One of the most popular TED talks of all time is Simon Sinek’s 2009 presentation titled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” The whole video is worth a watch, but the crux of Sinek’s argument is that the most moving and inspiring messages — from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Apple — are delivered with a simple formula: They start with why before they ever talk about the what and the how.
Though Sinek’s framing of the formula was novel, the formula itself has been a part of persuasion for centuries. When you talk about why you do something or why you believe in what you’re proposing, you appeal to a deeper emotional connection that tends to be more powerful than the logical argument that comes later.
In sales, we intuitively understand this (to a point), and virtually every approach to sales attempts to leverage this idea of starting with why. Too often, however, we still try to persuade on the strength of our logical argument alone. In a high-stakes sales scenario, where your job is likely not only to convince the prospect of your value but also to displace the incumbent, forgetting the emotional argument — the why — can lead to failure.
With our clients, we often share this quote:
“If your approach fails to engage the rational and emotional, it will lead to inaction. It’s easier to make no decision than a good one, as logic alone rarely is enough to overcome the status quo. Disruptive change is as much about following your gut as your head.”
And the gut is driven by that emotional why. We also forget that starting with why is critical for almost any professional conversation, even if it’s not a sales call.
The problem is all too often that we don’t talk to prospects or clients as peers. We enter the conversation as the expert, and while we are certainly subject matter experts, we sometimes let that superiority cloud our empathy. We feel so strongly about being the expert that we forget to bring the other party along for the ride, assuming that they understand the why of our conversation as clearly as we do. In practice, being the subject matter expert while still talking to the prospect or client as a peer is far most effective.
Here’s a recent example from our own work at The PT Services Group: