The science of selling

For years people have described sales as art rather than a science and though we can analyse a team to see who is the best and look at a number of key measures, we struggle to explain why one individual is better than another.

For example, we know that it’s a statistical fact that 20 percent of salespeople make 80 percent of the revenue, but nobody knows why that 20 percent are so much more effective.

We know the “what” of that statistic, but the “why” has remained elusive.

Until recently, the only tools for studying sales in a scientific manner have been 1) statistical analysis of results like callback and conversion rates, and 2) psychological testing of salespeople to identify traits that correlate to sales success. The problem that arises with these two methods of study is that analysis provides the what but not why, and psychological testing can be subjective, vague and in some cases merely a measure of the test itself.

A better way of studying sales behaviour is to go beyond the psychological aspect and move into the field of neuroscience. With the advances in technology scientists can study the realtime activity of the brain whilst it’s making decisions. Whether it being using your imagination, lying or making a purchasing decision researchers are now able to see what physiological and electrical effects this has on the brain.

For example, Baylor College of Medicine’s department of neuroscience recently monitored the brains of 76 volunteers in a “bargaining game” between a “buyer” and a “seller.” Brain scans revealed a “very significant difference in brain responses” between those who bluffed and those who didn’t.

This is all well and good, but unfortunately SMEs don’t have easy access to MRIs and EEGs to investigate their teams or customers. So what can we think about when trying to increase our sales skills? We spoke to Dr. Lynda Shaw to find out what factors may play a part in the sales process and how we could use this to our advantage.

Brain plasticity

Learning is the acquisition of altered behaviour through experience and occurs when we rewire the neural pathways within our brain. Each time we learn a new behaviour, find a solution to a problem or win an argument we make new connections within our brain, the more we use these connections the stronger they become.

When we subject pathways to continual rewiring, or learning they are referred to as plastic, and this rewiring process as plasticity.

In some organisations a sales script will be used by teams, however sticking to the script is limiting and doesn’t allow for true listening or being actively engaged.

When we think of the definition above a script will limit the extent to which we learn in a situation.

By not sticking to a rigid script there are greater opportunities greater opportunities and more chance of buying signals. Our brain is a malleable and flexible mechanism and one of the best ways of preparing a sales team is to ensure they believe in the products and the company as a whole, increasing their enthusiasm will create a far more customer focused team with a more in-depth knowledge.

In turn this will lead to a team that can be left to go off script and make connections with prospective customers.

Triggers & Cues To Influence Behaviour

How do we know when things are going well? When customers fully engage in what is being said, when their body language is open, when their facial expressions are soft and interested, we know that they are on the way to buying our solutions.

However, trust is the greatest influencer. Trust between management, sales force and customers. Trust needs to be earned and the effort will ensure repeat business.

A brain chemical called oxytocin is all about bonding leading to trust. The more we bond and trust, the more oxytocin we produce, the more oxytocin we produce the more we bond and trust.

What is interesting is the more we are trusted the more trustworthy we become. This delicious feedback loop happens when we take the time to build relationships with people.

Motivation & brain activity/ Neurotransmitters

The neurotransmitter dopamine is strongly linked with motivation. The stress hormone cortisol suppresses neurotransmitters. This means that it’s important to enjoy our work and not feel under too much stress in order to maintain motivation to succeed.

How to improve the above and exercise your brain

What is good for the body is also good for the brain. Exercise, hydration, nutrition, rest, being sociable, contributing to our communities and learning something new that is challenging are all great ways to improve both our physical and mental well being.