Neuroscience reveals the part of the brain to sell to

Could you be using neuroscience to boost your sales?

Most sales people sell to the thinking brain, focusing their pitch around facts and information like technical specifications, product features, credentials, pricing, etc. Yet neuroscience research shows that the non-conscious part of our brain is the real decision-maker – we make decisions emotionally, then justify them rationally.

The problem is that our non-conscious brain is not equipped for cognitive thinking: while we’re pitching to the thinking brain, the emotional brain disengages.  So how can we engage the part of the brain involved in buying-decisions?

Paint them a picture

Paint them a picture

The emotional brain is not inherently designed to process words. It evolved about 300 million years ago whereas language is only 40,000 years old.
Also the optic nerve processes information 40 times faster than the auditory nerve. Incredibly 70% of the brain is used for visual processing. So lose all those text-heavy PowerPoint presentations – use pictures instead. The brain gets confused if it has to read text and listen to you talking. Watch any of the best TED talks, there’s not a bullet-point in sight. Instead they use evocative photography. It’s no wonder that the trend for websites is highly graphical.
Better still, demonstrate the product, tell stories and allow your prospect to get a feel for your offering.

Neuroscience reveals we make decisions emotionally, then justify them rationally.


Create contrast

The brain is our survival system. It is continually nonconsciously monitoring the environment, looking for change. So, in our hunter-gatherer days the appearance of a wild animal would be immediately processed as noteworthy and wake-up our brain.

The non-conscious brain therefore looks out for change, and ignores the non-remarkable. So if you begin your sales pitch with “We are one of the leading providers of sales training …”, this will largely go unnoticed. Much better to say “We are the only sales training company that applies the latest neuroscience research to boost sales performance”. This statement stands a much better chance of getting noticed. Hence the importance of communicating your niche and unique selling proposition boldly.

Stop telling, ask questions

Stop telling, start asking

All the research shows that the best salespeople ask questions rather than tell.  Skillfully crafted questions allow the client to work out for themselves how your product could help them.

The telling approach is ineffective because we all make sense of the world in very different ways. When we tell, we are operating from our viewpoint, not our client’s. What makes sense in our world may make little sense to them. We could be making all sorts of false assumptions.

In order for people to grasp new ideas, they have to create new connections and wire new “maps” into their own brains. This cannot happen through telling. It can only happen through one’s own thinking.

So, if you want to improve your sales results, stop telling clients how your product will help them, instead ask questions. This forces them to think about the issues and benefits for themselves – and research shows that this approach results in far fewer objections. People put up barriers when they think they are being sold to.

An additional benefit of this approach is that most complex sales require multiple decision-makers, so, by asking questions, you are helping your client to formulate their reasons to buy, which will help them sell your product or service internally.


Want to sell more … shut-up and listen!

The more you tell, the less you sell!

The human brain is designed to solve problems.  Imagine in our hunter/gatherer days solving the problem: how do I find food during a harsh winter.  This would clearly give us an evolutionary advantage. Our experience of pleasure from solving problems is the brain’s way of rewarding survival-based behaviours.

This explains why sales people are so keen to pitch their products at the slightest whiff of a customer problem – solving problems is highly satisfying because it triggers the brain’s dopamine reward system. The trouble is, it is the sales person that experiences the pleasure, not the customer.  In fact it could have an adverse effect on the customer who will likely push back (perhaps for no other reason than it wasn’t their idea). It is this subconscious  effect that gives rise to what is called a sales objection.

If pitching doesn’t work, what else can the eager sales person do?

The answer is to help the customer come up with the solution themselves. When someone solves their own problem they are rewarded with a release of dopamine in their brain, a neurotransmitter that creates positive emotions and satisfaction. It follows that if you are able to create positive feelings in your clients they are more likely to want to deal with you.

So instead of pitching, the best sales people devise a carefully crafted series of questions that allow clients to come up with the solution themselves. Good questioning will lead the customer to your offering.  Research by Huthwaite, amongst others, shows that this approach is far more successful, and results in 65% fewer objections than traditional selling.

Solving your client’s problems may make you feel good, but helping them solve their own problems makes them feel good.

Ask more questions; speak less!

One of the hardest things for a sales person is to bite their tongue – to suppress their evolutionary instinct to offer their solution. All the research shows that pitching early in the sales cycle has little impact on the customer, whereas inhibiting your urges until the prospect has reached their own conclusion has a high impact on the customer’s likelihood to buy. It’s no wonder that the most successful sales people think of selling as ‘joint problem solving’. They listen more, ask more questions, and speak less!

Solving your client’s problems may make you feel good, but helping them solve their own problems makes them feel good.  If you can make them feel good, they will naturally want to put their business with you!

Discover the latest insights from neuroscience into what makes people buy


Keep your sales message simple – or your customer switches off

If you’re like me, when you get into a lift (or elevator if you’re American) you may have to stop and think (perhaps only for a second) which button to press to open the doors, and which to close.  The problem is the triangle symbol isn’t as intuitive as a simple arrow. I always think the close door sign looks more like the HSBC logo!  The complex button layout (left) means you have to consciously think about which button to press.  The symbols on the right are more intuitive.  We don’t need to think about arrows; their meaning is innate within us.

Lift panel
HSBC Symbol
Open and close buttons

In sales, if your customer has to stop and think in order to decode your message, you are adding an unnecessary barrier. Research shows that buying decisions are made by the non-conscious brain. So if your sales message isn’t clear and simple, you are forcing customer to use their energy-hungry conscious brain rather than their intuitive brain.  This causes them to think rather than act and can put the brakes on sales.

Why have 'a policeman in an automobile' when 'a cop in car will do'?!

With any written sales message, the simpler the better.  All too often we see marketng messages describing features as‚ ‘a next-generation scaleable integrated architecture‘. Nothing about this is intuitive. We have to stop and think about every word, and then what those words mean together. This is hard work for the buyer, and diminishes the likelihood of a successful sale.

The same message could be phrased in simple language‚ ‘it grows with your business needs‘  This doesn’t require us to engage our conscious brain; the meaning is directly and instantly apparent. The result is that your customer is far more likely to engage with you.

Put another way, why have a policeman in an automobile when a cop in car will do!