
and then modeled Erickson’s techniques. Bandler had some fantastic success
experimenting with and testing the pattern interrupt technique on
patients in mental hospitals. He decided to find extreme cases of antisocial
behavior—people who had spent years institutionalized—and treat these
individuals differently than traditionally trained doctors were taught. His
results proved both astounding and at times humorous.
In one case, Bandler was called in to help treat a man who thought he
was Jesus Christ. Here’s a fellow who insisted he was someone he was not,
in spite of counselors saying, “C’mon, man, you are not Jesus. What makes
you think that?”
Bandler approached the man and asked him if he was Jesus Christ. The
patient eyed him suspiciously but eventually replied that he was. Bandler
left the room and returned some time later, again asking the man if he
really was Jesus Christ.
“Yes, my son, what can I do for you?” was the man’s reply. The psychologist
left the room again. Soon he returned with two huge beams of wood,
twelve-inch nails, and a big hammer.
The man asked, “What is this about?”
Bandler replied, “If you’re Jesus Christ, you know what we’re here for;
we have come to crucify you.”
The man looked at the size of the nails and quickly said, “You don’t
understand. I’m not really the Christ. I’m crazy. I just imagine I’m the
Pattern interrupt had penetrated a solid wall of defense. In that moment
the man with the muddled mind was about to take the first important step
in his healing process.
In another case, a patient had been in a catatonic trance for more than
six years. Catatonia is a state where the person completely withdraws from
the world. This individual had not spoken in six years. He’d wake up each
day, dress, eat, and walk into the common area of the clinic where other
patients played cards and table tennis, read books, and watched TV. But he
would just stand against a wall and stare. All day, every day, the man had no
connection with anyone or anything except his food. The man’s family
would visit and say, “Honey, please, we love you, come back to us.” No
response. Drugs did not work, nor did electric shock therapy (which, by the
way, is still used today).
Then Bandler went to work: He brought in a red gas can filled with
water and some nail polish remover (to add a distinct smell). He walked up
to the catatonic patient and splashed this “gasoline” all over him.
Bandler stepped back, removed a small cardboard box from his pocket,
and began to throw lighted matches at the man. Within moments, the
patient exploded into a rage, screaming foul language at this man who was
intending to set him on fire!
Wouldn’t you do the same?
Again, pattern interrupt had broken down bad behavior and started the
individual off on a path of new possibilities.
Applying Psychology in the Sales Environment
Okay, you’re thinking, “This is interesting. But how can I use this strategy
in my business life?” There are outstanding ways to apply this technique
and other new influence strategies, described throughout this book, in
every facet of your world—when leading, managing, or even having customer
service conversations. For now, let’s continue to focus on how to use
pattern interrupt in a sales environment.
One of the biggest problems we face as sales professionals is that today’s
buyers are savvy and they know how to put us off, to get rid of us, by hauling
out some standard responses that they’ve learned work. You know what
they are: We’re happy with what we have now, or There’s no money in the
budget; call back in six months—the kind of responses that get the acid sizzling
in your stomach and the blood boiling in your brain.
We’re done with that, as of right now, today. Let’s get started.
Take your six most common objections. Every business has six objections
that do the most damage to the salesperson’s ability to close. (By the
way, you’ll get even more powerful and unique objection-handling techniques
in Chapter 12.) For each objection, create an unexpected response.
In essence, you are saying to the prospect, “I’m not going to play this game
with you. It’s not fun, and it’s costing me income.”
Here’s an example I used with a money objection when I ran a search
firm with a team of fifteen sales professionals:
Prospect: This is a tough time. We don’t have money for this right
Dan: What floor are you on? (pattern interrupt)
Prospect: Huh? What floor? What do you mean?
Dan: Things are bad, that’s rough. I just want to know what floor
because when you throw yourself out the window, I’m wondering
whether you’ll die or just break some bones.
Prospect: Okay, okay. It’s not that bad.
Dan: So you are spending money when you feel it’s worth the
You see, we’re back in selling mode, having broken the pattern that this
prospect has used to dump countless salespeople back onto the street.
A few years ago I even built pattern interrupt responses into a sales
training program that I designed (actually redesigned to include the latest
influence strategies) for a major financial services company. We logged over
three dozen objections and I crafted one response that I call “my favorite
response to any objection, ever!” The buyers in this case were senior citizens
who sometimes said, “I’m too old to buy an annuity.” The response:
“We have sea turtles older than you as clients.”
Say that with a big smile and the message to the prospect is clear: Please
stop playing games, let’s move on.
Now, you might be thinking, “I can’t say something like that!” Well, the
fact is, great sales professionals will say and do things that mediocre reps
won’t. And typical salespeople won’t for several reasons:
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