How to influence your prospect’s memory and decisions
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A 2021 Bain & Co. investigation found that 92% of global B2B buyers prefer virtual sales interactions – up 17 percentage points from its May 2020 survey. Additionally, 79% of salespeople embrace the effectiveness of virtual sales, up from 54% in 2020.
The data is not surprising. Virtual sales are often profitable and allow more meetings with prospects. However, flexibility or cost effectiveness does not necessarily mean that virtual communication is effective.
What makes communication effective? As a cognitive neuroscientist, I suggest looking at communication effectiveness through the lens of what your audience remembers after your interaction. After all, your audience will make decisions in your favor based on what they remember, not what they forget.
Related: 4 Powerful Communication Strategies to Win Any Sales Pitch
Since memory influences decisions, you have to ask yourself: what do I want my audience to remember? This question is more complex than it seems at first glance, because memory is multifaceted. There are several ways to make something memorable. In this article, you’ll see a framework for creating memorable messages that influence decisions.
When you present something to an audience, like your value proposition, it can form two types of memories: verbatim and gist. Textual memories faithfully record the superficial details of an experience, while essential memories store the general themes or meaning of the content.
Think of textual and essential memories as part of a continuum bounded by specificity. This continuum helps you determine whether an audience should remember exactly what did you say or kind of What you said. Here’s how to use verbatim-gist briefs to your advantage during your next sales pitch, so you can better control what listeners remember:
1. Clarify the level of specificity
In a recent study in neuroscience we conducted in our lab, we monitored the brain’s reaction to a sales pitch on a software application that helps salespeople track their quotas. We wanted participants to remember two phrases: “Aligning business goals with seller goals” and “Incentivizing the right to sell more.”
Two days later, when asked what message they remembered, people said things like, “How to align company goals with employee goals by compensating employees the right way.” “Make sure your salespeople’s goals are aligned with yours so you can motivate them to sell more” and “This software gives companies and their sales staff a new way to track compensation and drive sales .”
Much of the original sentence structure has been lost (this is to be expected), but some of the flagged words matched our intent (“align”, “goals”, “sell more”). The gist was accurate, even though “sell more” became “increase sales”, for example.
With your messages, clarify the specificity of the memories you want others to take away. Should people walk away with a word-for-word message, or is the gist enough? I recommend striving for more specificity (near verbatim) about your main message or key takeaways, especially if you’re operating in a highly competitive space. The verbatim will serve your cause, because they are precise, and they will help you to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Aim for the precise essential concerning your points of support.
How to achieve a balance between the essential and the verbatim? Ask yourself these two questions: “If I asked my audience what they remember in 48 hours, what would I be satisfied to hear?” and “How accurately should they remember my main message?” These questions will instill discipline in your thinking because they will reveal whether you know the most important takeaways. It will also help you measure how closely the memories your audience brings back match your ideal messages. As a result, you will know what to adjust in your content.
Related: If your sales pitch misses this step, you may miss the sale
2. Achieving Verbatim Through Repetition
Repetition is an intuitive guideline when it comes to memory, because what is reinforced is more likely to stick.
Despite this, professionals avoid repetition for several reasons: they believe that repetitive messages seem too corrective or that their audience can hear something once and remember it later. If you only show or say something once (unless it has a shocking quality), it’s unlikely to stick. People forget quickly, so if you want them to remember your message verbatim, you need to repeat it.
In a workshop I teach on the neuroscience of being memorable, for example, the message I want people to remember is “Control your 10%.” I frequently remind participants that I would like them to remember this statement verbatim, and I also state the reason why: when you control what people remember, you improve your persuasiveness. In our sales presentation researchwe noticed that returning to the same message once a minute gives you verbatim memory control.
Once you have found the verbatim you want others to remember, repeat it consistently without paraphrasing. Repetition works well when accompanied by consistency, because the brain tends to censor incoherent information. In addition, repeated statements are more frequently judged to be true.
Although verbatim and gist are processed in parallel, gist is processed quickly, while verbatim processing takes longer (especially with complex information). Complex visual content, for example, requires multiple fixations to be fully encoded due to the small portion of the image that falls on the fovea (the center of the eye’s field of vision) at any given time.
Moreover, the number of visual fixations is correlated with memory for visual scenes, and prolonged viewing leads to a more detailed representation of a scene. So when repeating your main messages, especially if they are complex, don’t rush, give people plenty of time to process the information.
Related: How to Innovate Your Brand Through Visual Thinking
3. Keeps mostly accurate
The problem with forgettable content isn’t just in how people encode, store, and retrieve memories, but also in the accuracy of those memories. Why are memories generally imperfect and unreliable? Do humans fundamentally suffer from dysfunctional cognitive processing?
Although this is true in some cases (e.g. frontal lobe damage, extreme stress, temporal lobe damage), most scientists agree that distortions in human memory are not a sign of a impaired cognitive processing, but rather adaptive processing.
Memories are often distorted when people encounter things that are perceptually or conceptually related. If you see words like “candy, sugar, taste, tooth”, it’s easy to think later that you’ve also seen the word “sweet”. This is adaptive, as the generation of associations is important for conserving cognitive energy and is an essential part of convergent thinking and creativity.
People also distort memories due to social conformity. Sometimes people change their memories when told what others remembered. Given this, how can you ensure that audiences not only get the gist, but exact the essential, especially when the content is complex?
First, help the audience frequently synthesize complex meanings and provide abstract interpretations. This allows your prospects to see things as you see them. At regular intervals, check understanding with questions such as, “What do you think of all this?” Clarify again if people have misunderstood.
Second, consider the lead time and amount of exposure. If you expect someone to make a decision weeks after you met, and they’ve only been exposed to your information once and briefly, jog their memory. Do it through a proposal that matches the presentation you made weeks ago or schedule a new meeting. This reinforces the main point, reminds the audience of your textual differentiator, and improves accuracy.
4. Question the expertise of experts
As a professional, you may prefer to work with experts because they understand the content better, have more interesting questions, and can even help you. you see things differently. However, as people develop and gain experience, they are more likely to make inferences that go beyond surface detail – and are more likely to confuse inferences with memory.
Even higher intelligence has been associated with higher levels of gist-based but false memory! When it comes to processing information, remembering it, and making decisions, experts rely on meaningful and qualitative distinctions between general parts of content rather than precise details.
How to counter the danger of inaccurate expert reports? Ask them to reflect on their judgments and decisions so they can notice similarities between the documents or inconsistencies between the answers. This is useful because people generally try to maintain consistency between decisions by monitoring their responses and inhibiting those that seem inconsistent, regardless of their actual preferences.
One way to know if hunches or reasoning based on the essential is correct is to ask yourself if a specific area has a lot of regularities, if you have a lot of practice in it, and you generally receive immediate feedback on the relevance of decisions.
A final note on the verbatim-gist continuum: verbatim memories are more common in young adults, while gist is more typical in older people. Experimental manipulations that induce text processing make adults behave as if they were younger. By balancing word for word and substance with the help of these guidelines, you will not only enable others to remember what is important, but you will also give them a precious gift: to feel younger.