Absolute Value and the Buying Experience, with Bridget Gleason [Episode 326]

Welcome to another Front Line Friday with my remarkable guest, Bridget Gleason. On this week’s episode, Bridget and I discuss, among other topics, two books on absolute value and the impact of Big Data.

We talk about the impacts of Big Data on society at large, the question of whether Big Data helps us or hurts our sales efforts, and new research about absolute value and how the buying experience takes shape before a sales professional enters the conversation. Join Bridget and me for this episode of Accelerate! to learn our thoughts on the future of the buying experience in the face of Big Data.

Key Takeaways

  • This episode’s topic — two books Andy read recently. Book #1 is Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information, by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen.
  • The explosion of information has had definite effects on buyers and the buying decision, but the effects are different, and have happened more quickly, than what was predicted.
  • The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz presented the thesis that the sudden availability of mass information actually makes it harder to choose. Why new research shows this probably isn’t true.
  • Why sellers need to understand what ‘absolute value’ means to a buyer.
  • Buyers are not overwhelmed by data and don’t take forever to sift through all the data, to find the optimum solution.
  • Sellers needs to find where they fit into the equation to help the buyer make a decision.
  • Buyers engage in the process personally, long before they engage with sellers, in almost all cases.
  • An aware sales team knows that if a contact finds them first, there is urgency; the contact goes to the top of the list.
  • Book #2 is Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, by Cathy O’Neil, written after the crash, and presenting the shortcomings of an algorithm-driven world.
  • The impact of the algorithms that drive Big Data, which typically are fed by human assumptions, which can be biased and inaccurate.
  • How unthinkingly applying algorithms to sales processes can negatively impact productivity.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul 0:35

It’s time to accelerate! Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with the leading experts in sales, marketing, sales automation, sales process, leadership, management, training, coaching, any resource that I believe to help you accelerate the growth of your sales, your business and most importantly, you.  

Hello, and welcome to Accelerate. This is another edition of Frontline Friday with my very special guest, Bridget Gleason. Bridget, how are you this morning?

 

Bridget Gleason 1:09

Andy, super. Andy, how are you, and where are you?

 

Andy Paul 1:13

I am fine, and I’m in New York City, world headquarters of the Accelerate Media empire.

 

Bridget Gleason 1:23

And did you really go from Hawaii to New York City? That’s a big time zone shift.

 

Andy Paul 1:29

Yeah, a couple weeks ago, we did. Six hours.

 

Bridget Gleason 1:37

That’ll mess up your sleep.

 

Andy Paul 1:39

It did. It took a long time to readjust coming back, but it’s well worth it.

 

Bridget Gleason 1:47

It’s beautiful in New York right now, isn’t it?

 

Andy Paul 1:50

It has been. Actually we’ve had some record highs the last two days. And since we’re recording this about a month before people are listening to it. We had record highs. And I think Fall now is finally gonna take hold today. That’s what they’re saying. So it’s sort of late compared to normal years. But who knows what’s normal anymore when it comes to the weather?

 

Bridget Gleason 2:23

I know. Who knows what you’re in store for when you’re on the East Coast, having lived in Boston for a couple of years, and I’ve been there for a couple of winters. And I was back in Boston last weekend. And God, it was beautiful, loved it, loved it. Fall hadn’t hit, and winter hadn’t hit. And Boston is very lovable at that time in that period. Boston’s lovable anyway. Anyway, good. Glad you’re glad you’re caught up on time zones and back in beautiful New York.

 

Andy Paul 2:58

Yeah. So today we’re going to talk about books. We love talking about books. And on my travels, I had time to continue reading just in a better venue perhaps. But two books I read recently that I thought were very interesting, I want to chat with you about. So the first one is a book called Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information. And it’s written by two authors, Itamar Simonson, who’s at Stanford, and other gentleman, Emanuel Rosen, who I forget where he’s from. He may be at Stanford as well. 

And to me, these gentlemen are, based on their writing, the heirs to Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and other people that wrote pioneering work in behavioral economics and decision science and so on. And what they talk about in their book is just about what the impact has been of information on the way buyers are making decisions. And what they’re finding is that through their studies and their research and the research of others that they cite is that, yeah, the effects actually are a little different than perhaps what we’ve been thinking and perhaps happening more quickly than we thought. 

So one of the things that there have been books that Barry Schwartz wrote, a professor from Swarthmore, a great book called The Paradox of Choice, which I really liked, and others. One of the theses in the book was that the influx of information and the sudden availability of tons of information actually made it harder to choose, not easier. And that people are sometimes overwhelmed by information and so on. And what Simonson and Rosen found through their research, and what they wrote about in their book is really just that the opposite is happening. 

And that perhaps there was a rush to judgment by some of these early authors like Schwartz and so on about the impact of what was happening on the internet. And that having 20 years of history now when they wrote the book and did a lot of their a lot of their studies, is what they’re actually finding is that buyers are able to gain an understanding of what they call the absolute value. Which they find as the experience quality or the experience value of a what it would be like to use a product or service and what the value and the quality  you would experience as a result of it without the intercession of the seller. 

It’s saying, yeah, there’s all this information out there. But if it was just information, yeah, it’d be hard. But the fact is we have all these tools as buyers at our disposal to help us develop a good enough understanding of the value or the quality of a product to enable us to make a decision. Just start with Google as a tool to help us make sense of the data out there. We can start searching. 

But then there are discussion groups or user reviews. There are expert reviews groups. There are our social networks we can tap. The whole process that people go through to gather information is really winnowing down this vast trove of information down to something that’s actionable for them. And so what they found is that rather than buyers being distracted, they’re actually increasingly effective in this environment in the way they find the data they need to make the decision. And it’s oriented at one level, but again, this term absolute value they use is really to the good enough decision, which is the decision that most buyers make. 

They’re not going to go on forever, researching every single possible alternative to make the optimal decision. They’re going to go to the point where they have the information that meets their basic criteria. And what they found is that one of the things that’s happening or several of the things that are happening is that in this environment, there’s a decreased value in the eye of buyers in what they call the proxies of value, a brand name, product positioning, your value proposition, and pricing and promotion. 

But actually, the impact of those traditional tools of influence is really on the wane. They haven’t gone away, but they’re on the wane. And so it’s like, wow, this is eye opening for us as sellers to say, okay, where do we fit into this equation in order to help the buyer make a decision?

 

Bridget Gleason 8:05

Andy, I am tempted to end our podcast and go read the book. I’m distracted by not having read it. I just think it’s fascinating. So if you were to identify a couple of things that you would do differently or recommend a salesperson, what did you take away from it that you feel is actionable? Or are you still cogitating on what you read?

 

Andy Paul 8:47

Well, both actually. And so some of the early takeaways were, for me, confirmations of experiences that I had had, the opinions that I had already even written about in some cases in my books. But I arrived at intuitively, and as I said, experientially as opposed to being data based, based on research. And one of these was this whole notion of the fact that people begin their buying journey long before they engage with a seller. 

Now this is a point that I know there’s controversy about it. You’ve got folks at CEB that wrote the challenger books about, hey, buyers are 57% of the way through their buying process before they engage with sellers. Other studies from Serious Insights and others are saying, that’s not true. It’s much less than that. And people have various stakes in the game.

But to me, it confirmed the fact that buyers, they’ve engaged in this process well before they engage with sellers in almost all cases. And I won’t say it’s 100% of the cases, because nothing’s ever 100%. But in the main, that’s what’s going on. And a perfect example that they talked about, which is I think the one that makes the case for this, is think about your own history when you browse. Do you have a bookmark a webpage? 

 

Bridget Gleason

Uh huh. 

 

Andy Paul

And why are you doing that?

 

Bridget Gleason 10:23

So I can go back to it. So I don’t forget.

 

Andy Paul 10:28

But it’s information that you want to use again in the future, right? 

 

Bridget Gleason

Right.

 

Andy Paul 10:33

So that’s what buyers are doing. They’re going through, and yeah, they may not have in place a buying action, a buying process to actually say, okay, we’ve got a project we’re kicking off to go make this change and buy this type of product or service. But they’re constantly gathering information. And just the example of a bookmark of a webpage, yeah, we’re going to bookmark this. I’m gonna come back to it. I do it all the time. I’ve got things that I buy for my business or I buy for myself personally that I’ve got organized into my bookmark bar.

 

Bridget Gleason 11:12

Say that eight times.

 

Andy Paul 11:14

That eight times. I go back and reference it. Well, that was me starting my buying journey for that particular product or service. So this is a common behavior. To me, it reinforces the idea that when a buyer and a seller start talking, there’s a degree of urgency there that oftentimes sellers don’t recognize. Because the buyers have invested time. And they are trying to make a decision. 

And one of the other things that they talked about in the book, that the authors talk about the book and they found through their research, information that buyers gather proactively, they act on more quickly than information they receive externally. Because they’re saying, I’ve invested time in this to proactively gather it. In order to earn a return on that time I’ve invested, which is a concept that I talked about in my first book, then I need to take action. 

And that action may be at the end we decide not to do anything, but they’re going to take action on it. They’re more likely to take action faster on information they’re proactively gathering. So if you reach that intersection where you and the buyer overlap and start interacting, as I’ve contended, their need is urgent. 

But so often what we see in sales reps is they start going back at the beginning. Let me give you a company pitch. Let me talk about the company. Let me talk about the product. Blah, blah, blah, blah. Whereas the buyer is saying, look, no, I’m well past that point. I just need these questions answered, these remaining questions answered, to help me be able to make my decision.

 

Bridget Gleason 13:07

So my experience of late has been that the sales team knows if a prospect has found them and is proactive in any way, shape or form that there is a sense of urgency. And that’s a higher priority. That goes to the top of the list. I think this, for me, what I think about is really for marketing teams. 

How do they make sure that they’re in the mix? That they’re being discovered, and found, and talked about, and bookmarked so that when it comes around, the prospect is likely to reach out to my company about my product or my service. Because there is that sense of urgency. So how do we get found? And that’s partially marketing, partially sales. I think salespeople being active, and having a voice on social media and other places, and meetups, and it helps to make sure that you’re part of that research process, even if you’re sort of a passive player. But you are more likely to be part of that research process so that when the time comes, you’re being considered and that you’re the one that gets the phone call or the email or the chat or however they choose to reach out. 

 

Andy Paul 14:44

Well, yeah, you’re absolutely right. And the authors get into this. They call it the appropriate influence mix to be able to attract the attention of potential buyers. And that’s changing. So marketing, absolutely, this whole issue of sales marketing alignment becomes increasingly critical in being able to be discovered and have the right messaging that causes someone to say, yeah, I’m maybe in the early days. But that’s compelling enough that I’m gonna save that and come back to it.

 

Bridget Gleason 15:19

I can’t wait to read it. I’ve got a flight. It’s not long enough. It’s only one hour. But I read pretty quickly. I just don’t know that I can get through the book in one hour. AP

 

Andy Paul 15:32

I don’t think so. 

 

Bridget Gleason

How long is it? No?

 

Andy Paul

I read quickly, but it took a couple hours at least to go through. So then the other

 

Bridget Gleason 15:36

So there and back.

 

Andy Paul 15:38

Alright, so that’s one book I wanted to talk about. The other one– 

 

Bridget Gleason 15:41

Oh dear. Another one? Okay. I feel myself getting distracted already.

 

Andy Paul 15:45

Yeah, this is a fascinating book. It’s called Weapons of Math Destruction. And that wasn’t me having a lisp. That was math, M-A-T-H, Weapons of Math Destruction

 

Bridget Gleason

I love it. 

 

Andy Paul

Subtitle, How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, written by a woman named Cathy O’Neil. And again, a fascinating book. And people are wondering what’s it have to do with sales? Well, I’ll get to that. She was a data scientist, PhD , Professor at a university. Left to become a quant, if you will, on Wall Street, writing the algorithms to drive automated trading. 

And as an aftermath of that crash, we began to see the shortcomings in what she calls an algorithm driven world. And where algorithms are increasingly used to control aspects of our lives, like credit applications. She gives an example of algorithms being used in place of humans to make judgments about credit worthiness and how the algorithms use all these different factors like zip codes and so on as indicators of creditworthiness, as opposed to looking at the individual themselves. As a result, then, you have these practices like redlining and so on where people in less economically advantaged areas or economically depressed areas end up, because of zip code, paying much higher rates on insurance and credit cards and loans and so on, which have nothing to do with individual themselves. And then it starts perpetuating inequality in terms of income and debt and so on. 

And she went through all these fascinating examples about how algorithms are used. And her point, bottom line, was that the trouble with this big data in the algorithms is every algorithm is based upon assumptions made by people and that the assumptions are oftentimes biased and flawed. And so then they’re replicated throughout the use of algorithms. So even if you have some sort of machine learning, it’s learning based on flawed assumptions. 

Then she gave some compelling examples, things like prison sentencing. There’s software that’s used that’s algorithmically based that, in some cases, prisoners or people are convicted of crimes. When judges look at the software to determine sentencing, one of the factors that’s included is whether there’s anybody related to them that also has served a term in prison. And an algorithm pops up a recommendation for them to have a longer sentence based on the fact that they had a relative that had been in prison. 

So she’s saying, yeah, we’ve got these basic inequities built into these algorithms based on these assumptions. And I started thinking about this from a sales context. I thought it was fascinating talking about the sociological implications. But in sales as well, we see this starting to happen because we’ve got increasing amounts of automation coming into our world in sales. 

And I started talking to manager client to talk about, yeah, they’ve got software that call centers use. And on inbound leads, the rules are set up, it always goes to the available agent who’s got the highest quota attainment. And so I think about that. My question to him at the time was if you’re never giving the people that have lower quota attainment more opportunities to improve, and get better, and do a better job, and coach them to improve, then you’re just creating this vicious cycle that they’re never gonna get better and they’re gonna wash out. 

That’s all based on the assumption built into the algorithm, you’ve got to give it to the best person as opposed to let’s get to let’s elevate everybody. So anyway, I know we don’t have a whole lot of time to finish up the discussion. But it was a fascinating book. And yeah, another one of those that I’m still thinking about the implications of it in our world. But there clearly are.

 

Bridget Gleason 19:53

Yeah, I think that it’s along the lines of one of our previous discussions around the sales tools and if they help. Are they helping? Are they hurting? And maybe some of it is just these algorithms gone wrong. And based on human assumption, sometimes that’s going to work in our favor, that we need the human interaction. And sometimes it’s going to be flawed. 

Again, I’m distracted by wanting to read and understand this. Part of the reason is I’m in big data, and have been in big data, and plan to stay in big data. And so the implications for not just sales, but across the board, because it does touch all aspects of our lives, just this proliferation of data. And the variety of data that’s being collected, the velocity at which it’s being collected, it’s staggering. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult to analyze this volume, these volumes of data and gain value from it. 

And I’m not surprised that we’re making bad assumptions. There’s too much of varying differences in them that’s coming at us too fast. And I think we’re making decisions based on this data. And I’m super curious to read her book and to understand how we can get better at using the data to make better decisions, whether they be in sales or some of the social concerns that she brings up. I’m really looking forward to reading it. Which one should I read first? Weapons of Math Destruction or Absolute Value? I’m not able to multitask in that way, like half brain, half brain.

 

Andy Paul 21:53

Well, I think if you prioritize the broad of the larger good first, I’d probably start with Weapons of Math Destruction, just because it’s broader reach beyond just our field. And it’s very challenging for us as individuals in society, individuals that can have an impact on other people as this whole idea of how we’re using data is very compelling. And so I think that’s a good place to start. But I would follow right away with Absolute Value. For those of you who aren’t perhaps interested in larger sociological implications, they’ll start with Absolute Value. Both great books.

 

Bridget Gleason 22:35

Andy, very excited. Like I said, I’m super excited that we’re at the end of the podcast. Because I want to start reading. Unfortunately, I can’t start reading right away. But these are two great, great recommendations, very thought provoking, relevant. I’m sure these topics will come up. These books will come up again for us.

 

Andy Paul 23:00

I think so. Well, good. Well, again, I know you need to jump on Amazon to get those ordered before your next call. As always, a pleasure to speak with you. Friends who have been listening, thank you again for taking your time to join us. If you have any questions about anything we spoke about or about sales in general, remember, email me at andy@zerotimeselling.com. I believe our next episode will be answering some more questions, user questions or listener questions. And I’m looking forward to it. I look forward to talking to you, Bridget.

 

Bridget Gleason 23:29

Likewise, have a great day.

 

Andy Paul 23:30

All right, talk to you later. Thanks for listening to the show. If you like what you heard, and want to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes, please subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or stitcher.com. For more information about today’s guest, visit my website at AndyPaul.com.