Secrets of a Master:
“The Secret of the ‘Skeptical’ Narrator”

"Never take the advice of someone who has not had your kind of trouble." (Sidney J. Harris, Chicago Sun Times columnist)

I've got an interesting insight for you that I picked up at a recent meeting of marketers and copywriters.

It's pretty simple. In fact, it's this: Simple works best in copy. Simple works best in copy management. Always focus. Always bring energy to the table. Abolish all conceits. And most of all …Get the s&#t done. As fast as possible.

But what I want to share with you isn't so much what we talked about during the sessions, as something we talked about between them. In particular, an insight that entered the discussion almost accidentally, thanks to attending copywriter Peter Beutel …

"The Selling Power of Skepticism"

During a break, Peter confessed he'd "fallen" for an infomercial. "It's almost embarrassing," said Peter. "I was watching this thing and they started showing this bed. And not just any bed. This thing costs about $1,600."

"Who spends that much on a bed?" asked Peter. "I mean, really…"

"Did you buy one?" one of us asked.

"Actually, I did. And let me tell you why …"

And so the selling – even unintentional salesmanship, on Peter's part – began:

"I'm watching this thing … this infomercial … and they start talking about how it uses NASA-researched technology …

"It's a Swedish bed … and I know what you're thinking … 'Swedes? Beds?' But they start talking about the millions of dollars spent on research. This is the same padding that protects astronauts from G-forces … Then they show how it's designed to provide extra support at the key pressure points …

"I bought one for my mother because she has this bad back … and she says it really works. No kidding. And she's tried everything …

"They've been featured on CNN and Dateline and CNBC and the Today show …

"Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to sell you one of these things. But I'll tell you, I've got one now myself. And I've never had a better night's sleep."

Peter delivered all the above with lack of hype or flamboyance. It was a non-sell effused only with his characteristic mellow charm. But by the time he was finished describing all the attributes of the bed, more than one person listening in was ready to buy. Why?

True, the product could sell itself.

From the Tempurpedic website:

"Certified by the Space Foundation" and "recognized by NASA …"

"My first truly pain-free night's sleep in 10 years …"

"… made of 'viscoelastic' material that contains billions of spherical shaped, open cells …"

"Temperature and weight sensitive, allowing the mattress to become softer in warmer areas …"

And if that isn't intriguing enough…

"Endorsed by 25,000 medical professionals" … "82% of our customers recommend the bed to a friend" … "Backed by a 20-year warranty."

No question, there's nothing better – or easier – than having a quality product to sell. Likewise, when you have trouble selling, product quality is the first place to look. However, the key element that made this sales experience much more powerful was only this: Peter's "conversion" from skeptic to believer.

Instead of launching an onslaught on customer resistance, the "skeptical narrator" makes a generous validation of potential doubts.

"I'm just like you," says the narrator, "and with good reason." The prospect, in turn …

… LIKES that someone respects his intelligence and his reasons for resistance.

… FEELS smarter for having doubts, but no longer feels defensive.

… TRUSTS the narrator more now that he's been honest and now that he knows the narrator shares his initial doubts.

… And is now EAGER to hear the arc of the 'conversion story' – even if it's only to find out what forced the change in the narrator's opinion.

Imagine trudging through snow behind someone else who's forged the way. When a prospect is trudging behind a "skeptical narrator" who has walked the same path, he gets the same benefit. Plowing ahead is just … easier.

Anyway, there it is. Give it some thought. Better yet, give it a try. In the next issue we'll introduce you to "The Naive Narrator," a close cousin to "The Skeptical Narrator" technique …

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Published: March 11, 2002

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