Your prospects and customers don’t have just one brain – they have three. And the future of your sales success lies in your ability to sell to all three brains.
Knowledge and understanding about the brain is growing rapidly, with the vast majority of major discoveries and knowledge about the brain being made in the last 10 to 15 years. More research has been conducted and published on the brain in this time period than in the whole of human history.
As a result of this research we are starting to get a deeper understanding of how the brain functions when it is making buying decisions. And the more we know about how this, the better able we will be to make our sales approach, sales behaviour and sales presentations “brain friendly”.
Fundamentally, there are three parts of the brain that sales professionals need to be aware of as they play a major role in the decisions our customers make about whether to buy from us – or not.
The reptilian brain
This is the oldest (in evolutionary terms) part of the brain. It connects the brain with the spinal column. It is comprised of the brainstem and cerebellum and is also referred to as the “old brain” or the “sub-cortical brain”. This part of the brain is similar to the entire brains of reptiles. Although our brain has evolved over time, the basic elements of it are still intact and form the lowest of the three tiers of our brain today.
You may at this stage be wondering what this part of the brain has to do with selling. The answer is: a great deal! Firstly, all sensory nerves go through the brain stem to the rest of the body and it plays a vital role in basic attention arousal and consciousness. There is a bundle of densely packed nerve cells located in the central core of the brain stem called the reticular activating system. It runs from the top of the spinal cord into the middle of the brain.
In addition to a host of other functions the reticular activating system is the brain’s chief Gatekeeper that screens and filters what type of information will be allowed through. Anything that is deemed as irrelevant is filtered out. It is rather like a PA or EA who decides which calls get put through to the CEO.
Only two categories of information are allowed through:
- l Information valuable to have right now.
- l Information that alerts you to threat/danger.
This primitive part of the brain has little or no patience if the subject does not immediately concern wellbeing and survival. At first contact with a stranger (such as a first meeting with a new sales professional) it will instantly conduct a threat response and decide if you are friend or foe.
It prioritises survival first (the avoidance of pain and danger) and then achieving comfort, so it responds to pain avoidance first. It should be stressed that this is a mechanical, selfish and unconscious part of our brain.
It does, however, have a very strong influence. For example, if initial contact with a salesperson stresses or threatens “the Gatekeeper” the automatic fight/flight/freeze response is stimulated. This can happen in a fraction of a second. Part of this process includes shutting out message receptors in the brain which means your opportunity to sell effectively is severely limited.
The emotional brain
This is comprised of the limbic system and is also referred to as the “mammalian brain” as it is thought to have first evolved in mammals, or the “mid-brain”. As the brain evolved the emotional brain developed. This is the part of the brain where emotions are generated, along with many of the urges that direct our behaviour.
It is important to realise that although this part of the brain is also unconscious in function, it has a profound effect on us because it links the brain stem with the higher reasoning functions of the rational brain (see below), and feeds information to it.
The limbic system is the part of the brain that in a similar way to the reptilian brain reacts reflexively, instantaneously and without thought in real time. It plays a key role in developing and carrying out instinctive emotions and accompanying behaviours. Again you may at this stage be wondering what this part of the brain has to do with selling. The answer (again) is: a great deal!
The emotional brain can easily become aroused and can dominate and control the thinking of your customer. The emotional brain has greater influence over the rational brain than the rational brain has over the emotional brain, which can result in emotional arousal dominating the thinking of your customer.
The rational brain
This is comprised of the cortex and the neo-cortex and is also referred to as the “human brain” or the “intellectual brain” and is responsible for complex thought.
It is this part of the brain with its ability to analyse and interpret data that is unique to human beings that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. This part of the brain processes information received from the senses and regulates cognitive functions such as thinking, speaking, learning, remembering and making decisions.
We may think that our customers are intelligent, rational individuals who make well-considered and logical decisions. However, neuroscience research shows that our customers are conscious of only about 5% of their thinking. Most of their decisions, actions and behaviour are dependent upon the 95% of brain activity that is beyond their conscious awareness.
So, the vast majority of our customer’s thinking (including making decisions about whether to purchase from us or not) take place below the level of conscious and controlled awareness – in the reptilian and emotional parts of the brain.
Emotions are an integral part of our customer’s decision- making process. Emotion and reason are intertwined elements of decision-making. They influence and are influenced by each other. As the emotional part of the brain is one of the oldest parts of the brain it exerts the primary influence on our customer’s thinking and decision-making processes. In short, buying decisions are initially made emotionally and then justified rationally.
So your primary task when meeting new customers is to do all that you can to help your customer’s reptilian and emotional brain regions to feel safe rather than threatened, helping them to feel calm, safe and comfortable.
If the reptilian and emotional brains feel unconsciously uncomfortable then you will have a mountain to climb to be able to successfully sell them anything! If you get this part of their brain to feel comfortable then they will become receptive to you and your message.
This can be accomplished by using open, relaxed body language. This communicates a non-threatening manner to the customer’s primitive brain. Make sure your torso is facing towards them. When we like someone we tend to turn towards them. People will perceive us as being more open and honest when they can see our torso.
Keep your voice modulation and tone calm; keep your voice speed controlled and gentle. Our voice mirrors our emotional state, so your voice needs to communicate a calm and non- threatening emotional state.
Don’t invade the customer’s “personal space” – if you do you will trigger a negative limbic reaction and heighten their brain’s threat response. Once you shake hands step slightly backwards and to the side.
Research into non-verbal communication reveals that when people feel comfortable in each others presence they unconsciously adopt similar body postures. The more friendly and in agreement they are, the more closely what is known as “postural echoing” or “isopraxis” becomes. In addition they will also display “gestural echoes”, synchronising movements such as leaning forwards, crossing and uncrossing legs and nodding in agreement. They will also echo each other’s vocal qualities speaking at a similar volume, pace and style. This is an unconscious and instinctive behaviour. So, by carefully and subtly “echoing” the behaviour of the customer you send powerful unconscious messages of comfort, friendship and agreement to their brain.
And finally, you can add to the customer’s sense of comfort by outlining the process you are going to follow. Explain that you won’t be launching into any sort of pre-prepared sales pitch. Explain that, firstly, you would like to understand about them, their situation and their objectives. Stress that it is only once you understand their situation will you be in a position to see if you can help them or not.
The more “brain friendly” you make your sales approach, the more comfortable you make the customer’s brain feel, the more receptive they will be and the less rejection you will experience. If the customer’s brain doesn’t feel comfortable with you, it isn’t going to buy from you.
About the author: Simon Hazeldine is a bestselling author, international speaker, performance consultant and corporate trainer in the areas of sales, negotiation, performance leadership and applied neuroscience. His fifth book Neuro-Sell: How Neuroscience Can Power Your Sales Success which exposes his cutting edge “Brain Friendly Selling” process in explicit detail is now available.
For further details please visit www.simonhazeldine.com and www.neuro-sell.com. You can contact him directly at: email@example.com