Until recently, there really hasn't been a "science of selling," because selling behavior is too complex to measure. For instance, it's a statistical fact that 20 percent of salespeople make 80 percent of the revenue, but nobody knows why that 20 percent are so much more effective. We know the "what" of that statistic, but the "why" has remained elusive.

Similarly, there isn't yet a "science of buying" that explains why people buy they way they do. For instance, it's a statistical fact that buyers confronted with similar products at three prices will tend to buy the mid-priced product. We've been able to speculate why that's true, but we haven't been able to tell why or how a buying decision is made.

Until now.

Why selling wasn't science

Until now, the only tools for studying sales in a scientific manner have been 1) statistical analyses of results like callback and conversion rates, and 2) psychological testing of salespeople to identify traits that correlate to sales success.

While statistical analyses tells you what happened, they can't tell you why it happened, or how you'd go about replicating success and avoiding failure. Rather than a scientific prescription of what to do next, you end up with bromide advice like: "We need to hire more salespeople like Fred!"

Psychological testing is even more of a toss-up because character traits are inherently fuzzy concepts. A survey might discover, for instance, that "self-motivated" people do well in sales jobs. But what does "self-motivated" really mean? If you believe in free will, it's impossible to not be self-motivated.

Because of the limitations of the tools available to measure selling, it's been impossible to create an actual "science of selling." Despite hundreds of attempts to turn selling into a science, it has remained as it's always been: a poorly understood art.

Neuroscience means new tools

In the past, we could study the "what happened"--the result of selling and buying behavior--but not the "why," because the "why" remained encased inside the heads (or brains, to be more precise) of the seller and the buyer.

Neuroscience allows scientists to study how the brains of the buyer and seller are acting and reacting during actual sales situations. This provides a level of detail that simply wasn't available using the blunt instruments of the past.

For example, Baylor College of Medicine's department of neuroscience recently monitored the brains of 76 volunteers in a "bargaining game" between a "buyer" and a "seller." Brain scans revealed a "very significant difference in brain responses" between those who bluffed and those who didn't.

Consider that for a moment. Negotiating price is a core selling behavior that can now be measured in terms of how the brains of the buyer and seller are reacting. It's only a matter of time before neuroscience reveals the brain activity that takes place in the back-and-forth of selling and buying.

Why sales is now science

Neuroscience also allows the study of specific brain chemicals that are released under different circumstances. For example, we now know for certain that exercise reduces stress through an actual chemical process. This is significant for salespeople because their job is inherently stressful.

We've also learned that there are chemical reactions that lie behind the ability to motivate yourself to take action. Therefore, rather than guessing what "self-motivation" means for each person, we can now measure it objectively--a huge breakthrough that allows you to rewire your brain to be more successful.

Neuroscience has also proved that the brain reconstructs memories each time they're remembered, which allows you to alter the content and meaning of those memories. As this process becomes better understood, we will learn why some stories and messages are memorable while others are quickly forgotten.

In the future it will be possible to test and measure the effectiveness of sales messages and techniques with a level of precision and detail that was impossible in the past. As neuroscience provides a measurable "why" behind "what happened," it will turn selling from an art into true science.

Published on: Oct 14, 2014
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