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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.

Professor Gerald Zaltman of Harvard Business Schools tells us that 95% of purchase decisions take place unconsciously. If there are only 4 variables to choose from when making a purchasing decision, then logic wins. Take those variables up to 12 and the decision will be made emotionally.

The problem is that our cognitive brain is only 4% of our total brain and it can only consciously process three or four pieces of information at once. After that we turn to the non-conscious brain. Consequently, while we’re pitching a sale to the cognitive brain, the non-conscious brain disengages.  So how can we engage people emotionally so their whole brain is involved with the buying decision?

Paint them a picture

Painting a pictureThe 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.

Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman at marketing giant Ogilvy UK and a TED global speaker shows how the two areas of retail that have weathered global instability are those that are at both ends of the spectrum – luxury or bargain basement. Whilst some of this is due to increasing wealth inequality, there is something else at play. Everyone gets an adrenaline rush from finding a ‘bargain’ and we derive pleasure from luxurious treats. There is an emotional drive at the opposite ends of the market, so if you are in the mid-range, look at how you can give your business an emotional context.

Stop telling, start asking

A man asking questionsAll 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.

This blog was updated on 25th January 2024 to reflect discussion at the Sales Mastery webinar