What do you think it is about used car salesmen that makes us so uncomfortable?
Is it their cheesy lines? Their over-the-top commercials? Maybe it’s the fact that they’re determined to upsell us at every opportunity, regardless of what we actually want or need.
While those might play a role in the slimy vibe they give off, the real reason we can’t stand used car salesmen is that their energy level and approach to sales doesn’t match where we are at that moment.
Think about the last time you went to a used car dealership (or imagine going, if you have never had to go through the nightmare yourself). It was probably a weekend or just after work. You had a thousand other things to take care of. You’re stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted.
You just want to get in there, get out, and drive away in one piece.
So when an overly energetic, obnoxiously enthusiastic salesperson starts to pressure you into making a purchase you’re not completely comfortable with, it’s no surprise that you’re not really feeling it.
As business owners, we try our best to encourage customers to buy our products and services without being pushy. But often, we become used car salespeople without even knowing it.
Customers are suddenly wishy-washy. They back out completely—despite being completely on board the day before. And we’re left frustrated with them and with ourselves for losing yet another deal.
So where are we going wrong?
The problem is: we’re not mimicking our customers correctly. We’re inadvertently turning what could have been the sale of the year into an incredibly awkward situation that potential customers want to escape as soon as possible.
Mimicking can be the difference between gaining and losing customers, and all it requires from you is some observation.
What Does It Mean to Mimic Your Customers?
When I say mimicry, you’re probably picturing a black-and-white mime. But this form of mimicry is a psychological memory that won’t require any invisible ropes or boxes.
Mimicking involves matching your customers’ disposition. It’s about figuring out where they are emotionally and making sure that your energy levels, words, and information you use fit that.
I first learned about this years ago. When I started my company Trigger Point, I decided I wanted to to the agency side of marketing. It was an absolute nightmare. What I quickly found out is that being a consultant is a hard business. There are so many things you have to do to win customers, keep them happy, and bring in referrals.
During that time, I needed to find a creative director and I just so happened to hit it off with this local guy. His personality was awesome. We just connected. My first time ever meeting him was the day before a meeting with a major client. We flew down together to pitch a deal. And with his help, we won the deal. The client loved our pitch, and the two of us got to connect at the same time.
Everything was great.
So about three weeks later, my new creative director invited me to lunch. Now, this guy had his own company. He had just started his own small shop. And over lunch, he told me all about it. I was excited about it as well. He felt like a good friend. So I said, “Man, I think it's time. We’ve got to get this thing in writing. Let's fill out a contract right now to join our businesses.”
And he gave an aggressive response. “I’ve already met with my lawyer. This is the way we’re going to do it.” He put the paper in front of me right then, all his strict terms in place.
This took me completely off guard. He had never prepped me. This was the first time we had really talked seriously about it. And here he was, pushing me to sign a document I’d never read before.
If you know me at all, you know that I’m an introverted guy. I’m cautious. So I reacted instinctively by pulling back. I remember not finding the words to say, because he's my friend and I love this guy. So I told him, “Yeah, I gotta talk to Melanie about it.” I got out of there as fast as I could.
He wasn't doing anything wrong. But his disposition, his style, it didn’t fit where I was and where we were. We had just landed our first major client and he wanted me to sign a contract right there, where he was going to take 40% of the bids and the whole thing.
I remember walking away, feeling something like mistrust. It just didn’t feel right. Why is this guy so aggressive on this? And because of that, I started to doubt that he was the same person I’d met two weeks ago, when we're out in Virginia together, winning that incredible deal.
In this one moment, I lost trust in him. All because of the way he approached me. Looking back now, I wonder what would have happened if he had read the situation better? If he had known me a little bit better and understood that I need to be eased into big decisions?
How many situations have you been on the other side of? How many customers have you lost because you didn’t realize you weren’t mimicking them effectively?
Why Mimicking Works So Well
You’ve heard it a thousand times, but I’m saying it again: We’re not rational beings. We’re emotional beings. We make emotional decisions and rationalize those decisions with biased evidence to make us feel better about our choices.
As a result, the decisions we make aren’t made based on logic. They’re made based on how we feel in that moment. And if your customers’ feel uncomfortable during a sales pitch, they’re going to hesitate.
Take the story above, for example. During the beginning of our lunch, I was all in. I felt comfortable and safe and excited. My mind told me in a seemingly rational way that this was a great decision. I was ready for the next step, but I needed that next step to be easy and comfortable as well.
As soon as I started to feel uncomfortable in that lunch conversation, something changed in my brain as well. It went from thinking there was no rational reason to say no to thinking there was no rational reason to say yes. He had unintentionally made me feel afraid and anxious. Because the emotions driving my behavior changed, so did my ultimate behavior.
You are first an agent of emotion. And you have to read your clients’ emotional states. Do this, and you build trust and foster comfortable relationships. Don’t do this, and you stir feelings of doubt in your customers and risk destroying the relationship altogether.
The Top 2 Mimicking Mistakes
Understanding why you need to mimic your customers during sales pitches and client calls isn’t enough. You need to execute it effectively—and that’s the hard part.
These are some of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs and sales reps make when trying to mimic potential customers.
1. Mirroring Their Body Movements
I'm sure you've heard at some point or another that you should mirror your customers’ body movements. When your customer folds their hands and backs up, you should do the same thing. If they're smiling, smile back. If they lean backward, do the same.
This is called mirroring. The main distinction between mirroring and mimicry is that mirroring involves directly echoing a person’s actions, where mimicry involves modifying your behavior and tone based on a customers’ emotional state.
The idea of mirroring stems from legitimate science. Research has shown that when you’re attracted to someone, you tend to subconsciously copy their movements. Additionally, one speed-dating study revealed that we’re naturally drawn to people who seem to mimic our body movements (although no other studies were able to replicate these results).
But romantic relationships and sales are two very different things.
While studies might show that mirroring can improve your chances of winning that date, there's nothing in behavioral science literature that shows that it works on closing deals. When researchers have tried to put this theory to the test, it never works.
It can actually drive customers away.
If it’s worked for you in the past, I guarantee you the reason you won the sale was that you unintentionally matched your customers’ emotional state—not because you sneezed right after they did.
Mirroring isn’t effective in winning over customers. In fact, it’s downright creepy. Imagine a stranger on a bus copying every movement you make. If that doesn’t send chills down your spine, nothing will.
2. Mimicking Their Personality
The saying “Just be yourself” may be cliche, but it’s an important thing to remember with sales.
Mimicry is about adjusting how you describe your product or service and your calls to action based on where your customer is at that moment. It’s not about trying to use their slang or pretending like you’re an extrovert when you’re as introverted as they come.
I learned this the hard way. Trying to mimic someone’s personality won’t help you win people’s admiration. It just leads to incredibly embarrassing situations.
Don't try to mimic their personality because it comes across as disingenuous. Unless you’re an incredible actor, your potential customers will pick up the fact that you’re not being completely honest with them. They may not be able to identify exactly why they don’t trust you, but they’ll know there's something off with you.
Unlike mirroring, being yourself works with dating and closing deals.
How to Grow Sales Using Mimicry
To successfully mimic your customers, you need to know them and their disposition to your business. You need to either tone yourself down or tone yourself up, just by modifying your personality slightly to better fit with a specific customer.
So what are your customers’ natural dispositions? There are two natural dispositions that everybody has in every situation: optimistic and cautious.
Mimic to the Two Natural Dispositions
Customers who have an optimistic regulatory approach are driven by a desire to maximize their happiness and achieve success. They're optimistic in nature, looking for fun, and eager to take on whatever challenges they face.
To connect with these customers, talk about the vision first of your product or service first. Illustrate the successes they’ll achieve as a result of your brand. Say something like, “Here's the ultimate vision of how I see your project going.”
In a proposal or written pitch, talk about how you are going to achieve this success together. If somebody is eager and optimistic, they oftentimes are looking to co-build. They want to take the best ideas from everybody.
So I would be less specific about the nitty-gritty details of your project. Give a rough overview of your process and focus heavily on the great things your product or service will help them do.
Customers with a cautious regulatory approach want to minimize pain and avoid failure. They approach the decision with skepticism and concern, because they feel like they have a lot to lose. Aggressive approaches won’t go over well with these customers.
When you first meet with a cautious customer, I would stick to a short-term vision. Talk about year one, because somebody who's cautious wants to know the details about the short term. Talking too far in the future will make your product or service feel like an abstract concept, rather than a practical solution.
In your proposal or written pitch, give details on your process. Somebody who is more cautious and reserved will be less open to ambiguity. They're going to be more likely to say, “I want to know how we’re getting from step one to step two to step three.”
And of course, they have a chance to modify these steps, but I would not talk a lot about “us building it together” and focus instead on having a system in place to help them feel more comfortable with you.
How to Identify Customer’s Natural Disposition.
In order to successfully mimic a customers’ disposition, you need to identify which end of the spectrum they fall into the most. The good news is, you have all the resources you need to do that right now.
1. Trust Your Gut
There's a gut feeling you will get when you meet a customer. Many times, within the first few seconds, you may already suspect that they’re more optimistic or cautious. These feelings are almost always spot-on.
That said, you have to pay close attention to what your customer says and how they react to questions to know for sure. While you’re listening to them, ask yourself, “Is this person eager and optimistic or cautious and reserved?” Listen to them carefully.
2. Open Up a Little
The second trick I use to identify a person’s disposition, especially on very early calls before we get to know each other, is to open up a little. Talk about your family, your hobbies, your personal preferences. You might consider telling a personal story or laughing at something cute your kids did this week.
Then notice how much the other person is willing to open up about.
If someone reveals a lot about their family, or tells a longer story of their own, you know they’re optimistic. If you only get little details out of them, that should be the very first signal that they’re more cautious. They may be waiting to see whether you’ve earned their trust enough to open up about their personal life.
3. Pay Attention to the Evidence
The things a potential customer asks about your product or service can also provide clues to which regulation they fall into. If this person is eager, and you're eager as well, they’re likely to ask for fewer details about your product or service. If they ask much at all, you might hear them say things like,“Where will this take me,” “What can I do with this?”, or “What do you envision for this project?”
Now if this person is more reserved, they're going to ask for more details about how your product or service works, why it works, and what makes it different from the competition. They will also ask for evidence to back up your promises. “Do you have references?” “Are there case studies I can see?” “Where can I find testimonials from past clients?”
They may not necessarily read through all of this information, but the sheer fact that you have it will help them see your business in a positive light.
So in your very first pitch or client meeting, make note of what they ask for. If they're asking for a lot of details and proof, that's a signal that they're cautious. They're trying to feel whether or not you are worthy of their business. If they’re more interested in how you’ll work together, they’re more optimistic.
Grow Your Business with Confidence
Winning over customers is one of the most difficult—if not THE most difficult—parts of running a business. Even if your marketing is perfectly in tune with your customers’ mindstates and your product or service blows away the competition, you can still lose a potential sale at the very last minute.
And I know from experience: It can be so frustrating when you spend a lot of time nurturing a lead who you know would be a perfect fit for your business, only to watch them walk away without signing on the dotted line.
Mimicry is a simple way you can keep customers from running away or backing out last minute. In addition to making you a better salesperson, it also allows you to build deeper relationships with your customers, and even keep some friends in the process.
If you’re struggling to get customers to your door in the first place, the Mindstate Marketing Masterclass is for you. I’ll walk you through behavioral science-based marketing tactics step-by-step, and teach you how to improve your brand’s marketing so you stand out from the crowd.
Watch the video below to learn more.
And to watch my full video on using mimicry to grow your sales, click here.