What Behavioral Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Sales

Back in 2014, Inc. proclaimed that “sales is now science,” courtesy of their article on the topic, The Neuroscience Of Selling:

“Neuroscience allows scientists to study how the brains of the buyer and seller are acting and reacting during actual sales situations. This provides a level of detail that simply wasn’t available using the blunt instruments of the past.”

Studying the brain, the promise went, would open the door to new insights that could help B2B sales reps hone their craft — how to reduce stress, understanding the mental processes that drive a prospect to go through with a deal, etc. This article will delve into some of the lessons learned through neuroscience over the years and how they are applicable to the landscape of selling.

Insights Into Loss Aversion

On the topic of why potential customers often behave the way they do, neuroscience has revealed some information about loss aversion. Humans are naturally inclined to fear loss more than they appreciate gains, which can sometimes hamper the deal making process. Scientific American illustrates this nicely with a fictional scenario:

“Imagine this scenario: a friend offers to flip a coin and give you $20 if it lands on heads. If it lands on tails, you give her $20. Would you take that gamble? For most of us, the amount you could possibly win would need to be at least twice as large as the amount you could lose before you would accept the risk.”

Understanding all the ins and outs of loss aversion is an ongoing investigation in the world of neuroscience, but simply knowing of its existence and how it influences human behavior is of benefit to sales pros, as they can adjust their tactics to compensate.

Understanding Irrational Objections

Somewhat related to loss aversion are irrational objections that buyers might put forth, often born of something known as the status quo bias. As put by Psychology Today, “many of us [humans] tend to resist change and prefer the current state of affairs.” This extends to decision making, as many people tend to stick with a decision, even when presented with a more desirable alternative.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physiology, Development & Neuroscience, when studying the biological basis for delusions, noted that “when there is a mismatch between expectations and outcomes, this mismatch (or mistake) is noticed, and, in order to learn effectively, expectations for the future are revised accordingly.”

Few individuals enjoy making mistakes, and it’s partly because of this that individuals will hang on to the status quo or previous decisions so fervently. Understanding this human tendency allows sales reps to employ techniques to circumvent it, such as using empathy to relate to prospect’s and creating reassurance that to the likelihood of swaying their viewpoint.

Improving Conversational Intelligence

The idea of conversational intelligence made the Inc. list of the five biggest trends for 2016. The overarching concept, that “conversations actually rewire our DNA and brain chemistry,” plays an integral part in shaping a message to achieve maximum impact. For sales reps, understanding the neuroscience behind how to deliver a message can affect how often and how successfully they can connect with potential buyers.

A conversation, it turns out, is more than words. Tone of voice and body language have a greater impact on how a message is received than the message itself. By learning to focus on both delivery and content, reps can increase their efficacy when entering situations where face-to-face communication is a must.

Beyond the seller/buyer relationship, understanding how cues during discussions can impact the physiology of participants in said discussion is a key to more capable leadership. On sales teams, where collaboration and communication are often necessary to meet goals, using conversational techniques to “activate trust” can elevate an entire group to their full selling potential.

Conquering Stress

Sales can be a stressful line of work. Thanks in part to neuroscience, the chemical genesis of and countermeasures to that stress are now better understood. As reported in the New York Times, exercise has the potential to block the chemicals that the body releases in response to consistent stress. Even minor changes to a daily routine that promote more physical activity can have a positive effect in this regard — standing instead of sitting, taking the stairs as opposed to the elevator — the list goes on.

What’s more, with continued exercise, an individual’s total tolerance for stress goes up. Stamina in the gym, it seems, can translate to increased mental stamina to perform on the job. Making use of this coping mechanism can help elevate salespeople to an increased level of performance — one they may have been cut off from due to their previous inability to cope.

Rewiring the Brain for Success

Again, finding the connections between neurochemistry and emotional states has led to the confirmation of a common sense proposition: Joy beats fear when it comes to motivation. The chemicals released when the brain is in a happy state promote productivity, while those associated with fear can stifle any inclination to get the job done. In the sales context, the application is obvious. To cultivate sales teams with greater efficacy, creating a positive environment and eschewing “old-school” techniques like motivation through intimidation is paramount.

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