The salespeople on our team, much like salespeople everywhere, were struggling to make sales by using a loser’s formula. During nearly every sales call, they shifted from persona to persona, appealing to whatever emotional state the buyer was in at that moment. It boiled down to five different personas, or archetypes. This change from persona to persona confuses buyers, who crave consistency and certainty from people they’re doing business with. These are the five personas that make up the Loser’s Formula, listed in order of their appearance in most sales presentations:

  1. The Ultimate Nice Guy
  2. The ShamWow Guy
  3. The Sorcerer
  4. The Angel
  5. The Wolf

I’ll break these down in a bit more detail.

1. The Ultimate Nice Guy

At the top of a sales call, most people start by putting on the Ultimate Nice Guy persona. In other words, we play it safe. We want above all else to be liked, and we try to achieve this by seeking common ground. Great to talk to you today! Where are you calling from? Really, my uncle used to live in Houston, hot down there in the summer. Plans for the weekend? Fishing! I love fishing, my grandfather used to . . . Then, shifting to work topics, it goes a little like this: What kind of business are you in? Oh, that’s awesome, I love pest control! The Ultimate Nice Guy is the first archetype or mask that salespeople fall into because it is the easiest and safest approach. No one is going to complain about a pleasant, approachable, friendly start to a call. This leads to surface-level conversation: current news, weather, sports, empty exchanges.

What’s wrong with a nice guy? At a basic level, nothing, and it’s certainly true people are more likely to do business with us if they like us. Look, I get it—the impulse at the top of the meeting is to impress upon others we are nice and relatable and have common ground with the buyer. But the real problem with the Ultimate Nice Guy persona is that it signals to the buyer how much power he has over us. Once we have lost status (and given away our power) we shift from the Ultimate Nice Guy archetype into the ShamWow Guy archetype, who will go on to explain all the features of the product or idea.

2. The ShamWow Guy

People expect to know what it is we’re selling, right? So we start listing the best features of the product, our most famous customers, the five-star ratings, our incredible customer service reputation, and our recent industry awards. This is where we become the ShamWow Guy.

For those who haven’t seen the ShamWow commercials, here’s some background:

Over three weekends in the summer of 2007, Israeli-born filmmaker and entrepreneur Offer Shlomi shot a two-minute commercial extolling the virtues of the ShamWow, a cleaning towel that promised to soak up twelve times its weight in spilled liquids and revolutionize your life. Shlomi handled the yellow cloth with the dexterity of a stage magician, wiping up small puddles and blotting soda-soaked carpets, describing an endless list of features for what was basically a thirty-five-cent kitchen cloth. Nobody was better than Shlomi at hyping features.

When we’re in the ShamWow archetype, we similarly spring into action listing everything our product can do, has done, and might do in the future. It has a hundred terabytes; we are the only ones with hyper-threading; we’re FINRA compliant; we can do it in four weeks when everyone else takes six weeks or longer. Oh, and did I mention it comes with free shipping, a 15 percent discount, and a money-back guarantee?

Of course, this information overload usually doesn’t get through to the buyer unless he already has idea receptors built for whatever we’re trying to tell him. Once all the best and brightest features and facts of the product are out on the table we realize, Yikes! I need to explain how these features will actually benefit the buyer. And then, yet another transformation begins.

3. The Sorcerer

The Juiceman juicer was one of the first products to be sold and brands built through the infomercial format. The Juiceman show featured energetic pitchman Jay Kordich, who blends an orange, a carrot, and some parsley, then goes on to explain how fantastic the rest of your life will be once you’re able to do this in your own kitchen. You’ll soon be smarter, more handsome, and more attractive to both men and women. After buying this product, you’ll date and marry the person of your dreams, who is also smart, ravishing, athletic, and rich. You’ll have beautiful children together who will be good at math, play polo with the Rockefeller kids, win national chess competitions, attend Harvard, invent a cryptocurrency, and buy you a retirement mansion in Malibu.

The Sorcerer archetype explains how each of the product’s amazing features will benefit the buyer in many exciting (but unverifiable) ways. He or she spins the features into a set of magical benefits. Depending on individual personality, there may be a little sleight of hand here with the numbers, some showmanship with a demonstration, and possibly the sharing of “secrets.” (“You didn’t hear it from me, but this is the same software Jerry Seinfeld uses to keep track of his ninety-seven Porsches.”) The Sorcerer mask will stay on until the buyer is sold on how great life will be after going into business with us.

4. The Angel

Now that we’ve given the buyer all the information he ever wanted (and never wanted) about our products and ideas, and we’ve tried to get him super excited about the benefits our products offer, we really need to know the chances of closing the deal—high or low, good or bad? Now it feels time to do a “trial close” and see how close or far we really are to making some money. Who better to test the waters without causing a ripple in the pond than the Angel persona? She is a sweet, kind cherub who looks and sounds easy-going, wonderful to work with, submissive, and eager to please as she asks, “So what do you think? Is this something you’d be interested in? Any questions before we move forward?”

By this time in the sale, the buyer has been talking to just one person, but he’s encountered four different characters, each of them formulaic and unimaginative, each completely self-serving and predictable. It’s off-putting and the buyer starts to wonder, “Who are you really? What are your values, what do you stand for, and how far will you go just to make the deal?”

The buyer’s caution grows as time goes on, even as he is controlling the sale and owning the relationship. He will decide what happens next, how fast things will progress, and ultimately what the final price will be—if a deal is even to be made. But first, he will respond to the Angel’s trial close by introducing objections, himself testing the waters for discounts, free upgrades, and other signs of weakness.

The buyer offers, “Well, you know, it’d be really hard for us to switch accounting software so late in the year; we haven’t fully budgeted for this kind of expense. It’s good to know what our options are.” The Angel has done little but push the buyer to voice a full range of objections. As the Angel is overwhelmed, these objections must be overcome, and the final transformation takes shape.

5. The Wolf

Things are getting hairy, and the final sales archetype now emerges. With the first glimmer of an objection, like the first rays of moonlight falling on a man with the werewolf curse, the Angel rapidly transforms into the Wolf. The Wolf jumps on the buyer’s objections to wrangle him into submission and make the objections irrelevant in hopes each one will be dropped, clearing the way to a sale. In practice, the dramatic switch from the Angel to the Wolf is a shock to the buyer, who doesn’t know how to respond. He clearly does not enjoy dealing with the Wolf archetype because we have suddenly turned combative and aggressive, but what is even more off-putting is that by this point in the call or presentation, we have taken on the personality of five very different characters. The long-suffering buyer is tired, and doesn’t have much energy left for thoughtful debate and considering purchasing options. He either agrees to buy knowing he will drop out later, or pumps the brakes, explaining that no decision can be made until his partner reviews the proposal. (We have not heard of this partner or “committee” previously because they may not even exist.)

Knowing we default to these five archetypes in the course of a sale, I have long wondered why. Why do we move through these dramatically different personas as we try to sell someone a product, service, or idea?

The cognitive psychologists on my payroll have explained it this way: The human brain is programmed to respond to the immediate demands of any social situation and modify our behavior accordingly. The demands of any presentation push us naturally into a pattern of behavior, virtually every time the same. So as our behavior adapts to what the buyer wants to hear, the classic archetypes of Ultimate Nice Guy, ShamWow guy, Sorcerer, Angel, and Wolf appear in response. While each archetype serves the immediate purpose, the summary effect is negative.

In the final analysis, the buyer concludes, “This guy has multiple personalities!” The problem is, the human brain is built to seek out relationships that offer consistency in character. We desperately want to build a matrix of reliable and predictable social relationships, because we have a deep desire to feel like we understand and control our world and can predict who will do what, and when. With the typical sales script, however, it’s impossible for the buyer to form a consistent mental model of the real you because of the personality changes through five different archetypes. It’s easy to imagine how this kind of wearing of masks triggers alarm bells, leading the buyer to conclude that something is wrong here—“This salesperson keeps changing who he really is to chase the sale. And who will he become after I give him the money or agreement? I’m not sure I’ve seen that character yet, or that I want to.”

The solution, of course, is to stop modulating behavior as you move through a presentation. But what, exactly, should you replace it with? By studying Elias and dozens of other naturals in the art of compellingness, I’ve discovered the answer lies in flipping the script.

This article is excerpted with permission from “Flip the Script: Getting People to Think Your Idea Is Their Idea” by Oren Klaff, to be published on August 13 by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. © 2019 by Oren Klaff.

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