The Myth of Non-Verbal Communication

September 22nd, 2010

It happened again yesterday. I heard somebody proclaiming that words only account for 7% of communication, while vocal tone contributes 38% and body language makes up a whopping 55%. These figures are startling, surprising, eye-popping.

They’re also wrong.

The “7-38-55” Rule is an oft-repeated misinterpretation of the work of Dr. Albert Mehrabian of the University of California, Los Angeles. It has been erroneously repeated by so many supposed “experts” over the last four decades that it has achieved the status of myth.

It’s the kind of myth I’m on a mission to dispel. (Hey, that’s what a heretic does.) Here are the facts.

Dr. Mehrabian’s research involved situations in which the meaning of a single spoken word was ambiguous (e.g. “maybe,” “dear”) or situations in which the words spoken were not in congruence with the tone and/or facial expressions of the speaker.

Dr. Albert Mehrabian

Dr. Albert Mehrabian

For example, the meaning of the word “maybe” changes considerably depending on whether a positive, negative or neutral tone is used. And a person declaring “I’m fine!” with a scowling face and crossed arms is clearly sending two conflicting messages, the non-verbal one carrying more weight.

The “7-38-55” Rule is actually Dr. Mehrabian’s calculation of how words, vocal tone and facial expressions influence one person to like or dislike another. It was never intended to be a blanket statement about communication in general.

On his website (, here’s what Dr. Mehrabian himself says about his famous formula (emphasis mine):

“Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking. Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like–dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”

Even in that limited context, the “7-38-55” Rule is suspect. Dr. Mehrabian derived the formula by combining the results of two different studies—studies which other scholars argue can’t legitimately be combined.

So what does this mean to you, the salesperson, manager, business owner or CEO? For one thing, it means your words do matter. Sure, your non-verbals matter too, but primarily when they’re in conflict with your actual words or when your words themselves are ambiguous.

If you want to ensure your message is understood clearly, invest the time in choosing the right words and then make certain your tone and body language are in congruence with what you’re trying to communicate.

Also, be suspicious whenever you hear some speaker, trainer or consultant spout “information” that seems outrageous or bizarre. Ask them where the data came from. A true expert will be able to cite their source.

And the next time somebody quotes you the “7-38-55” Rule, ask them if they’ve ever actually read any of Dr. Mehrabian’s work. Or simply enlighten them with the facts. That way, there will be one less myth-spreader in the world.

Defy Gravity and Boost Your Sales

September 17th, 2010

“New market opportunities are popping up all around us. Yet, thanks to our tunnel vision, we can’t see them. Many call it being focused. I call it gravity. Gravity is created when we hang onto our knowns, our status quo beliefs about our business, our value and our markets, long past their prime. As our markets change, we get stuck in their past—creating gravity that limits our forward momentum.”

So asserts Rebel Brown, a business strategy, launch & turnaround expert in her brilliant new book, Defy Gravity.

Rebel compares business success with flying, identifying the four major conflicting forces of flight—lift, thrust, weight and drag—and defining their business equivalents:
Business Drag: The mistaken ideas we hold about our products, employees and practices
Market Weight: The inaccurate things we believe about the markets we serve
Business Thrust: Our value and differentiation
Market Lift: New opportunities for revenue, profits and growth

If you want your business to succeed, you need to increase your lift and thrust, while reducing your weight and drag. The problems is that most businesses either don’t have a plan to deal with all four elements, or if they do, the plan is more of a hindrance than a help. Why? Because today’s frenetic pace of change renders even the best-conceived plans obsolete quickly.

To prevent failure, Rebel argues we need to change our plans as conditions change.

“We wouldn’t fly a plane straight into a thunderstorm because the flight plan said we should. We’d change our course. If the tailwinds were better a bit higher and twelve miles to the south, we’d adjust our heading and climb to find them. So why do we stick to our behind-the-times plans and focus, especially when dynamic changes would give us a much better chance for success?”

The answer to this question comprises the first seven chapters of the book, in which Rebel details causes and examples of business drag and market weight in chapters such as It’s Our Best and Biggest Seller, But It’s a Huge Opportunity!, Our Key Employees Are the Reason We’re Here, and But the Other Guys Have It!

Rebel explodes many of the most common business myths and misconceptions (what she terms “Corporate Legends”) that hold companies back, often dooming them to failure. She encourages us to question everything: our beliefs, our approaches, our logic, our data, even our past successes.

“Recognizing that what we knew yesterday probably doesn’t apply today is critical to reaching sustainable growth. We can’t approach strategic planning with our knowns and be successful. We have to test everything we know in the winds of the marketplace.”

The second half of the book explores how you can increase your thrust and lift by improving your value and seizing the appropriate market opportunities.

“When our value is compelling, we take off and climb higher. When we listen to how our customers perceive our value and focus on evolving that value in line with their needs (and those of our prospects), we create continuous business thrust.

Lift can be found in current or new markets. A key to maintaining or increasing our business velocity is to proactively seek out new lift— adjusting our course to soar higher and higher thanks to the  updraft of expanding markets.”

To help you improve your lift and thrust, Rebel covers:
• How to identify what your company’s true value is
• The critical difference between “Big Bang” change and evolutionary change
• How to effectively evaluate and prioritize opportunities
• When to get in and when to get out of a market
• How to monitor and manage your growth
• And much more.

Accompanying Rebel’s insights are numerous stories and case studies, many written with an insider’s knowledge, because she was called in to launch a new company or to save a floundering one. The result is an entertaining, eye-opening read, packed with practical advice for growing your business.

Defy Gravity is not just one of the best business books I’ve read this year—it’s one of the best business books I’ve ever read. It serves as a much-needed slap in the face for both corporate executives and small business owners alike. You’re likely to squirm while reading it. Yet it’s also a valuable blueprint for business success. Or as Rebel calls it, a flight plan.

How to Reach Your 2010 Sales Goals

September 9th, 2010

The year is two-thirds over, but there’s still time make sure you reach your sales goals for 2010.

Listen to my appearance on Breakthrough Business Radio with Michele Price as I share tips and tactics you can use immediately. In just 15 minutes, you’ll discover:

    • The first thing you must do in order to reach your sales goals
    • How to free up more time to sell
    • Where to find your easiest and fastest sales
    • 3 ways to reestablish contact with prospects you’ve lost touch with
    • How to get the biggest return from your prospecting efforts
    • And more!

To listen, just click on the link below. Or to download the segment to listen later, right-click the link and select “Save Target As…”

How to Reach Your 2010 Sales Goals, Don Cooper on Breakthrough Business Radio (mp3)

Get ready to make the most of the next four months!

To learn more about Michele Price and listen to her interview other business strategists (which I highly recommend), check out her web site:

Your Best Prospects

September 2nd, 2010

Marketing for sales prospects in a crowdWhen I coach salespeople, consult with companies and speak at conferences, I’ll often ask, “Who is your market?”

Nine times out of ten, the answer I get back is “Everyone.”

Wrong answer!

No company can market effectively to everybody. And no salesperson can be efficient or effective looking for prospects everywhere.

Which means, if you want to boost your sales, you need to focus your marketing and prospecting efforts where they’ll provide you the biggest returns.

No matter how wonderful your product or service is, some people will want it more than others. No matter what you do and how you do it, some people will appreciate and value it more than others. That’s who you want to target: the people most likely to buy from you.

So, whether you’re selling to consumers, businesses or governments, define your best prospects. What do they look like? What characteristics do they share?

For instance, if your product or service is aimed at consumers, here are some demographic criteria you could use to define your target market:
• Age
• Sexsales marketing prospect demographics
• Race/ethnicity
• Religion
• Sexual orientation
• Height and weight
• Education level
• Marital/family status
• Family size
• Age of children
• Hobbies/interests
• Recreational activities
• Job status
• Profession
• Household income
• Geographic area
• Urban/suburban/rural resident
• Homeowner or renter
• Housing type (detached house, town home, condo, mobile home, etc.)
• Disabilities
• Pet ownership

Some of these criteria can be further subcategorized. For instance, pet owners can be subdivided by number of pets or type of pet owned: dogs, cats, fish, birds, etc.

If you’re marketing to businesses, consider these demographic criteria:
• Industry or profession
• Geographic areaBuilding with marketing & sales prospects
• Age of business
• Business’ target market
• Job title
• Workforce size
• Annual revenue
• Number of locations
• Franchise or independent
• Business type (manufacturing, distribution, retail, service, restaurant, etc.)

The more specifically you can define your target prospect, the more effectively you can reach them, so use as many demographic characteristics as you can.

For example, your target prospects might be overweight, single women under the age of 40 living in the Seattle metropolitan area. Or your target prospects might be male retirees living in the southwestern United States with incomes between $100,000 and $500,000. Or they might be French businesses with annual revenues under €1 million which have been in business less than two years. Or they could be female medical malpractice attorneys throughout the country.

This is not to say that these are the only people you will sell to. You may well have customers outside your target market. You may have two, or even three, distinct target markets, each with its own unique characteristics. But the more narrowly you can define your market, the more effectively you can craft a marketing message that resonates with them and the more cost-effectively you can present that message to them.

Remember too, that repetition is crucial to sales success. You have to get your message in front of your prospect numerous times before they buy from you. Which means you’ll get far better results marketing to 1,000 targeted people ten times than marketing to 10,000 random people once. If you’re a salesperson, it’s also much easier to follow up with 1,000 people than 10,000.

Whether you’re a CEO, sales manager, professional or salesperson, you only have so much time and money. You can’t afford to waste them chasing after everybody. Instead, define and pursue your best prospects: the ones who need or want you most. It’s a sure-fire way to increase your sales quickly and profitably.