April 27, 2020


If you’re a salesperson, wouldn’t it be great to be able to read a buyer’s mind? Some salespeople seem to have a knack for it, while others struggle with receiving a buyer decision. Elite salespeople understand this is the realm of where sales art, meets sales science; where communication skills and neuroscience knowledge converge. Over the past several years there has been an explosion of neuroscience of selling knowledge. With functional MRI data, neuroscientists have secured insights into decision-making that can help salespeople help buyers.

Let’s review what is known as the triune brain model: the Instinctive, Emotional, and Rational parts. This simplification of the evolution of the brain allows us to understand that decision-making is not so straight-forward.

  • The Instinctive Brain is the oldest part and is the fight, flight, freeze, or appease brain. It controls all of our functions such as breathing, digestion, and heart rate. These processes happen automatically – we don’t have to think about them.
  • The Emotional Brain came with the advent of mammals. It senses feelings, excitement, and engagement. It stores images, and when it sees new ones, it does pattern matching to provide input for making decisions.
  • The Rational Brain developed with humans. It is the logical part. It assesses facts and figures and understands complex processes and abstract ideas.

Where are almost all of our daily decisions made? You may have heard the saying “we decide on emotion and justify with logic.” There’s research that proves this statement is true. Okay. That’s good. But how do you get the attention of the old brain – the Instinctive and Emotional – so it will listen to the logic coming from the new brain – the Rational part? With “activators.” For years, Marketers have known certain activators could engage a buyer’s attention (think of jingles and ads), but as salespeople, we need practical applications to close deals faster. Here are six activators and their practical examples of applying neuroscience of selling to the old brain.

1. ME ME ME Focus – Instinctive Brain Activator

When you watch most salespeople give a presentation to buyers, it is all about the sales- person’s company and the company’s offerings. The typical outline of their presentation is the vision of our company, a picture of our new facilities, all of our locations around the country, a list of our seven integrated cybersecurity solutions, and let’s begin with the details of our first solution. Is the buyer’s brain awake? Not a chance! So, how do elite salespeople begin a presentation? Using research, they start with an understanding of customer needs. That ignites the old brain’s attention so you can introduce the logic of your solution.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

Always start your presentation with an understanding of the customer’s needs.

2. Simple, Easy-to Grasp Ideas – Emotional Brain Activator

Our rational brain can understand all kinds of complex concepts, but the decision-making old brain cannot. When a salesperson says, “We have a flexible, integrated, and scalable solution with fifteen exit waypoints,” the buyer’s new brain thinks, Great! But how about the buyer’s old brain? The old brain is confused. It doesn’t hear words, facts, or figures. Will a confused brain make a decision? No!

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

Consider simplifying the descriptions of your products and services everywhere—in your presentations, proposals, brochures, and on your website. When you sell to the old brain, using neuroscience, you win.

3. Beginnings and Endings – Instinctive Brain Activator

Properly stimulated, the old brain will wake up at the beginning of a meeting, will go to sleep in the middle, and will wake up once more near the end. An example of this is a typical sermon given by pastors, priests, and rabbis, who are all taught in seminary how to deliver an impactful message in a sermon: describe an important story from the Bible with enthusiasm, elaborate with detailed background information in the body, and near the end show how the biblical story relates to the listeners’ daily lives. This pattern is also well-known in the entertainment industry. In the hugely successful first Star War film, George Lucas went against Hollywood protocol of beginning with the credits and instead started with action and the crawler, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” The movie ended in classic adventure style, with the good guys winning and wrongs being righted. The formula works: have a hot opening and a hot closing and try not to mess up the middle!

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

In every interaction with a prospect or customer – whether it is an email, a phone call, or a meeting in person – always begin and end with impact.

4. Clear Distinction – Instinctive Brain Activator

The old brain remains fast asleep when presented with similar boring patterns. If a seller says, “We’ve been in business for thirty-five years. We have great customer service. We have a strong engineering and design team,” the buyer’s old brain hears only three things: “Blah blah blah.” The old brain loves bright, shiny, stark differences. The best way to show the buyer a clear difference is to have a unique selling proposition (USP) highlighting a benefit for your product or service that makes it unique. If you do, the buyer’s old brain can make a quick decision. To show this clear distinction, you must use words such as “unique,” “only” and “top-rated.” Additionally, not only must it be different from your competition, but it also must be relevant to your buyer.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

Develop a USP for your company. The buyer will understand your company is unique and will make the easy decision to choose you.

5. Vivid Images – Emotional Brain Activator

The old brain stores images and uses them for pattern matching when it sees newer images. Neuroscience says facts and figures have less impact. Videos – which are just a series of pictures – can be powerful sales tools. Who doesn’t like to see pictures and videos? During the holidays we care more about seeing what our relatives and friends look like than the details of their last vacation. Some of our brains use the visual more than the auditory and kinesthetic learning channels, and it’s true that a picture really is worth a thousand words. Especially a picture that needs no explanation. And videos capture our attention immediately. One of the big developments in sales over the past decade has been the use of electronic tablets. A salesperson and buyer have been able to share an experience looking at designs and illustrations that show what a particular solution does, not just what it is. The old brain would rather see a picture than study a spreadsheet.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

Wake up the buyer’s old brain and apply neuroscience with self-explanatory pictures and videos in your presentations, in your proposals, and on your website.

6. Active Engagement – Emotional Brain Activator

Functional MRI studies show the buyer’s old brain can be stimulated with an emotional customer story. As the buyer’s old brain listens to your story about how you have made another company like theirs successful, their old brain releases three positive hormones – dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin (the so-called “happy chemicals”) – and starts to identify with your story. This encourages the instinctive and emotional brain parts to listen to the rational. Why does this work? It’s about basic trust. Elite salespeople know that referrals close deals – even if they are indirect. If a potential buyer learns that your solutions have helped others just like them, it’s close to hearing directly from those satisfied customers themselves. If you have customer testimonials and videos of satisfied customers readily available, you can shorten the sales cycle by rapidly increasing buyer comfort and attachment to you and your products and solutions.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

Use stories about your customer successes with other customers. Place videos on your website of your best customers telling the stories of how you and your company have made them successful.

These are just a few examples of how increasing knowledge and application of neuroscience-based principles are upending the sales environment. By understanding how to activate the Instinctive and Emotional parts of the brain, salespeople can come close to reading buyers’ minds. Learn more in John Asher’s book The Neuroscience of Selling, available in hardcover and Kindle editions.