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15 Little Life Hacks

How to test responses at bars

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A few years ago, I went to visit my sister on the Caribbean island of Grenada and she took me to the local market to buy some hot sauce. As we were walking around, she told me about a young boy at the market who was legendary for selling more than any of the other boys.

“How?” I asked.

It turned out he always carried a notebook with him. Every day, he would systematically vary his clothes, what he said when he approached potential buyers, how much he would laugh, if he would dance, and many more variables. Then he would write down the results in his notebook, every single day.

Imagine a notebook like this:

Attention statistical nerds: Yes you need to control for different variables.

After dozens of interactions, he would know key insights that the other boys — who simply depended on intuition — would not.

After hundreds of interactions, he would have such a fine-tuned approach that his sales would be permanently above everyone else.

This is precisely what happened. And the boy? He was apparently 10 or 11 years old.

This happens all over the world. Here’s a boy from India who knows precisely what works.

How can you apply this to your life?

I have used testing to test responses in bars, write a comedy column for the Stanford Daily, and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars (including one 60-second test that permanently added $25,000 per year to my bottom line).

Today, learn how the simple act testing can change your life.

* * *

Testing in bars

I have tested dozens of answers in bars and dinner parties that consistently produce fascinating results.

Bars are target-rich environments with predictably arousing end results.

Others pursue women. I pursue test results.

TEST: The “What do you do?” test.
Question: “What do you do?”

Ramit Answer 1: “I’m a writer.”
Response: Interest level: 2/5. They’ll say, “Oh that’s cool…I have a friend who’s a writer…he’s trying to publish his book on using cucumbers to generate sustainable energy for –” NO YOUR FRIEND IS NOT A WRITER, HE’S A LOSER

Ramit Answer 2: “I’m an author.”
Response: Interest level: 4/5. “Really? So what did you write?”

BONUS: “What do you write about?” = opportunity for hilarious testing.

TEST: The Office Test:
Question: “Oh, so do you have an office?”

Ramit Answer 1: “No, I work from home” results in a 90%-95% “Scorn Score,” (e.g., “Oh…” or “Ah…how is that?” followed by a semi-frown).

Ramit Answer 2: “No, I work from a home office.” In this condition, the Scorn Score drops to approximately 50%. Common answer: “Wow, I wish I could do that.”

One word changes everything.

You’re asked the same questions hundreds or thousands of times in your lifetimes — “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” “Where do you live?” “What do you like to do in your free time?” — yet how many of us ever take the time to systematically test them?

Have you ever tested your responses?

Interesting test results

Anyone remember listening to Loveline years ago with Dr. Drew and Adam Carolla? They had the uncanny ability to listen to a caller for about 10 seconds, then instantly detect if they had been abused or had some disorder. After years of micro-testing, they just knew.

Well, after years of writing a blog, I am proud to announce that I can tell by someone’s comment if they are a loser or not.

You can especially see this on “social media marketing” websites, where clueless small-business owners are looking for a magic bullet (social media!) to save their floundering businesses. They truly believe that if they JUST crack the code of using Facebook and Twitter, they’ll make instant riches. So when the blogger shows them a new INSTANT TACTIC FOR SOCIAL MEDIA SUCCESS, the comments go like this:

  • “Amazing! You have definitely opened my eyes. Thanks!”
  • “I am definitely going to try this. You are amazing!”
  • “[Blogger], thank you. I have been struggling but you put a whole new light on how to achieve real lasting success.”

NONE OF THESE PEOPLE WILL EVER DO ANYTHING.

And that is because micro-words betray us. When people say they “should” do something, they won’t. Taking action speaks for itself.

Let me show you by comparing two comments I received last week.

Pramit (yes that is really his name) wrote:

“I’ll be honest. For some odd reason, just typing out my week 1 results made me feel “accomplished”, so much so that I felt comfortable not actually following through on what I said I’d do. And, as much as I hate to say it, I was running 80% for the iPad rather than to improve myself in some way. Now that the first week’s contest is over, a part of me is saying, “screw it, you’re still too young for this stuff, just go back to normal and watch more TV”. Then I feel guilt wash over me – “god damn it – Ramit has been hustling since friggin high school! If I can’t reproduce that kind of effort, I’m lacking in some major way!” I’m guessing this is the stage when a good amount of people turn into haters, but I don’t plan to. I know that if I were Ramit, I’d step back, think about what I’m really getting at, and try out the next few weeks, with or without posting my results.

Anyone else feel the same?”

I love the brutal honesty. The mere fact that Pramit is so self-reflective, and that he took the time to leave a comment like this, is a positive sign. But the fact remains that he didn’t follow through on what he pledged.

You can talk a big game, but if your action doesn’t follow, nothing else matters.

Now compare this to Tracey, who left a comment on the very same post as the above commenter.

Tracey wrote:

“I’ve been reading Ramit on and off for years and never implemented any of his strategies. I rationalized that I was a perpetual loser, and that these were all great things for someone really together and talented to do. As a consequence, I’ve struggled as the low employee on the totem pole with the lowest salary, most hours, and least fringe benefits.

I’ve been saying for the past year that I needed to find another job. But I never bothered looking very hard because the whole idea of looking for work in this economy depressed me. I realized that I was making a lot of negative assumptions.

I didn’t post my assumptions, because I wasn’t sure I could stick to testing them or that I’d fail – that self esteem thing again. But thanks to Ramit I started doing things differently. I created a resume that didn’t just focus on my strengths, it yodeled that I was a super-awesome employee. I did this by having a positive coworker who really has her shit together look over my resume and cover letter and suggest adding some obvious stuff about my capabilities that I never even thought of mentioning. And then I went the extra mile on a job I had applied for weeks ago…

11 days later they offered me the job – 5K more a year than I make now, 30 minutes closer to home, and a benefit package that blows the shitty one I’ve had completely out of the water.”

Tracey had a terrible job and crippling beliefs. Like Pramit, the above commenter, she was self-reflective enough to notice them.

But unlike Pramit, she took action.

Who is more likely to succeed over the long term? Who already succeeded with a $5,000-a-year salary increase?

How do you take action?

I’ve received and responded to thousands of emails this month from IWT readers. The patterns emerging are:

  • Many of us are in our late 20s and early 30s and wondering, “Is this it? I’ve been working for 5+ years out of college, and I just feel stuck at this job. Is this really all I have to look forward to? Cost-of-living increases, the same co-workers, a job that’s not particularly challenging/meaningful…really?”
  • Many of us have HUGE problems with motivation and following through. We “know” we should do things like networking, working out at the gym, and our personal finances, but we just don’t. Many of you even bought my book (which you can completely finish in 6 weeks) but still haven’t done anything!
  • We’re not stupid. We see our friends who are our age — or a few years older — and want to make sure we don’t fall into the same patterns of buying an expensive house, then getting tied down “living to work” so that we HAVE to go to work to pay for all this stuff we’ve acquired. We “claim” we want to do extraordinary things but our actions usually don’t reflect it.

With that said, a defining characteristic of the emails I receive is that most people are really smart. You are already on-board with self-development and improving yourself, so that’s one huge bridge that’s already been crossed. It’s a matter of offering both TACTICAL suggestions, but also of changing your attitudes and worldviews to show you that there’s a game going on around you that you don’t even know about.

But so many of us are stuck on getting started, rather than adopting a “let’s-test-this” mindset. For example, how many bloggers think they need to create the perfect blog design before getting started? My blog was a piece of crap for YEARS until I got a professional design…but my articles were really good.

Many of us think we need to create a “perfect plan” before we start looking for a new job, or earning money on the side, or even deciding where to travel. The truth, of course, is we can test all of these things.

Uncomfortable psychological truths

I was talking to a friend who was sharing his goals for the next 2 years. He had several grandiose ideas and he asked — PRESSED — me to share my honest feedback. For once in my life, I tried to show restraint…but finally, after being badgered, I told him what I really thought.

“Honestly dude,” I said, “the best predictor of your future action is your past action. And if you’re honest, you haven’t done much in the last 1 or even 2 years. It’s fun to make goals but what are you really going to do?”

People don’t like hearing this because it cuts right through all the fancy ideas that are so fun to write down during a brainstorm and forces you to confront yourself. Indeed, when confronted with our own behavior from the last year, we usually have no answer for the question, “Why will this year be any different?”

The common response to this is, “You’re saying the book is already written! I refuse to believe that!” (Or worse, “Yeah…I guess…”)

I’m not saying the book is already written. But the odds certainly do say that you’ll more likely do the same thing as last year than have a radical change. And if I have two people in front of me — one who’s consistently taken risks and taken action, the other who grandiose notions of what he wants to accomplish this year but hasn’t done anything — who do you think I’ll bet on?

This is a key difference for top performers, who are constantly testing approaches, whether in business or even their personal lives (e.g., always meeting new people, challenging their own assumptions, etc). They’ll fail more…but they’ll also learn with each strategic failure.

There are ways to shortcut our natural tendency not to test, and to beat the odds:

  • Do something different THIS WEEK. Last week, I challenged people to automate their positive scripts and leave a comment saying “WEEK 1 RESULTS.” Over 90% of people simply wrote down their PLANS instead of actual behavioral change. I have a specific to-do at the bottom of this post.
  • Acknowledge that “knowing” something is not enough. Last year, you “knew” you had to max out your Roth IRA, or automate your finances, or earn more, or work out, or whatever. Knowledge itself rarely leads to behavioral change.
  • Chunk it: One of the leading causes of doing nothing is not knowing what you need to do. If you’re inspired after reading these posts, but it fades away 2 hours after lunch, you might just be guilty of “I want to do something — ANYTHING! — but I’m not sure what.” The key here is to email 5 people every week who are doing something interesting that you admire and take them to lunch.
  • Test it. Instead of assuming you need to spend months agonizing over the perfect phrase to get a meeting with someone, pick 10 lower-level people and simply test responses. Find the best response, then use it (with personalization) with your top target. And always have more than one target.

Or you could do the same thing you did last year. See if these sound familiar:

  • “Yeah…I really should do something…I’m just not sure what” (Whose fault is that? If you continue doing what you’re doing, will you ever figure it out? You don’t need to know what your life goal is today, but you should be taking systematic steps towards finding out)
  • “I should really talk to [friend’s name]” (“Should” and “really” are codewords for “I’m not going to do it.” If you really want to talk to him, email him and ask if you can take him out to coffee right now. Otherwise, stop fooling yourself that you’re going to do it)
  • “I’m going to try to –”

TO DO THIS WEEK

  1. Identify THREE people that could help you get closer to your goals this year. Maybe it’s an alumni from your school who works at your dream job, or someone who’s started an interesting business.
  2. Find a creative way to meet with at least one BEFORE WED NIGHT (e.g., take them to coffee/lunch).
  3. Leave your results from the meeting along with ONE specific thing you learned in the comments section of THIS post with the heading “WEEK 2 RESULTS” by WED at Midnight PST.

Bonus points to anyone who uses testing to optimize their experience.

The person who gets the best results can choose between…

1) $250 to take people to coffee to help accelerate you towards your goals in 2011
2) A 15-minute call with me to discuss psychology, personal finance, or earning more

What’s coming this week

This is Week 2 of my free 30-day course on hustling. This week, we’re covering psychological techniques.

  • Monday: Using testing to overcome the psychology of being ordinary
  • Tuesday: My favorite experiments from the worlds of social influence and persuasion
  • Wednesday: Webcast with my mentor, Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg. 6pm Pacific
  • Thursday: Case studies!
  • Friday: Winner of “Take Action” award for this week, plus preview of next week’s content

I’ve put together some incredible bonuses for you this week to go along with the free blog material on psychology.

If you sign up to be on my private list all about hustling, earning more, and becoming a top performer, here’s what you’re going to get as I release it throughout the week:

– Private access to the webcast with my mentor and Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg, psychology innovator and social scientist where we’ll cover our favorite experimental studies in social influence, persuasion, and social psychology
– Earn1K Material: How to get deep inside your customer’s head (and how I charge a $1,000+/hr consulting fee) PDF
– Unannounced bonuses

(Can’t see the above form? Click here to sign up.)

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217 Comments

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  1. I’m an astronomer is what I say if somebody asks me what I do and I want to keep talking to them. If I don’t want to continue the conversation, I tell them I’m an astrophysicist. Kills the conversation (almost) every time.

    • Ha! I forgot about that.

      The single-best way I’ve ever seen for a girl to kill conversation at a bar is to tell the guy you went to Stanford (or similarly, that you’re an astrophysicist).

      You are so right. It works like magic.

    • This is so true. Want to talk to you = “space sciences”. Don’t want to talk = “space physics.”

    • Sad that women have to choose between being liked and being considered competent.

    • Are you kidding? If I was chatting someone up in a bar and they said they went to Standford or studied Astrophysics, I’d be totally enamored.

      But I’m (kinda) weird.

    • If anyone ever tells me he’s an astrophysicist, I’ll let him talk for the next 15 minutes and tell me what an astrophysicist do. It sounds so exotic! 🙂

    • This matter comes down to what your goal is. Is your goal to keep someone’s attention by utilizing the most socially appropriate small talk, or is your goal to meet someone who has similar interests as you?

      I really like when someone can display knowledge and competence and isn’t another drunk doofus at a bar. I like when someone can teach me something I don’t already know.

      Dawn, I think Bradform is interested in Astrophysicist chicks <3

    • Well it would have been lovely when I was dating if there had been all these people interested in astrophysicists! 😉 And yes, while it can be a conversation killer, it also certainly separates the wheat from the chaff. If somebody isn’t interested in what I do, then the conversation is already over, right?

      Your comment about ‘small talk’ is right on, Alex. In fact, I find that the conversation killer aspect works best on an airplane, when I’m not in the mood to chat.

    • I never had a real name for it, but I was testing responses to the “what do you do?” question for a year while working in Los Angeles as a “computer consultant”.

      Scorn Scores (approx. from memory):
      “computer nerd” – 90%
      “computer consultant” – 80″
      “IT consultant” – 60%
      “aspiring porn actor” – 20%

      Yes, I did use the last one regularly, and it was fun to see the reactions and change in conversation over the other responses. Depending on the crowd you’re around (especially in LA), different responses are better for different groups, and you have to be able to detect which group a person is in while meeting them. That is a skill that only gets better with practice and meeting more people.

    • The women are just worried that you’ll follow up the astrophysicist line with one that involves checking out “Uranus”.

  2. I did something positive about 2 hours ago: dropped a client.

    Sure, I “need” the money. But the end result of that little piece of work would have been reinforcing negative beliefs I have about myself… and an unhappy client. There’s plenty of work out there more suitable for me.

    • Well done. I’ve never regretted firing a toxic or very unsuitable client. I have regretted taking one on when I thought I needed the money!

  3. “Well, after years of writing a blog, I am proud to announce that I can tell by someone’s comment if they are a loser or not.”

    This made me burst out in laughter… well done Ramit!!!

  4. Jason Baudendistel Link to this comment

    Unless A guy loves a girl with a bright mind then your stuck trying to find other ways to kill it..lol

  5. I think the saddest thing is when you know someone who has awesomely awesome ideas, and they take no action on ANY of them. And you want to kick them in the ass to get them moving but then you realize it has to come from within the person to want to actually make progress on one’s ideas.

    I’ve kicked my own ass a lot lately and am finally seeing results. I guess the next step would be to break down barriers psychologically that will help get me to the next step, the next big client, the courage to fully strike out on my own, etc.

    Love the content Ramit, thanks man.

    • Barron, yes, people with “potential.” Potential and 2 bucks gets a cup of coffee at Peets. Was nice to meet you a few weeks ago.

  6. Hilarious 🙂
    I used to tell people I’m an entrepreneur, but that opened up a bevy of questions I didn’t care to explain 20 times a night.

    Now I say “I own a rave company” (true)

    They say, “Do you sell extacy??”

    I say, “I wish”

    …we both laugh and get on with the conversation.

  7. Lol, when I got your email I thought this was going to be an article on pick up or something. But it was Waaay better.

    I test things like this all the time, although maybe not as methodically. When you travel as a backpacker you get into the same conversations over and over and you get the opportunity to test the different ways you manage those conversations.

    One thing I would like to share is that you dont have to only test your ‘answer’ to the question, try testing different responses all together.

    As an example, I have found that responding to the question “what do you do?” with “wow, really? what a boring question… why dont we start with something like what do you do for fun? spice things up a little” generally gets a much better response.

    I use some iteration of that almost all the time at networking events. Makes you stand out form the crowd.

    Also, kick ass video. The kids in Cambodia do the same thing.

  8. This is so true– I’ve been testing my personal introduction for the last four years for precisely this reason. As a Yale graduate/corporate analyst who also happens to be a poet and performer, I consistently need to adjust my introduction in order to be taken seriously in either of my primary communities. Writers are about 10x as likely to 1) talk to me and 2) offer to help me with editing or performance opportunities if I say I went to school “in Connecticut” and only divulge my alma mater if they ask again than if I mention it immediately. Conversely, the only way to get taken seriously at my corporate job is to confidently mention my educational background and never bring up how I spend my free time.

    Incidentally, when at a bar, I find that mentioning neither of these things is generally best for optimizing number of dates 🙂

    • Another thing to consider is who you want a good response from. Ideally your what I do statement will repel people you’d never want to talk to anyway and draw in the awesome people. Of course looking for dates in a bar is probably your first mistake. Find the kind of place your ideal man would hang out.

  9. I have the second way to instantly kill a conversation, I’m a lawyer. If I was interested in a guy, I’d just say I worked in the legal field or a law office. If not, I’d just tell him I was a lawyer. The best one was when the color drained from the guy’s face and he stumbled backwards trying to get away from me as fast as he could.

    As for describing my job, I’m glad you brought this up because I’m really struggling with that topic. I am general practice attorney who right now practices is everything. I really have no idea how to describe what I do, but these are great tips for testing better ways to describe what I do without having someone just tune out.

    • So you help people run the gauntlet through the judicial system? That could be interesting.

    • Angela, some men are insecure and have difficulty with successful women and they are called losers. Soorner or later you will have to disclose that you are a lawyer but that may be a topic for another day. As for how to describe what you do, why not think about the 5 cases that reinforced why you became a lawyer, helped a woman out of a bad relationship, guided a family out of a bankruptcy, helped someone buy a house or keep a house , helped a client in an employment situation or forced a better settlement for a client. Dave Hunter

    • @ Dave – yours is an attempt to make being a lawyer sound “safe” and “womanly” by associating it with traditional caring practices that women are “supposed” to do. There’s a huge stereotype about women and “family” law, that it’s the safe way to go, etc…
      What you said with focusing on what brought her into the field, that’s spot on.
      Angela, what was the drive for you to go to law school? If you chose a firm to work with, why? If they sought you out, what was special about you above other candidates?

    • I have the same problem, I believe no one likes lawyers until they need one (of course) so I never really know how to introduce myself.

      I was reading the tips that Dave left but honestly that wouldn’t work for me, I work as a defense attorney. If the fact that I’m a lawyer is intimidating well that’s nothing compared to when I tell them exactly what my chosen field is.

      My specialty? drug related cases (consuming, possesion and minor selling) yeah not really something you like to mention, unless you are ready to be scorned as the “jackass who help “that people” run free” (that is an almost textual answer I got one day)

      Then I read Rusty’s comment and thing went from bad to worse…

      What was the drive for you to go to law school? I love to argue about everything and anything under the sun, money and the fact that I had a secure job even before I started my career. Nothing really inspiring to talk about, no glamoured or romaticized vision of life, about wanting “to help” or “fight the unjust system”.

      If you chose a firm to work with, why? I didn’t chose it, my father owns it and he expects me to direct it some day, family legacy and all that.

      So if you solved your problem and you can I would love to get a few tips…

  10. I contacted five industry people I have personal relationships for meeting and lunch as well as a college professor about putting on a play 🙂
    Still working on getting the appointments set up although I did get positive responses from everyone.
    I’ll probably get in contact with another 3-4 people tomorrow (designating tuesday as contact people day and keeping a list of who, when, how and results.)

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