How Science Can Make You a Better Salesperson

  Stop focusing on yourself! Instead, provide value to your targets. Sales expert David Hoffeld tells you how to use science to excel at selling and trump your competition.

The first thing to understand is that we live in a very exciting time. You and I have access to literally decades of research now that has focused on how our brains make choices, and the specific factors that influence what we say, how we act, and what we decide to buy. Some of this research is so significant that it has even won Nobel Prizes. It really helps us understand what’s going on behind the scenes in any kind of human interaction where we’re trying to influence people, especially in business conversations. So what this research does is show us how to most effectively influence people by changing where we start. This is a big differentiator between science-based selling and more traditional-selling methodologies.

Science-Based Selling Starts with the Buyer

Science-based selling starts with the buyer, not the seller. It asks, how does the brain make choices? How does it create perception? What are the rules our brains follow? What is the mental journey that must happen  for us to say yes to a product or service or an idea?

Research-Backed Insight Makes Sales More Effective

The great news is behavioral scientists, cognitive psychologists, and neuroscientists have uncovered such a wealth of data in this area. When we look at these research-backed ideas that are objective, verifiably effective, and have very predictable outcomes and we bring them into the world of selling, enhancing business relationships, and developing new business opportunities, we can discover some very powerful insights into our buyers. Quite simply, it allows us to align how we sell and how we present our ideas with how the brain makes choices.

I believe that this is literally success or failure, because the closer your way of selling—of presenting your ideas, your company, your product, your service—is to how the brain perceives value and makes a buying decision, the more effective you’ll be. Conversely, the further away your way of selling is to how the brain makes choices, the less effective you’ll be. So these research-backed insights can give us a significant advantage over competitors who aren’t leveraging them.

Why Buyers Say No

Armed with the scientific data, we can improve anyone’s sales performance. For example, when most companies create new business opportunities, traditionally the way that’s been done with most methodologies, they focus on getting face time with the customers to ask how they can help or solve their problem. So I usually will approach someone and I’ll say just that: “We’ve helped other companies very similar to yours. And if I can have a few minutes of your time and I can ask you some questions, we can see if I could possibly help you.” Of course, most buyers will say no.

Offer Reciprocity

We leverage a principle called reciprocity, and this is a foundational principle that we leverage any time we engage a new potential customer and we teach our clients this as well. So I want to give something before I ask for anything. I want to present value first, not make you wait for it, after we go through all these questions. How can we do this? If we’re going to engage a new potential customer, we say: give first, ask second. So identify something that has a meaningful value to you that I can give you that will allow me demonstrate my expertise. It could be an insight that I found from researching your company. It could be a white paper, an article, or a video—something that I think might be of interest to you that provides real value that demonstrates me as this curator of valuable information. I give that to you, and then I ask you for something.

Improving Sales Starts with Awareness

Improving a sales team has two phases to it. Number one is awareness. We need to understand some basic principles and oftentimes when people hear the idea of science-based selling they get intimidated like it’s going to be a textbook, going back to school, and becoming an amateur psychologist, none of which is true. This is very intuitive and easy to learn. Once people learn it, the most common phrase I hear is: “That makes sense.”

Practice Is Crucial

Second thing is practicing. What we’ve seen is that when a salesperson or a business person tries to deploy a new strategy, it’s always awkward. It’s different from what you’ve done before. You’re going to find that it won’t feel natural. It’s not the strategy that’s the problem; it’s the fact that it’s new and your brain is trying to learn how to utilize this. Practice with a coworker, record yourself doing the pitch on your phone, stand in front of the mirror, or do whatever you’re most comfortable with and practice how you would deploy reciprocity on a real sales call.

Once you are aware of what to do, you want to practice it so it becomes comfortable and you can become competent in it. Then you deploy it in the real world and you’ll be astounded at the results. There’s so much research that when we begin to base how we sell on it, it really helps us align with how our buyers buy and makes us so much more effective.

Find Where You Can Add Value

Regardless of the channels you use—so I’m reaching out to you on LinkedIn or Twitter or in an email or a phone call or in a networking event—do I understand you, your company, and your situation well enough where I can think, here is how I can apply value in meaningful ways that demonstrates my expertise, builds me up as an expert, and provides value to you. It’s not always the best product or service that wins.

Get the Buyer to Commit to Change

The reality is, it’s usually the best salesperson. Here’s why: you create the perceptions of the company, product, or service so the way you sell can be a key differentiator. This is mission critical. Really help them understand the issues that they have, the cause of those issues, the scope, and the pain that they’re causing. So we want them to commit to our product with the logic of “why change?” Once you get them to commit, where they say, “Okay, I need to take a look at making a change here,” now they’re much more open, but until they commit to that, there’s no use talking about your product or service in detail, because they don’t see a need for it.

The End of the Sale Should Seem Small

So once you get these commitments, what happens is this: the end of the sale, which we traditionally call “the close,” is simple and straightforward. You don’t need any high-pressure sales tactics. You don’t need to push anyone. Why? Because you’ve guided them through these incremental commitments that take them on a progression of consent. Now they’re ready to move forward. So think about it like they’ve made this commitment, and then this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and now they’re at the end of the sale and it’s just this small commitment; it’s not this big leap.

Show Buyers That You Can Meet Their Needs

Selling should never be a faith-based initiative because we don’t need it. We have enough confidence now we don’t have to guess our way to success. We can leverage this wealth of science like we do in almost every other profession. Regardless of whether you think you’re a salesperson or not, armed with this science, you can instantly become more effective because it’s not about you anymore. You don’t have to try to be the most talkative person in the room or the most extroverted person. Now it’s about your buyer. How do you get in tune with that individual or those individuals to help meet their needs and guide them through their process? Stop focusing on yourself and saying you’re not a salesperson. You can be, because the science will show you how to focus on your buyers and meet their needs, and that’s what buyers are looking for. They’re not looking for the most gregarious person to sell them something. They’re looking for the person who can help meet their needs.

Dealing with Failure

In starting my firm, as most business owners and those who are in startups know, it’s challenging. It’s hard, and there’s constant failure. What I found that really helped me early on was something my uncle told me, and he said, “It’s just temporary.” The bad times, that is. I wrote that down. When I first started, it was very challenging. I was so focused on research that I had to give up a lot of the prestige that I had in my previous positions and some of the money and really dive in. I realized that needed to take a step back to take a leap forward, so I wrote, “It’s just temporary,” and I put it under my computer on a little post-it note and looked at it every day. Whenever it got really tough, I would look at that and say, “It’s just temporary.” That’s what I always tell business owners, those in startups or even sales and market professionals who want to change their life and take their career to the next level.

You Must Be Willing to Give Up Something

It’s not about desire. Every salesperson, every business owner I’ve ever talked to always wants to have a better tomorrow. Everyone wants it. That’s not what matters. What matters is what are you willing to give up to get it? When I meet a man or woman who says, “I am willing to sacrifice to achieve my goals, to get what I want,” I say watch out for that person. It’s great that people want success. No one cares. Everyone wants it, so get in line. What really separates the pack is the people who are willing to sacrifice for success. When you give up your nights, your weekends, when you give up going to the movies, going out to eat, maybe even some hobbies or friends temporarily, you become successful.

I have found that there’s a price for success, and you pay it up front. Before you get the book deal, before people applaud, before you do interviews, there’s a price you have to pay. It’s very difficult to pay, so I would encourage you, regardless of where you are in your journey, if you’re going through bad times, it’s just temporary. Stay the course. Push through and persevere. It’s the price you pay for success. Once you come through that, it makes success all the sweeter, so keep going. Persevere and I think you’ll like where you end up.

It’s All about Influence

It’s not just for selling. That’s one of the things I tried to convey in my book, that this applies to different areas. For sure, some of it is sales-specific, but a lot of it can apply to anyone because it’s all about influence: how do you get people to take what you say seriously and be willing to act on it. It also it applies to anyone who wants to persuade other people, which really is everybody. If you’re in business, especially in a startup or small business, you’re constantly influencing others. Every day you’re presenting your ideas for other people to adapt and embrace. It’s mission critical.

About David Hoffeld

David Hoffeld is the CEO and chief sales trainer of Hoffeld Group.

He has earned a Master’s Degree and studied selling at Harvard Business School. He’s pioneered a revolutionary sales approach based on neuroscience. social psychology and behavioral economics that radically increases sales. He is the author of the groundbreaking book The Science of Selling, published by Penguin Random House.

David has lectured at Harvard Business School and has been featured in Fortune, U.S. News and World Report, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, Investor’s Business Daily, INC, Forbes, CBS Radio, Fox News Radio, and more.