This past weekend, I heard a news story about one of the big movie theater chains. Apparently, some months ago, one of the big chains decided to offer consumers a few choices. Now that many theaters are converting to a system based on assigned seating (very convenient for those of us who buy tickets online and show up at the last minute), they beta tested the idea of consumers being able to pay more for a premium location seat (center/halfway back) or to pay less for one of the less desirable seats (back of theater, very front row, etc). The news story was about how the test was being shut down, because they found very consumers were willing to pay more for a better seat, or use a discount for a less desirable seat. When I heard this story on the radio, I commented to my wife that I could have saved the movie theater company time and money and told them this idea would fail. Not because I’m a fortune teller, but because my sales training makes me aware of the pain/pleasure index.

ALL human decisions, including and especially buying something are made for one of two reasons. That’s right, all human decision making comes down to a binary choice, that neuroscience calls the pain/pleasure index.

The two choices are:

– Avoid Pain

– Seek Pleasure/Gain

As I have mentioned numerous times before, most of the decision making process is powered by the limbic or lizard brain. That primal part in the middle of the brain controls a lot of our actions, and it has ZERO CAPACITY for language. Logic, math, rationale does not factor into the limbic brain influence on decisions.

Science also tells us a few more important things:

– An average person makes 70% of their daily decisions motivated by avoiding pain. Over a 2/1 advantage compared to seeking gain/pleasure

– Avoiding pain holds far more weight in the limbic brain than seeking gain. They are not equally considered. Our system will default to avoiding pain over seeking gain.

Not surprisingly, the gain of a better seat was not worth the extra few bucks for most movie ticket buyers presented with the option. Equally unsurprisingly, the pain of sitting in a “bad seat” was not offset by the discount of a few dollars. This was predictable because of basic human neuroscience. If the bad seats had been offered for free, maybe a few more people would have opted in. If the good seats had been offered for a penny, or a nickel more, maybe more people would have taken that option, but the lesson is that it takes far more upside to motivate decisions than it takes avoiding downside to.

Think of all your sales materials, from emails to brochures to talk tracts to presentation/demo materials. My educated guess is that far more of it is aimed at talking about what a client might benefit from than at what problems they solve or avoid by using your product or service.

It’s not that features and benefits never work. Sometimes they do. What it comes down to is that people will do more to avoid pain than they will to seek pleasure. 

The 20% of salespeople who generate the 80% of sales in the world understand that. 

They Look for pain.

They find pain.

They get their clients to see that pain.

They get their clients to realize they can solve that pain.

The best part of this, is that if you do all of this, you never need to “Close” anyone. They close themselves. 

The Movie Theater scenario was an accidental experiment. What it did was confirm decades of neuroscience and hundreds if not thousands of similar experiments. You don’t have that kind of time. While you may not be able to quantify these numbers exactly (as in how much of a discount would get someone to take a bad seat in a movie theater), you can design your sales materials and your sales approach to be focused on finding and confirming pain, versus spouting off features and benefits. That alone will get you more sales.