The Hunch Stat of Notre Dame


I’m currently putting together a training programme for a membership organisation to help their members generate and convert more leads. The research has been a useful reminder of some handy tips and ideas I’ve picked up along the way.

One of my favourite pieces of evidence comes from Notre Dame University’s study of sales people in action. The university set up an observational experiment to study how many times the sales teams asked for a sale.

They found

  • 46% asked once
  • 24% asked twice
  • 14% asked three times
  • 12% asked four times
  • 4% asked five times

And yet 60% of sales came on or after the fifth time of asking. 96% of sales people were missing out on a great opportunity.

It’s a great statistic and one I will no doubt be using. But I do have some doubts because, although a number of people have cited the research, the references are vague and  I cannot find the original research paper.

Anyone who has read Mehrabian’s original research paper on communications will know that at no point did he claim 85% of communication is non-verbal. Yet thousands of writers and trainers have misrepresented his work with the confident introduction, “Research has shown…”

I wonder if this is just one of those rules of thumb based on a hunch* that has become legitimised by attaching a university’s name to it. As Vic Reeves once said, 87% of statistics are made up on the spot.

I’m going to use the Notre Dame figures because they will help me make a point. But until I can read the original data I will hesitate from staking my reputation on them.

I’d be delighted if anyone can provide evidence that Notre Dame’s figures have been accurately represented and will update this blog, with full credit, once I get it.

*See what I did there?