CR and the illusion of knowledge

So far, we have seen a few possible parallels between the psychic context and the sales context. It is fair to say these are quite limited in scope. We have yet to see how cold reading techniques could make a significant difference to our salesman's daily activity.

I believe there is one area where can cold reading techniques can make a huge difference: helping the salesman to appear more well-informed than he really is. Let me explain what I mean.

This is not the place for a lengthy dissertation on sales strategies and tactics (even though it's a subject dear to my heart). The simple point I want to make is that success in sales often comes down to personal rapport. A prospect is likely to buy if he feels that the salesman:

- knows a bit about his company

- understands his company's industry and market

- understands his (the prospect's) role, including the problems and pressures he faces

- shares his outlook, broadly speaking, and is someone he can relate to

In other words, we tend to buy from people we like, and we tend to like people we can relate to.

In an ideal world, every salesman would always be thoroughly well-informed about every prospect he meets. Sadly, we live in a less than ideal world, as I know from the fact that Jacqueline Bisset was born about a decade before me and we've never met. Even the most efficient salesman cannot always be as prepared and well-informed as he'd like to be.

When faced with this less than ideal situation, the salesman has two options. One is to be honest and say:

"I'm sorry, but I really know very little about what your company does."

Honesty is a virtue, and this can be a perfectly good way to get the prospect to start chatting.

The salesman's other option is to use cold reading techniques to convey the impression, or let the impression be formed, that he knows more than he really does.

You may find this repugnantly dishonest, and perhaps it is. Then again, the salesman might have legitimate reasons for pursuing this option. Maybe the prospective client is less than perfect (it happens), and would be unduly dismissive of the 'honest ignorance' plea and refuse the salesman a fair hearing. In a world which is occasionally shabby and disappointing, good salesmen sometimes trim the truth a little. I apologise to any of my readers who find themselves inconsolably disillusioned by this revelation.

Whatever the ethics involved, let us look at how cold reading techniques can help. Here's our new context summary:

Players: Salesman, Prospect.

Context: First face-to-face meeting, after the initial pleasantries.

Goal: to be perceived as someone who knows about the prospect's company, industry and markets, and understands the prospect's role and attendant difficulties.

Applying 'character' elements

It should come as no surprise that many 'character' elements apply to companies as well as they do to people. After all, you can discuss a company's birth and history, profile and reputation, triumphs and failures, hopes and ambitions, health and relationships (with its allies, competitors, employees and customers). These are all typical subjects in psychic readings, so if cold reading techniques work for people then they can work for companies.

Suppose the salesman wants to strike up a conversation about the prospect's industry, despite knowing very little about it. He could start like this:

"I was reading an article about your industry just the other day. FinanciarTimes, I think. Basically, it was pointing out how segmented your industry can be. It was saying that in some sectors there's been quite a lot of change ana fluctuation

- you know, restructuring, repositioning, talks of mergers, all that kind of thing - while other sectors have been really very calm, just ticking over much as expected".

If this sounds familiar, it should. It's the Rainbow Ruse, adapted from the psychic context to the sales context. In the psychic context, the 'information' is supposed to come from some esoteric field of study such as astrology or the tarot. This is not generally considered suitable for business meetings, so the salesman refers to some other plausible source, such as a newspaper's business section, the trade press or a 'friend who used to work in the industry'. He then takes two opposite characteristics which could apply to any industry, in this example 'change' and 'stasis', and joins them at the hip in classic Rainbow Ruse fashion.

The salesman can make up as many of these as he wants. All he needs are pairs of opposing adjectives can apply to a given industry. How about 'expanding' and 'contracting':

"Actually I was having lunch with an old colleague the other day. He once spent a bit of time in your industry. He was saying how there are times when some sectors really put on a bit ofa spurt, seem to expand quite significantly, but that often that's against a broader picture of contraction. Obviously, regional factors play a part but still... it can be quite a complex picture, can't it?".

It's not much, but it will probably pass muster, and to some people it might even sound quite well-informed. At the very least, more well-informed than "I'm sorry, but I really know very little about what your company does."

Fine Flattery

Another element that can be readily transplanted from the psychic context to the sales context is Fine Flattery. Here are two examples of how it might sound:

"I have to say I think your pricing structures are very good. Getting the balance right between good value and profitability is never easy, but I think you've really judged it well -probably a bit better than most companies on your sector."

"You know, you may not be the biggest fish in the pond, but I do think you're one of the most innovative. I just find your whole company ethos to be much more forward-looking than

Psychic Credit

How can we adapt the Psychic Credit technique to fit a sales context? It's not as strange as it may sound. In the psychic context, the psychic - who supposedly has some kind of psychic gift - praises the client for having a little of the same talent. Translating this to the sales context, the salesman - who is supposedly good at selling - praises the prospect or the company for having some merit in this regard. It could sound like this:

"In all honesty, speaking as a salesman myself, it seems to me you've got a very good sales operation here. You seem to set yourself pretty ambitious targets and work hard to get the numbers right. I'm impressed."

"One thing I will say is that I really think your advertising works well for you. You probably get more out of your advertising spend than most of your competitors, and you've run some very effective campaigns. Seriously, I think you've really got the knack of using the media effectively."

Jacques Statement

The salesman can also apply the Jacques Statement to his purpose. In the psychic context, a Jacques Statement exploits the fact that most people's lives go through similar phases. Happily for the salesman, most industries also go through similar phases. The 'industrial' version might sound something like this:

"I read an article on [your industry] not long ago. It mentioned the early days, the rather manic free-for-all when it was all about grabbing market share, getting a foot-hold, and how this

§ave way to a sort of 'consolidation' phase, when there had to e some settling down - you know, with the less successful brands going to the wall, the short-term opportunists pulling out, and the market slowly deciding who would survive for the long-haul.

According to the article, this gave way to a lot of convergence in each main sector. Apparently you were all finding it harder and harder to achieve a distinctive presence in the market, so there was a fair bit of amalgamation. Usual story, the big fish merging into bigger fish to cut costs and squeeze margins — trying to guarantee survival, really — and just a few independents being left to cater for specialist 'niche' sectors".

I do not suggest our salesman would drone on at such length, of course, but this example illustrates how the Jacques Statement could apply to almost any sales context. The pattern (emergence, consolidation, convergence, amalgamation + niche fragmentation) is one that holds good for most industries, most of the time.

An interesting difference between the psychic and the salesman is that whereas psychics always deal with adult people, salesmen sometimes deal with young and immature industries. So the tenses may need to change. If we were back in 1980, and the salesman was discussing the personal computer industry, then he would refer to all but the first phase in the future tense.

Barnum Statement

The Barnum Statement is another technique which applies as much to industries and markets as it does to people. Suppose our salesman wishes to say something faintly perceptive and intelligent about the prospect's industry. Here's one option:

"Of course you're industry has had its ups and downs, hasn't it? I remember reading a fascinating article about it in Forbes. I don't recall the specifics, but the gist was that over the past two or three years there's been some really quite radical shifts in the patterns of consumer demand. In marketing terms, it's getting harder than ever to stay ahead of the curve. And apparently there's no sign of it slowing down. Did you read it?"

This is a Barnum Statement which could apply to just about any industry, at any time, and could pass muster as a reasonably intelligent comment from a thinking and well-informed mind. Another example:

"I was talking to an old friend of mine at a conference last week. He used to work in [your industry], and he was saying it's generally the case that the business is there, if you know where to find it, but the problem is making it pay. Thin margins keep getting thinner, and you really have to go for the long-term to make it work. Perhaps that applies to some sectors more than others."

I can imagine more than a few business lunches where a Barnum Statement of this kind would at least light the conversational fire, and might give the prospect the distinct impression he's dealing with someone distinctly well-informed.

Applying 'facts' elements

The second group of elements, About facts and events', also provide plenty of fodder for our salesman. Consider the Good Chance Guess. In the psychic context, a Good Chance Guess is one which, as its name implies, stands a good chance of being right. To use this technique in the sales context, the salesman needs only the most superficial awareness of the prevailing economic trends over the past five years. In good times money is sloshing around, which leads to hiring, profits, expansion, more risk-taking and product innovation. In bad times money is scarce, which leads to firing, reduced profits or losses, contraction, less risk-taking and lack of innovation. So if the economy has been generally 'good' for a while, a Good Chance Guess might sound something like this:

"I was reading somewhere that your industry's seen quite a trend towards expansion over the past few years, hasn't it? Quite a lot of innovation here and there, people being more ready to take risks... that kind of thing. I should imagine it makes for quite interesting times!"

On the other hand, if the economy has been doing an impression of a combine harvester in freefall, this would be the way to go:

"According to most of the reports I've looked at, your industry's been going through a bit of a tough time lately. I understand there's been something of a downturn in innovation, and margins are being squeezed hard."

In casual conversation, either of the above could pass for the output of an informed mind. Do bear in mind that with all of these techniques, being wrong is not a problem. We have seen how psychics play the Win-Win Game, so they can be right even when they are wrong. The salesman has more or less all the same options at his disposal.

Stat Fact / Trivia Stat

The Stat Fact and Trivia Stat both apply to industries and markets as much as they do to people. The psychic can search for statistics about people and society, or statistical trivia, and the salesman can do the same for any given industry or business. Indeed, there is a vast industry entirely devoted to churning out industrial and commercial statistics.

Folk wisdom

Psychics, as we have seen, make great use of Folk Wisdom. The salesman can do the same, but it just needs to be a different type of folk wisdom. Some examples:

"As my old boss always used to say to me, it's not getting the money in that's the problem, it's keeping hold of some of it!

Don't you find that often the issue in your line of work?"

"Well, I guess your industry's like many others — you know half the advertising budget is wasted... but you just don't know which half!"

"What was that old saying about a bank manager... someone who lends you an umbrella and then wants it back when it starts raining! That's probably as true for companies in your market as for any other, don't you think?"

"I used to know a guy who worked in your line. He always said the business would run so much more easily without the [mild expletive, according to taste] customers!"

"I should think yours is the kind of industry where, as the saying goes, half the customers don't know what they want, and the other half know what they want but don't like it when they get it!"

And so on and so forth. It's nothing more than pithy conversational filler, but sometimes that's all a salesman needs.

Seasonal Touch

There are many seasonal factors which affect a typical company's operations. Here in the UK, for example, the tax year runs from April to April, and so many major budgeting decisions are scheduled to take effect from April onwards. This tends to be a time when new initiatives are announced, staff are hired or fired and re-organisations are implemented.

Another common seasonal factor, at least here in the UK, is the August holiday season. This is when most employees take their main annual holiday and so do most consumers, leading to depressed spending and activity all round (except in the holiday and tourism-related industries, obviously). September is therefore widely regarded as the month when things get back to normal, and is another very common time for the implementation of new plans, campaigns and initiatives.

Psychics try to extrapolate from relatively obvious seasonal factors to make educated guesses about a client's life. A salesman can do the same, remembering all the while to sound as if he's talking from knowledge:

"I'm glad we could meet up this soon. I didn't want to leave it much later because I should think you'll soon be getting a bit tied up with the rollout of your Fall campaigns."

Or on the phone:

"Tell you what, this probably isn't the ideal time for us to try and meet. Let's schedule the presentation for early next month, once you've got the seasonal rush out of the way and you can catch your breath again."

Applying 'prediction' elements

The fourth group of cold reading elements were to do with predicting the future. These too have their place in our salesman's repertoire. Let us consider a few simple examples.

Peter Pan Prediction

This is essentially the 'Tell them what they want to hear' prediction. Adapted to a business vocabulary, it could sound like this:

"I think your new line's going to do really well, actually. Based on where the market's going, I'd say you've come up with the right product at the right time. It's going to appeal to the so-called 'early-adopters', and that's what you need. They set the trend, everyone else follows suit."

Thus the salesman gives the impression of having a shrewd eye on relevant market trends, and at the same time endears himself to the prospect with his confident optimism.

Pollyanna Pearls

The basic structure of the Pollyanna Pearl is to pick one theme, and promise that recent rain will give way to future sunshine. Adapted to the sales context:

"I gather you've had problems over the past 12-18 months getting the top-end technical people you need? I think it's been pretty much the same for everyone. Mind you, I think the situation's going to ease a little. There's new blood coming in, plus a lot of churn in the industry. And frankly some of the big players got themselves more people than they really need, so I wouldn't be surprised if one or two find themselves suddenly available."

Again, while this might not be much, it stands a fair chance of sounding like the musings of an informed mind. And in terms of building god rapport, that's all that really matters.

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