The sales brain – using neuroscience to sell

The science is clear, our success resides in how we use our brains – our brains can continue to learn, grow and adapt until the day we die. In 2012 and beyond we are seeing neuroscience and neuropsychology become the topics du jour for sales teams.

Learning how to train and, in many instances, retrain our brains to incorporate effective thinking and habits will see brain-smart sales teams forging new neural pathways leading to greater sales success. ‘The Sales Brain – using neuroscience to sell’ was voted the 10th sales trend for 2012 from The 12 Sales Trends of 2012 by our readers.

For years, scientists and psychologists have heralded the application of neuroscience’s tools and processes as a pathway to wellness and success. The amount of knowledge we have discovered about the brain in the last decade alone surpasses anything that we knew before.

Now, it’s finally and officially arrived on the doorstep of sales and marketing professionals. If you are not training your sales, marketing, service and leadership teams in neuroscience and neuropsychology you could be left behind in 2012 and beyond.

Why focus on the brain?

The brain is known to be like an electro-chemical machine and it’s our thoughts that affect the flow of our neurotransmitters across synaptic connections, especially the likes of adrenaline and dopamine. This in turn affects how we manage ourselves, make decisions and even recover from adversity. The brain is the key to developing our motivation and resilience levels.

People who achieve their goals and sustain success over a long period of time have learnt how to manage their emotions and energy levels through good times and bad. They learn that it is important to pay attention to feedback and learn how to adapt and adjust to setbacks. By paying attention to their thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours they are able to develop in the following areas:

  • Self-awareness
  • Social and other awareness
  • Self-management
  • Relationship management
  • Motivation and resilience

All of these are areas which are critical to leading a successful career in sales and sales leadership.

As the world becomes increasingly complex, we are seeing people being further challenged to do more with less in the pursuit of productivity and profit – yet our pursuit for more with less is leading to erosions in productivity, poorer sales results, lower margins and more distressed employees.

Research shows that our attempts to multitask are creating performance issues – after all, our brains are best designed to focus on one task at a time. An essay titled ‘Recovering from information overload‘ from the McKinsey Quarterly states:

“When we switch between tasks, especially complex ones, we become startlingly less efficient: in a recent study, for example, participants who completed tasks in parallel took up to 30% longer and made twice as many errors as those who completed the same tasks in sequence. The delay comes from the fact that our brains can’t successfully tell us to perform two actions concurrently. When we switch tasks, our brains must choose to do so, turn off the cognitive rules for the old task, and turn on the rules for the new one. This takes time, which reduces productivity, particularly for heavy multitaskers – who, it seems, take even longer to switch between tasks than occasional multitaskers.

In practice, most of us would probably acknowledge that multitasking lets us quickly cross some of the simpler items off our to-do lists. But it rarely helps us solve the toughest problems we’re working on. More often than not, it’s procrastination in disguise.”

In short, our conscious brain is also every easily overloaded.

One of the barriers to long-term success in anything, including sales performance, is being in a distressed state for a prolonged period of time, reducing one’s ability to bounce back from adversity, make effective decisions and manage ourselves. Putting ourselves (or being put) under ‘constant pressure’ to achieve results (e.g. sales targets) with no consideration given to time allocation, preparation and resources can quickly lead to poor quality decision-making, poor overall performance and unhealthy life practices. The resulting negative behaviour then probably contributes to the prevalence of poor sales results.

Why is this happening to us?

If we are constantly working under distress with increasing feelings of pressure to perform job functions at a high level the brain and the body have no chance to return to “normal operations”. The feedback process that stops the fight and flight mode is inhibited.

When we live a life under constant pressure (stress) we are unable to engage the frontal cortex, because our emotional energy levels are drained away from our conscious brain and the unconscious part of our brain will run the show. We live on auto pilot and in a constant state of distress. If the hippocampus is damaged through such prolonged stress, the attribution of positive or negative events in life might be disturbed, we can become even more negative in our view of the world – a vicious cycle can begin.

And the really scary news which is backed up by huge bodies of research is that staying stuck in these flight and fight fear states can also lead to heart disease, strokes and brain disease. Not good for anyone and definitely not good for sustainable performance of any sort.

With business expecting us to do more with less, organisations are inadvertently setting themselves up for sharp declines in productivity and performance, leading to business decline and additional OH&S issues as distress becomes the norm.

Smart companies, leaders and individuals are taking charge of their destinies

Smart businesses are creating working environments where we can operate in the prefrontal cortex (the front part of the brain) with the time and value given to thinking and reflecting and working at more manageable pace (not operating on high intense speed all the time). This space for thinking and reflection allow us to think more clearly, make better decisions, listen more attentively, see other people’s points of view, come up with better ideas to problems and work together more effectively and more efficiently.

Overall the paradox of slowing down and taking time to think and act rather than panic and react will actually make us more productive in the short and long-term leading to better outcomes for all – clients, sales teams, staff, leaders included.

The benefits of a healthy functioning brain

Smart companies, leaders and individuals are recognising that maintaining healthy levels of motivational energy (raw physical energy) and developing our emotional resilience is vital to our well-being and our overall functioning as human beings. They are making time to educate and encourage their teams to use their brains more effectively with the following becoming a reality:

  • Increased self-awareness and personal growth
  • Experiencing more positive emotions and less distress in their lives.
  • Increased desirable (wanted) behaviours and decrease unwanted ones.
  • More effective as leaders, salespeople, partners, parents, friends, team players, etc.
  • Managing the effect of emotions on personal level as well as at a team work, client engagement and leadership level.
  • Feel happier more often.
  • Feel fitter, healthier and better able to handle challenging situations.

For more information on how to train your brain to healthier and more profitable outcomes, take a look at our Functioning Brain workshop, The Optimistic Professional workshop and our Brain Science page, contact us on 03 9533 0000.

For further reading on the brain you may find these articles useful also:

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations. Visit www.barrett.com.au

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