Friday, February 22, 2013

Great (engineer-turned-salesman) minds think alike

A friend sent me the link to a recent blog post on the Sandler Training blog, titled Selling Isn’t Debate: Confessions of an Engineer in Sales. A key message in the blog is that using features and functionality at the wrong time in the sales process can be counterproductive as a way to convince a prospect to buy into what you are offering.

In his blog post, Chip Doyle describes how his initial engineer-turned-salesman approach to selling was great for convincing someone that he knew his stuff, but it was ineffective for selling. He would start with "what" and "how" instead of starting with "why." When the prospect challenged his reasoning, he would argue with them until he had successfully convinced them that he was right.

As I have written earlier, trying to first convince someone based on reason is a very difficult way to get someone to change their mind. This is because facts and figures can be disputed. Without the "why" behind your product, the "how" and "what" are missing context and don't make sense. Chip points out that even when you are successful convincing someone through intellectual debate, you will usually lose out on the selling opportunity because you have established an adversarial relationship with your prospect.

Ask an engineer what time it is and he will tell you how to build a watch

As a subject matter expert, we often think that it is our duty to prove our worth by expounding on all of the technical knowledge that we have stored away in our heads. One of the problems here is that the person on the other side of the table is not as emotionally invested in your product or idea as you are so it is hard for you to empathize with their pre-existing beliefs. Additionally, they are usually emotionally invested in something different (sometimes the complete opposite of what you are trying to sell them).

I am guilty of doing this, and I have seen others take this approach. It doesn't usually turn out well. You often end up with crossed arms and emotional disagreement coming from across the table. As you start telling someone about all of the things that are different about your product or idea, their cognitive bias will lead them to build up resistance (lizard brain) and negativity (animal brain) because it is not consistent with their view of the world. As they poke holes in your reasoning, you will often end up getting into arguments about semantics or opinion - a recipe for disaster.

A better way to persuade someone to accept your idea

Instead of taking the rational approach of the Western Intellectual Tradition, there is a better way to persuade someone to accept a new idea. The more effective way is to start with why they should want to change, and not with how your product works or what your product is made of. If you can persuade them that there is a reason to change, then there will be plenty of time later to discuss the reason behind your product or idea.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

ProductCamp Austin 10 - Another successful event!

ProductCamp Austin 10 was held on Saturday February 16, 2013. I'm a little biased as the president of the organization, but I have been told by others that it was the best PCA event yet. I find it hard to disagree. There was a buzz around the event that I haven't felt in the past, but maybe that was because I was more emotionally invested in this event than ones in the past.

I am always amazed by the effort that the volunteers, participants, leaders, and sponsors put into making ProductCamp events happen. Nobody is paid to do this, so what motivates us? ProductCamp provides an excellent example of Daniel Pink's motivators from Drive: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Paul Teich took some nice photos of the event and shared this slideshow with me. Very nicely done!

Here are my favorite experiences from ProductCamp Austin 10:
  • Arriving in the morning to see an army of volunteers getting things ready.
  • Voting for sessions in an old-school ProductCamp way - with three stickers.
  • Feeling the energy and buzz during the opening session.
  • Presenting the list of Top 10 ProductCamp Austin moments.
  • Seeing the LifeSize, HomeAway, and Spiceworks executive panel on What it takes to be a great product manager.
  • Listening to advice from Thom Singer on Giving Better Presentations.
  • Enjoying lunchtime conversation on the patio in the nice weather.
  • Meeting people from ProductCamp SoCal and ProductCamp DC.
  • Ordering extra snacks after lunch (long story).
  • Presenting my session, What story are you telling about your products?
  • Milk and cookies from Elizabeth Quintanilla.
  • Winning the Best Session Award!
  • Winning an iPad Mini and then giving it back.
  • Networking at happy hour.
It was pretty awkward giving myself the Best Session award in the closing session. We didn't plan for that situation, and so we didn't really handle it too well. It is a little strange for the President to also be the winner, which is why it was even stranger when I won the drawing for an iPad Mini. I definitely couldn't accept that one, so I gave it back. Some people asked me which one I wanted more. Hands down, it was the Best Session award. It is priceless!
Pat Scherer sent me her visual notes for my session. She did a great job of capturing the key points of my talk. I think I might frame it and hang it on the wall in my office. Thanks, Pat!

What were your favorite experiences at ProductCamp Austin 10?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

ProductCamp Austin 10 - What story are you telling about your products?

ProductCamp Austin 10 is happening this weekend. ProductCamp Austin is a non-profit organization that is creating a community for product management and marketing professionals to teach, learn, and network in Austin. This event will be a big milestone for our organization, as it is the tenth event since it was founded in 2008. Since the first event, the ProductCamp Austin community has grown to consistently organize two events each year.

ProductCamp events are unconferences. The events are free and are participant driven. Anyone can submit an idea for a session and the first order of business on Saturday is to vote for which ones get on the agenda. Each person gets 3 votes for the sessions that they want to see during the rest of the day.

PCA10 has over 500 people registered and 48 sessions proposed. We will have 5 time slots on the agenda across six rooms, for a total of 30 sessions. This means that 18 session proposals won't make the cut, and competition will be fierce for the sacred agenda slots. The ones that make the cut should be the cream of the crop. The hardest part of the day will be choosing which sessions to vote for and which ones to attend.

I submitted a session idea about persuasion and storytelling, and I'm hoping it makes the cut. My presentation is a big part of the basis for my blog, so I have a lot of passion for the topic.

Here's my pitch:
  1. Register for ProductCamp Austin 10.
  2. Arrive at 8AM at the AT&T Conference Center on Saturday.
  3. Vote for my session!
  4. Participate.

What story are you telling about your products?

We have all heard that people make decisions based on emotion and then back them up with reason. If this is the case, why do we continually use reason to convince our customers to buy our products? A more compelling way to market and sell is to tell a story that uses emotion to drive a change in behavior. This session will explore why emotion is a stronger motivator than reason, and share some  effective ways to tell a story that is relevant to your customers.

The first time I gave this presentation was at the ISA Marketing & Sales Summit here in Austin in August 2012. Preparing for this presentation turned out to be a much more wild and exciting ride than I expected. I started out with a single statement - "People make decisions based on emotion and then back them up with reason." I have used it before in presentations, but then I felt that I shouldn't just throw this cliche around without understanding why this is the case. And so my journey begins... You can read about the rest of my story here.

Since the first time in I presented it in August last year, I have given this presentation eight times around the world, including events in Austria, Germany, England, Singapore, Australia, and even once again yesterday in Austin. Come join us on Saturday and (hopefully) see me present this for the 10th time at ProductCamp Austin 10.

Can you come up with a better way to spend your Saturday than to teach, learn, and network with the brightest people in Austin?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

I attended TEDxAustin 2013 on Saturday. According to the TEDx license, organizers are required to show at least two pre-recorded talks from the TEDTalks video series that you can watch on YouTube. You might wonder what benefit we get from this, since anyone can easily watch these on-demand at home (for free I might add). It turns out that the context of the event adds to the value of these videos. The theme for this year's event was Fearless.

In one of the videos we watched, Regina Dugan explored some amazing technological achievements made by scientists and engineers at DARPA and posed the question, "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" It seems like I watched it before, but there was something more captivating about watching it again at a TEDx event.

Dugan describes how seemingly impossible things suddenly become possible when you remove fear of failure. Fear of failure constrains us and prevents us from attempting great things. On the other hand, Dugan describes failure as being a good thing. The path to doing new and innovative things always involves failure, and failure is required for learning.

I recently read about the impact of failure on learning in How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. You can also read about this in Lehrer's 2011 Wired article, Why Do Some People Learn Faster?  In his book, Lehrer described how our brains learn from failure.
"Unless you experience the unpleasant symptoms of being wrong, your brain will never revise its models. Before your neurons can succeed, they must repeatedly fail. There are no shortcuts for this painstaking process."
Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, performed research that showed how praising kids for being smart can have a negative impact on their ability and willingness to learn. They will fear that mistakes will show that they really didn't deserve the praise they received for being smart. They will see mistakes as signs of stupidity and not as an opportunity to learn.

On the other hand, praising kids for their hard work will motivate them to take on bigger challenges even if it increased the risk of failure. Kids performed significantly better when praised for their efforts than when praised for their intelligence. They even chose more difficult assignments that gave them a higher risk of failure.

We see this in video games. In another TED talk, 7 ways games reward the brain, Tom Chatfield described the positive impact of rewarding effort.
People should be credited for everything they try and do. Don’t punish failure. Instead, reward and reinforce, and make everything count towards a clear measure of progress. As I’ve said elsewhere, one of the most profound transformations we can learn from games is how to turn the sense that someone has “failed” into the sense that they “haven’t succeeded yet.”
Lots of research is being done on gaming systems to motivate people to achieve. What makes a good video game? It seems to be the ones that aren't so easy that you never fail, but aren't so hard that you give up trying. The successful games are the ones that let you learn through failure without being crippled by the fear of having to start all over from the beginning if you make a mistake, meanwhile providing successive rewards through challenging progress.

As Dugan pointed out in her talk, it is not failure itself, but instead it is the fear of failure that stifles us. Failure is a healthy part of the learning process. I think she might have been asking the wrong question. Maybe she should have asked what would you attempt to do if you had no fear of failing?

Would we strive for achievement if we knew we could not fail?

Or would we get bored because there would be no opportunity to achieve the impossible or to learn something new?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lessons from TEDxAustin 2013 on fear and failure

Update 2/18: I added links to videos on YouTube

Last weekend I attended TEDxAustin 2013. It was held on Saturday, February 9 at the Circuit of the Americas facility, the home of Austin's new Formula 1 race track. This was my third event to attend and it lived up to my expectations from past experiences. If you haven't been to a TED related event, the best way to see what it is all about is to watch some of the videos from previous events here.

The event delivered tons of new ideas for me to think about: music, presentations, art, speakers, food, technology, event production, culture, networking, and much more. It is all very overwhelming, and it is hard to choose a favorite talk or individual topic to share. Instead, I am reflecting on the theme for the event - Fearless.

My biggest takeaways for the day:
  • Don't fear failure. Embrace it. It is required for progress.
  • Aspire for greatness and don't let fear get in the way of your dreams.
  • Rather than letting fear cripple you, face it head on.

Why Fearless?

I can't think of a better theme for a TEDx event. Nothing grips us and prevents us from realizing our dreams more than fear. Here are some ways that speakers at the event inspired me to overcome fear in different ways.
  • Faith Dickey shared her experience as a world record slakliner. She has no lizard brain. See the photos and videos on her website. She is fearless! (Watch here)
  • Jia Jiang told the story of his experience facing his fear of rejection. Rather than letting his fear control him, he faced it head on and learned to embrace rejection. (Watch here)
  • Darden Smith sang and told a story about doing what you love, without the fear of where the world might take you or who you might turn out to be. (Watch here)
  • Robyn Metcalfe described how curiosity drove her to ignore fear. She raced across four deserts with RacingThePlanet: Gobi, Sahara, Atacama, and Antarctica - (Watch here)
  • Byron Reese described how people often come up with excuses why they gave up on their childhood dreams of greatness due to fear of failure. Byron has held on to the childhood vision of himself as a great person, and he is still striving to change the the world. (Watch here)
I have been thinking about fear quite a bit lately. Here's a link to some of my most recent thoughts - LeaderThoughtship: Fear.

My conclusion for now is that fear is one of the strongest and most impactful emotions that separates us from greatness. It is rooted in our lizard brains as a survival mechanism, but when we overcome our fear we can achieve great things. We can all survive a long life of safety and mediocrity, but to truely live up to our potential for greatness we must overcome our fears.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Which is more compelling? Statistics or Stories

Yesterday I saw the following infographic from Safeco Insurance on Facebook and Twitter. Safeco is attempting to convince people to drive more safely by reducing distracted driving.

This information is somewhat effective as an attention getter, but there are a few key problems for persuasion:
  • You can't empathize with numbers.
  • It doesn't create an emotional response.
  • Statistics can be rationalized.

A friend pointed out the following in a comment on Facebook:
"No one can disagree with first principles - that distracted driving can lead to accidents and loss of life. However, this is the same scare tactic used by the seatbelt law people. Death rate is in the range of 1 out 100 million driven miles, which means someone could drive 10000 miles per year for 40 years to have 0.4% chance of dying from all causes combined.

If distracted driving is 10% of deaths, and number of deaths is already pretty low, I'd say this data is not compelling."
No matter if you agree with the data or not, statistics engage the human brain. As I wrote previously, appealing to reason is not an effective way to compel people to change their behavior. Most people have learned not to trust statistics, so the first thing they will do is to start looking for contextual tricks, logical holes, and statistical biases. Our trained response is to prove the statistics wrong.

Additionally, cognitive biases created by previous experience can lead to an entrenched response based on existing beliefs. Some people will rationalize that it can never happen to them, because they have been successful driving distracted without any accidents in the past.

Tell an emotional story to change behavior

A more effective way to get someone to change their behavior is to tell a compelling story that is visual, authentic, and emotionally connecting. Going back to the Triune Brain Theory, behavior is driven by the lizard and animal brains. If you want to drive change, you must appeal to these areas of the brain.

For example, watch this video from AT&T's Texting & Driving - It Can Wait campaign. The documentary features real stories of families affected by texting while behind the wheel:

This video is extremely persuasive as a driver for change. These are stories that create a strong sense of empathy and emotion that will make you think twice the next time you reach for you phone while driving your car. They are also stories that you can share with your friends and family, because they are memorable and easy to tell.

"Tell me a fact and I will learn. Tell me a truth and I will believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever." - Native American Proverb

What would be even more effective, is to follow up this video with a positive emotional response to change, like imagery of someone arriving home safely to eat dinner with their family. Lastly, it could conclude with the compelling data that Safeco Insurance provided in their inforgraphic. This approach fits the model of persuading first and convincing last.

Next time you get behind the wheel...

Will you remember the percentage of injury crashes related to distracted driving in 2010?


Will you remember the story of the teenager who died because of a text message?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Get their attention - What leaders can learn from advertising

Have you ever watched a TV commercial over and over again, until one day you happen to pay attention and realize that it actually had an interesting message behind it? This is what happens when commercials fail to get your attention. Like I mentioned previously in this blog, you need to get people's attention and then follow up with emotion in order to get people to change their behavior.

Volkswagen did a great job playing with this phenomenon in their "Safe Happens" campaign. Their commercials would show two people having a very normal and boring conversation that lulled you into ignoring the commercial. Just when they bored you almost to a slumber... BAM! A sudden car crash grabbed your attention, just like it often happens in real life. They would then show you the passengers standing next to the car looking at the carnage, followed by the message "Safe Happens." and then the VW logo.

If you have been in a real car crash, you know that it is a highly emotional experience. There is that surreal moment after the crash when you are wondering what happened, where are you, and are you hurt?

While your mind is going through the emotional paces, VW hits you with an ironic twist on the popular saying, "sh*t happens." They wrap the jarring emotional car crash experience with a tongue-in-cheek clever tagline that you can't help but enjoy a little. The result is a strong positive association with the VW brand and safety.

Prior to VW's Safe Happens campaign, commercials mostly showed wrecks being avoided, which didn't grab your attention. They showed crashes with test dummies, which didn't appeal to your emotion. The status quo safety message was a list of safety features and automotive industry safety awards, such as standard dual airbags and anti-lock brakes. As I have written before, this kind of appeal to reason is not memorable, it doesn't appeal to emotion, and it doesn't drive a change in behavior.

You can't get people to change if they aren't paying attention

Just because you have the floor doesn't mean that you have their attention. In the attention starved and stimulation rich environment that we live in, you have to do something big to get people's attention. People will quickly start thinking about other things, checking their smart phones, emailing, texting, and Twittering.

If you are presenting, don't start with the agenda. Start with a joke, a story, a video, or do something physical on stage. I have seen one person do cart wheels before giving a presentation. I once showed videos of snipers and machine guns as an attention getter. It got mixed reviews, but it definitely got their attention. If you need some inspiration before your next big presentation where you want to drive change, watch this video of Steve Ballmer a few times.