When to Control the Frame, When to Play the Game


Guest Post from John Jakutis, a colleague of mine at SCVNGR.

Controlling the Frame. Probably one of the most important factors in selling. Arguably one of the most important factors in being a leader! It revolves around the notion that “If I believe something MORE STRONGLY than what you believe, and can convey it in a logical way, then you will adhere to my way of thinking.” So if you think the sky is blue, but I KNOW it is green, and I can convey that to you in a very clear, logical way, then you will believe the sky is green.

Leaders control frames, rallying people to take action. Teachers control frames, imparting knowledge & wisdom that is accepted as fact. Politicians control frames, causing people to follow their cause (regardless of the actual importance of the issue). And smart salesmen control the frame, by keeping their potential clients thinking in a way that is conducive to the sale.

So I am selling you a product. Let’s take cigarettes for example. This is actually a great example, because there are a bevy of reasons NOT to buy cigarettes. Bad for your health. Yellow teeth. Smelly. Highly addictive. However, the smart salesman does not focus on these topics. The smart salesman controls the frame, and talks about something positive. 

They are a great way to make friends at a party. “Yeah, but dont they cause cancer?” You can go up to a pretty girl who’s smoking, and ask for a cigarette, or a light. Boom, instant opener! “Yeah, but they smell bad, right?” You can use them as an excuse to take “smoke breaks” whenever you want at work! “Well, that’s true, but don’t they stain your teeth?” Well it motivates you to keep mints and gum on you more often, so you will actually have FRESHER breath! “Yeah, but…” And, they are great after sex. “Huh, yeah I’ve heard that!” Plus you look cool.“Do I?” You will when you smoke cigarettes! “Ok, I’ll buy!”

As cartoonish an example as that was, the idea is what is important. There were two frames in that example: Smoking is bad & Smoking is good. Every time the client threw up an objection to smoking, the salesman threw up a new reason to like smoking. The two frames were battling. And in this example, the salesman has a stonger frame that “Smoking is good”. His frame won, and therefore the client threw out his frame and accepted the salesman’s. The purchase was made. 

But sometimes, it is actually important to NOT control the frame. Some people need to feel in control of the situation, in control of the frame. Generally speaking, people used to being a leader themselves or in a position of authority will potentially draw towards controlling the frame. Having two people trying to control the context of the conversation and the frame of the other person can get messy. 

Those who seem to want to control the frame will need to have mircroscopic “wins” within the context of the conversation, in order to feel like they have control over the sale. Nobody wants to be “sold”, but EVERYONE wants to “buy”. So what do you do? Let them win! Let them “buy”! Let them get that surge of joy that comes from when you tell them “You know, you are right about that!” Let them guide the conversation, and just listen. Let them talk for 20 minutes. For 2 hours. Whatever it takes. And when they stop talking, just be silent. Most likely, THEY will be the one to say “….ok, so tell me about your product?”

There is certainly a give-and-take when it comes to sales, and when it comes to conversation in general. The best case scenario is when you can control the frame, because you hold all the cards. But when you feel that someone else is ALSO trying to control the frame, let them. Give them the respect and attention they are looking for. Be open to their ideas, and be ready to lead when you get the chance. Your sales will increase, and your connections will strengthen!

When to Control the Frame, When to Play the Game

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