Book Review: Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me

I went from not liking Greg Koorhan’s new book,
“Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me,” to being a big fan.
If you’re trying to write your story this book helps.

I did not want to like this book.

In marketing, honesty is the best policy. In Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me, author Greg Koorhan explains why this approach works. An honest story always includes blemishes. When you tell an honest story in your marketing, people feel it, they empathize and they trust you. Telling an honest story helps you stand out from the competition since every honest story is unique.

I don’t like the title of this book and I hate the subtitle, How to use storytelling to connect with the hearts and wallets of a hungry audience. It’s a jumbled mess of anatomy and cliche. Under the covers, the book is thin — maybe 10,000 words — fattened with big type and white space. The tone is conversational, repetitive and full of cliches. I was prepared to slam this thing in my Amazon review. Then I read it.

It turns out the book is good — no, excellent!

The author is a scholar of storytelling and, after a slow start, explains the ways memorable stories are created. There is a science to storytelling and Greg Koorhan lays it out simply and convincingly. Effective stories are honest and always contain flaws which build empathy and trust. How these stories make the prospect feel is remembered long after the brochure is forgotten.

Koorhan provides a methodology for extracting our best stories and grooming them for use as sales pitches. The hardest part is being honest with yourself: “Telling the truth to ourselves requires awareness and practice,” he says. Other memorable sound bites include: “Stories do what data does not” and “Audiences identify with broken heroes.”

Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me is a great book about how to tell stories disguised as a marketing primer. If you are looking to tell a company story, a brand story, or your personal life story, this is the fastest, most accurate guide I have seen. The exercises will help you bring out your story and deliver it in a way that delights readers and listeners.

Photo of Author Greg Koorhan
Author Greg Koorhan (source:

It’s no surprise that Greg Koorhan is a filmmaker. In video trailers and short films, you must to cut down hours of raw material to a few seconds with emotional impact. That kind of editing gives you a strong sense of the elements a story must have when everything extra is stripped away.

I went from not liking this book to being a big fan.

I thought it was too thin, but who wants a ponderous tome these days? You get through it quickly and the supporting workbook helps you apply the advice immediately. I didn’t like the breezy tone, but it pulls you in. It feels like the author is just talking to you when, in fact, there’s an enormous amount of research underneath his words into what makes a memorable story.

I highly recommend this book, and not just for marketers or sales people. If you want to write the story of your life, or your business, or another person’s story, Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me gives you tools for extracting interesting stories and shaping them into books, movies and, yes, even marketing pitches.

©2017 by Steve O’Keefe
Executive Director, Staunton Media Lab
Book Reviewed:
Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me
by Greg Koorhan
Published by Crossbow Studio
146 pages, paperback, ISBN 978-0692748275

Book Review: Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling

Decades of wisdom are cooked down in
“Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling”
a great guide for couples or families in business together.

Decades of Wisdom Cooked Down into Easy Routines

Don & Lois Crawford, authors of Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling
Don & Lois Crawford, authors of Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling

Don and Lois Crawford embody the title of their book, the softer side of selling. They are delightful people who are helpful, honest and nice. That’s how they sold me on this book. Their charming presentation will win you over, too, while providing you with better practices for more successful selling.

Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling, 2nd Edition, is a friendly, helpful, honest guide to selling. The writing is easy and breezy, with links to a well-chosen list of resources for those who seek greater depth. Most chapters end with a quiz to help you apply the principles to your own situation.

There were two key takeaways for me. First, “all sales are made emotionally” (page 69). Richard Thayer just received the Nobel Prize for his work in behavioral economics, which shows that all decision-making is emotional and data is trumped by feelings at the moment of truth. See my review of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on how we make decisions.

“All Sales are Made Emotionally”

The Crawfords know quite a bit about the psychology of sales and cook it down to some very useful techniques. For example, they explain how to tell what kind of arguments will be most persuasive with a prospect by observing how their eyes move when deep in thought: Visual people look up, verbal people look left or right, touchy-feely people look down.

The second takeaway is that there is an answer worse than “No” in the sales profession. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what it is, but I will say the Crawfords have created an effective plan for qualifying prospects and steadily moving toward “Yes.” The book contains well-thought-out forms, checklists and scripts for organizing the sales process along with sample selling dialogues.

I have a couple of issues with the book. It starts very awkwardly with a discussion of gender and selling that is not very helpful, along with chapters such as “Choosing What to Sell” that are unnecessary for most readers. I suggest you skip the qualifying chapters and move quickly to the Six Step Sales Process where you’ll find terrific advice for generating fresh sales leads.

A Book for Couples & Partners

Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling, by Don & Lois Crawford
Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling, by Don & Lois Crawford

While the gender discussion misses the mark, this book is a great guide to selling for couples who are in business together. Like Lois and Don, all couples or partners have strengths that balance each other. Lois is the writer, online connector, home office person. Don is telephoner, visit in person, gregarious road warrior. When you align sales activities around the personalities of the partners, it will be more successful.

Whether you are in business by yourself, in a family enterprise, or in sales for a small or large firm, you’ll benefit from the decades of wisdom cooked down into “Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling.”

Review ©2017 by Steve O’Keefe
Executive Director of the Staunton Media Lab

Secrets of the Softer Side of Selling, 2nd Edition
by Donald S. Crawford & Lois Carter Crawford
Published by Marketing Idea Shop, LLC
6″ x 9″ Paperback, 200 pages, ISBN 978-0-9742511-4-1
Illustrated with Forms; Bibliography; Glossary

Fecalnomics: Why Good People Make Shitty Decisions

Steve O’Keefe discusses the nature of poor decision-making, based on his Amazon review of Thinking Fast & Slow by the Nobel economist Daniel Kahneman.

[This is the online version of Continuous Improvement: The Newsletter of Orobora, a printed publication. You are welcome to subscribe to the print edition and we will mail it at no cost.]


Why Good People Make Shitty Decisions

Fecalnomics is the study of poor decision-making. The concept of “fecalnomics” originated with an Amazon review I wrote of the book, Thinking Fast & Slow, in which Nobel economist Daniel Kahneman shows how monkeys throwing feces are more accurate than human stock pickers over the long toss.

Considering recent electoral results in the United States and the United Kingdom, this is an opportune time to reflect on how and why humans make terrible decisions and what we can do to improve both our good-decision rate and our happiness with our decisions. Here, then, are 10 basic principles of fecalnomics.

1. Humans Make Quick Emotional Decisions

When forced to make a choice, human beings make quick emotional decisions, then look for supporting evidence if they have to defend their position. Kahneman calls these thought patterns “System One” (for fast emotional thinking) and “System Two” (for slower, logical thinking). Kahneman and his late colleague, Amos Tversky, came at economics from psychology and basically said the “Rational Man” of classical economics isn’t wearing any clothes! Real men and real women are driven by primal passions which we dress up in “rational” arguments after the fact, if ever at all.

Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman

2. “Research” Means Bolstering Quick Emotional Decisions

What we call “research” or “science” is very often an effort to prove an emotional hunch rather than an attempt to understand reality or discover truth. This problem plagues all scientific experimentation. It leads to a lot of research going unpublished because it does not correlate well with emotional beliefs. Research that “has a good story arc,” on the other hand, gets elevated.

Humans do not form their beliefs based on analysis of data; they measure the veracity of data by its affinity with their beliefs. In the case of political candidates, voters make emotional decisions early on, then consult the media that supports their views for evidence to defend their decision. When we do research, we are almost always looking to confirm an entrenched belief.

3. We Ignore Averages and Believe We’re Exceptional

If half the marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, what’s the chance your marriage will? If you’re married, you likely rate your chance of divorce at far less than 50%. Maybe 10%. You know the odds, but you don’t believe they apply to you.

The problem is, no one believes the odds apply to them in any given situation. We’re often surprised by an outcome that could easily be predicted. We refuse to consult the science available and, when we do, we ignore the guidance in favor of our own instincts. If we did not, people would not get married, would not have kids, would not start businesses, and certainly would not become scientists. The failure rate for real science is so high that Kahneman suggests a person must be “delusional” to be successful as a scientist.

4. We Underestimate How Long Things Will Take

The best story in Thinking Fast & Slow, in my opinion, is one where a group of experts in the burgeoning field of Behavioral Economics gather for the purpose of producing a college textbook and curriculum. Kahneman polls the room privately on how long they expect this effort to take. The average of their guesses is two years. The people in the room have themselves done research that shows this effort takes on average seven to 10 years with a 40% incompletion rate.

The dramatic difference between their predictions and their own research is discussed and each obstacle is explained away in turn. It took eight years to complete the project. None of them likely would have started the project if they thought it would take eight years. They may not have known exactly what would happen to slow them down, but they should have known that something was likely to happen to drag their schedule closer to the mean.

5. We Underestimate How Much Things Will Cost

One of the ways humans believe we are making progress on our life goals is by ignoring any evidence we are not. Almost all marketing enables this illusion by stressing benefits and hiding costs. If you hold title to an asset, you feel as if you own that wealth.

Many assets, however, are purchased with debt, are taxed, and require maintenance, storage and insurance. Our wealth turns out to be indentured servitude — a promise to generate revenue streams for other people. If we do not pay, our assets go away and possibly our liberties, too.

Human beings build great structures at enormous expense and fail to fund simple maintenance to preserve them. We inject toxic sludge deep underground when we know treatment is a better solution. No reserves are set aside for dealing with problems in the future. We enjoy benefits today while pushing costs away, so we naturally underestimate and underfund the cost of nearly everything.

Amos Tversky
Amos Tversky

6. We Believe Tomorrow Will Be Like Today

Two hundred years ago, 99% of Americans worked in agriculture. Today, less than 2% do. A hundred years ago, half of Americans worked industrial jobs. Today, less than 5% do.

Manufacturing currently employs less than 15% of U.S. workers. Most Americans today work in services. Many of these service jobs are quickly being automated away. We see an arc of progress from our own perspective that looks gradual and consistent and we project it into the future.

The real arc is much more dramatic. We’re no longer the smartest thing on Earth. Your kids ask Google or Siri or Watson; they don’t ask you; they never will again. If machines are now demonstrably “smarter” than humans — making better decisions, faster, based on more data, with confidence-graded outcomes — then it’s Game Over for humans. We’re now the amusing pets of a superior species. We can expect to be treated as such in the future.

7. We Hold Onto Mistakes As If They Were Children

Humans can’t stand to lose or go backwards. Our fear of losing something we have is so severe that we will do almost anything to avoid a loss. This loss-avoidance-ratio can be calculated with some accuracy. In terms of income, it takes a $10K increase in pay to make you as happy as a $5K de-crease makes you sad.

The result of this weird loss avoidance ratio is that we think everything we possess somehow gains a magical quality that makes it much more valuable than the same thing on the open market. It’s like your Samuelson Economics textbook should be worth more because it has your margin notes. The problem is that human beings (and corporations and governments) are loath to cut their losses and move on. We hang onto worthless things much longer than we should, with painful consequences.


Protecting Yourself From Fecalnomics


8. Calm the F! Down

Things are neither as bad nor as good as they appear. We tend to confuse the exception with the rule and overreact emotionally to almost everything we learn. Take the U.S. elections. Congressional incumbents historically have a 95% reelection rate — that’s why it seems like nothing in Washington, D.C., ever changes.

In 2016 — surprise! — incumbents had a 95% reelection rate. It’s not rational to expect change. Kahneman points out that all extremes erode to the mean over time. That’s why I think Google is doomed because they hire geniuses and ride them to mediocrity. I have decided to work more with college dropouts because their exceptional days are ahead of them.

Consult the averages. Data does matter. No person or thing outperforms the average for very long.

9. Visualize Being a Loser

If you want to make better decisions, stop getting all caught up in the euphoria of how awesome it’s going to be and think, for a moment, of what happens if it all goes horribly wrong? Americans have the highest confidence-to-skillset ratio in the world. Over 90% of us think we’re better-than-average drivers.

Kahneman points out how difficult it is for people to see downside accurately. We don’t believe average results apply to our situation. Because of our belief that the future will be a smooth extension from the present, we are unable to imagine the obstacles that will arise. Conduct what Kahneman calls a pre-mortem and analyze what went wrong before you begin, so that you’re more aware there are risks, even though you’re not sure how they’ll manifest.

10. Get Over It

The lessons on happiness that spring from Kahneman’s research are quite startling. He spurred the global movement toward accurately measuring satisfaction and happiness. What drives dissatisfaction is the gulf between accomplishments and expectations. Lower your expectations, says Kahneman, and you will be happier more often.

Write off your losses quickly and move on. You are by nature excessively risk-averse so dwelling on past losses leads to a spiral of fear and paralysis. Kahneman says experiences that are painful at the time are often fondly remembered and deeply satisfying.

See Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath for a book-length discussion of that phenomenon. Kahneman labors to explain this without simply citing childbirth — an extremely unpleasant experience that usually leads to deep life satisfaction.

So get over it, cut your losses and make life changes. Things are never going to be the same again. You may come to see this loss as the best thing that ever happened to you. The secret to happiness, it turns out, is to decide to be happy — no matter what fecal material is flung your way.


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Monkeys Throwing Feces Are Smarter Than You!

A critical review of “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, one of the founders of Behavioral Economics.


Review of “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
©2011, first paperback edition @2013

Reviewed by Steve O’Keefe

This is a difficult book, requiring much System 2 cognitive effort; if you want to substitute a simpler read, try the Introduction and Part V: Two Selves, and skip all the hypothetical gambles between.

The Introduction has been labored over and nicely hits all the high notes — it’s worthy of the Nobel Prize, which the author was awarded in 2002. Daniel Kahneman and his partner Amos Tversky came at economics from psychology and basically said the Rational Man has no clothes. People often act against their own interests and are easily duped. This may seem self-evident after the U.S. Treasury covered Wall Street’s losing real estate bets in 2008.

Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman

Human beings tell themselves a story about what is happening in the world and often ignore information that cannot be easily worked into the plot. For example, peak marital happiness is in the first year of marriage, then it steadily declines. Married couples prefer not to let this fact inside their story lines. Here’s another interesting Kahnefact: Mothers prefer spending time doing housework to spending time with their children. Ouch.

A rational “Econ” weighs the facts and makes the best choice. A “Human,” says Kahneman, makes a quick, emotional choice then shapes the facts to support the decision. The rational mind resists this assault, but in chapter after chapter, Kahneman shows that decisions we think are based on “science” are mythology.

He goes after stock pickers — you can thank Kahneman and his proof that managed funds cannot outperform the market by enough to cover their fees for the rise of giant index funds. He goes after surgeons, and rightly so: The majority of them will change their recommended treatment for cancer from surgery to radiation depending on how you ask the question.

Kahneman disturbingly points out that a good algorithm is often better at decision-making than a trained human, yet we almost always prefer the human to the formula. That’s not “rational.”

Kahneman goes after CEOs, who he criticizes for their overconfidence, their appetite for risk, their reluctance to cut their losses, and their tendency to “swing for the fences” rather than admit defeat and reposition their assets. Kahneman is a psychologist; he never once mentions the limited liability all U.S. corporations enjoy absolutely encourages risky, swing for the fences behavior because there is only upside. If it all goes badly, the taxpayers will eat the loss.

Amos Tversky
Amos Tversky

Kahneman’s weakness in economics is ironically the only weakness in the book. How can you have a discussion of utility theory and not mention John Stuart Mill and barely acknowledge Jeremy Bentham? Part IV — Choices — should be called Painful Choices, because it is painful to watch Kahneman build up to prospect theory when he could have used just two words: marginal utility.

At one point, he seems to not understand risk, as when he accuses fellow Nobel laureate Gary Becker of believing there are no such things as mistakes. A mistake, in economics, is the downside of risk. It’s supposed to happen all the time in a free economy.

As for the title of this review, it’s become an old saw that monkeys throwing darts at a stock chart are as likely to come out ahead as human stock pickers. “Monkeys throwing darts” is a pseudonym for randomness. But expertise is something that comes through experience, according to Kahneman, and monkeys are experienced at throwing feces.

Therefore, their accuracy with feces should be superior to their accuracy with darts and, thus, superior to you. Work that into your story line.