Jonah Berger is a professor at Wharton business school and author of a new book titled, The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind.
There’s a passage in this book that stood out to me, “Behavioral scientist Kurt Lewin once noted, ‘If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.’ But the reverse is also true. To truly change something, you need to understand it.”
Sales is all about change. People are doing things a certain way. They know they probably need to change. But making the decision to change is hard. And it becomes measurably harder to help them make the decision to change if they don’t feel that they are understood. Which is one of the topics we’ll talk about in this episode: How to enable conversations by finding common ground in shared experiences. Plus, we get into how people have a built in resistance to being persuaded and the steps you can take to mitigate that and engage people in conversation.
Andy Paul: Jonah Berger. Welcome to the show.
Jonah Berger: Thanks so much for having me.
Andy Paul: It’s a pleasure to have you here. Um, so where are you joining us
Jonah Berger: from?
I’m in North Carolina. Uh, right outside of Durham. Durham.
Andy Paul: Yes. Yeah. I spoke at Durham last year at a conference.
Jonah Berger: Fantastic.
Andy Paul: I hadn’t been in Durham since my oldest brother had did as a Duke interview, trying to get into Duke as an undergrad back then 1966.
Jonah Berger: A little has changed since then.
Andy Paul: The theater where I spoke was this classic old theater in town and, uh, yeah, it was really, it was a cool conference, so.
Jonah Berger: Oh, wonderful.
Andy Paul: All right. Well, we’re, we’re going to talk about changing people’s minds, subject of a book that you’ve written obviously, relevant title for sales and your book, new book called The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind. Right. I want to just start with a quote from near the end of the book, which I thought was sort of summed things up really well. And you’d written that, uh, “Behavioral scientist Kurt Lewin once noted if you truly want to understand something, try to change it. But the reverse is also true. To truly change something you need to understand it.” And that I think is probably the more key point even more than Lewin’s point. I think that so often in sales these days is there’s a lack of real understanding of the person you’re selling to. And as a result, you don’t build the connection, the trust and things you need to do, be able to influence the change that they’re about to make.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. You know, uh, everyone has something that they want to change. Uh, you know, salespeople want to change the client or the customer’s mind employees want to change their boss’s mind. Okay. Marketing want to change consumer behavior. Often change though is really hard. We, you know, we push, we send one more PowerPoint deck. We make one more presentation. We think if we just give people more facts and reasons they’ll come around, but often it doesn’t work. And so I think the key idea of the book very similar to as, as what you noticed is there’s actually a better way. It’s not about pushing harder. Uh, it’s not about adding more facts or more reasons or providing more information. It’s really about figuring out, well, what are the barriers that are preventing change? What are those obstacles and how do we mitigate them? There’s a, you know, an analogy I talk a little about, I think it is helpful. If you think about a car parked on an incline, for example, you get in the car and you want it to go, you stick your key in the ignition. Uh, if we put our foot on the gas and it doesn’t go, sometimes we think, well, we just need more gas, but just as often, sometimes we need to depress the parking brake. And so what the book is really all about is how do we find these often hidden parking breaks, these obstacles, these things that are preventing things from happening, how do we figure out what is preventing someone from buying my product or service, and rather than trying to just give them one more phone call, remove that barrier and use that to change their mind.
Andy Paul: Yeah. And that’s very relevant these days, because a huge part of sales these days is all about content, right? So marketing obviously as well, marketing produces a lot of the content, but, but there are whole market segment, you know, some people call it sales enablement though I think that’s too narrow of a definition, but it’s all about how to deliver the right content at the right time. And for me it seems like, well, okay, well that really ignores the fundamental part of which is that sales is fundamentally a human business to your point about what are the barriers and that’s be dealt with on a human to human basis, not on, Hey, let’s, here’s another brochure.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. I mean, I think we have this notion that if, if we just push people harder they’ll move, um, and it’s clear why we think that’s true. Right. So, um, You know, if we’re trying to move something in the physical think pushing works, but I want to move a chair. I push it, it’ll go. But when we push people, they don’t just go like chairs. They often, they often push back. Um, and I think it’s clear why we don’t want to take the time to understand them.
I was talking to someone about the book and they were saying, Oh, you know, I used to be in sales. And what they always said is a hundred phone calls a day and, you know, throw something at the wall and eventually something will stick and sure that might work once in a while, but, um, the more you’re trying to change someone’s mind about something that’s expensive, um, you know, time consuming, risky, different from what they’re doing. Um, the more throwing stuff at the wall and hoping it sticks it isn’t going to work. We’ve got to understand them and what the barriers are that are preventing them. You know, you go to the doctor’s office, the doctor’s and just say, okay, well, you know, here’s a bandaid. They say, well, hold on, let me figure out what your problem is in the first place. Let me figure out why you’re here, what the issues are, and then I’ll figure it out, how I can solve it. Um, and I think the same is true in, in marketing. I was working a couple of years ago with a client, um, actually sales project with a client in the B2B space that had a software help people find machine parts. They’re saying, Oh, you know, sales is really tough. They’re not working. And one thing we talked about as well, let’s put that customer journey together and figuring out what the barriers are. Obviously one is awareness. If they don’t realize you exist, they can’t buy from you. But in others where they realize you exist, don’t think it’ll work. They think it’ll work, but they think it’s too expensive. They don’t think it’s too expensive, but they don’t think they have the problem. They think they have the problem, but they don’t think it can integrate with their service existing package. And so part of it’s really think about what are those things that are stopping someone, figure out which things are stopping the particular person that you’re trying to convince and then figuring out why, how do I remove those barriers or those obstacles?
Andy Paul: Yeah. Well, I think you hit on a key point, which is that one of the unfortunate side effects of the way we’ve been implementing this our first or second generation of sales automation tools are to do more as you talk about a hundred calls and so on and so forth, but basically trying to turn what I call sales into a game of chance.
Yeah. And sure, that’d be a game of chance. You have a certain positive, certain number of positive outcomes if you just do enough stuff. Right. But the problem we’re reaching and sales these days in B2B sales is that many companies have reached this inflection point where they’re doing more and more and more and more, and the results aren’t getting better.
And so unless you’re selling into an infinite size market, eventually those tactics run short. So this idea that I have been pushing through my books and so on. And, and it’s funny reading your book is, you know, I look at some things very similar. Oh, great. Is, is, um, yeah, it all boils down to the person. You gotta, you gotta have this human to human connection. You’re trying to change minds. You’re not going to be doing that by sending a piece of literature. It’s going to happen on a human level.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. You know, I, I obviously talked to a lot of folks in the business world for this book, so great leaders and effective salespeople, but I also talked to some unusual folks. So, uh, you know, substance abuse, counselors and hostage negotiators and one of the things that one of the hostage negotiators said is that, you know, novice negotiators always start with the outcome they want to achieve, um, you know, come out with your hands up, do this or else, right. They, they start with the outcome, what negotiators learn as they’ve done it for a while is they start with the person. They don’t start with what they’re trying to achieve. They start with who they’re trying to convince who they’re trying to change. And by figuring out more about that person asking the right questions, by understanding where that person is and what they’re doing and why they’re there. They figured out the best way to get that person to, to an outcome they eventually want, want to go to. And so I think you’re exactly right. We have just start with the people and we have to start with the behavioral science understanding why change does and doesn’t happen and use that to put together techniques and approaches that are going to be more effective.
Andy Paul: Well, so let’s start with the, you start the book with a whole example about, uh, an FBI hostage negotiator. It raised an interesting thought because you know, one of the things I think that, that you think about from a construct from a sales standpoint is that if I can, if I’m too late reaching out to the customer in sort of their buying journey, or let’s say they came to me as an inbound lead and they’ve already done their research and so on because they have certainpreconceptions of mind about what it is, I think they want to achieve or how they might be able to achieve it. But I always, yeah, my experience in sales was that I typically found people before they had made up their minds and my goal is always, well, how do I help them make their mind up?
Jonah Berger: Yes.
Andy Paul: And I think that’s, you know, so I thought like in the case of hostages dedicated negotiators, that actually, it was really the gather, the example I was holding something on houses. He didn’t really know what he wanted. Right. So it wasn’t like he was changing his mind. I thought what he was doing is really influencing him to help him make up his mind. And I find, do you find those two separate things?
Jonah Berger: I do certainly. And you know, one word that as you were talking, I couldn’t help, but think about as kind of upstream, uh, you know, I teach at the Wharton school, I teach her in incoming MBAs introduction to marketing course, in addition to sort of the.
Basics of marketing. So the five CS and segmenting target positioning for PS, all that sort of stuff. One thing I talk a lot about is thinking about the or journey and how can we move upstream in that customer journey? A lot of companies are doing that in this day and age of figuring out well, just like you’re saying, you know, Well, there’s a customer journey.
Some point someone’s going to make a decision. How can we reach that person way before they’ve made that decision, um, and shape how they sell, see the space. Even I was recently working with a different client where they’re talking about, you know, the problem is when companies put out requests for proposals and they send one to us, we win.
But many companies don’t even think about us when they’re sending out those requests. So we don’t, we zero of the beds were not invited to. And one thing, we talked a lot about do you get them to. Think about you before they get to that point. So, um, you know, that’s a lot about what I talk about in the uncertainty chapter, for example, lowering the barrier to trial, giving out samples or other sorts of things earlier that allow people to experience the offering.
Um, one person said it very nicely. They say, you know, fuck, it’s not really about selling. It’s about getting people to buy in. So getting them to persuade themselves. And I think that’s exactly right. Understanding them and using where they are to show them, Hey, the best place to get, where they want to get is actually through you.
Andy Paul: Yeah. And I think that if you look at, uh, sort of the buyer’s journey and, and Gartner put out some research on this a couple years ago about buyer enablement and they sort of, describe not a, not a process, the buyers, because buyers basically are clueless about the processes because typically when they’re procuring you know, Saas software. They don’t do that. But once every five years, I don’t really have a defined process, but they knew though they do know there are certain jobs they have to get done in order to reach a decision. And this, this aligns, the research really aligns with, um, Stuff that I don’t know if you’re talking with Paul Nut from Ohio state university thinks that maritime there, but now, but had written about decision making his decisions, take place in two stages.
And the first stage is defining how we’re going to solve this problem. And the second stage is who we’re going to solve the problem with. Yep. And too often sales these days to your point about push, push, push the reason we’re pushing us, because we’re doing that last thing. We’re trying to influence who they buy from.
But what we really want to do is influence how they’re going to get the. The problem solved, right? Yes. And so if we get to late in the game to your point, the only option available to us is to
Jonah Berger: yes. Yeah. And I think, uh, I’ll tell a story. One of the negotiating stories, cause I think it’s sort of relevant here, but, um, it’s a little bit of a sad situation.
It’s one, obviously we hope we’re never in, but, uh, the negotiator was trying to get a guy who was thinking about committing suicide to change his mind. Um, you know, the guy had lost his job. Um, he wanted to provide for his family. Didn’t think he could do it. Um, but he had an insurance policy and you’re saying, look, if I kill myself, you know, the, um, the insurance policy will pay out.
It’ll take care of my family. Um, and so the challenge there is usually negotiate would come in and say, well, Hey, by the way, just so you know, you kill yourself. That policy is not going to pay out. So I’m, I’m done. And the problem there is, you know, you take someone that’s dealing with the emotions they’re dealing with and you tell them that, and it’s not clear what what they’re going to do. And so instead, this guy comes and he says, you know, Hey, how are you doing? What do you need? And he starts having a conversation. Um, Oh, you know, uh, uh, what you know, why are, why are you here today? Why are you thinking about killing yourself? Oh, you know, that’s my job, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Oh, interesting. Well, you know, you sound like you care a lot about your family. Tell me about them. And he talks about his two kids. It’s Oh, tell me about it. Your kids. Oh, you know, there’s great kids. I want to raise them to be great. Yeah, man. You know, respect women be good people in the world and they start having this conversation.
And after a while, eventually the negotiator says, Oh, well, you know, if you kill yourself today, your kids are gonna lose their best friend. And what he’s done really cleverly is he said, Hey, I want you not to kill yourself. And that’s the good thing for everybody, but I’ve helped you get there by yourself.
I’ve helped by understanding what you need and what you care about to help you get there. And now us in sales, we’re not dealing with exactly that. Hopefully we never have to deal with a situation like that. But in some sense of dealing with a very analogous situation, right? Is it the earlier we come in, the more we can help someone see, Hey, you know, the best way to get where you want to go is by doing something that I.
Well, actually, I wanted you in the, in the first place. There’s another story, completely different domain. But you know, boss wants to get his employees to stay after work. People suggest their ideas and eventually somebody says, Oh, we need to work harder. And so he picks up what that person said and uses that to get where he wanted to go in the first place.
And so, and again, it’s not about saying what you want, it’s about using what that other person needs to help them see that you’re actually the best.
Andy Paul: Yeah. And that’s sort of the idea that we talk about off Tyson sales or. Some of us do, is this idea of cocreation right? So this, this, this, yes, the customer, some people, well flipping the script and so on where the customer is buying into their idea, but cocreation is the same way ideas that yeah.
You’re trying to help the customer make the decision what, how they should solve their problem. And, and yeah, I mean, a simple example is, is, uh, uh, Dan Rome wrote this book called Draw to Win, which is a great book to read, and it’s all about using illustrations to persuade and convince people, but he gives us great example.
You know, if you’re standing in front of the room and you’re white boarding out a potential solution, somebody, you know, do the first quarter, but then stop and hand the dry erase marker to, to the customer. Say, can you finish this for me? And then suddenly they take over and they start drawing what they need and you get this cocreation going on, which is to your point is, is right on. Um, you’re one of the key aspects of the book you know behind the, the title of the book, which I think is a great mindset to have is, is you talk about, you know, this is not a problem of physics, you know, with inertia, we’re push, push, push to push something, but it’s really, it’s a matter of chemistry in terms of having a catalyst that catalyzes the connection, the solution, whatever. Um, and so why don’t you to explain what that meant?
Jonah Berger: Yeah sure. So, um, uh, your listeners are familiar with chemistry, probably know what catalysts, most of us think it’s catalyst is just the person who creates change, but they actually create change in a, in a particular way. So a change in the chemical world is just as complicated, if not more complicated than, than the social world, right.
It often takes thousands. If not millions of years for plant matter to change into oil or, um, you know, carbon. Pressured into diamonds. And so chemists often add temperature and pressure to make reactions happen faster, but there’s a set of substance. It’s a special set of substances that, uh, make change faster and easier, not by adding temperature pressure, but by taking a slightly different approach, these, uh, substances do everything from cleaning the grime and your contact lenses to the grime and the engine of your car.
Uh, they’ve won multiple Nobel prizes, uh, and they’re called catalysts. And what they do is they don’t increase the temperature, increase the pressure, push harder. They actually lower the amount of energy required. And they do that by figuring out alternate path to change. Not by pushing harder, not by pressuring more, but by really saying, okay, well we can do this a different way.
Yeah. If we lowered the barriers. And so that’s what the book is, is all about. I talk about five key, often hidden barriers, uh, reactants, endowments, uh, distance, uncertainty, and corroborating evidence and put them together. They spell the word reduce, which is exactly what great catalysts do. They don’t push out or they don’t have more pressure. They really figure out what those barriers are and they reduce them. And so each chapter is an understanding of what one of those barriers is, talks about the behavioral science behind reactants, for example, and then talks about how to mitigate it
Andy Paul: Lets dive into reactants, because I think that, that one, I think of all the sections perhaps salespeople would most easily identify with, um, is we’re talking about push, push, push that, you know, the reaction you’re getting from people is just, Hey, you’re, you’re limiting my freedom, my autonomy, my freedom of choice. And I’m just human nature. I’m gonna push back.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. So, so let’s take a step back for a second and just sort of understand why reactants happens before we talk about the solution.
So people like to feel, us, anyone likes to feel like they’re in control. You’d like to feel that our choices, our decisions, our actions are driven by us. Why did I pick a product? Why did I use a service? Why did it make a decision? Because I want it to, I am in the driver’s seat, but unfortunately we try to influence them. We try to get them to do something now. They’re not sure whether they chose it. Right or whether we chose it for them even think about this in our personal lives, someone’s in your personal life, you know, your spouse, your friend will suggest something you wanted to do already, but because they suggested it now you don’t want to do it anymore. You want to feel like that never happens. You want
Andy Paul: Actually, you’ve got it. You’ve got a young child. You’re going to start experiencing this in spades.
Jonah Berger: Oh, yes. Yeah. Yes. Um, uh, and so definitely talk about, you know, some of, of this in terms of parenting it in the book. Um, you know, we have an anti persuasion radar essentially. Uh, it’s almost like an anti-missile defense system or spidey sense that goes off when we think someone’s trying to convince us, right? So we get a sales call, we get an email, we hang up the phone, we delete the email we avoid or ignore it, or even worse. We listen, but rather than actually sitting there listening, actually what we’re doing is we’re counter arguing.
We’re thinking about all the reasons why, what someone well suggested is wrong. Yeah, sure. You say this product or service is great, but it’s yours. So you would say it. Sure. You say it to work, but how do I know that it actually work? It’s probably too expensive. It’s probably difficult to do X, Y, and Z with.
And so almost like a high school debate team, they’re poking holes in your argument, which makes them less likely to listen. And so the key insight from that chapter is really well, how do we get people to persuade themselves? Um, so just to give one example, Uh, you know, let’s take that meeting. You’re making a presentation, uh, the clients sitting their, they’re poking holes and everything.
You’re suggesting we need to give them a different job, right. Rather than giving them a one option. Often when we give people one option, they poke holes that option, what really great salespeople or consultants or others do is they give people a couple options. They give them multiple, they give them what I call providing a menu.
Two, three, maybe even four, not too many, but a couple options. Because what that does is that subtly shifts the role of the audience rather than sitting there going, well, I don’t like this option. I don’t like it. Here’s all the reasons why. They’re now thinking about which of these things do I like better, which means they’re much more likely to pick one of them at the end of the day.
Right. You’ve shifted their job. And so now they’re much more likely to go along, think about it in your personal life, right? If your spouse says, Hey, what do you want to do this weekend? You say, Oh, let’s go to the movies. They say, no, we just did that. Or no, it’s too nice outside. If we say, Hey, you want to go to the movies or you want to go get sushi? Which of those do I prefer? And because of that, they’re much more likely to go along. And so, in a sense, it’s guided choices. You’re giving people choice or allowing them to participate and have a role in that process. But you’re choosing the choice. You’re not giving them 50 options or a thousand options. Cause that’s overwhelming, even though small set of options, even setting up the options to encourage them to go in a particular direction, setting it up in a way that they want to participate and they feel like they have an, a role. So they’re more likely to go along cause they chose it.
Andy Paul: Yeah. Well, and that’s what I was referring to earlier with the differentiation between the choice and the decision is that yeah, people want options. And one thing’s Nut found out in his research is that on a corporate basis, is that one of the real problems with decision making is they formulate too few options to choose from. So this whole debate about what’s the optimal number of options, right? Their books talk about three and two and four or whatever, but I agree with you, if you want to have. You want to have multiple options. And if you’re doing a good job as a salesperson, those options all include you.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. And even by the way though, notice if sometimes it’s not your option. If, if you present options and all of them are yours, the class gonna go, of course, you’d suggest all your options. If, if you include some options from someone else they go, huh?
Well, maybe you’re actually taking my best interests at heart. And so I’m more likely to trust you. Progressive had a great campaign a few years ago where they gave people quotes, even from the competition. Which made you go, wow. If they’re willing to show me when the competition’s cheaper, I’m really going to trust these guys.
And so that’s going to be the place I’m going to go first.
Andy Paul: Yeah. But I think which is the more likely situation again in sales is that, you know, you’re just not a good fit, right. This is where you’re going to bring on the competition. And then you say, Here’s a better option for you. We’re we’re not a fit for this, right?
Yeah. And then yes, you’re in a lot of trust and sometimes that business comes back to you later and it certainly has for me in instances. Yeah, I agree. I mean, sometimes you’re not the best fit you have to be able, willing to admit you’re not the best fit because that is a trust thing.
Jonah Berger: Yes. Yeah.
Andy Paul: So, um, the other thing you talked about is, uh, ask don’t tell, and the reason that stuck in my mind is I’ve for about 10 years, I’ve been giving workshops, or I have that’s one of the titles of, one of the chapters in the workshop has asked.
Don’t tell, but. Uh, tell us what you meant by that.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. Very simple ideas as we talked about with, with reactants, you know, when you tell people what to do, they often push back. They say, no, I don’t want to do that. Um, and so sometimes asking questions is a much more effective way to get them to commit to the conclusion, right.
Because when they came up with it, They’re much more likely to stick to it. You’re sure if it’s your idea, they’re going to counter argue, but if it’s their idea, it’s going to be hard for them not to go well. Okay. I, I suggested it. And so some is really about saying, you know, take a sales context. Okay.
What are the key problems? You know, why are you searching for this particular product? What are the key problems that you’re wrestling with? What are you looking for in a solution? And so by asking you really get them to figure out, well, what’s the best fit for them. And then if you’re a good match, You end up getting them to buy into what you’re saying.
It relates actually a lot to it. Another technique which I call highlighting a gap, which is really, again, not trying to convince someone, but point out a gap between them attitudes and, and their actions. Right? So let’s say someone’s using another provider. Um, it’s not really working out for them, but they’re, they don’t want to switch.
They’ve got the status quo bias. They’re stuck with what they’re doing. They don’t want to change. You could say something like, Oh, you know, I noticed you’re still using this, this thing. Would you recommend this to your peers at another company? You’re knowing what, you know now, would you recommend someone start working with this other firm?
And they might say, well, no, of course not like their delays or their problems or this and that. And you say, okay, well then why are you still. Using that right again. Now you’re not saying use us. You’re not saying that company’s bad, but you’re pointing out a gap. If what they’re doing is not what they would recommend for someone else. And you highlight that for them. That’s going to encourage them to resolve that, that cognitive dissonance. There’s a great story in the book. That’s a-
Andy Paul: that’s a great example, by the way, for sales. To Interject here. Is that when you think about it as, yeah, you’re in, you’re just saying, Hey, how satisfied are you with what you’re using today?
Would you recommend it? And if you, as your point of view, wouldn’t recommend it. Why are you still using it?
Jonah Berger: Yeah, there’s a, there’s this great anti-smoking campaign from Thailand where they, you know, want people to get, uh, quit smoking are calling a quit line, right? Yeah. So, you know, rather than tell people not to smoke, they have some kids walk around town.
The kids ask people for a light smokers force, the smoker say no, and the kids say why? And the smokers listen to all the reasons why the kids shouldn’t smoke. You get up Zima don’t you want to go out and play all these other things. And the end of that conversation, the kids go. Okay, well then why are you still smoking right?
The hand, this little sheet of paper saying, you know, Hey, you’re worried about me, but not about yourself. Call this number to quit again. Not pushing them, not saying, Hey, that company’s terrible. Don’t work with them. Hey, my product is better, but saying, well, if you wouldn’t recommend this, some of you wouldn’t tell me to smoke. Why are you doing it yourself? Put that seed in someone’s head. Let that seed grow. And then only later come back to harvest, harvest the plant. Sometimes pushing them isn’t going to work. So highlighting that gap, encourages them to resolve the dissonance.
Andy Paul: And I think a specific example for the ask, don’t tell a little more pointed is that, that I work with companies I want to talk about, is in a more pointed solution?
It’s like when you, Hey, if you have an opportunity to express something you want to talk about your features or benefits is, you know, Hey, we can do XYZ. Dada is just turning that into a question. So. If you had the opportunity to be able to do X, Y, Z, what would the value be to your company? What would the impact be on you personally? What would the, and then get them to put it in terms of them. Right. And then they have to answer it from their context, which is what you want.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. I mean, even think about, as you’re talking, I was saying about waiters or waitresses do, right. They say, what did you enjoy most about dinner tonight? Right.
Like encouraging you to recognize the ways in which you’ve had a good time, but asking, not telling you it wasn’t dinner. Great. No, but asking you and sort of, and as you said, okay, well, if you say you care about these features, it’s hard then later, not to want to buy a product that has them. And those what you’re doing though, you’re not asking any questions.
Right because there are certain questions that are wrong. They shouldn’t questions or lead people the wrong way. You’re using questions and options to guide the journey, but not prescribed the journey. You’re not the, you’re not forcing people down a particular direction, but you’re encouraging by shaping through questions to help them see that you might actually be the best option.
Andy Paul: Right. So then you talk about, start with understanding, which I thought was a great, great part of the book. Um, so tell us about that.
Jonah Berger: We talked a little bit about that already, right? When we talked about the hostage negotiator and sort of starting with, with other people, but using questions, uh, and using, uh, the right sort of language to build that trust, to build that understanding, get a sense of where someone is coming from and then use that for, for influence. I think. I pretty well covered that already, but the idea ties into the same notion, right? If we push people, they’ll push back. And so to avoid that reactants, avoid that in a persuasion radar, start with them and start with understanding.
Andy Paul: Yeah. And I think to add onto that is more explicitly, is that for people change, they have to be willing to listen.
And I think this is the other part, but understanding is until people feel understood, oftentimes they won’t want to listen to what you have to say, and this is the part that sellers want to jump over, right? Yeah. They’ll say, yeah, I’ve got empathy, but I mean, what they really need in sales is, you know, some more of a cognitive empathy where they understand why people feel the way they do.
And you’d never gonna find that out unless you, you ask and keep asking. And that level of understanding then gets people to open up in a way that. And then listen, even in a way that they wouldn’t before.
Jonah Berger: Yeah.
Andy Paul: Alright. Um, endowment, sort of, the next one, that was, I thought that was interesting as well. Uh, you talked about, uh, we had an example of angioplasty in the book, which I thought was, was interesting about why people don’t change their diets. When they have with that.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. I mean, to me, the idea of endowment is, um, I think the simplest way to explain it as people are attached to the stuff that they’re already doing, anytime we’re trying to get someone to change, uh, you know, we’re not only ask them to do something new, which we’ll talk about maybe in a couple minutes is uncertain, it’s scary, it’s risky. I also asked him to let go of something old. They’ll tend to be really attached to the stuff that they’re doing already in the, like the stuff that they’re doing, right. Even if it’s not perfect, um, you know, they tend to be attached with the longer someone’s lived in a home, for example, uh, you know, the more they think it’s valued, even above and beyond market price cause it’s, there’s, it’s hard to imagine giving it up. Um, you know, we’re attached to the products and services we use, even the ideas, right? Our idea. If it came from us, uh, we like it more. There’s some great research for it. Example that shows, you know, uh, give someone a show, someone a mug, ask them how much they’ll pay for it and they give you a certain number. I give someone else that mug though. Uh say it’s theirs, they get to take it home with them, ask them how much did we want to sell it for someone else for you’d say what’s the same mug. It should be the same price, whether you’re buying it or selling it’s worth the same amount.
But if it’s your mug, if something you already have, you often value a two to three times, times the amount of someone who doesn’t have it already, cause it’s yours, right? It’s yours. It makes you, you value it more. And so part of the challenge, it really is to highlight the cost of an action. You know, often people think the status quo is costless, sure I’m already doing this, right?
So it’s a costless to stick with what I’m already doing, but it’s really costly to switch. But that’s not exactly right. Often that sticking with old things is actually costly. So a great study in the, in the sort of medical domain, they ask people, okay. You know, imagine you had an injury, what would hurt more, a minor injury or a major one?
You know, you sprain your ankle, you sprain your knee, sprain your finger, you break your ankle, you break your knee. And obviously people say, well, a major injury, right, a major injury causes a lot more pain. But that’s actually not right. It ends up a minor entry, causes, more pain. And the reason why is major injuries get fixed, right? You break your knee, you break your ankle, you got cast. You do it-
Andy Paul: That resonated with me because I’ve had, when I was in college, I had some horrible ankle sprains and the doctor said, you have been better off breaking them.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. Right. Cause if we break it, if it’s above that threshold, we do all the work to fix it. Whereas if it’s not that painful, we don’t do the work to fix it. And so ends up over time. That costs us a lot. And that’s often true of sort of the existing service providers someone’s using. Right. It might not be perfect, but to say, Oh, is it worth switching? And so I think part of your job as a salesperson is to highlight those costs of an action to highlight that. It actually isn’t a minor injury. It is a major one.
There’s um, a cousin of mine, for example, who, every time he wrote an email, right. Sort of best Charles or regards Charles at the bottom. And it’s always like, why don’t you put that in your email signature. Right. It’ll save you a lot of time. And he would say, well, what do you mean? It only takes, yeah. A couple of seconds. It’s a minor injury, not a major one.
I don’t know how to use a, you know, email signature, it would take some time. Um, you know, it’s not worth doing. So I would try to convince him and try to tell him how easy it was. And again, coming from my perspective, pushing him on, is that what I eventually did? I said, huh? Okay. Well, how many emails you write a day? And he said, I don’t know, 50 emails and how many write a week? And he said, I don’t know, you know, 400, 500 emails. I said, okay, Well, how much time every week do you spend writing this signature at the bottom? And he thought about it for me. And then he opens up sort of a, you know, Google search bar and types in how to automate an email signature. Sure. Because each one of those things was costless. Each one of them was a minor injury, not worth the work to fix, but put together they’re actually quite costly. And so I think part of your job as a salesperson is make someone realize that actually that status quo isn’t as safe or as costless as they might think. Yes. Each time you use it, it’s this, or each time something is delayed or each time it’s not perfect, doesn’t matter as much. It doesn’t, but put together as a whole, it’s actually quite costly and it’s worth doing the work to find something better.
Andy Paul: Well, especially if you’re dealing with the customer that, you know, surf following the sunk cost fallacy and they think, Hey, we’ve we haven’t really gotten what we wanted out of this investment in this other solution. But they tell us, you know, if we just another $10,000 or another $20,000, it’s really going to work and give us what we want this time and go through that, sort of, pattern of that. And that’s again, in that instance, to be able to show them the cost of action, big inaction in terms of sticking with what they got is very real.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. And I also think though, using the distance to help you. Right. So to say, I totally understand you’ve got that son cost. Um, you know, it’s only a little bit more to stick with them. Um, you know, if I were in your shoes, I would say, well, what point do I cut bait? Right. You know, how much more am I going to put into this before I decide to switch and get them kind of thing.
Figure that out for themselves and commit today. Cause they might say, yeah, I’ll try another 10,000, but they might not want to try another 20 or 30,000. And if they agree to that now then maybe when they get to 20, they’ll say, Oh, now, now, because each time it’s easier, right? Every time it’s easier to ignore that minor injury, but put it all together and you make them realize it’s a more major one, which makes them more willing to incur the switching costs of change.
Andy Paul: Yeah. I remember reading an article, a book by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker where he was talking about the whole sunk cost fallacy thing. And he was saying the one things that’s really important in that situation is you need to bring in like a third party, right. To be able to provide perspective on the, on the soul track. They’re going down with the sunk cost. Can that be the sales person will be that third party or does it have to be. Someone more objective.
Jonah Berger: I think you almost want to encourage the client to become that third party, but by taking distance, it’s the saying, yeah, right now, I agree you should stick with them right now.
But if it was, if things don’t change, you know, would you want to stick with them forever if they were this way and say, no, no, you know, in six months it was exactly the same. I would want to change. Cool. Well then figure out a way to test that. Right. What’s an, what’s an indicator that if it doesn’t change in six months, do you want to move?
Because why don’t we get to six months? If you don’t do something like that, you’ll say six months. And they’ll say another six months. It’s always easier when you’re in that moment, not to change, but when you step back from it, you can be that third party you can say, well, in six months, if it’s not better, this often happens in relationships, right?
When people say, Oh, this relationship isn’t perfect. But you know, I don’t know if I could meet someone better. So I’m going to stick with it. But if you say, okay, well, if it wasn’t better in six months, would you want to stick with it? Probably say, of course, I wouldn’t want to wait six months. Okay. Well then decide today that you’re going to do something in six months. If it’s not better, figure out a way to figure out if it’s better, if it’s not better than get out of it, but encouraging them again to come up with the conclusion, commit to it themselves, and almost allow them a way to measure it will help them be that third part.
Andy Paul: Yeah. You have to quantify the impact. I mean, in sales, if you’re looking at this, this gap is you have to quantify what the impact of, of an action is as you talked about, but it’s not just the impact of inaction, but also quantify what the upside would be. Yes. If the customer takes, it takes the, it takes the initiative to say, okay, well, yeah, if we, if we move to a new system and we get another point of market share or something like that, well, what’s that mean to you? What’s the dollar value of that?
Jonah Berger: Yes. Yeah. And also, I mean, we’ll probably talk about it, but sort of enable them away if, if the issue is the old thing. Right. And then it’s about pulling out the cost of an action. If the issue is the new thing and how do I know if that new thing is gonna be good, then we’ve got to do the opposite and then we gotta reduce uncertainty and make them feel more comfortable.
Andy Paul: Yeah. Well, right. Which is dealing with how do you mitigate risk with, with a lot of that, but, so when one issue I wanted to talk about, um, In the distance chapter. I thought two things that were sort of interesting. One was you talk about the movable middle, which I thought was interesting and want to explore that as well. And then also the idea of switching the field, because I think those have some real relevance, so yeah. Explain what you meant by movable middle in your distance part?
Jonah Berger: Yeah. Well, so let’s step back for a second and first talk about what we mean by, by distance. And so part of the challenge is whenever we’re trying to change minds, we’re often asking people to move farther away than they’re comfortable. And I think it’s easiest to talk about this and.
Andy Paul: Further away from where they are. So a longer distance than where they are.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. Yeah. So taking a political domain, for example, you know, think about, uh, Democrats and Republicans put them in some sense on a field, right? So very conservative on one end, very liberal on the other, and people can place themselves at any point in the field. You know, their beliefs where, where they are. It turns out there’s a range around where people are at the, at the moment it’s called the zone of acceptance. People are willing to consider information in that range. Right? So, um, uh, you know, you might be on the Democrat side of the field and sort of the 20 yard line. You’re not extremely liberal, but you’re not, you know, uh, completely the moderate. You’re willing to consider information five or 10 yards in either direction, right. You’re wanting something slightly more liberal and slightly more conservative than you are. But outside of that falls in the region of rejection.
Right. It falls in a zone that you are unwilling to even consider that, that information. Um, and the problem is that many times we try to convince people. We fall in that region of rejection. There was a great study that was done at Duke a couple of years ago, uh, where they look at politics and they say, Hey, come, just giving people information about the other side get them to become more moderate.
You know, not even trying to convince them, but just to give them information about what Republicans think or, you know, what Democrats think and vice versa. And what they found is not only did it not work, but actually polarized giving Democrats information, Republicans made them become more liberal and giving Republicans information about Democrats became the more conservative.
Why? Because that information was kind of too far away from where they were at the moment. It wasn’t something that they’re even willing to consider and it makes them think they’re even there.\ Own beliefs are more right. And
Andy Paul: so one thing that is critical about that though, is that they were giving them the truth though. They weren’t, they weren’t, there wasn’t a know they were at the dump. I find rest of the book is the Democrats. You’re giving them factual information, not, uh, not propaganda. And the, and it was the, it was the truth. It was the truth that dissuaded them, which I thought was fascinating.
Jonah Berger: Yeah, but, but again, right, if it’s too far from kind of where you are, you’re not even willing to listen. Lots of research on the confirmation bias, talks about this, you know, our, what information we consider, what we look for, but also whether we can even consider that information depends where it is relative to us on the field. Um, and so, well, how do we then shrink distance? And so I talk about a few ways to do that.
You know, one is what I call asking for less, uh, that I think is, is really useful in these types of situations. So, um, there was a doctor, for example, that I, that I talked to was trying to get someone to stop drinking soda. Obese trucker was drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day, obviously a lot of sugar in mountain dew.
Andy Paul: I was just envisioning how often he had to stop.
Jonah Berger: Well, if you’re in a truck all day, you gotta drink something. And our tendency in that situation is to want that person to move a lot right away. Stop drinking soda. Makes a lot of sense to us, really hard for that person to do. Right. Really hard for them to go from one side of the field, completely opposite. Right, right away. And so what she does is she takes a different approach. She starts by asking for lash. She says, Hey, I know that you like soda. I know that it’s easy for you to drink. I know that you love mountain Dew. I’m not going to ask you to quit. But rather than drinking three liters a day, try cutting it down to two and drinking a liter of water.
Instead the guy grumbled, he didn’t want to do it, but eventually he did it. Right. It was in that zone of acceptance was close enough. He did it. When he came back for his next visit, he says, great. Congratulations. You’ve done two liters. That’s fine. Now try to cut it down to one. He grumbles again, he doesn’t want to do it, cuts it down to one.
And then she comes back and says, okay, now you’ve got it down to one, cut it down to zero when he grumbles. But eventually does it guy loses over 30 pounds because she didn’t just ask for less. She asked for lee, then she asked for more. I would essentially, what she did is he took a big change. She chunked it into smaller, smaller chunks. Product designers often talk about this as stepping stones, right? Building, stepping stones, take a big change, one that’s very scary, it’s far and distant in a way. Break it down into smaller chunks and make it feel more comfortable jumped to this version of the product than the next one. Then the next one you ask people to do all of it right away.
They’ll say, no, river’s too big. I’m going to get wet. It’s scary. But you break it down into smaller chunks they’re more willing to do it. And so the idea there then is, Hey, if I’m asking someone to do a lot, don’t try to get them to go from one side of the field, to the other, trying to get them to start doing a small movement that will move them in the right direction, shift their position in the field ask for a little bit.
Andy Paul: Yeah, no, I agree a hundred percent. I mean, and in my first book I had that chapter about. Start each relationship with the smallest engagement possible. I mean, if you’re trying to sell into a bigger account and I came from the background working for startups that were selling large complex communication systems, worth millions of dollars. Sometimes the price we were selling was more than our revenues. Right. So from a risk perspective, the customer is never going to buy a big one from us. So we found that, Hey, if we really wanted to get in the door, then yeah we’d start with a small ask.
Jonah Berger: Yes. And also even connecting that to what we talked about earlier with the idea of being upstream, right? Not only what is it. A small ass, but what’s the right small ask. Right? So a lot of times now we’ll maybe talk about this when we get to distance, but companies use a version of the freemium model, right? Where we give something away for free and we encourage people to upgrade to a premium version and why that works really nicely, not only does it mitigate the risk of lower the barrier to trial, but once they’ve gotten in, right. If what you do is you create barriers to switching. Now they’re going to stay with you. Right. And so giving away the right thing earlier, figuring out, well, what’s the right thing upstream in that journey. Once they’re using us for this, they’ll want to use us for other things, right? Maybe we say, okay, we’ll give away a certain service or certain product line or a certain thing for free, or almost subsidize the cost because once you’re using us for that, you’ll be much more willing to use some of these other more expensive services. And it’s sometimes a way in which your, you know, ecosystem you’ll stay there.
Andy Paul: Let’s explore that one. Cause there seems to be less usage of the freemium model these days. And this seems to have been a pushback on it, or some reason, or companies found that they weren’t able to convert enough of their free users to so, and so what are you seeing in that regard?
Jonah Berger: Yeah, so I would say two things. So first of all, I still think freemiums quite useful. I see many organizations using it,
Andy Paul: Oh yeah it’s still out there, but not, not the way it was before or five, 10 years ago.
Jonah Berger: Uh, that may be true, but I mean, think about, you know, Dropbox built a billion dollar business on it. Uh, LinkedIn, Skype, New York times, many sort of softwares, the service models use freemium. But to me what’s more interesting is not freemium itself, but the principle that freemium is, is built on, right? Because many B2B companies I work with say, Oh yeah, this idea of freemium is great. Like if I gave away something that was cheap and I could do that, that’d be wonderful. But I was working with a fleet management company, for example, they said, well, We can’t really give away cars for free. How would that work or, or hospital system or what is that thing that we’re going to give away for free? And so freemium works really well if you’re the New York Times where there’s no cost to giving away an article or two, I think many companies that sell physical goods have a hard time understanding the idea of freemium, but think for a moment about like taking a test drive of a car, say you walked into a car dealership and said, okay, you know, I’d like to check out this car.
And they said, great, okay, it’s 30,000 and then we’ll let you sit inside and see whether you like it or not. Well, nobody would buy a new car if you had to pay all the money up front, of course you wouldn’t buy a new car. Cause it’s too uncertain. You don’t know whether you’re going to like the brand. And so what car companies do is they create test drives.
Now let’s be careful. Test drives are not freemium. It’s not a free version of a product. And they try to upgrade you to the premium version of the product. It’s just test driving a car, but the principle is the same, right? Because all of what this is, is really about switching costs. Anytime there’s something new.
You have to pay costs. Whether it’s monetary costs have to pay for the product or service what’s time costs. I have to figure out how to integrate it with existing systems, whether it’s effort, cost, I have to learn how to use it. And so all those costs are often upfront. Whereas the benefits are later, right?
I have to pay you all this money and I have to install it service and do all this work before I actually have to see if it’s better. Well, why would I want to do that? Right. All of us say, okay, well I’ll eat the good stuff. Now eat the cheeseburger now. And I’ll exercise later, what are good stuff now? And the cost later.
And so that’s this cost benefit, timing, gap, right? Costs are now benefits or later costs or certain benefits are uncertain. And so, yeah. What lowering that barrier trial nicely does with freemium, with test drives with any of these ideas that sort of lower that barrier do, as they say, let’s push off some of those costs to later and let’s bring up some of those benefits to sooner. Not only they reduce the cost, but they reduce the biggest barrier, which is uncertainty. Now you get a sense of whether you like it or not. And if you like it, you’ll be much more likely to buy it.
Andy Paul: Okay. Now there’s a huge counter example out there though these days, which is Tesla, because you know, they’ve sold.
Hundreds of thousands of cars and no one test drives them.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. But the question is not, can we think of a successful counterexample? The question is would Tesla be even more successful if they did test drives. Right. And so the nice thing about being a scientist is you can say let’s analyze a whole bunch of cases.
Look at a bunch of things that use something and a bunch of things that don’t and see whether the ones that use this stuff are less successful. And there’s a lot of research. Uh, you even going back to the great work of Everett, Rogers and early sort of researcher and diffusion on the benefits of lowering the barrier to trial, to increasing uptake.
And so I certainly think, you know, not every company that’s successful has used a model like freemium or test drives, but most companies that have used those things become more successful as a result. I’m even thinking that, you know, you go to the grocery store, right. That piece of smoked sausage, or that a little bit of food on isle free, that they give you the taste. It makes me more likely to buy it. Right. It’s not to say that every brand that’s successful has used that, but it’s helped a lot of brands be more successful than they would have been otherwise.
Andy Paul: Okay, so we’re running short on time, but I’ve got one, one last point I wanted to talk about that I thought was fascinating. Under your chapter of corroborating evidence. Is this issue of timing? I hadn’t seen this before about, uh, in your case, you’re talking about spacing invitations more close together than otherwise, and sort of hitting the customer up with the message in a shorter period of time, multiple touches. Uh, tell us about that. Cause I thought that was really interesting.
Jonah Berger: Yeah. So, um, you know, I talk about in the idea in the book of when we’re trying to change minds, sometimes they’re pebbles and sometimes they’re boulders. Pebbles, a little bit of thing. It doesn’t take a lot of work to move a pebble. It takes more work to move a boulder.
Um, and we often think, well, if we just come back to that, uh, you know, prospect with more information, they’ll change their mind. Uh, but often it can’t come from us. Right. Because if it just comes from us, people say, well, of course, you’re self interested. You’re not gonna change my mind. There’s an old adage. Of one person says you have a tale, you laugh, but a five people say, you have a tail, you turn around and take a look. If multiple people say the same thing, it adds enough evidence to tip the scales to move that boulder. But as you’re saying, it’s not just about the numbers or of people. It’s about when you hear from those people, right?
If you hear from one person a day, and one person tomorrow, and sometimes there’s enough evidence to move that boulder, but it turns out you hear from one person today and another person, six months from now, it’s almost like the weight that’s being put on the scale to move that boulder isn’t just, let’s say water, for example, it’s like an ice cube.
And if you wait too long that water melts and there’s not enough proof to drive, to drive action. That water in some sense evaporates. We did some research looking at adoption of new website, for example. Where we found, Hey, more people that invite you to join this website, you’re more likely to join the site, but it’s not just about the number of invites you receive. It’s about when you receive those invites. The closer they are in time, the more concentrated they are in time. The more you go, Hey, lots of people are doing this. The more that water doesn’t evaporate more gets you above that threshold to, to drive behavior. And so what that suggests is, Hey, you know, if I’m trying to convince someone, I want them to talk to existing clients, but not just anytime. I’ll let them hear from a few existing clients in close succession to push them over the threshold to take, to take action. Sure. If I’m gonna invite them to a dinner with clients. Great. But I want to follow that up with them, hearing from someone else to give them enough evidence in a coordinated fashion that there’s enough pressure on that one side of the scale to move even a boulder in the right direction.
Andy Paul: I was just thinking of some practical standpoint. If you were trying to put together a short video that had five customers giving you testimonials it probably better off making five short videos that you sent in, this are relatively close succession.
Jonah Berger: Yes. Yeah. And I also think, even though those testimonials, right, we want to encourage people to get those testimonials themselves. Because if, if you, the sales person say, Hey, call John, here’s his phone number, right. Or, you know, here’s the testimony from John?
I’m like, well, you picked John because John is great. Right. But if you, if you say, okay, here’s a bunch of people call whoever you want now, suddenly I’m going well, Hey, this guy must really think their customers like them. Cause they want to let me talk to anybody and it’s a much more likely to believe that information I get rather than sort of a prerecorded testimonial, which might’ve edited all the parts where they weren’t as happy.
Andy Paul: Well, unfortunately run out of time. Um, but it’s been, we still have parts of the book we didn’t cover, but uh, so tell people. Yeah, where they can find out more about the book and connect with you.
Jonah Berger: Sure. The book is available. Wherever books are sold, it’s already a New YorkTtimes and Wall Street Journal bestseller, which is great, but it’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, uh, wherever you might, uh, get your books.
Uh, you can also find out about me, uh, at Jonahberger.com. There’s a lot of free resources. There are things like how to change your boss’s mind, how to change a client’s mind, a bunch of stuff if you’re not so sure about the book yet but you want to dip your toe in and find out more, some resources you can download it.
Andy Paul: This was your, your trial here, this, this podcast. So we’ve reduced that barrier to buying the book, purchase the book. It’s a good book. I recommend it, Jonah. Thank you very much for joining me.
Jonah Berger: Thanks so much for having me.