Context, Urgency and The Lizard Brain


I wanted to share this post from Harvard Business Review, written by Tim Riesterer.  What initially “engaged” me was a great headline: Stimulate Your Customer’s Lizard Brain to Make a Sale.  Points for Tim; the title stopped me immediately.  It made me act.  Just like Tim intended.

“The lizard brain” is a phrase first introduced to me by Seth Godin who defines it as “hungry, scared, angry, and horny.” It is primal.  It cares what everyone else thinks and is the source of resistance to change.  It is our autopilot, its sole purpose is to survive and it embraces status quo.  The lizard brain is afraid of change; change is not safe.

The core premise of Riesterer’s message is that to be successful, marketing and sales must overcome a prospect’s primal resistance to change, but that most focus on the wrong message.

Any message designed to change behavior must create a compelling sense of urgency.  It must change the perception of the survival instinct, to convince it that change is now safer than the status quo.

Riesterer cites several research findings in his analysis:

  • The Sales Benchmark Index – “nearly 60% of qualified leads fall victim to the status quo.” While most marketers and salespeople believe they are selling against the competition, they fail to see the most important competitor – the status quo.
  • Forrester Research found that 65% of high-level decision makers give their business to vendors that create the “buying vision”
  • Executives want vendors to tell them something they don’t already know about a problem or opportunity.  Instead, most only talk about themselves.

In complex B2B marketing and sales, decision makers need companies to be consultative. Vendors who provide experience, vision, and insight into increasingly complex business challenges are the ones that offer true value to the role of any decision maker.

The tendency of companies to talk mostly about themselves is a messaging problem pervasive in B2B marketing.  For internal marketing groups in particular, it is safe lizard brain behavior.  After all, every organization embraces the message about how well their solutions perform.  Drink the Kool-Aid, share the Kool-Aid.

The digital world is in hyper-drive competing for our attention.  Messaging must instantly capture attention and hold it.  Which means the message must have meaning and context for your target audience.  Know them; speak to their business needs in their terms. Create urgency and communicate a vision for change and proof points that trump the evil status quo.

Don’t get me wrong; status quo can be a great thing.  My wife, my kids and my friends – those are the parts of status quo that I wish I could preserve in perpetuity.  In business, marketing and sales, status quo is dangerous. As a marketer and content strategist, I hate “status quo.” It is lethal.

Please share your own thoughts and experiences.

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