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Selling with Neuroscience

   
  
  
  
  
  
    It can  sometimes   appear  that  there  has  not  been  much  progress  in the technique of selling since the first caveman flogged a furry mammoth skin to his  neighbour,   swearing   that   his  spouse   would  be  delighted  with  the purchase.  Admittedly, in the mid-19th Century, that doyen of sales and champion of the positive mental attitude, William Clement Stone said:    “    Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman, not the attitude of the prospect”.    Now that was an interesting theory, well ahead of its time. What would Mr Stone have made of the modern advances in neuroscience, I wonder?   One can only suspect  he would have fallen upon  such tools as it presents with alacrity, recognising that through this research we now have the opportunity not  only to  shape  the  attitude of the  salesman,  but  also to  identify  and therefore better understand the attitude of the ‘prospect.’  It is easy to forget in this electronic age that all sales eventually involve interacting with people. People with brains, feelings, emotions and, wait for it, yes, needs.  It is more  important than  ever  in today’s tough  economic climate  that  we  re-examine  much  of the  old-fashioned  thinking  on  sales strategies.  Many top companies continue to invest large sums of money in formal sales training that is proving inadequate to the demands of modern markets.   It would   be   no   exaggeration to   say that   they   are   merely compounding the mistakes of the past.  These selling systems are largely redundant today because they assume an adversarial environment.  But when your customers are your partners   – hopefully   long   term   – such   tactics   are   obviously   counter-productive. Nowadays, the sales person and the customer are looking for a co-operative and supportive relationship, not a quick fix. This involves mutual respect, trust and essentially, empathy between seller and buyer.    S    o    , how can you achieve this selling alchemy?    Neuroscience  works by  giving  you  an  invaluable  insight  into  the  brain’s processing   patterns,   which  can  influence   sales  strategies   in  any  given situation  and  therefore  stimulate  sales growth.   Neuroscience  offers us the historically unparalleled  prospect of illuminating our understanding of both sides  of  the  equation –  i.e. the  sellers  and  the  buyers  –  and  therefore achieving results that are mutually satisfying.  In his work, ‘  Harnessing the Science of Persuasion’   for the Harvard Business Review, Robert B. Cialdini, Professor of Psychology, Arizona State  Business School, wrote:    
  
  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
      “    Do you  have  it – that  magical  power  to  capture  your  audience,  sway undecided  customers  and convert  opponents? Is persuasion  really magic? Must we ordinary types  struggling  with leadership’s greatest challenge  – getting things done  through  others  – despair  of ever mastering  this art? Good news – from behavioural science: persuasion works by appealing predictably to deeply rooted human needs.”    All selling is brain-to-brain process, in which the salesperson's brain communicates with the client's. As much  as 95% of our  decisions  are made  by the  subconscious mind.   As a result, the  world’s largest  and most sophisticated companies  are applying the latest advances  in neuroscience to create brands, products, package designs, marketing campaigns, store environments, and  much  more  that  are  designed to  appeal  directly  and powerfully to our brains.  Neuroscience-based selling involves making use of the latest discoveries about the brain to understand how it influences decision-making, the buying process, empathy, building rapport, communication, the sales process and customer  service. All of these  areas now have a brain-based perspective that should change  how we approach or prioritise our selling strategies.  Our brain has what could be termed a ‘threat detector’ whose sole function is to decide at the moment of first contact whether the person in front of us is a friend or a foe. Located within the subcortical brain, it is incapable of thought or rationalization  and reacts purely on instinct by how it perceives the world around it.  So let’s bring this back to practicalities and think about what this means in the typical sales situation.  If your initial approach to a customer is seen as ‘unfavourable’ to their ‘threat detector’  it will instantly  switch  on  the  fight/flight  response.  Part  of this process  includes  shutting  down  all other  message  receptors  which means any opportunity you had to establish rapport has just been made much more difficult.  To avoid alarming the ‘threat detector’  in your customer’s brain, the signals that  you  need  to  give out  at  that  very first point  of contact  need  to  be favourable   and  instinctive,  i.e.  your  body  language.  This includes  your movements,  gestures,   facial  expression,   eye  contact,   your  appearance, clothes, enthusiasm and posture.  Once you’re past this initial first impression you  can  get  on  with  developing a  relationship  with  your  customer.  It is important to note that what alarms one person’s brain ‘threat detector’ may well make another person’s ‘threat detector’ feel comfortable or reassured.  So, the first step  in achieving great  sales is have total focus on getting  past the brain’s ‘threat detector’. After we have ‘disarmed’ it we can then move on to develop and build rapport, and open the potential customer’s message receptors so we can sell to them.   This means  that  we must  focus on the customer   to  identify  his  or  her  behavioural   preferences  so  that  all our subsequent communication matches his or her behavioural needs.  It has long been the view that emotion is the opposite of rationality, or from a sales or marketing perspective, the argument is whether people buy brands for rational or emotional reasons. In the modern  argument it is often stated that  states  that  people   are  emotional   and  not  rational  in  their  decision making.  However, Professor Antonio Damasio, Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain and Creativity Institute  at the University of Southern  California, has made it very clear that emotions  are an important input to rationality.  He reinforces the importance of emotion  in interpersonal relationships including the buying process saying:    “    We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.”         An emotion is a reaction to something in our environment. It is a survival mechanism  that exists in all animals. Neurologically, an emotion  starts in the amygdala, part of the limbic system of our brain.  For example, when we see something, the process starts in the occipital regions at the back of our brains and  via neural  recruitment proceeds to  the  frontal  lobes.  This process  of interpretation (based  on memories)  proceeds via the  limbic system (centre brain) where it includes not only ‘what it is’, but also ‘how we feel about  it’ memories.  The frontal lobes  are now  presented with all the  memories  we have  about  the  thing  we see, and  can now make  rational  decisions  about how to react to this. The emotion  guides our consciousness to give attention to what  is in our environment, and  also whether  we should  be motivated toward or away from it.  The implications for salespeople are considerable. In essence, people  make emotional  decisions which they then  try to rationalise. To influence buying decisions, successful salespeople need to be able to activate the appropriate areas  of the  customer’s brain  - some  customers  use  more  emotion  than rational  analysis when  making  buying  decisions. For others,  the  reverse  is true.  Correctly identifying the customer’s buying preference and responding to it appropriately is crucial.  If done correctly, when faced with a buying choice, a customer’s subconscious will encourage them to choose you rather than your competitors - even  if your  customer  believes  they  are  acting  completely rationally. This sales approach is known as ‘adaptive selling’.  A comprehensive study by Louisiana State University has revealed a scarcity of adaptive  sales training  in initial sales training  programmes. Despite  this finding, adaptive  selling was shown to have a positive influence on a salesperson’s performance.  The study concluded :     ‘In       t    he   midst   of   increased   competition  and   rising   training   costs, management should  consider  incorporating  adaptive sales  training  into their training structure. Salespeople in this study buy into adaptive selling as an effective  method. It has been shown to increase sales performance, and  salespeople have  indicated  in this  study  that  more  adaptive sales training is necessary, in relation to other training topics.’         As a  result  of  the  dramatic  growth  in  interest   in  neuro-selling/adaptive selling,  a  three-year   research   project   has  now  been   set  up  at  Oxford University to examine its potential  role in sales and marketing  - in particular, the neural processes underlying an individual's buying choice.  Project leader, Professor Steve Woolgar says:    “    This     three-year     project will be the first large-scale study of how emerging neurological knowledge about human decision-making is transforming the techniques  of those  who seek to influence the behaviour  of consumers.  It has far reaching implications  for what we know about  how humans make their choices,  the  role of the  brain and  the  factors  at  play  in everyday decisions we all take.”    Neuroscience has changed the whole paradigm  of how one should view the issue  of  emotions   and  rationality.    It teaches   us  that  emotions   play  an ‘attentioning’ role in the scheme of how we become  conscious of things and that  when  attention  is  given  to  something,  the  synapses  between  the neurons   involved  are  strengthened –  i.e. memories  are  laid  down.  This consequently means  that  any other  reference  to the  brand  leads to bigger neuronal networks (memories) being stimulated.  Neuroscience  teaches   us  that  this  ‘attentioning’  role  of  emotions   has  a positive or negative valence. Or, as we use the term in marketing, it motivates us toward  or away from something.   Neuroscience  demonstrates that  this role of emotion  plays against the background of other feelings.  Soma is the ‘state of the body’ or how we feel. Neuroscience   demonstrates that   a consumer’s expected soma   of   a   brand   will affect   their   own   soma. Neuroscience leads us to understand issues about how repeated exposure to advertisements and recognition of advertisements effect might work.  For instance, the mind-altering  power of advertising has been  demonstrated in a remarkable  study  of the  way in which  brand  recognition  affects  the workings of the human brain. Values associated  with particular brands can be so powerful that  they have the  ability to physically alter consumers’ brains and thus change  their perceptions of a product,  according  to results from a ground-breaking experiment.  The experiment, a laboratory-controlled version of the famous ‘PEPSI Challenge‘, revealed that flavour seems to be the last thing   that consumers rely on   in their preference between two rival drinks, PEPSI and Coca-Cola.    
  
   
   
   
   
    When asked to taste blind, they showed no preference. However, when the participants  were shown company logos before  they drank, the  Coke label, the more famous of the two,  had  a dramatic  impact:  three-quarters of the  tasters declared they preferred Coke.  At the same time the researchers found that the Coke label stimulated a huge increase in activity in parts of the brain associated  with cultural knowledge, memory and self-image - so much that the scientists could use brain scans to predict  which soft drink an individual was likely to prefer. The PEPSI  label produced no such increase.  It is believed  to be the  first time that  brand  marketing  has been  shown  to have a direct effect on the brain‘s capacity to make a choice. The finding will be of great interest to marketeers around the world. Magazine publishers  will be  interested in the  findings on two  counts;  not only are magazines brands in their own rights, it can also arm publishers with strong  arguments surrounding brand  recognition  generated by their  print ads.  The scientists  chose  PEPSI  and  Coke because   the  two  drinks  are  almost indistinguishable in colour  and  taste  yet  many  people  express  a definite preference  for one or the other soft drink.   “   E    ve    ry    b    o    d    y    ‘s     h    e    ard  of Coke and  PEPSI. They have  messages and, in the case of Coke, those  message have  insinuated  themselves in our nervous system.  There‘s a huge effect of the Coke label on brain activity  related  to the control of actions, the dredging  up of memories  and self-image.  There is a response in the brain which leads to a behavioural effect.”    Dr P Read Montague, Director of the Brown Human Neuroimaging Laboratory, Baylor College, Houston, Texas  Simply looking at a person‘s brain scan, Dr Montague’s team  was able to predict which soft drink the individual concerned was likely to prefer.   “We   were stunned by how easy this was.. ”   The ventral putamen, which is involved in reward-related learning, was active when  people  drink Coke or PEPSI. This is expected as the brain treats the pleasant taste of sugared water as a reward. However, the  scans  also  showed  that  the  hippocampus and  dorsolateral prefrontal  cortex,  areas  of  the  brain  involved  in  recalling  emotions   and cultural memories, were involved when the volunteers  were exposed  to the Coke brand. The PEPSI brand, meanwhile, had virtually no effect.  As equipment that measure  brain functions become  cheaper, more efficient, and transportable, there will be further applications and knowledge  available to marketing. In essence, future neurological  scientific discoveries will guide us to understand a lot more  about  the  role of the  brain  and  emotions  in selling and marketing.  New discoveries in neuroscience are revolutionizing twenty-first-century life, and selling is no exception.  These insights into the human  brain promise to reshape  the way companies, brands, and products  get noticed, get liked, and get bought.  Effective   selling   is  the   lifeblood   of   any   organisation.    But   increased competition and higher customer  expectations make it tough  to close both new and repeat business. Salespeople and advertisers have always wanted  to get inside our heads  and they claim to be getting  closer than ever to doing just that.  Advertising is everywhere. Marketeers are being challenged to find new and innovative ways to make their messages stand out. But do they really know what's cutting through? And how far will they go to find out? Advertisers are  now  teaming  up  with  neuroscientists for answers. They're using brain imaging technology to literally look inside our heads. In the hope of selling a brand or message, advertisers are turning to brain science.  The  neuro-selling   theory  is that  if we  can  capture   and  understand  the emotions  of the  people  that  are buying  a product,  then  our advertising  is going  to be  far more  effective. And if we want  to hold  our market  share, we've got to put messages  out there and convince people  that they're doing the right thing buying our client's product.  Neuroscientist Dr Shane Moon wrote:    “    The     power of neuroscience can be seen in selling when we move into more complex  sales.  In simple  selling we go straight  from action  to the close. Being too aggressive means we can miss out on extra business we could get by  going  by  the  ‘scenic route’.  Building rapport,  opening  up  the  sale, exploring  possible  solutions  and delivering  a bigger,  higher margin sale gives  more sustainable business  and a stronger  bottom line. We call this adaptive brain selling because it uses all 4 of the quadrants of classic brain behaviour.  Instead of staying  simply in the left, results orientated part of the brain which focuses on results you can sell more by consciously using the power of the right brain to build rapport and organise complex information  on the way to the close. You will end up in the same place but with a much bigger sale.”    The car  maker   Honda   is one  of a  growing  number   of businesses  using neuroscience to learn how and  why consumers  decide  what  to buy. Using some of the latest brain science technology to monitor  patients  outside  the lab  -   Honda  UK   has  researched  the   emotions   of  buyers   visiting  car dealerships.   Heart rate, respiration  and  muscle contraction are among  the responses logged  in an  attempt to  identify the  triggers  for a sale. This is analysed  against  a range  of other  data  about  test  subjects'  experiences  in each salesroom.   H  o  n  d  a  found the results so persuasive that it is remodelling showrooms  and retraining staff to tailor pitches according to a potential buyer's state of mind.  Ian Armstrong, Manager of Customer Communications,  Honda UK , explains:    “    Conventional  research  only gets  you so far because  it's rationalisation after the event,  and most decision-making is done subconsciously.  We set out to measure physical changes people cannot consciously control.”     H  o  n  d  a  is not alone in believing brain science can boost  the bottom line. A growing  number  of businesses  say that  traditional  ways of understanding consumers  - direct questioning, observing our behaviour  - don't explain why we buy one product  over another.  And they are turning  to neuroscience for the answers.  Professor  Gemma  Calvert is co-founder   of  the  ‘Neurosense’  consultancy, which claims to provide consumer insight by scanning volunteers' brains. She uses functional  magnetic  resonance imaging  to identify which parts  of the brain  respond  to  certain  stimuli, and  electroencephalography to  track the brain's electrical activity. To quote her:    “    A     growing focus of our work is arming clients with knowledge of when it's most appropriate to use a particular marketing technique.”    British broadcaster GMTV  used  the  procedures to  gauge  receptiveness to adverts at different times of the day. The GMTV head of research, Steve Elliot, enthuses:    “    The     f    indings have been received more positively than any research we've ever done.”    It's easy to see why. The study - which monitored responses in parts of the brain  associated  with enjoyment and  understanding - concluded that  the brain is more  receptive  to advertising  at breakfast  time, and  that  this is as effective  an  ad  medium   as  peak-time   TV  -  for  which  advertisers  pay  a premium.  Steve Elliot adds:    “    It's     a    n approach that provides a well-rounded argument when combined with other data, and it's hard to question the results when findings are accumulated in lab conditions.”    This last point  demonstrates the  persuasive  power  of neuroscience-based research. Growing demand from advertisers  for proof of how communications work means the industry is under pressure to find a new model.  Cheaper, more flexible neuro-imaging devices are in the pipeline, as entrepreneurs seek to cash in on an emerging  market in the business world for modified medical diagnostic equipment.     So.    ..  The irresistible forces of demand and supply are propelling neuroscience on the fast track towards the commercial mainstream.  So…  Where do we go from here?  Have look at this recent case study where neuroscience was enlisted to help a failing project:    
  
  
  Graham works for an IT services company selling managed services and business   solutions. He was promoted last year from a Senior Sales Engineer’s role into a quota bearing Salesperson with several  nominated key accounts. His prime  objective   is  to  grow business  organically within  these existing customers. Graham was way behind his revenue and GM target.  Investigation revealed that Graham was spending most of his time with the technical community which was, of course, his comfort zone.  Graham’s profile showed  his preferred  behavioural  style was analytical i.e. that he was very comfortable,  and at his best, engaging with technical people  selling on facts, detail and logic.  But, obviously, the decision making units are made  up of functional  buyers such as Executives, Business/Operations, Procurement and Technical – a mix of decision  makers and  influencers  whose  interests  also included  concepts and  futures, results, competitive  advantage, personalised relationships  and after sales support.  In order  to  provide  Graham  with  a more  holistic approach to  selling, the intervention/application of neuroscientific tools enabled  him to develop ‘key value propositions’ for  all the behavioural  style combinations and functional buyers. Time and determination has shown that Graham is now aware of his blind spots and has developed into a very effective communicator showing new skills in persuasion and influence.   So …  A favourable and lucrative resolution for both Graham and his customers.  Until recently, we have not had any means of knowing “how the brain feels” about  messages,  products  and  services.   But, now  with great  advances  in brain   imaging   technology,    coinciding   with   huge   leaps   in   computer algorithmic  and  analytical  capabilities,  we  now  know  with  considerable certainty what the brain likes and what it rejects.  A major advance  in the field of neuroscience that has particular relevance to selling has been the discovery of mirror neurons  in the brain. Basically, motor neuron  theory  says that  when  you watch  someone perform  an action, you automatically   simulate  the  action  in  your  own  brain.       More  recently, scientists have discovered the existence of strong, pervasive mirror networks for emotions.   For example, when you experience  a friend exhibiting distress while telling you a sad story, your brain simulates similar distress.  Activating the  mirror neuron  system  is one  of the  most  effective ways to connect with customers.  Show products  being consumed.  Celebrate the first sip of hot coffee.  Let the customer revel in the action being performed. In the same way as a yawn spreads  around  a conference  room, think of the many ways you can use action and emotion  to ignite the mirror neuron  system in your  customers’  minds  and  bring  them  subconsciously  straight  into  the experience of your product or service.   What is the brain looking for?   Familiarity is about  security and feeling safe.  We seek the familiar, pleasing and reassuring.   We seek the connection that  we have had before, because we   anticipate   the   rewards   that   we  know   the   connection  will  bring. Customers  like to buy from those  who are like them  and  who display the same values, styles of communication, behaviours  etc.  This is why effective behavioural adaptability is so important for salespeople.  Paradoxically, the brain is also drawn to novelty .   It values and seeks out what is new.  Novelty is the single most effective factor in effectively capturing  its precious attention. A novel message, product, package or layout is the key to penetrating  busy  and   selective  sub-conscious   minds.     And,  of  course, pleasure or reward images are irresistible to our brains. The trick is to find out what  those  are and  how to present  them  to each  consumer  group.  Brain imaging technology is moving this goal from pipe dream to reality every day.  Here are the five main senses and what they mean to the buying brain:   V  ision  -   About  one   quarter   of  the   human   brain  is  involved  in  visual processing,  more  than  to  any  other  sense.    About  70  % of  the  body’s receptors  are in the eyes, but vision does not happen in the eyes, but in the brain.   The easiest  and  most  successful way to capture  the  ‘buying brain’s’ attention is through good visuals.   Smell  -  Smells are  mainlined  directly  into  our  centres  for  emotion   and memory.    Smell cues  are  hardwired  into  the  brain’s emotional  centre  to stimulate vivid recollections.  We make such immediate, deep, and emotional connections with the smells we encounter, it makes perfect  ‘sense’ to make scents  available to delight  or engage the  brains of our customers.  Once a scent is embedded in a person’s brain, even visual cues can cause it to be resurrected and even ‘experienced’. A TV commercial showing a person savouring the aroma of freshly brewed coffee can trigger these same smell sensations in viewers through what is known as mirror neurons.   Taste -  Although different, smell and taste  share a common  goal and often operate in synchrony  to  distinguish  thousands of different  flavours.   The interaction  between taste  and  smell explains why loss of a sense  of smell causes  a serious  reduction  in the  overall taste  experience, which  we  call flavour.  We tend to smell something before we taste it. Smell hits our brain very quickly.  Taste stimulation  is one  of the  senses  most  easily set  off by mirror  neurons.     Anytime  that  an  appetizing   product   is displayed,  it  is important that  salespeople show it being  enjoyed  by others.  This is most important  in  stimulating   desire,  and,  most   importantly,   to  moving   to purchase.   H  earing -  Hearing allows us to generate deep, nostalgic memories associated with  highly  emotional   moments  accompanies by  sound.    We mark  our traditional key moments in life with music, for example, birthdays, weddings, graduations and funerals.  Our pupils widen and endorphins increase when we sing and there  is well validated  scientific data  that  unconscious  patients respond  to music.  Sounds also influence mood  and supermarkets now use music to enhance wine sales etc. When a buying brain hears a drink being poured, the sizzle of frying or the crunch of crisps, mirror neurons fire in some urgency: “I want some of that”.   Touch -  Although  our sense  of smell is the  most  emotionally  direct of our senses, touch is the oldest human  sense. Consider the sensory capabilities of the product  or experience  you are selling to the buying brain and examine ways that this can be part of your message.  Any product or experience that is tactile  must  excite  and  invite  the  sense  of touch.    The key question   for organisations is:   “OK,   brain science is fascinating, but, so what? Tell us how we can use this knowledge to enhance our business.”   New discoveries in neuroscience are revolutionising 21st Century business life and nowhere  more than  in the approach to selling.  These insights into the human  brain promise  to reshape  the  way in which companies ensure  that they  get  their products  or services noticed  and  bought.    We have  learned how the buying brain functions; what’s attractive to it; how it decides what it likes  and  doesn’t  like;  and,  ultimately,  how  it  makes  that   all-important transition from being a ‘shopping brain’ to becoming  a ‘buying brain’.  The brain  not  only makes  behaviour  - it makes  us who  we are.   It alone decides  what is important enough to pay attention to, to remember and to act  on.   Brain science  is now  pointing  to  a future  where  companies  that properly use brain science findings will reach and serve their customers more effectively and those who do not.  Only through enhanced knowledge  of the brain, and  the  improved  messages  salespeople create  as a result  of such knowledge, can  they  reliably expect  their  brand,  product  or service to  be given the attention it requires if the customer is to buy it.

It can  sometimes   appear  that  there  has  not  been  much  progress  in the technique of selling since the first caveman flogged a furry mammoth skin to his  neighbour,   swearing   that   his  spouse   would  be  delighted  with  the purchase.

Admittedly, in the mid-19th Century, that doyen of sales and champion of the positive mental attitude, William Clement Stone said:

Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman, not the attitude of the prospect”.

Now that was an interesting theory, well ahead of its time. What would Mr Stone have made of the modern advances in neuroscience, I wonder?   One can only suspect  he would have fallen upon  such tools as it presents with alacrity, recognising that through this research we now have the opportunity not  only to  shape  the  attitude of the  salesman,  but  also to  identify  and therefore better understand the attitude of the ‘prospect.’

It is easy to forget in this electronic age that all sales eventually involve interacting with people. People with brains, feelings, emotions and, wait for it, yes, needs.  It is more  important than  ever  in today’s tough  economic climate  that  we  re-examine  much  of the  old-fashioned  thinking  on  sales strategies.  Many top companies continue to invest large sums of money in formal sales training that is proving inadequate to the demands of modern markets.   It would   be   no   exaggeration to   say that   they   are   merely compounding the mistakes of the past.

These selling systems are largely redundant today because they assume an adversarial environment.  But when your customers are your partners   – hopefully   long   term   – such   tactics   are   obviously   counter-productive. Nowadays, the sales person and the customer are looking for a co-operative and supportive relationship, not a quick fix. This involves mutual respect, trust and essentially, empathy between seller and buyer.

So, how can you achieve this selling alchemy?

Neuroscience  works by  giving  you  an  invaluable  insight  into  the  brain’s processing   patterns,   which  can  influence   sales  strategies   in  any  given situation  and  therefore  stimulate  sales growth.   Neuroscience  offers us the historically unparalleled  prospect of illuminating our understanding of both sides  of  the  equation –  i.e. the  sellers  and  the  buyers  –  and  therefore achieving results that are mutually satisfying.

In his work, ‘Harnessing the Science of Persuasion’ for the Harvard Business Review, Robert B. Cialdini, Professor of Psychology, Arizona State  Business School, wrote:

Do you  have  it – that  magical  power  to  capture  your  audience,  sway undecided  customers  and convert  opponents? Is persuasion  really magic? Must we ordinary types  struggling  with leadership’s greatest challenge  – getting things done  through  others  – despair  of ever mastering  this art? Good news – from behavioural science: persuasion works by appealing predictably to deeply rooted human needs.”

All selling is brain-to-brain process, in which the salesperson's brain communicates with the client's. As much  as 95% of our  decisions  are made  by the  subconscious mind.   As a result, the  world’s largest  and most sophisticated companies  are applying the latest advances  in neuroscience to create brands, products, package designs, marketing campaigns, store environments, and  much  more  that  are  designed to  appeal  directly  and powerfully to our brains.

Neuroscience-based selling involves making use of the latest discoveries about the brain to understand how it influences decision-making, the buying process, empathy, building rapport, communication, the sales process and customer  service. All of these  areas now have a brain-based perspective that should change  how we approach or prioritise our selling strategies.

Our brain has what could be termed a ‘threat detector’ whose sole function is to decide at the moment of first contact whether the person in front of us is a friend or a foe. Located within the subcortical brain, it is incapable of thought or rationalization  and reacts purely on instinct by how it perceives the world around it.

So let’s bring this back to practicalities and think about what this means in the typical sales situation.

If your initial approach to a customer is seen as ‘unfavourable’ to their ‘threat detector’  it will instantly  switch  on  the  fight/flight  response.  Part  of this process  includes  shutting  down  all other  message  receptors  which means any opportunity you had to establish rapport has just been made much more difficult.

To avoid alarming the ‘threat detector’  in your customer’s brain, the signals that  you  need  to  give out  at  that  very first point  of contact  need  to  be favourable   and  instinctive,  i.e.  your  body  language.  This includes  your movements,  gestures,   facial  expression,   eye  contact,   your  appearance, clothes, enthusiasm and posture.  Once you’re past this initial first impression you  can  get  on  with  developing a  relationship  with  your  customer.  It is important to note that what alarms one person’s brain ‘threat detector’ may well make another person’s ‘threat detector’ feel comfortable or reassured.

So, the first step  in achieving great  sales is have total focus on getting  past the brain’s ‘threat detector’. After we have ‘disarmed’ it we can then move on to develop and build rapport, and open the potential customer’s message receptors so we can sell to them.   This means  that  we must  focus on the customer   to  identify  his  or  her  behavioural   preferences  so  that  all our subsequent communication matches his or her behavioural needs.

It has long been the view that emotion is the opposite of rationality, or from a sales or marketing perspective, the argument is whether people buy brands for rational or emotional reasons. In the modern  argument it is often stated that  states  that  people   are  emotional   and  not  rational  in  their  decision making.

However, Professor Antonio Damasio, Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain and Creativity Institute  at the University of Southern  California, has made it very clear that emotions  are an important input to rationality.  He reinforces the importance of emotion  in interpersonal relationships including the buying process saying:

We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.”

 An emotion is a reaction to something in our environment. It is a survival mechanism  that exists in all animals. Neurologically, an emotion  starts in the amygdala, part of the limbic system of our brain.  For example, when we see something, the process starts in the occipital regions at the back of our brains and  via neural  recruitment proceeds to  the  frontal  lobes.  This process  of interpretation (based  on memories)  proceeds via the  limbic system (centre brain) where it includes not only ‘what it is’, but also ‘how we feel about  it’ memories.  The frontal lobes  are now  presented with all the  memories  we have  about  the  thing  we see, and  can now make  rational  decisions  about how to react to this. The emotion  guides our consciousness to give attention to what  is in our environment, and  also whether  we should  be motivated toward or away from it.

The implications for salespeople are considerable. In essence, people  make emotional  decisions which they then  try to rationalise. To influence buying decisions, successful salespeople need to be able to activate the appropriate areas  of the  customer’s brain  - some  customers  use  more  emotion  than rational  analysis when  making  buying  decisions. For others,  the  reverse  is true.

Correctly identifying the customer’s buying preference and responding to it appropriately is crucial.  If done correctly, when faced with a buying choice, a customer’s subconscious will encourage them to choose you rather than your competitors - even  if your  customer  believes  they  are  acting  completely rationally. This sales approach is known as ‘adaptive selling’.

A comprehensive study by Louisiana State University has revealed a scarcity of adaptive  sales training  in initial sales training  programmes. Despite  this finding, adaptive  selling was shown to have a positive influence on a salesperson’s performance.

The study concluded:

‘In   the   midst   of   increased   competition  and   rising   training   costs, management should  consider  incorporating  adaptive sales  training  into their training structure. Salespeople in this study buy into adaptive selling as an effective  method. It has been shown to increase sales performance, and  salespeople have  indicated  in this  study  that  more  adaptive sales training is necessary, in relation to other training topics.’

 As a  result  of  the  dramatic  growth  in  interest   in  neuro-selling/adaptive selling,  a  three-year   research   project   has  now  been   set  up  at  Oxford University to examine its potential  role in sales and marketing  - in particular, the neural processes underlying an individual's buying choice.

Project leader, Professor Steve Woolgar says:

This three-year project will be the first large-scale study of how emerging neurological knowledge about human decision-making is transforming the techniques  of those  who seek to influence the behaviour  of consumers.  It has far reaching implications  for what we know about  how humans make their choices,  the  role of the  brain and  the  factors  at  play  in everyday decisions we all take.”

Neuroscience has changed the whole paradigm  of how one should view the issue  of  emotions   and  rationality.    It teaches   us  that  emotions   play  an ‘attentioning’ role in the scheme of how we become  conscious of things and that  when  attention  is  given  to  something,  the  synapses  between  the neurons   involved  are  strengthened –  i.e. memories  are  laid  down.  This consequently means  that  any other  reference  to the  brand  leads to bigger neuronal networks (memories) being stimulated.

Neuroscience  teaches   us  that  this  ‘attentioning’  role  of  emotions   has  a positive or negative valence. Or, as we use the term in marketing, it motivates us toward  or away from something.   Neuroscience  demonstrates that  this role of emotion  plays against the background of other feelings.  Soma is the ‘state of the body’ or how we feel. Neuroscience   demonstrates that   a consumer’s expected soma   of   a   brand   will affect   their   own   soma. Neuroscience leads us to understand issues about how repeated exposure to advertisements and recognition of advertisements effect might work.

For instance, the mind-altering  power of advertising has been  demonstrated in a remarkable  study  of the  way in which  brand  recognition  affects  the workings of the human brain. Values associated  with particular brands can be so powerful that  they have the  ability to physically alter consumers’ brains and thus change  their perceptions of a product,  according  to results from a ground-breaking experiment.

The experiment, a laboratory-controlled version of the famous ‘PEPSI Challenge‘, revealed that flavour seems to be the last thing   that consumers rely on   in their preference between two rival drinks, PEPSI and Coca-Cola.

When asked to taste blind, they showed no preference. However, when the participants  were shown company logos before  they drank, the  Coke label, the more famous of the two,  had  a dramatic  impact:  three-quarters of the  tasters declared they preferred Coke.

At the same time the researchers found that the Coke label stimulated a huge increase in activity in parts of the brain associated  with cultural knowledge, memory and self-image - so much that the scientists could use brain scans to predict  which soft drink an individual was likely to prefer. The PEPSI  label produced no such increase.

It is believed  to be the  first time that  brand  marketing  has been  shown  to have a direct effect on the brain‘s capacity to make a choice. The finding will be of great interest to marketeers around the world. Magazine publishers  will be  interested in the  findings on two  counts;  not only are magazines brands in their own rights, it can also arm publishers with strong  arguments surrounding brand  recognition  generated by their  print ads.

The scientists  chose  PEPSI  and  Coke because   the  two  drinks  are  almost indistinguishable in colour  and  taste  yet  many  people  express  a definite preference  for one or the other soft drink.

Everybody‘s heard  of Coke and  PEPSI. They have  messages and, in the case of Coke, those  message have  insinuated  themselves in our nervous system.  There‘s a huge effect of the Coke label on brain activity  related  to the control of actions, the dredging  up of memories  and self-image.  There is a response in the brain which leads to a behavioural effect.”

Dr P Read Montague, Director of the Brown Human Neuroimaging Laboratory, Baylor College, Houston, Texas

Simply looking at a person‘s brain scan, Dr Montague’s team  was able to predict which soft drink the individual concerned was likely to prefer.

“We were stunned by how easy this was.. ”

The ventral putamen, which is involved in reward-related learning, was active when  people  drink Coke or PEPSI. This is expected as the brain treats the pleasant taste of sugared water as a reward. However, the  scans  also  showed  that  the  hippocampus and  dorsolateral prefrontal  cortex,  areas  of  the  brain  involved  in  recalling  emotions   and cultural memories, were involved when the volunteers  were exposed  to the Coke brand. The PEPSI brand, meanwhile, had virtually no effect.

As equipment that measure  brain functions become  cheaper, more efficient, and transportable, there will be further applications and knowledge  available to marketing. In essence, future neurological  scientific discoveries will guide us to understand a lot more  about  the  role of the  brain  and  emotions  in selling and marketing.

New discoveries in neuroscience are revolutionizing twenty-first-century life, and selling is no exception.  These insights into the human  brain promise to reshape  the way companies, brands, and products  get noticed, get liked, and get bought.

Effective   selling   is  the   lifeblood   of   any   organisation.    But   increased competition and higher customer  expectations make it tough  to close both new and repeat business. Salespeople and advertisers have always wanted  to get inside our heads  and they claim to be getting  closer than ever to doing just that.

Advertising is everywhere. Marketeers are being challenged to find new and innovative ways to make their messages stand out. But do they really know what's cutting through? And how far will they go to find out? Advertisers are  now  teaming  up  with  neuroscientists for answers. They're using brain imaging technology to literally look inside our heads. In the hope of selling a brand or message, advertisers are turning to brain science.

The  neuro-selling   theory  is that  if we  can  capture   and  understand  the emotions  of the  people  that  are buying  a product,  then  our advertising  is going  to be  far more  effective. And if we want  to hold  our market  share, we've got to put messages  out there and convince people  that they're doing the right thing buying our client's product.

Neuroscientist Dr Shane Moon wrote:

The power of neuroscience can be seen in selling when we move into more complex  sales.  In simple  selling we go straight  from action  to the close. Being too aggressive means we can miss out on extra business we could get by  going  by  the  ‘scenic route’.  Building rapport,  opening  up  the  sale, exploring  possible  solutions  and delivering  a bigger,  higher margin sale gives  more sustainable business  and a stronger  bottom line. We call this adaptive brain selling because it uses all 4 of the quadrants of classic brain behaviour.  Instead of staying  simply in the left, results orientated part of the brain which focuses on results you can sell more by consciously using the power of the right brain to build rapport and organise complex information  on the way to the close. You will end up in the same place but with a much bigger sale.”

The car  maker  Honda  is one  of a  growing  number   of businesses  using neuroscience to learn how and  why consumers  decide  what  to buy. Using some of the latest brain science technology to monitor  patients  outside  the lab  -  Honda  UK  has  researched  the   emotions   of  buyers   visiting  car dealerships.   Heart rate, respiration  and  muscle contraction are among  the responses logged  in an  attempt to  identify the  triggers  for a sale. This is analysed  against  a range  of other  data  about  test  subjects'  experiences  in each salesroom.

Honda found the results so persuasive that it is remodelling showrooms  and retraining staff to tailor pitches according to a potential buyer's state of mind.

Ian Armstrong, Manager of Customer Communications, Honda UK, explains:

Conventional  research  only gets  you so far because  it's rationalisation after the event,  and most decision-making is done subconsciously.  We set out to measure physical changes people cannot consciously control.”

Honda is not alone in believing brain science can boost  the bottom line. A growing  number  of businesses  say that  traditional  ways of understanding consumers  - direct questioning, observing our behaviour  - don't explain why we buy one product  over another.  And they are turning  to neuroscience for the answers.

Professor  Gemma  Calvert is co-founder   of  the  ‘Neurosense’  consultancy, which claims to provide consumer insight by scanning volunteers' brains. She uses functional  magnetic  resonance imaging  to identify which parts  of the brain  respond  to  certain  stimuli, and  electroencephalography to  track the brain's electrical activity. To quote her:

A growing focus of our work is arming clients with knowledge of when it's most appropriate to use a particular marketing technique.”

British broadcaster GMTV  used  the  procedures to  gauge  receptiveness to adverts at different times of the day. The GMTV head of research, Steve Elliot, enthuses:

The findings have been received more positively than any research we've ever done.”

It's easy to see why. The study - which monitored responses in parts of the brain  associated  with enjoyment and  understanding - concluded that  the brain is more  receptive  to advertising  at breakfast  time, and  that  this is as effective  an  ad  medium   as  peak-time   TV  -  for  which  advertisers  pay  a premium.

Steve Elliot adds:

It's an approach that provides a well-rounded argument when combined with other data, and it's hard to question the results when findings are accumulated in lab conditions.”

This last point  demonstrates the  persuasive  power  of neuroscience-based research. Growing demand from advertisers  for proof of how communications work means the industry is under pressure to find a new model.  Cheaper, more flexible neuro-imaging devices are in the pipeline, as entrepreneurs seek to cash in on an emerging  market in the business world for modified medical diagnostic equipment. 

So...The irresistible forces of demand and supply are propelling neuroscience on the fast track towards the commercial mainstream. So… Where do we go from here?

Have look at this recent case study where neuroscience was enlisted to help a failing project:

Graham works for an IT services company selling managed services and business   solutions. He was promoted last year from a Senior Sales Engineer’s role into a quota bearing Salesperson with several  nominated key accounts. His prime  objective   is  to  grow business  organically within  these existing customers. Graham was way behind his revenue and GM target.

Investigation revealed that Graham was spending most of his time with the technical community which was, of course, his comfort zone.  Graham’s profile showed  his preferred  behavioural  style was analytical i.e. that he was very comfortable,  and at his best, engaging with technical people  selling on facts, detail and logic.

But, obviously, the decision making units are made  up of functional  buyers such as Executives, Business/Operations, Procurement and Technical – a mix of decision  makers and  influencers  whose  interests  also included  concepts and  futures, results, competitive  advantage, personalised relationships  and after sales support.

In order  to  provide  Graham  with  a more  holistic approach to  selling, the intervention/application of neuroscientific tools enabled  him to develop ‘key value propositions’ for  all the behavioural  style combinations and functional buyers. Time and determination has shown that Graham is now aware of his blind spots and has developed into a very effective communicator showing new skills in persuasion and influence.

So … A favourable and lucrative resolution for both Graham and his customers.

Until recently, we have not had any means of knowing “how the brain feels” about  messages,  products  and  services.   But, now  with great  advances  in brain   imaging   technology,    coinciding   with   huge   leaps   in   computer algorithmic  and  analytical  capabilities,  we  now  know  with  considerable certainty what the brain likes and what it rejects.

A major advance  in the field of neuroscience that has particular relevance to selling has been the discovery of mirror neurons  in the brain. Basically, motor neuron  theory  says that  when  you watch  someone perform  an action, you automatically   simulate  the  action  in  your  own  brain.       More  recently, scientists have discovered the existence of strong, pervasive mirror networks for emotions.   For example, when you experience  a friend exhibiting distress while telling you a sad story, your brain simulates similar distress.

Activating the  mirror neuron  system  is one  of the  most  effective ways to connect with customers.  Show products  being consumed.  Celebrate the first sip of hot coffee.  Let the customer revel in the action being performed. In the same way as a yawn spreads  around  a conference  room, think of the many ways you can use action and emotion  to ignite the mirror neuron  system in your  customers’  minds  and  bring  them  subconsciously  straight  into  the experience of your product or service.

What is the brain looking for?

Familiarity is about  security and feeling safe.  We seek the familiar, pleasing and reassuring.   We seek the connection that  we have had before, because we   anticipate   the   rewards   that   we  know   the   connection  will  bring. Customers  like to buy from those  who are like them  and  who display the same values, styles of communication, behaviours  etc.  This is why effective behavioural adaptability is so important for salespeople.

Paradoxically, the brain is also drawn to novelty.  It values and seeks out what is new.  Novelty is the single most effective factor in effectively capturing  its precious attention. A novel message, product, package or layout is the key to penetrating  busy  and   selective  sub-conscious   minds.     And,  of  course, pleasure or reward images are irresistible to our brains. The trick is to find out what  those  are and  how to present  them  to each  consumer  group.  Brain imaging technology is moving this goal from pipe dream to reality every day.

Here are the five main senses and what they mean to the buying brain:

Vision  -  About  one   quarter   of  the   human   brain  is  involved  in  visual processing,  more  than  to  any  other  sense.    About  70  % of  the  body’s receptors  are in the eyes, but vision does not happen in the eyes, but in the brain.   The easiest  and  most  successful way to capture  the  ‘buying brain’s’ attention is through good visuals.

Smell  - Smells are  mainlined  directly  into  our  centres  for  emotion   and memory.    Smell cues  are  hardwired  into  the  brain’s emotional  centre  to stimulate vivid recollections.  We make such immediate, deep, and emotional connections with the smells we encounter, it makes perfect  ‘sense’ to make scents  available to delight  or engage the  brains of our customers.  Once a scent is embedded in a person’s brain, even visual cues can cause it to be resurrected and even ‘experienced’. A TV commercial showing a person savouring the aroma of freshly brewed coffee can trigger these same smell sensations in viewers through what is known as mirror neurons.

Taste - Although different, smell and taste  share a common  goal and often operate in synchrony  to  distinguish  thousands of different  flavours.   The interaction  between taste  and  smell explains why loss of a sense  of smell causes  a serious  reduction  in the  overall taste  experience, which  we  call flavour.  We tend to smell something before we taste it. Smell hits our brain very quickly.  Taste stimulation  is one  of the  senses  most  easily set  off by mirror  neurons.     Anytime  that  an  appetizing   product   is displayed,  it  is important that  salespeople show it being  enjoyed  by others.  This is most important  in  stimulating   desire,  and,  most   importantly,   to  moving   to purchase.

Hearing - Hearing allows us to generate deep, nostalgic memories associated with  highly  emotional   moments  accompanies by  sound.    We mark  our traditional key moments in life with music, for example, birthdays, weddings, graduations and funerals.  Our pupils widen and endorphins increase when we sing and there  is well validated  scientific data  that  unconscious  patients respond  to music.  Sounds also influence mood  and supermarkets now use music to enhance wine sales etc. When a buying brain hears a drink being poured, the sizzle of frying or the crunch of crisps, mirror neurons fire in some urgency: “I want some of that”.

Touch - Although  our sense  of smell is the  most  emotionally  direct of our senses, touch is the oldest human  sense. Consider the sensory capabilities of the product  or experience  you are selling to the buying brain and examine ways that this can be part of your message.  Any product or experience that is tactile  must  excite  and  invite  the  sense  of touch.    The key question   for organisations is:

“OK, brain science is fascinating, but, so what? Tell us how we can use this knowledge to enhance our business.”

New discoveries in neuroscience are revolutionising 21st Century business life and nowhere  more than  in the approach to selling.  These insights into the human  brain promise  to reshape  the  way in which companies ensure  that they  get  their products  or services noticed  and  bought.    We have  learned how the buying brain functions; what’s attractive to it; how it decides what it likes  and  doesn’t  like;  and,  ultimately,  how  it  makes  that   all-important transition from being a ‘shopping brain’ to becoming  a ‘buying brain’.

The brain  not  only makes  behaviour  - it makes  us who  we are.   It alone decides  what is important enough to pay attention to, to remember and to act  on.   Brain science  is now  pointing  to  a future  where  companies  that properly use brain science findings will reach and serve their customers more effectively and those who do not.  Only through enhanced knowledge  of the brain, and  the  improved  messages  salespeople create  as a result  of such knowledge, can  they  reliably expect  their  brand,  product  or service to  be given the attention it requires if the customer is to buy it.

James ParsonsComment