Trust Exercises: The Neuroscience of Storytelling
Jeff Bloomfield, founder and CEO of BrainTrust
Photo by Wes Battoclette
Let’s talk about Jeff Bloomfield, author, teacher, speaker and entrepreneur. Jeff Bloomfield is the founder and CEO of BrainTrust, a firm that applies neuroscience to sales and marketing. Jeff Bloomfield enjoys seeing others come alive with new information. Jeff Bloomfield is dependable, honest and hardworking.
Now, let’s talk about you and Jeff Bloomfield. Do you trust Jeff Bloomfield?
The better question is: why would you? Sure, Jeff Bloomfield might really be all those things. But that’s beside the point. A few declarative statements about the man aren’t enough to create a connection. They aren’t enough to build trust.
Jeff Bloomfield learned about sales and marketing as a young boy on a 100-acre farm in Ohio. His grandfather (papaw) was his first teacher and, as he later discovered, his best one. In him, Bloomfield saw someone who, with only an eighth-grade education, possessed an intuitive ability to relate to others through kindness and authenticity.
“He was an amazing storyteller, as was my father,” says Bloomfield.
He learned from them that “hard work and perseverance always pays off.” He also learned to treat others better than they expect to be treated (what he calls the platinum rule), that creative problem solvers rule the world and that family should be cherished.
Bloomfield’s relationship with his papaw was deep and loving. Yet it did not last. His grandfather passed away from lung cancer when Bloomfield was in junior high. “It was really difficult,” he says.
But the grandson trudged on. After college, he worked at a biotech company marketing genetic therapies for, as it turns out, lung cancer. The salespeople received lengthy analyses and huge amounts of data to market the therapies to oncologists. Yet Bloomfield didn’t do that.
“I would tell stories about the patients that were in the trial, about the impact lung cancer was having on their lives and what their grandchildren would have given for one more day with them,” he says. He would leave the analyses and data with the physicians, but the substance of the sale was always the story.
Over time, his tactic paid off. “My numbers kept going up,” says Bloomfield with a smile. The other salespeople were baffled that this “storytelling farm kid” kept getting promoted. Even Bloomfield himself didn’t appreciate the force of his tactics until he began marketing a brain cancer drug several years later.
“I needed to understand how the brain worked,” he says. As he spoke to neuroscientists, he realized something: the research showed his grandfather had possessed an intuition that science would take decades to discover: people make decisions based on trust and emotion, not data. They simply use the data to validate the emotional decision already made.
If you trust Jeff Bloomfield now more than you did before, it’s because at his invitation you’ve engaged with his experience. You now know a quantum of what it’s like to be him. That’s important because, according to Bloomfield, this is how sales and marketing should work: connectibility before credibility.
But, for the most part, this isn’t how it works today: most salespeople sell the facts first and the story second. Bloomfield’s epiphany made him realize the error in this. Ever since, he has helped others leverage the brain’s actual mechanics to create connections, build trust and foster likability through storytelling.
“I started teaching companies the neuroscience of decision making,” he says. His five-year-old company, BrainTrust, evolved as a conduit for this sort of instruction. “People buy from people they trust, but what does that mean? How do you decide to trust someone? Well, once you learn how the brain works, it changes the way you market, from branding to websites to the stories you tell in one-on-one sales.”
BrainTrust has been successful because it practices what Bloomfield preaches: the firm use positive messaging to build genuine, trusting relationships with its clients, not just transactional ones. “You might convince someone for a moment to buy something,” Bloomfield says of the transactional model, “but they won’t be loyal long term because you don’t have a connection or trust.
“To be an effective organization, you need to have the perfect balance of connectibility and credibility. Most organizations spend 99 percent of their time trying to sell through credibility. But from what we know about the brain, the place where we process facts is not the place where we make decisions. The credible information has to be supported by trust.”
BrainTrust’s model scales to the size of the client’s business. A local two-day training program is available to smaller firms and a comprehensive enterprise package is available to Fortune 500 companies.
“We go in and learn from the leadership team the ‘why’ behind what they do,” Bloomfield says. “Then we take that and move into a two-day program to teach their salespeople and sales managers how the brain works and how to tell effective stories tailored to that company’s messaging. That’s powerful because you’ve then worked with them from their leadership team down to the sales execution level.”
On the surface, the proposition seems simple enough: if you trust someone, you like them; if you like them, you’ll buy from them. Except that’s not what’s being practiced.
To be fair, Bloomfield notes there are “subconscious elements that come into play about whether you like someone.” But these elements aren’t insurmountable. “You can teach people how to communicate from a place of authenticity.”
Note that Bloomfield doesn’t say you can teach people to be authentic; all you can do is coach them to speak from a place of authenticity. “Storytelling is a skill that needs to be taught and developed.”
This highlights an important point. Story marketing is very much in vogue. “The company with the best story wins” has become a maxim of marketing truth in the years since Bloomfield founded BrainTrust. Yet, though these companies might understand that stories work, they don’t understand how, so their sales pitches employ stories for their own sake rather than stories that create trust and affinity.
But Bloomfield understands what the science is telling him: people make decisions based on feeling, not logic. His grandfather understood this, too, and his lessons were intended to draw this understanding out in Bloomfield.
The Currency of Experience
Still, even if we understand the brain’s mechanics, the question remains: why do stories create trust in the first place?
Going back to Bloomfield’s childhood, it’s easy to imagine him working under the summer sun, the waves of dry air roiling up from the dirt and spreading out onto the vast Ohio plains. Some days must have seemed unproductive: perhaps a few tasks were advanced, but compared to the multitude of impassive stalks, what difference did it make? These were the days Bloomfield learned that even if hard work doesn’t bear an immediate reward, it still pays off in the currency of experience.
Stories transfer that experience to others. Yet experience differs crucially from real currency in that its expenditure does not diminish the reserves: you can tell a story over and over and still draw upon the original experience.
Perhaps this is an answer to the ‘why’: stories are told freely and without an expectation of reward; there is nothing necessary or obligatory about stories, so telling one is, of itself, already an act of trust.
Once again, let’s talk about Jeff Bloomfield: writer, Cincinnati entrepreneur, founder and CEO of BrainTrust. “Well, alright,” you might say. “And what do you want from me in return for that information?”
But, say this Jeff Bloomfield grew up on a farm with a grandfather who had an eighth-grade education. Say his grandfather taught him about hard work and authentic storytelling. Say he realized years later that his grandfather, whom he loved in life and missed immeasurably in death, had actually grasped something of the human mind that an entire corporate establishment could not. Say Jeff Bloomfield then started a business to teach others the skills his grandfather taught him.
The question is, do you trust him now?
For more information, visit www.braintrust101.com.