Tetrachromacy: The Uncanny Valley

500px-Mori_Uncanny_ValleyThis is the final entry in a five-blog series on learning to see more about your Salesforce Leads and Accounts.

In 1988, Pixar Animation released the groundbreaking Tin Toy, a computer-animated short which went on to become the first CGI film to win an Academy Award. The short itself inspired the hit Toy Story franchise and, for Pixar, the rest is history. There’s very little to say about Tin Toy that’s negative. One element, however, stands out to every viewer as memorable and even disturbing. The most common complaint about the short? “Ew…that baby is so creepy!

Wait, so what’s wrong with the baby? It crawls around, doing baby stuff, shrieking and cooing as babies do, and putting everything in its mouth. It should be cute, so why are we so repulsed by it? The answer lies in an aspect of human visual perception that everyone feels, but which few are able to express. It’s called the Uncanny Valley.

In 1970, Japanese robotics professor Masahiro Mori observed that, as a robot begins to look more and more human, it becomes more and more aesthetically pleasing to the human eye and brain – until it reaches a certain point. That point – when the robot’s appearance and movements are almost human, but not quite – is when the feeling of familiarity suddenly becomes revulsion. The prominent dip you see in the graph is called The Uncanny Valley.

In effect, the problem with Billy the Baby in Tin Toy[1] is that he is almost human, but not quite. Robotics professors Karl MacDorman and Hiroshi Ishiguro theorize (and I agree with them, for what that’s worth) that the Uncanny Valley represents a range of human resemblance within which the brain no longer sees an excellent imitation of humanity in a clearly non-human entity, but rather an actual human being with whom something desperately wrong is happening. MacDorman and Ishiguro say that the latter case models as a human being, but does not live up to our standards of that model. The result is an alien feeling, the feeling that some other is impersonating a human, and for nefarious purposes.

Okay. This is a blog about sales, marketing and CRM. This is a blog on how to See More about your Leads. Why am I talking about robots, creepy babies and the walking dead? The point I’m trying to make is that, as human beings, we have an innate sense that someone is just slightly off. We can tell when someone presents him- or herself as genuine but is actually an uncanny imitation, and we are immediately suspicious of – and, to some extent, threatened by – the deception. We can’t put our finger on it, but we’re no longer comfortable; in fact, many people feel physically repulsed, and desire to leave the presence of that other as soon as possible.

This is a blog series about your perception, about your ability to See More. What I’m telling you to do is to pay attention to that gut reaction when you’re nurturing a Lead. It’s one thing to disregard an Opportunity that’s too good to be true; it’s another to be able to walk away from one that’s almost good enough to be true. That’s where the Uncanny Valley comes in.

There are several indicators to which you should pay attention in order to determine whether a Lead is actually hot, or whether it’s falling into the Uncanny Valley. They include:

ARB – The Almost-Realistic Budget

Real Estate agents and mortgage brokers see this all the time. A potential buyer appears, from all of the numbers, to be able to afford the mortgage required to cover her offer on a piece of property. Many agents simply go ahead with the sale, and unfortunately, so do the mortgage brokers. The problem here is that, if they had taken a closer look at the numbers presented, they’d have realized that the buyer can only just barely afford the home; it’s maxing out her budget. If anything – anything – happens to interrupt the household cash flow, that buyer is going to default on payments faster than you can say Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. Watch out for the ARB when qualifying a lead in the advanced stages. It falls directly into the nadir of the Uncanny Valley.

NRBC – The Nearly-Reasonable Business Case

You’re deep into the sales process with a prospective client who has the budget to be able to afford your subscription service. So far, the business case he’s presented has pushed into all aspects of what the service can provide. Just lately, though, he’s started requesting more. Not the moon, you understand, just a bit beyond the purposes for which the service is designed. “No problem,” you think, “we’ve done special requests before. We’ll just tack a premium service to the subscription package.”

But those requests keep coming and coming, until it appears that this Lead wants an entirely different service from the one your company provides. His business case simply isn’t reasonable for what you provide; he’s effectively requesting a custom service specified to his personal needs, and it’s not one you’re equipped to handle. That drop in the pit of your stomach that tells you to stop agreeing to add on services? Listen to it. That’s the NRBC being sucked into the Uncanny Valley.

PQA – The Person in Quasi-Authority

Who hasn’t met a PQA or two in the sales profession? This person has been tasked with researching possible services and products for their company, but has no decision-making ability when it comes to signing a contract. You start to feel yourself sinking into the Uncanny Valley with this Lead when your inquiries about when to start a trial, subscription or contract negotiations is constantly met with “Let me run this by my bosses.” You’ve fallen directly into it when you get unsatisfactory responses to your requests to talk to a decision-maker. Back off of this Lead – it looks real from a distance, but up close it’s Billy the Baby.

Many of these indicators should be in the information you collect in your Salesforce org.

This five-part series has been focused on the art of Tetrachromacy in sales: the ability to See More than 98% of other sales professionals can see. When you know what to look for, where to find it and how to look for it in different ways and from different angles, your sales numbers will improve and so will your career.


[1] For further examples, see the Autons from Doctor Who, the riders on The Polar Express and most depictions of the walking dead, not to mention every character in the new Adventures of Tintin movie.

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