If you've ever been amazed by a magic trick, you've likely been under the psychological spell of pattern interrupt. Magicians understand how to trick your mind just enough to create a conflict between what you believe to be true and what you see in front of you.
Salespeople can use this same technique to direct a prospect's behavior, change the momentum of a conversation, and engage people more effectively.
It's a useful psychological tool for any part of the sales funnel but is often employed during the prospecting phase. That's because it breaks people's habitual response of "not interested" or "no, thanks" and gets them to reconsider your message.
Check out why pattern interrupt can help you shift the direction of a sales pitch and have more effective, meaningful conversations.
What is pattern interrupt?
Pattern interrupt is a way to alter a person's mental, emotional, or behavioral state to break their typical habits. Think of it as an unexpected act that jolts them into another state of mind.
Originating from neuro-linguistic programming, pattern interrupt involves recognizing an unwanted pattern, disrupting it, and leading someone to the desired behavior. Psychologists use pattern interrupts to break people out of unwanted or unconscious responses they've developed over time. So instead of zoning out on the couch after work, for instance, you grab your gym shoes and go for a walk.
There are various ways to initiate a pattern interrupt. One involves visualizing a cue, such as scrolling social media on your phone when you wake up, and imagining what it would be like to switch to the desired response, like working out. In time, you train your mind to ditch the old habit for the new thought pattern or behavior.
While this method of pattern interrupt is helpful for breaking lifelong habits, salespeople need techniques that are more immediate and impactful to make prospects receptive to a pitch.
Pattern Interrupt in Sales
Salespeople know the frustration of unanswered emails and unresponsive leads. You have to manage personal bias and instantaneous rejection of whatever it is you're selling.
That's likely why more than 40% of salespeople agree that prospecting is the most challenging part of the sales process. But pattern interrupt is a great technique to have on hand to help move prospects down the funnel. It gives you the chance to stop someone from automatically saying "no" and create space for a different response.
Effective pattern interrupts can change a negative reaction into a positive one by disarming people (in a professional and appropriate way) and allowing them to open up to your message. There are a number of techniques that can make people more receptive to your email outreach, event networking, social selling, or phone calls. Your aim with all of them is to get the person you're speaking with to pause and consider your message by saying something unexpected.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a positive interaction that shakes up a person's normal routine. But like all sales techniques, there's a time and a place to use pattern interrupts.
When is a pattern interrupt useful?
A poorly timed pattern interrupt can make the person you're talking with shut down. You know what I mean if you've ever been cut off mid-sentence. You don't feel heard and do whatever it takes to get out of the conversation.
But if timed correctly, a pattern interrupt can spark a meaningful interaction. That's because when a person is thrown out of their usual thoughts or behaviors, they're left without a next step—and are open to whatever comes their way. As a salesperson, you can fill that gap in a number of ways.
- Warm calling: Ideally, your initial contact with a prospect isn't completely cold. You want to warm them up so that when you hop on the phone, they've heard your name before. That way, a pattern interrupt like "Hey, John. It's Jane Doe, name ring a bell?" will be more effective because they may recognize you. You'll be able to start a conversation instead of jumping right into your regular spiel.
- Email outreach: The average email open rate is 18%, with a minuscule click-through rate of 2.6%. In other words, people aren't opening a majority of emails in their inboxes. A pattern interrupt in your subject line can catch a prospect's eye and get them to click, which already puts you ahead—and makes them more receptive to your main message.
- In-person conversations: When a discussion isn't going the way you planned, you can use a pattern interrupt to redirect the course. As you look through the pattern interrupt examples below and consider which are appropriate to use in-person, keep in mind that 60% of buyers want to talk to a sales rep during the consideration stage.
Best Pattern Interrupt Techniques
Every salesperson has a unique list of tried-and-true sales tactics. Maybe you've already used one or two of these techniques, and maybe some are new to you. Either way, they're worth testing out to see what helps you grab people's attention.
1. Speak First
This pattern interrupt technique isn't just about being the first to talk. It's about being the first to ask a question that gets the conversation rolling, just like you would with a friend or family member. Aim to sound familiar, casual, and excited to talk. It sounds like:
- Hey Ava, how's your morning going?
- Hey Ben, this is John Doe from XYZ Company. How are you doing?
- Hey Elizabeth, can you hear me okay?
2. The Thief
No one wants to feel like they're wasting time on a sales call, which is why this pattern interrupt technique acknowledges the fact that you're stealing someone's time upfront. The key with this method is to sound a bit sly, but still polite and professional. You want the prospect to wonder what's going on.
- Can I take 15 seconds of your time?
If you're further along in the conversation or the prospect says they don't have time to talk, you can also use this technique to try and set up another call.
- I know this call came out of the blue. When is a more convenient time on Thursday or Friday to continue this conversation?
3. Answer the Question
Everyone wants to know why they're speaking with someone and if the conversation is worth their time, especially if it's someone they've never met before. This technique answers their questions right from the start. It's smart to find out which questions prospective customers ask the most and use those to begin the pattern interrupt.
- Hey Zoey, we’ve never spoken before. Can I share why I called you today?
- Do companies actually need content marketing?
- Have you ever been frustrated that so much time is taken up organizing analytics when it's better spent on developing a strategy?
You should already know a lot about a prospect before calling them, which will help you pull off this pattern interrupt. The idea is to let the person know that you've done your homework and took the time to understand their needs. It's the next-level personalization and problem-solving that makes this one stand out.
- "You mentioned how tough it is to get in front of customers during the webinar for ABC Solutions. Can you tell me why you feel that way given your experience at LMK Tech?
5. Shock and Awe
Not every industry or person is fit for this pattern interrupt technique. It's about finding something that throws your prospect beyond the scope of normalcy into an entirely new reality. Maybe it's the worst-case scenario for their business, or maybe it's an outrageous price tag. You want to jolt people into listening, without crossing the line.
- Let's say this product cost $2 million. Would you still hear me out?
- Oh wow, you picked up the phone. You just made my day.
- What would happen if you lost all of your customer data?
At least 50% of your prospects are not a good fit for what you sell. But some prospects are quick to assume that. When a prospect asks why they should buy from you, you can use this pattern interrupt to address why your product or service might not be the right fit. Once you know the common reasons why people don't want to buy, you can use it to knock the excuse out of their minds.
- I don't know if our product is right for you. Can I ask a few questions to check if we're a good fit?
- I'm sure you're being taken care of by your current provider, but…
- It's okay to say "no" if you don't think we can do a better job than the service you're currently using.
7. Shared Experience
It can be tough to sell to people who have been in an industry for decades. But if you're in the same industry as a prospect, you can use this pattern interrupt technique to find common ground. This works especially well in B2B sales or when pitching people in your industry.
- From one marketer to another…
- You know better than anyone that selling can be a struggle…
- I noticed we both went to the QRS Conference last month...
8. Verbal Ambiguity
This pattern interrupt relies on confusion, so it's the most delicate of all the techniques. You have to be confident when delivering it and know your audience well enough to pull it off. The aim is to say something that temporarily throws the conversation off-topic, giving you the chance to redirect it.
- You might say, "When was the last time your customer service team performed better than the last time they performed the best?" This will cause the prospect to momentarily pause and think, which could open them up to whatever message comes next.
- You can say, “I’m a bit confused. Can you explain why that process is so important for your company?”
Another way to work this pattern interrupt is to act like you're the one who's confused. This allows the prospect to seemingly take charge of the conversation as they explain an aspect of their company. This mindset shift can open them up to different ideas and responses as you continue the conversation.
As you experiment to see which pattern interrupt techniques work best for your industry and prospects, remember to keep your tone in mind so you don't come off as condescending or pushy. Research who you're talking to and have a few techniques on hand. In time, you'll find the best pattern interrupt techniques to add to your toolkit.