Content Doesn’t Persuade: why pitching, marketing, and training get limited success

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Are you seeking funding for a truly unique solution and it’s not getting the attention it deserves? Do you have a great solution you’ve created great content for and it’s still not closing as many sales as it deserves to?

You know your solution is terrific and your pitch (deck) is creative, professional, and represents exactly what you want to say. And yet. People aren’t buying; funders aren’t funding. What’s the problem?

The problem is that information – regardless how necessary, relevant, or inspirational – doesn’t necessarily convince or cause action. Let me explain.

INFORMATION AND DECISION MAKING

As a culture, we tend to believe that content is a necessary part of decision making. This is true…but only marginally: people need content after they’ve already determined if, when, how, and why they would consider doing something different.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you need to purchase new software. Your team has already agreed to make a change, but you don’t yet understand the risks: the amount of resource you’ll need to maintain the new, or the ‘cost’ (downtime, familiarity of use, etc.) of integrating the old with the new. Ultimately, the cost of the new must be less than maintaining the status quo or it’s not worth changing. And until the risks and costs are known, it’s impossible to determine need. Until then, marketing information is irrelevant and the greatest pitch in the world won’t encourage buying.

What about pitch decks for funding startups and scaleups? You create a stunning pitch deck – representative, creative, educational, inspirational. But you’re not getting funded. Why? Do you know the largely unconscious criteria and biases of each funder? Do you know the underlying and personal beliefs that trigger each of their decisions? Or the criteria they use to compare one possible investment over another? What about how they each assess opportunity, management structure… The list goes on. And pitch decks can’t address the range of these given their idiosyncratic nature.

Unfortunately, startups/scaleups seek funding on how they perceive the strength of their content and overlook the entirely separate – and hidden – decision criteria of funders.

CONTENT DOESN’T PERSUADE

We spend large sums of money to generate content for marketing, ads, sites, pitch decks. But it only works when it works… and even then we don’t know how or when or why. A sales pitch closes 5%; Behavior Modification has a 3% success rate even though folks really want to change bad habits; doctors, coaches, leaders, and parents provide important details for change, and it falls on deaf ears.

The problem is information. As a one-way stimulus there’s no way to track, discover, expand, or connect with the unconscious decision-making criteria of the audience. Indeed, our great content gets heeded only after they’ve already determined their belief-based decision benchmarks.

I recently got a call from a Venture Capitalist who’d been referred to me by an internationally famous change agent. He said he invests in Behavior Modification apps for weight loss and habit change, admitting that they were only 3% successful and the folks who purchased his apps would probably fail. Could I develop a change facilitation model that would really work? I knew he wasn’t familiar with my innovative ideas, so before pitching I asked:

SD: How would you know that my brain-change models would offer value?
DH: If you’ve been published in “Science.”

And there’s the crux of the problem. Yes, I’m an original thinker who’s successfully trained my change facilitation models to 100,000 folks over 40 years; written 10 books and New York Times Business Bestsellers; appeared on countless TV shows. He was referred by the best. But I don’t have a PhD, causing science journals to reject my work. Our conversation was over. My great content, referrals, and accolades – even his own failure rate!… were useless because I failed to meet his criteria based on his idiosyncratic beliefs.

OUR BRAIN IS THE PROBLEM

It’s only when

  • we recognize it’s time to make a change,
  • the status quo isn’t working,
  • there’s no familiar workaround to fix the problem,
  • our core beliefs are in agreement,
  • the risk of change is understood and planned for

that content is sought. While it seems logical our content would make it possible to better understand its relevance to them, unless they’ve first managed their change criteria or unless their unconscious beliefs are addressed, they can’t understand how it would fit. And several industries fail because of their over reliance on content:

The sales model assumes that content – pitching, marketing, advertising – causes sales. Although using the sales model alone (see my Buying Facilitation Pre-Sales change management model) merely closes 5% – a whopping 95% fail rate! – sales continues to push content as a purchase motivator, blaming the ‘stupid buyers’ for the problem.

Healthcare pushes habit change and fails 97% of the time. Trainers and coaches push new ideas and come up against resistance 80% of the time. Leaders push initiatives and fail 95%. All using content that, on the face of it, seem relevant, but not necessarily relevant to the Other.

Climate Tech startups and scaleups have been depending upon pitch decks to explain the value of their solutions, believing that a compelling story will raise funds. But given the range of new solutions entering the market, it’s necessary to address a funder’s possibly unconscious beliefs. By merely focusing on features and values, startups and scaleups may fail to attract funding.

You see, decision making depends on our brain:

  • Our brain may not decipher intended meaning. Because of the way sound vibrations enter ears and get dispatched for translation, we only translate incoming content according to the brain circuits we already possess (causing our biases). Our brain may not interpret new information properly and actually mistranslate or misunderstand, regardless of the relevance or presentation style of the data. I wrote a book on this (WHAT? Did you really say what I think I heard?).
  • Everything we do is systemic. We’re each a unique system of rules and roles, history and hopes, values and beliefs. Decisions get made systemically and systems fight hard to maintain themselves. When one bit of the system is being asked to change without buy-in from the rest of the system, we get (you know this!) resistance and failure.
  • Everything we do and say arises from our brains. Without our neural circuits prompting action, no decisions occur. And unless the risk of change is known and each relevant element of the failed system is managed, the brain won’t know how to make use of content as it will be too busy defending its system.
  • Change, decisions, actions, arise from our baseline beliefs. Indeed, behaviors are beliefs in action. If any of the content elements you’re offering goes against the Other’s system or beliefs it will be rejected, mistranslated, or ignored, regardless of its intention or relevance.

Our devotion to content is costing us lost sales, shortened lifespans, and failed relationships.

WHAT DO WE DO INSTEAD?

I suggest we begin by helping Others figure out their own criteria and then offer the content that fits.

  • How does your audience know when it’s time to make a change? How do they recognize incongruences that are costing them failure and possibility? (Hint: unless an incongruence is noticed, the brain will fight change.)
  • How would they know that you would be a successful leader? A good steward for a start up in your industry?
  • What would investors need to consider to believe a new solution would be relevant and successful?

This tactic would not only begin a collaborative dialogue before you present your content, it would cause an interaction that would promote a real relationship. Plus, once you’ve brought the unconscious beliefs to the surface, you’ll have a pathway to discuss how they might be ameliorated if a problem emerges. My clients create pitches and pitch decks that match unique beliefs and considerations, showing only those that apply.

For those wishing to learn how to formulate your specific upfront questions, I’d be happy to discuss them. In the meantime, go to www.sharon-drew.com and do a search for ‘questions’ and read my articles on the specific topic.

Sharon-Drew Morgen
I'm an original thinker. I wrote the NYT Bestseller Selling with Integrity and 8 other books bridging systemic brain change models with business, for sales, leadership, communications, coaching. I invented Buying Facilitation(R) (Buy Side support), How of Change(tm) (creates neural pathways for habit change), and listening without bias. I coach, train, speak, and consult companies and teams who seek Servant Leader models.

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