WHAT NEUROSCIENCE TELLS US ABOUT WINNING AT SALES
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID HOFFELD
Original Source: Membrain
In the sales industry, we talk a lot about best practices and how to apply them inside our organizations. But what if applying best practices isn’t actually the best way to improve sales performance?
That’s the contention of David Hoffeld’s groundbreaking book, The Science of Selling. Hoffeld spent twelve years studying academic studies in neuroscience and psychology to understand how the brain works in buying situations. He brought that research into the field of sales, and tested the insights across thousands of sales calls to develop the system outlined in his book. His work has been featured in Fortune, U.S. News and World Report, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, CBS Radio, Fox News Radio, and more. He’s also a regular sales and leadership contributor to Fast Company, holds a Master’s Degree, and studied selling at Harvard Business School.
Q: HOW IS YOUR RESEARCH DIFFERENT FROM THAT DONE BY OTHER SALES METHODOLOGY ORGANIZATIONS?
DH: That research is based on best practices. They survey salespeople, and draw conclusions from how top salespeople answer their questions. Some of this research is fine, but you can’t innovate by looking in the mirror–the only thing you can do is spread best practices.
Our research doesn’t look at best practices. It looks at where science speaks. Instead of looking at salespeople and finding out what they’re doing, we look at buyers and say, “What do we know about how the buyer’s brain works? What does the science show us?” If we know the science, we can base our approach on that.
I’ll give you an example. Brain science has shown us that people reveal information about themselves in layers, like an onion. From that, we learn that salespeople should use a layered questioning model. This sounds complicated, but it turns out to be very easy to learn and execute because it mirrors the way our brains really work. It’s also highly effective for the same reason.
So what we do is we look at the science, when it offers definitive answers, and whatever the science tells us, we go with it.
Q: HAVE YOU VALIDATED THE SCIENCE IN PRACTICE?
DH: Yes. We absolutely validate in the field. To use the questioning example, we’ve been teaching that for years, and the data from that validates its effectiveness, which is night and day above standard best practice.
Another example is the fascinating research from neuroscience that tells us exactly what human emotion does during a sale. It illuminates how we as salespeople should behave. At the end of a sale, for instance, there are specific things that happen inside someone’s brain, and we can align with that to drive their commitment to the sale.
We applied these changes over a six-year time period, looking at thousands of sales calls, and discovered that when the salesperson did not align with these changes, the sale was lost. When they do align with it, the sale is won.
Q: WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE KEY INSIGHTS FROM YOUR RESEARCH?
DH: There was an alarming study published in HBR a couple years ago, that found that 63% of salespeople were regularly behaving in ways that drove down the likelihood of the sale. Only 37% were consistently effective.
The key insight is this: The closer your selling is aligned with how the brain is wired to create a buying decision, the more successful you will be. The less aligned, the less effective.
This gets to the root of success and failure in selling.
When I’m training salespeople, I compare what they’re doing to all the research into how the buying process occurs, and we help them through the process. Until recently, nobody really knew what happens inside the buyer’s brain, but that’s no longer the case. We have over 400 citations to academic research in the book.
Once our salespeople learn to leverage the science and use it, it gives them an unfair advantage over their competitors.
Q: DO YOU SEE THIS AS A NEW METHODOLOGY?
DH: Yes, very much so. Science-based selling is in its infancy. It’s based on the way you sell with real science, so I don’t own it–I’ve just done the first bit of research for it.
When you sell with real science, it’s not based on opinions or experience, and sometimes it leads to counter-intuitive approaches, but once you see it, and you start using it, you start seeing results.
One thing that’s new with the science-based methodology is that it’s totally buyer-focused. Everyone says they’re buyer-focused, but with this, it’s really about what’s going on inside the brain of the buyer. It’s no longer a mysterious thing–we’re armed with the science, and can improve any salesperson’s performance, regardless of natural ability, regardless of where they start.
Plus, it’s understandable and easy to execute. My goal is to make science-based selling the norm, so it’s not just me talking about it. Once people know this exists, why would they not want to leverage it?
Q: IT SEEMS LIKE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT BRAIN SCIENCE IN MARKETING FOR A LONG TIME. ANY THOUGHTS ON WHY IT HASN’T BEEN APPLIED IN SALES BEFORE NOW?
DH: Marketing is definitely ahead of sales, and I talk about that in the end of the book. Something happened historically, to affect that. Sales was ahead of marketing in the 1920s in academia. But during the Great Depression, there was a massive shift, from sending someone out with a product to sell, to asking customers what they wanted and making that. Sales lost a lot of status as a profession, and it was removed from academia. If you look at academic departments now, nearly every university has a marketing department, but almost nobody has a sales program.
That shift is reflected in how new research percolates into the professions. Marketing gets it first. And the thing is, this is hard work, to get the brain science into the field. There’s no one to cheat off of–you have to read the academic research. Before I got into it, nobody had done this. It took over a decade to write this book. If I had known how much work it would be, I wouldn’t have done it. There are easier ways to make a living!
So, I had to do the research, and then validate it in the field. It was tedious and hard and frustrating, like walking through quicksand. I had to take what I was finding back to Harvard and ask them to tell me if I was crazy, and then take it back into the field again. It was just persevering. I was working 70-80 hours a week between paying bills and doing the research and testing. I think that’s why it hasn’t been done before–it’s hard, and it doesn’t have the academic resources at its disposal, so it needed someone who was willing and had the experience to do the academic research and also the willingness and experience to take it to the field and test it.
About David Hoffeld
David Hoffeld is the author of the acclaimed book The Science of Selling and the CEO and chief sales trainer at Hoffeld Group, one of the nation’s top research-based sales and consulting firms.
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