Simon Sinek

Just. Stop. Talking.


In recent conversations and workshops with customers I find myself continually revisiting Simon Sinek’s classic 2009 TedX talk, “The Golden Circle,”which is also the key theme in his best-selling book Start with Why. If you watch the full video, pay particular attention at about 5:40 and he explains the biological reasons why we tend to be purpose-driven mammals who are motivated by meaning and mission.

According to Simon, the newer portion of our brains – the neo cortex – is language driven and can understand and process vast amounts of complex information. The problem is, that part of our brain simply doesn’t drive decision making. So throw all the technical detail and three-letter-acronyms and speeds-and-feeds at me that you can: I’ll listen, discuss and probably feel good about myself for keeping up with you. It’s just going to have zero impact on what I decide.

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To get at what drives the decision, you literally have to dig deeper: it’s the much older, pre-language “limbic” brain that makes us do stuff. Often called the “Lizard brain,” it’s where our feelings and emotions live. It’s the launching pad for motivation. And it has no capacity for language.

The more you say to my limbic brain, the less it hears. The more complex you make your narrative, the more likely it is to shut down and take no action. And this is a huge problem for salespeople, managers and marketing teams at digital publishers and ad-tech companies. We’re all having a lot of complex, expensive conversations that are completely disconnected from the outcomes we need.

Connecting on an emotional level with your customer’s Lizard Brain doesn’t mean getting all weepy or going over the top with some kind of gung-ho pep talk. It does mean a new commitment to discipline and focus; not just from the seller but from your entire organization. It goes like this.

Say less. More powerfully. Earlier. To the right people.

Say less: Start with zero PowerPoint slides and build from there. Use short, declarative sentences. Explain what your white paper means in a sentence; your strategic value in a paragraph; the reason the customer should meet with you in 140 characters. Remember, you’re speaking to the pre-language brain.

More powerfully:   At the very front of your materials or presentation, there should be a short clear statement that speaks to the danger your customer needs to avoid, the cost of not reaching that missing customer, the chance that they are falling behind a competitor for no good reason.   Their story is a drama, a come-from-behind sports movie. Tell that story.

Earlier: If you wait till a budget is formed and the problem has already been fully defined, you’re screwed. Unless you influence how the RFP gets written, you’re just another blindfolded kid swinging at the piñata.

To the right people: All the persuasion and motivation in the world matters not at all if you’re talking to someone who can’t give you what you want. Qualify the buyer; ask hard questions; know who you’re talking to.

Say less. More powerfully. Earlier. To the right people. It just works.

Today’s Drift was originally posted in November of 2015. It. Still. Works.


Say Less.


Say LessIn recent conversations and workshops with customers I find myself continually revisiting Simon Sinek’s classic 2009 TedX talk, “The Golden Circle,” which is also the key theme in his best-selling book Start with Why. If you watch the full video, pay particular attention at about 5:40 and he explains the biological reasons why we tend to be purpose-driven mammals who are motivated by meaning and mission.

According to Simon, the newer portion of our brains – the neo cortex – is language driven and can understand and process vast amounts of complex information. The problem is, that part of our brain simply doesn’t drive decision making. So throw all the technical detail and three-letter-acronyms and speeds-and-feeds at me that you can: I’ll listen, discuss and probably feel good about myself for keeping up with you. It’s just going to have zero impact on what I decide.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Independent research has named the Krux DMP industry leader in strategy, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Krux helps marketers, publishers, and agencies deliver more valuable consumer experiences, growing revenue and deepening engagement. More than 160 clients rely on Krux worldwide, achieving 10x or higher ROI. Download the report today to learn more.

To get at what drives the decision, you literally have to dig deeper: it’s the much older, pre-language “limbic” brain that makes us do stuff. Often called the “Lizard brain,” it’s where our feelings and emotions live. It’s the launching pad for motivation. And it has no capacity for language.

The more you say to my limbic brain, the less it hears. The more complex you make your narrative, the more likely it is to shut down and take no action. And this is huge problem for salespeople, managers and marketing teams at digital publishers and ad-tech companies. We’re all having a lot of complex, expensive conversations that are completely disconnected from the outcomes we need.

Connecting on an emotional level with your customer’s Lizard Brain doesn’t mean getting all weepy or going over the top with some kind of gung-ho pep talk. It does mean a new commitment to discipline and focus; not just from the seller but from your entire organization. It goes like this.

Say less. More powerfully. Earlier. To the right people.

Say less: Start with zero PowerPoint slides and build from there. Use short, declarative sentences. Explain what your white paper means in a sentence; your strategic value in a paragraph; the reason the customer should meet with you in 140 characters. Remember, you’re speaking to the pre-language brain.

More powerfully:   At the very front of your materials or presentation, there should be a short clear statement that speaks to the danger your customer needs to avoid, the cost of not reaching that missing customer, the chance that they are falling behind a competitor for no good reason.   Their story is a drama, a come-from-behind sports movie. Tell that story.

Earlier: If you wait till a budget is formed and the problem has already been fully defined, you’re screwed. Unless you influence how the RFP gets written, you’re just another blindfolded kid swinging at the piñata.

To the right people: All the persuasion and motivation in the world matters not at all if you’re talking to someone who can’t give you what you want. Qualify the buyer; ask hard questions; know who you’re talking to.

Say less. More powerfully. Earlier. To the right people.   It just works.


Your Golden Circle.


Your Golden CircleI’ve been very taken lately by a simple piece of wisdom from Simon Sinek, who many of you may know. His breakout moment was a short, informal TED Talk about “The Golden Circle.”  The premise is simple:  draw three circles on a piece of paper, one inside the next, so that it resembles a target with a bull’s-eye in the center.  At the center of the target – the Golden Circle – is the word “why?”  The next circle out is marked “how?” and the final, outermost circle is labeled “what?”  Most companies and organizations define themselves from the outside-in:  They start by telling you what they do – we can all throw up a lot of product and capabilities data on the customer’s desk – then perhaps they’ll get around to how they do it.  Why they are in this particular business – call it mission, purpose or motivation – is rarely discussed or is, at best, an afterthought.  But according to Sinek, the best companies and leaders ALWAYS start with “why?” – Apple, the Wright Brothers and Martin Luther King, to name just three.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic, the technology platform that powers the programmatic advertising strategy of leading publishers and premium brands. Our innovative solutions help content providers drive the highest value for their digital media assets and provide consumers with a more personalized advertising experience across display, mobile, and video.

There’s obviously a massive leadership lesson in The Golden Circle.  Speak first about the meaning of what your company does and you will stand out from the crowd.  If customers connect with why you do what you do, they may ultimately buy many different things from you – in Apple’s case, everything from computers to phones to music to software to whatever is next.  Employees who sign on to build what you make end up working for a paycheck, and will likely leave you for a bigger one.  But those who join the company because of why you do it end up working for a cause.

But I want to use the rest of this post to personalize the concept.  This is about you, the individual seller or contributor.  We should all start telling our customers why we do what we do.  Imagine a seller who starts with “I get a lot of fulfillment from simplifying my customer’s lives.  When things click for them and become clear, that means a lot to me.”  Now consider the potential employers you’re either talking to now or may connect with in the future.  Are you nothing more than what you’ve done?  Or is there a powerful story about why you get out of bed every morning?

I’ve gone through this exercise myself.  On the surface level, what my company does sounds pretty pedestrian:  we conduct workshops, host events, and publish a blog.  Meh.  Why do we do all this?

We believe that sales is the economic engine that underwrites so many of the good things that media and technology have to offer.  We respect sellers and want to help them fully participate in a better future by making things clear and actionable.  Sales has given us a very good life and sharing the keys with others brings us a lot of joy.

That’s our Golden Circle.  What’s yours sound like?