• Robb G. Best

To Buy or Not to Buy, that is the question


Every day, billions of dollars are exchanged for goods or services in that most American pastime known as shopping. Some people are addicted and some approach it like a firing squad, but sooner or later we all find ourselves partaking. Arguably, shopping is what sets us apart from the animals.

What you might not have considered is just what goes on inside your brain during the shopping experience.

Suppose you want to buy something. It could be tires for your car, a house, a cell phone, or a sandwich--in any case, it all starts with a product, and a thought experiment. We imagine how that new dress will look at the party this Saturday, or how that new genuine leather wallet will slip comfortably into your pocket. Your brain follows a simple pattern: once a product grabs your attention, you project forward, imagining your new life with that item. If the scenario you've fabricated goes well, you're far more likely to buy.

So maybe I'm standing in the Apple store, considering the new iPhone 5 and its potential to connect me with everyone in the known universe--or, truth be told, the 150 people I actually know. (Anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that's the maximum number of meaningful relationships you can maintain during a given time period.)

As I feel the weight of that phone in my sweaty little hand, the simulation begins. If I get a little squirt of dopamine (the brain's "atta boy" or "atta girl" drug), I'm probably going to open up my old wallet and shell out the money. (Cash reserves being what they are, the new wallet now takes a backseat to the phone purchase in this particular example.)

However, if I grab that iPhone 5 and immediately picture myself dropping it on the unforgiving concrete sidewalk outside the store, my interest could evaporate in a burst of imaginary screen shards.

This is where the ninja salesperson steps in to redirect. I'm talking about the 4 out of any hundred salespeople who radically outperform the rest of the herd. One of the secrets to the ninja salesperson's success is their ability to spin a new mental tomorrow-land, one with a happy ending.

It goes something like, "Imagine how much enjoyment you'll get when you see your grandmother's face on the screen, the grandma you probably haven't seen since last Thanksgiving. That's precisely the magic that Apple's FaceTime mode brings to you." Now that's assuming that you actually like your grandmother, and of course, that she also has traded up from her old flip phone to an iPhone with FaceTime capabilities. Neither of which the savvy salesperson is likely to point out to you. Instead that image of your grandparent's smiling face on the little glass screen becomes the tipping point and voila, you are in the final lap of the race to purchase.

What's the difference between the ninja salesperson and the rest of the 96%? The ninja has mastered how to leverage the word imagine, coupled with a specific and succinct narrative that moves you into the future. Many salespeople simply describe the product's functionality and expect the consumer to do the emotional heavy lifting. No anticipated happy outcome means no squirt of dopamine and no squirt of dopamine means no purchase. It's as simple as that.

So the moral of this story is if you're looking to hold on to your hard earned cash, keep your imagination in check and beware of the ninja. There may only be 4% of them, but they can do an inordinate amount of fiscal damage.


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