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Neuroscience: You Don’t Make a Sale Without It

Recently, I was traveling to a speaking engagement to an area of the country I had not been to in several years.  When I left the office to head for the airport, I jumped on a conference call with a client and before you know it, I was standing at the security checkpoint at the airport.  I never even gave it a second thought. When I arrived at my destination, however, I was really unsure of where I was going. A few mental gymnastics and a Google maps episode later and off I went in my rental car, paying very close attention to the commands being uttered by my trusty iPhone.  I was completely locked into finding my destination and had blocked out all other distractions. This made me think about how the brain is involved in the B2B sales buying decision…and it’s likely not in the way you think.

The brain is made up of approximately 100 billion neurons.  Through this super highway of interconnected amazement, all learning and memory takes place.  Sensory information is transmitted by synapses along the neural pathway and stored temporarily in short-term memory.  The short-term memory area of the brain is a very volatile region. Think of Grand Central Station. This is where the brain initially receives all sensory information and encounters in our daily lives.

What’s really interesting about the brain is that it essentially throws all new incoming information or experiences up on the “cerebral whiteboard” and proceeds to run through the long-term storage area to see if you’ve ever experienced anything like this before in your life.  This process happens in an instant.

 

WHY THIS MATTERS TO YOUR PROSPECTS

From the sales person’s perspective, when we communicate information to a prospect, they are subconsciously determining whether or not they are familiar with that “story.”  Similar to my trip to the airport, my brain instantly recognized the task of driving to the airport and didn’t require additional information to execute on the decision. But let’s say you told me that the airport was in the opposite direction of the way I was traveling.  Due to the strong nature of the neuron connections my brain had created around this path to the airport, my brain would have run that new information quickly against the long-term database and dismissed it as useless (as well as you.)

A recent study done by CEB found that 86% of Executive Buyers saw no apparent difference from one supplier to the next. Why is that?

From the prospect’s perspective, when a salesperson engages them with transactional facts and figures and spends the majority of their time talking about themselves and the features and benefits of their solutions, the prospect subconsciously believes they have “seen your movie before.”  Their brain is quick to dismiss all self-focused, fact-based, transactional information as useless to them. The reason for this is that when they throw our information up on their “neural-whiteboard,” it gets instantly compared to all the other transactional, useless sales interactions in their long term memory and is immediately discarded.

 

THE POWER OF NOVEL INSIGHT

According to the University of Michigan’s Biopsychology research, when the brain selectively receives information through the five senses that it deems as novel or new, it pays special attention.  Essentially, when it runs the new information against the existing database, it comes back as “no match” to anything it has experienced. Now you have the brain’s attention.

In fact, another recent study by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that as the brain receives this new information from the various senses, it will assemble the bits of data into a complete picture and that “picture” becomes the memory of the event or data.  That’s why if we both see and hear something, it becomes more memorable.

In addition, when that information comes attached to emotion of some sort, i.e. fear, anger, laughter, or joy, the emotion becomes a central part of the memory and makes the neural coupling over 20 times stronger for future recall.  This explains why highly emotional events like a death or birth become instantly retrievable and unforgettable.

Now, back to the prospect.  They have likely seen hundreds, if not thousands of sales presentations and their long-term memory is full of preconceived notions on what to expect from the next one to walk through their office.  Subconsciously, their brain is looking for something novel and it’s looking for it quickly. If you simply communicate with him or her the way every other sales person has for the past decade, you will be instantly discarded as irrelevant and useless in the mind of your prospect.  This explains why Jill Rowley, renowned Social Selling expert, was recently quoted as saying that “trust between the buyer and the sales rep is at an all-time low, hovering around 30%.”

How can you expect to make a sale when you have been dismissed in the mind of your prospect?

 

HOW TO STAND OUT IN THE MIND OF YOUR PROSPECT

  1. Don’t open the meeting with a transactional verbal agenda or an elevator pitch about “what” you or your company does.  Start with “WHY.” Get personal. Build trust. It will work wonders.
  1. Use relevant industry insight to show your prospect something new and interesting relative to trends in their world that they may not have been aware of.  Make sure that insight evokes emotion and forces them to think critically about what it would mean to not take action on this information.
  2. Use visual storytelling techniques when positioning your solution.  Create contrast. The prospect’s brain will associate the value of your solution based on the contrast you can create between the cost of the problem and the price of your competition.
  3. Show them an easy and straightforward path to implementation and ensure they clearly see how your solution solves THEIR primary problem.

 

Remember, every word coming from your mouth has only seconds on the “whiteboard” of the short-term memory station of your prospect’s brain.  If you don’t show originality and novelty, like so many reps before you, you will be discarded on the prospect’s pile of “been there, seen that.”

The 5 Bad Habits Every Sales Leader Must Break – Immediately

Over the past two decades, I have been a sales leader and I have coached countless numbers of them. In my experience and the experience of all the leaders I have coached and interviewed, there are five bad habits that many unconsciously develop that prevent them from exceeding their revenue targets, developing themselves into great leaders, and developing their people.

These habits are consistent across industries and seem to be pervasive regardless of tenure. It does seem that the longer a leader has been in a management position, the more ingrained these bad habits tend to be. These bad habits can also plague the small to medium-sized business owner as much as the senior leader of a global sales organization.

 

Bad Habit #1: They focus on the wrong things

If you read the job description of just about any sales leadership function, usually 75 to 85 percent of the responsibilities revolve around coaching and developing others. When I interview clients both current and past on this subject, the average time spent on this category is less than 10 percent! Instinctively, we know in our hearts that the best way to drive results is through others, yet we get sucked into the chaos of firefighting every day, and before we know it, the vast majority of our time is spent trying to solve problems for our people rather than empowering them to solve those problems themselves.

What would it look like if you literally spent four days a week doing nothing but improving your team’s knowledge, skills and attitudes? If you’re not able to do this, my guess is that it’s due to two constraints. Number one, your organization’s administrative processes are too burdensome and time consuming. Number two, you stink at time management. Both are devastating to your ability to do what you were hired to do—coach for results.

 

Bad Habit #2: They measure the wrong things

The number one problem for most organizations is to improve top line sales revenue. With this in mind, let’s follow the normal school of sales leadership thinking. To increase revenue, my people need to be in front of more customers; therefore, I will measure every sales person based on their percent to plan and the number of sales calls they can make. The reality is, every sales team performs on the traditional bell curve. Ironically, the top performing sales people rarely make the most calls. Yet, we still employ the flawed logic that more calls equals higher performance. Rarely is this the case. So if it’s not the case, then what is really going on?

A sales person’s performance is ultimately measured by the revenue they produce but those sales totals are simply an outcome of sales behaviors. The great sales people consistently demonstrate great sales behaviors, not just activity for activity’s sake. What you should be measuring are the behaviors your sales people are demonstrating and to do that you must actually spend time with them observing their behavior in front of customers. As a leader, you cannot assume that your sales people have the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be great. You have to define those sales competencies and expected behaviors and work backwards to measure their ability to demonstrate those behaviors in front of customers. What prevents you from doing this? See Bad Habit #1.

 

Bad Habit #3: They unwittingly reinforce poor sales behaviors

Producing more revenue for the organization is always in the front of every sales manager’s mind regardless of seniority. That pressure to deliver results is what gives them insomnia and ulcers. It’s that very pressure that manifests itself during the workday when they push that pressure down onto their teams. That pressure produces fear of failure, which gives rise to anxiety and stress. That consistent daily dose of cortisol causes most sales leaders to unconsciously reinforce poor sales behaviors in their teams. How does this happen, you ask?

Let’s say you get the month’s latest sales results one Friday afternoon and for the third month in a row, you’re behind the plan. You fret, worry, and stress all weekend on how to turn the ship around. By Monday morning, you haven’t necessarily come up with any innovative solutions so at the Monday morning sales meeting you simply do what comes natural, and that’s to go transactional. You begin the meeting by saying enough is enough and we need to do better! We have to do a better job at convincing our customers to buy our solution. We need to make more calls and close more sales. By the end of your rant, you have the cortisol levels so high in your sale team that they bottle that stress, turn around and go data dump as many customers as they can that week. It’s that stress coupled with measuring the wrong things that continually breeds poor sales behaviors in sales people. You are unwittingly creating in your sales people the very habits that cause your customers not to buy. The next month rolls around with underperformance, and the cycle continues. Customers buy from people they trust, and they trust sales people who are skilled at personal connection. Until you can get your sales team to improve their ability to establish personal and professional trust, the poor results will continue.

 

Bad Habit #4: They assume training happens elsewhere

Depending on your organization’s philosophy and resources, you will have varying degrees of sales training and development resources. For those at large companies, they tend to abdicate training responsibility to the training department. For those at small to medium sized companies, they assume they are hiring skilled sales people who can read a binder and “go get ’em”. In both scenarios, the sales person, even in the best case, gets transactionally trained on products and services but has no development whatsoever in actual sales behavior training.

A typical sales manager picks up the ball once a sales person has completed their customary “on boarding” training and managing them to the number from that point forward. A couple of months go by and they can’t understand why the sales person isn’t producing more. “Didn’t you go through training?” they ask, or, “I thought I hired you because of your experience?” Many sales managers have implemented their unique “sales process” for their teams that usually reinforces the wrong behaviors (see bad habit #3) and don’t equip their teams to have the skills necessary to truly drive effective sales behaviors. When underperformance happens, the finger pointing begins. Managers point the finger at training, and training says they did their job, so either you don’t know how to manage, or you stink at hiring, and the cycle continues…

 

Bad Habit #5: They manage instead of lead

You can only manage processes. You have to lead people. We know this to be true at the gut level, we just can’t seem to figure out how to implement the concept in our daily grind. Unfortunately, we have embraced the term “manage.” The term itself has a connotation of control. Managers spend their time fighting fires and creating administrative nightmares. Leaders empower others, cast vision, and allow the system to hold people accountable based on one’s ability to demonstrate results through behaviors.

Managers say things like, “Your sales are down. How many customers are you seeing per week?” Leaders say things like, “When you’re in front of a customer, where do you feel you’re losing ground? What skills do you need to improve to prevent that from happening?” Managers focus on expense reports being turned in on time and having every penny accounted for. Leaders focus on how well the sales person invested their resources to accomplish their objectives. Managers focus on activity. Leaders focus on behaviors. Managers point out critical flaws, while leaders encourage and empower development. I could go on for pages about the difference between the two. It’s the pressure and constant stress that sales leaders feel that turn them back into managers. Managers live in a constant state of worry, anxiety, and critical judgment. Leaders live in a state of vision, hope, and empowerment. Which one are you and which one would you prefer to work for?

As you might have guessed by reading through these bad habits, they tend to build on each other like an avalanche that starts small and innocent but by the time it reaches the valley, it has taken out everything in its path, including your career.

The Power of Vulnerability in Connection

I was brought up to never show fear and never let someone spot weaknesses. The very thought of vulnerability was a sign of weakness. Boy, was that wrong! What I discovered over the past few years changed everything for me.

When you’re raised on a farm by a Marine who served in combat in Vietnam, vulnerability is your enemy. It took me several years of failed jobs and many failed relationships to realize that my lack of emotional availability was the actual enemy.

When you’re raised to believe that vulnerability is for sissies, it’s tough to find the humility to recognize that’s a lie. For me, it happened a few years ago. I was training a group of salespeople when I began sharing a story that I had shared very transactionally many times. For whatever reason, the story went deep this time. I opened myself up and shared my emotions with the group. It was quite evident that I was struggling to fight back the tears as I told it.

What happened next blew me away. When I asked the group to go around and share stories, nearly every one of them told a very personal, emotionally connecting story. Many tears were shed in that room that day.

Over the following weeks and months leading up to today, I have watched firsthand how the power of vulnerability can change relationships and entire companies.

 

The Impact of Vulnerability

  1. It allows you to appear human. People want to trust others but they’re afraid of getting burned. When you show vulnerability, it allows other people to see that you’re human, just like them. You bleed just like them. You share the same hopes, fears and dreams.
  2. It shows humility. Humility is one of, if not the most important characteristic of great connectors and leaders. It’s hard to be arrogant or be perceived as such when you show genuine vulnerability.
  3. It helps you create instant connection. People like people they feel a connection with. People they can relate to. We’ve all been knocked down, kicked around and had our share of struggles. When you communicate your struggles, fears, or mistakes to others, they immediately see themselves in you and it creates a powerful connection.
  4. It builds trust. If you see someone lay their history out before you and really show their scars, you subconsciously begin to trust that person. Your brain perceives them as trustworthy, because anyone who is willing to do that will be honest with you. Honesty is the foundation of trust.

 

I know many of you will have difficulty with this—especially men. Our society and culture has created a misconception that to show vulnerability is to show weakness. We must learn to control that fear. I can tell you from personal experience that since I embraced the power of vulnerability, my relationships have never been healthier, my business has never been stronger, and my own self worth has never been higher. In the end, it’s your choice. Choose well!