Working on my new book, Ditch the Pitch, has me thinking a lot about what it means to pay attention: In order to engage in a fresh, spontaneous, improvised sales conversation with a customer, you must be completely alert, totally in the moment, ready to accept all information that comes at you.

But being completely attentive, ready to accept all new information, isn’t as easy as it seems.  I’m reading a fabulous new book by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simmons, The Invisible Gorilla. The book is based on a famous experiment by the authors in which viewers watch a video of people passing basketballs, trying to count the number of times one team, those in white shirts, pass the ball.  In the middle of the video a person in a gorilla suit walks through the scene, yet 50% of people miss the gorilla because they are so focused on counting the passes. (Watch the video here)

The lesson from the gorilla experiment: Realize that your brain is wired to notice what you expect to happen. It’s easy to miss the unexpected.  If you have pre-determined what you think is going to happen in a sales conversation, you may be so focused on that you may miss something unexpected from your customer.  The “gorilla” you may miss could be a new opportunity your customer hints at, or a new piece of information that can help you get closer to him.

Part of ditching the pitch is ditching your pre-conceived expectations about what could happen. Be alert for the unexpected … it might be a gorilla carrying a lot of money.


  • Amanda Cullen
    Aug 31, 2010 - 08:09 am

    Fascinating…I tried watching the video and just counting the passes, and I can definitely see how people would miss the very obvious gorilla… or is that just what I expected to see?

  • Larry Kaufman
    Aug 31, 2010 - 09:56 am

    What you miss may be business — or it may be monkey business. I’m not ready to concede that keeping your eye on the ball is de facto a mistake. The mistake in the illustration is concentrating on the technique instead of on the goal…counting passes instead of making baskets. It’s all too easy to let the gorilla take over!

  • Greg
    Aug 31, 2010 - 10:29 am


    You are so right on!! Watching and counting the passes is tantamount to “listening” with an agenda — which is not true listening. Listening with an agenda puts salespeople in the sales role (manipulative) and forces the buyer into the buyers role (protective). It is the breakdown of the traditional and cultural roles that will create an authentic relationship where real business can occur. It also greatly enhances the quality of the experience.

    Once again Steve, you have it SO right.


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