Jeff Bloomfield: An interview by Bob Morris

BloomfieldAs a founder of BrainTrust, a successful organization that trains and develops sales and marketing professionals, Jeff Bloomfield has given a lot of thought to why customers say yes. In Story-Based Selling: Create, Connect, and Close, Bloomfield says it’s really no mystery. People buy from people they trust. They trust people they like, and they like people they connect to with. And he believes that storytelling is the best way for salespeople-and all of us-to immediately connect to a customer’s feelings of trust and liking. He thinks teaching sales professionals to close a deal by presenting their product, probing its mutual benefits, and overcoming the customer’s objections and skepticism, is a waste of time. Instead, he urges them to tell a great story to create a personal connection. Bloomfield calls upon the latest research in neuroscience to explain the process of communication.

The truth is that during the salesperson’s engagement with clients, people quickly base their decisions on how they feel, not the way they think, so trying to persuade someone by first imparting lifeless facts and figures is self-defeating. In fact, this information goes right to an area of the listener’s brain (the left brain neocortex) that drives doubt and skepticism. To make a deal we need to connect with the parts of the customer’s brain that inspire emotions of trust and empathy. By telling a story, we can immediately connect to these good gut feelings and drive away the client’s fear of being sold. Bloomfield tells his own engaging stories while teaching step-by-step techniques of intentional storytelling to create a fast connection with the listener, no matter who is buying or what a person wants to sell.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Jeff. To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Morris: Before discussing Story-Based Selling, a few general questions. Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Bloomfield: Yes. Growing up on a farm, my Papaw was my mentor. He was an amazing storyteller and communicator. Unfortunately, he died of lung cancer when I was entering junior high. Through his example, I learned how to positively influence others through the power of story. I went on to get a degree and work in the field of bio-tech where I was fortunate enough to help launch a therapy for brain cancer. During that time, I poured over neuroscience articles and became absolutely fascinated with two things. One, my Papaw, with just an eight grade education, was a genius. He had an intuitive sense of how the human brain worked well before we had research to back it up.

Secondly, no one that I knew in corporate America really knew, let alone understood neuroscience as it pertains to sales and marketing. If we did, we wouldn’t be communicating with customers the way we do. It was that clear, summer day overlooking the San Francisco bay from my office that I knew I had to do something about the gap in the market. It was at that moment that I knew I would start a company that focused on teaching business professionals the neuroscience behind things like connection, trust and how we make buying decisions.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Bloomfield: I would say that the biggest thing my formal education taught me was the discipline of learning. I’m a fast thinking, day dreaming, idea guy and it’s hard for me to be pinned down to one idea, one subject. The education process taught me how to stay focused on learning one step at a time.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Bloomfield: I know that it’s not just about what you know and it’s not just about who you know…it’s about unique ideas, presented in creative ways that move people emotionally. It doesn’t matter if your selling tires or working in a factory. People are drawn to creative thinkers who can motivate and inspire. I believe all of us have that divine spark but the typical grind of a “job” and the distraction of simply doing task oriented work tends to prevent or at least inhibit that creative expression. If I had to do it all over again, I would have started my own company before I was thirty. I might have been broke for a few more years, but I would have loved every minute of it.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Bloomfield: This may not be your typical answer but to me Braveheart. Think about it. It’s about leadership, inspiration, motivation, teamwork, having a common goal and banning together to overcome the odds. Nearly every scene is chock full of metaphorical business application. Try watching it again through that lens and see if it doesn’t surprise you. On a lighter note, I highly recommend to all of our sales clients that they watch the movie Tommy Boy. Yes, it’s a bit slapstick and over the top but the sales principles around making a genuine connection, building trust and being an authentic communicator are everywhere in this hilarious comedy.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Bloomfield: Without question the Bible. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the Bible is literally written as a book of stories to instruct one on how to live. The principles contained within from how to treat one another, to leadership to mobilizing large groups of people around a common cause of directly applicable to any company. In fact, most, if not all culture problems a company has today can be solved by simply following this timeless instruction book.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Bloomfield: This quote is all about “leading from behind.” Great leaders help inspire greatness in others and don’t need or desire the credit for success. It also touches on how leaders who understand this philosophy also learn the most from their team. They know they don’t have all the answers and understand that even if they did, giving the team the answers doesn’t help anyone grow and develop plus it robs the team from the feeling of accomplishment when they feel they’ve contributed.

Morris: From Howard Aiken: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

Bloomfield: Great ideas are often met with stern resistance because they typically force people to change. Whether it’s changing your actual actions or simply your way of thinking, great ideas challenge us. I know I’ve come up with a great idea when my business partner tilts his head slightly to the right and says, “I’m not sure I understand that, let alone if it will work.”

Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Bloomfield: This is basically the fulfillment of the ida from the Aiken quote. Once you’ve come up with a radical, crazy idea and you finally force feed it to the public, eventually it will be adopted and become almost passé. Take today’s automobile. To paraphrase Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse.” But once they get over the shock of not riding horses anymore and realize just how incredible this new “idea” is, it becomes old hat…yesterday’s news. We are a “what’s next” type of world.

Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”

Bloomfield: There’s something invigorating and seemingly imprinted on our DNA that causes us to get more enjoyment out of pursuing that which we don’t understand versus what we think we’ve figured out. Eureka is fleeting. It’s a momentary pleasure but inevitably leads us to boredom with the very discovery. It goes right back to my previous comment. “What’s next.”

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Bloomfield: Yes, as human beings, we can certainly be extremely busy without actually being productive. For many of us, we flop into bed after a long day and lay there, staring up at the ceiling and wondering to ourselves, “what did I actually accomplish today?” The hamster and the wheel syndrome. It’s all about prioritizing the right things to work on both personally and professionally.

Morris: In one of Tom Davenport’s recent books, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Bloomfield: To me, this speaks directly to the importance of teamwork. So many companies have silos these days and unfortunately, those silos don’t have bridges that connect to one another. The company’s that seem to be hitting it out of the park are the ones that understand how to develop processes around decision making that involves the best ideas from the brightest people and allows the accountability of the “team” to force greater and greater communication between stakeholder groups.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Bloomfield: I concur wholeheartedly. In business as well as life, you will make mistakes. Make them strategically and continue to “fail forward.” The greatest lessons in life are learned from the moments we realize we should have turned left instead of right. The key is to realize that mistake within the next mile and course correct. Those are great mistakes. It’s when you make a wrong turn and continue to travel in the incorrect direction due to either blind stupidity or stubbornness that sink companies and careers.

Morris: In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?

Bloomfield: For many of us, we became known for our ability to “do” something extremely well. We get promoted through the ranks known for our ability to take action and get things done. Unfortunately, the old adage, “if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.” starts to become a leadership habit that many of us fail to recognize and correct. Ultimately, it comes down to fear. Whether it’s fear of losing control, fear of failure, fear of fill in the blank, it still comes down to fear. Great leaders delegate not because they necessarily want to, but because they know they need to.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Bloomfield: Storytelling is simply in our DNA. Great leaders have an intuitive sense that storytelling influences others more effectively than ordering folks around. Leadership is simply about the ability to influence. The best way to influence is through trust. The quickest way to trust is through building a connection and the easiest way to connect with another human being is through a story. Period. End of “story.”
Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Bloomfield: People seldom change until the pain of staying where they are becomes greater than the perceived pain of where they have been unwilling to go. This resistance is all about understanding what one can gain should they make the change. That gain has to be perceived as great enough for them to put forth the effort to change or they will not. If you are seventy five pounds overweight and don’t really care, you will never lose weight. However, after your first heart attack, the pain of staying overweight has now become greater than the pain of going to the gym. Hence, you change. It’s the same with any change we are faced with…personally or professionally.

Morris: Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any Advice?

Bloomfield: Maintaining a relational connected culture in an ever increasing transactional social media world. The advice I have is to remember that the next generation of workers is growing up in a very different world than we did, however, that doesn’t make them any different when it comes to the desire for connection. The entire rise of social media was simply born out of our desire to use technology to help us stay better connected. The problem is, without real human interaction and relationships, it will eventually lead to isolation, even if one has 5,000 Facebook friends or 10,000 twitter followers. You must continue to create a culture that fosters and encourages direct human contact. Without it, your workplace will become transactional and your customer base will become even more transactional leading to a death spiral of innovation and commoditization of nearly everything.

To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Jeff cordially invites you to check out the resources at this <a href="“>website:

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