Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Selling Sounds of a winner - The importance of Pitch in conveying Strength, Trust and Competance

A voice that conveys competence, strength and trust is  a useful asset for any sales professional.
 In the 2012 Oscar winning film with Meryl Streep 'The Iron Lady' ,it covered a part of the former PM’s story where she took lessons in voice control in order to lower her speaking pitch to establish more gravitas.

  Unlike the film, in real life Margaret Thatcher received voice coaching from a woman not a man. Kate Fleming  coached actors like Lawrence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen. She also worked on Mrs Thatcher's voice over a period of four years 1972-1975 before Mrs Thacher became PM.
Poster of 'The Iron Lady' Film
There are quite a few parallels of leadership -especially political leadership- to selling.

Those who put themselves up for election do one of the most courageous closes in selling.  Essentially   asking "Vote for me" is pretty much the same as asking for the order.
Policies and manifestos are the equivalent of their Differentiated Value proposition but how they deliver their messages is important as well.

People buy people and similarly voters buy a voice it appears.
A study into voice pitch by  Klofstad, Anderson and Peters  from Miami and Duke universities has been recently published . It  gives some more robust scientific data  about the persuasive power of a lower  voice pitch. The conclusion of the paper reads
“ …our findings challenge existing theories of human behaviour, which assert that attitudes, such as partisanship and ideology are the primary force behind vote choice. Thus, while social participation and political decision-making are viewed as higher level cognitive functions—the kind of thinking that sets us aside from other animals—our results clearly demonstrate that these behaviours cannot be understood in isolation from biological influences.”

Pitch influences perception of leaders C. A. Klofstad et al.

The study involved testing the judgement of listeners to altered pitched version of 
 ‘I urge you to vote for me this November’
by female and male speakers.

People appear to prefer lower voices when voting

The study appears to demonstrate that humans prefer leaders with lower-pitched voices, whether they are male or female. Consequently, male and female political candidates with lower pitched voices may be more likely to win elected offices. ( The political equivalent of winning the account in selling)
As a consequence, the researchers also observe that notwithstanding countries that use gender quotas , women are vastly under-represented in leadership positions across the globe.

" While gender discrimination is an obvious cause of the under-representation of women as leaders, our results suggest that biological differences between the sexes, and the study's responses to those differences, could potentially be an additional factor to consider." ( I am not sure what gender discrimination studies have been undertaken in the Sales / buying arena - but certain trade sectors seem under represented e.g. Engineering)
 Left: Election experiment results. Proportion of votes cast for the lower-pitched version of male and female voices.
 A value of 0.50 represents no discernible preference for either higher- or lower-pitched voices.
Male (white bar) and female (grey bar) listeners voted for the lower-pitched male and female voices more frequently ( Pitch influences perception of leaders C. A. Klofstad et al.)

Because women, on average, have higher pitched voices than men, and because higher-pitched female voices are judged to be weaker, less competent and less trustworthy ( from this study), the characteristics of this vocal signal could help explain why women are less likely to hold leadership roles than men.

 At the very least, voice pitch is a physical characteristic that does not counterbalance social norms that foster gender inequality.

 A test of this hypothesis  the  researchers postulate would be to assess which sex fares better in a forced-choice election experiment when subjects are asked to choose between male and female voices with the same, and different, voice pitches.

Voters  ( like Buyers? ) vote on impressions
 The researchers  results add to the growing evidence that vote choices can be made based on ‘thin’ impressionistic judgements . They also add evidence to the literature showing that human behaviour is influenced by voice qualities in domains other than physical conflict and mating. ( which I guess includes selling, We certainly feel in selling the truth' that you don't get a chance to make a first impression)
 As more and more selling is communicated through pitches via the microphone of telephone, mobiles and Web Pitches this research area has pertinence for our profession of selling.

Of course a low voice pitch alone will not always be the whole story in successfully capturing votes.
Great brand : Jacobs Crackers
First produced in 1885
 Remember comedian Joe Pasqualie was voted King of the Jungle 6th December 2004?
 I guess the bush trucker trials etc. put his strength, competence and trustworthiness to the test for the  watching public's vote in  ITV's " I'm a celebrity -Get me out of here"

Jacob's Crackers apart from being delicious always bring a smile to my face now!

Related Links
Sounds like a winner: voice pitch influences perception of leadership capacity in both men and women Miami and Duke University Klofstad, Anderson and Peters

BBC Article by Daniel Boettcher 14th March 2012

 Importance of voice pitch tone and pausing University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research Study
Pitching over the web


  1. what a cover! And a great teaser. Very descriptive.

  2. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.