Sway - The Irresistible Pull Of Irrational Behaviour (2008)

This pop-pysche book from 2008 aims to tell us why we make poor decisions. And how to make better ones.

As with all texts in this genre, Sway‘s strength lies in the examples used. The reasons why practically the world’s most experienced pilot caused the most deadly airplane crash ever through mental disintegration are unforgettable.

Whilst hoping we navigate day-to-day trials in a healthier manner, there are decent direct Sales takeaways. I’ll start with four main pillars. These shape not only prospect obstinacy, but also our own when chasing down a deal that ultimately crashes our forecast as if the corpse of our career was smothered in blood sucking ticks.

Diagnosis Bias – the moment we label a person or situation, we put on blinkers to all evidence that contradicts our diagnosis
Loss Aversion – tendency to go to great lengths to avoid losses
Value Attribution – inclination to imbue a person or thing with certain qualities based on initial perceived value
Commitment – when you can’t move from a stifling loss aversion strategy

As a vendor, we can test for the existence of each of these. If you sense any of these are happening, sound the alarm.

The brothers offer specific selling advice a few times. Here’s one such delicious quote;

“We may turn down a pitch or idea that is presented by the “wrong” person or blindly follow the advice of someone who is highly regarded. That’s not to say that a person’s title doesn’t count for anything or that a product’s price doesn’t often give you a good idea of the true value.”

And how do you or your prospect communicate with other stakeholders?

“When we’re busy completing a project at work, rather than assuming the final product speaks for itself, it’s good to remember to regularly engage and update members of your team during the process.”

And a lesson courtesy of Dan Ariely on why discounting is a bad idea and can make it extremely difficult to win worthwhile repeat business;

“When you get something at a discount, the positive expectations don’t kick in as strongly” as “once we attribute a certain value to something it is very difficult to view it in another light”.

And what about how you qualify, mid-deal?

“If I were just arriving on the scene and were given the choice to either jump into this project as it stands now or pass on it, would I choose to jump in?”

And here’s one more on general management best-practice;

“If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to work for a boss who values and believes in you, you’ll know that you tend to rise to meet the high expectations set for you. On the other hand, there’s nothing that will make you feel more incompetent and demoralised than a supervisor who is convinced you don’t have what it takes.”

(Note that there are also a cracking couple of pages on interview tips that I blogged on separately)

There’s plenty of lovely insight throughout. I liked learning of Kantor’s quartet of identified team roles (initiator, blocker, supporter, observer), hopping on their ‘chameleon effect’ where you take on the nature of traits (arbitrarily) assigned to you, how a “collaborative bond” trumps any diagnosis procedure, through to the airline industry’s own ‘crm’ (crew resource management for questioning the captain) then via our yearning for fairness with “procedural justice” before landing on “propositional thinking” (keep leanings tentative and be open minded for as long as possible).

When reading this, I was in the middle of helping a new product push. It struck me that I could test for diagnosis bias across the team. In one group session, I handed out paper and asked for anonymous answers to three questions.

One word to describe the product, the losses we sought to stem and the value that’d be seen from the product over the next year (for that final one I’d alter next time to get both a cash figure and key area).

It starkly revealed the true level of sales engagement. A couple of days later I ran through the responses.

Not only could we escape from the ‘diagnosis trap’, but tellingly, it gave the team confidence to ask similar questions of their prospects as opposed to be daunted by ‘negative’ standpoints, and then plan to re-align them.

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