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What Neuroscientists can Teach you About the Brain

by Lou Carlozo in Sales, Work Smart

So much of selling is a mental game, it’s true. Yet beyond this simple reality, how much do we really know about the way our brains work—that is, how they process information, how we learn, and how we can take advantage of the latest information from the frontiers of neuroscience?

For centuries, researchers believed that our brains operated like machines, with information “hard wired” into neurons. Fixed after a certain point in time, it was believed that our brains lacked flexibility and would never recover from certain losses (i.e., strokes). Research over the past generation has proven all of this to be false. In fact, our thoughts and experiences can change the structure and function of our brains, creating new neural pathways even into old age. This phenomenon is known as neuroplasticity. 

Remapping: You can teach an old brain new tricks

“Real changes can occur by challenging the brain on a consistent basis,” says Dr. Christine Weber, a clinical neuropsychologist practicing in Seaford, N.Y. “When the brain is challenged and engaged performing an activity, new neural pathways and remapping can take place. Being original and open to new ways can speak to the positive effects of neuroplasticity. ” 

There’s a real-world analog to this remapping: Weber says to imagine that you’re caught in a traffic jam on the highway and your normal route home has been shut down. That act of finding a new solution to an old problem (the commute) is akin to how the mind works its neuroplastic magic.

“Cognitive flexibility is generally required when learning new tasks, and necessary in sales and marketing success,” Weber says. “Individuals in sales must constantly think outside the box to sell their product and keep the consumer interested. Successful advertising campaigns sometimes use original concepts to breathe new life into old products, whether changing the product target audience or the item packaging itself.”

As our understanding of neuroplasticity expands, the potential for those in sales to pick up on that knowledge, and make use of it, will increase by leaps and bounds. In the meantime, we uncovered two key ways you can leverage the wisdom of brain science to meet your sales goals. 

Reframe negative emotions before a big meeting

Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a research psychiatrist at UCLA, is a leading expert in mindfulness and neuroplasticity. Tapped by Yesware to contribute some thoughts on neuroplasticity and sales, he teamed up with Tiffany Gray, a business consultant and director of PRISM Brain Mapping Australasia. One subject they touched on was how salespeople can reframe negative emotions using neuroplasticity principles.

“How you show up to a customer is critical,” Schwartz and Gray maintain. Before any customer engagement, they say, you need to pause and ask yourself these four questions:

  • How are you feeling?
  • What are you thinking?
  • Are you excited about the meeting and the product you have to sell?
  • Have you remembered everything you need?

 Now, let’s say that you’re feeling anxious, perhaps because you forgot a key slide for your presentation. One impulse favored in some rough-and-tumble sales cultures would be to ignore those feelings and take charge of the situation. But Schwartz and Gray say this could offer instead an opportunity to reframe your thinking.

“Look for options by asking yourself, ‘How else can I view this situation?’” they advise. “Once you can reframe how you’re feeling, you can begin to re-focus your attention. Ask yourself, ‘What am I here to do?’ Your response could be: ‘I am here to share information about our product, to demonstrate how it can be used and the benefits the customer will experience from it.’ Your focus of attention is now on the product and its value—and not on you and feeling anxious.”

Use triggers to influence buyer behavior 

Viewed through the lens of neuroscience, “Buying and selling are brain-to-brain processes,” Schwartz and Gray say. “Our brains are pattern-making organs that have been programmed to look for cues, visual and emotional, that will determine the resulting behavior. Most of these cues are picked up by the brain and acted on before we are consciously aware. These cues will trigger us into either a threat or reward state.”

What it means: If your customers are triggered into a threat state, they will likely walk away from a deal because ‘it just doesn’t feel right.’ However, if your customers are triggered into a reward state they will most likely buy from you because ‘it feels good.’

So how do we make it feel good for customers to buy from us?  They suggest creating an environment with your customer that:

  • Alleviates uncertainty
  • Connects emotionally with the customer
  • Includes the customer in the product’s vision
  • Provides a contrast to allow the customer’s brain to choose or decide
  • Shows how you can provide a tangible solution

If you take these steps, “You have begun to create a ‘brain friendly’ platform for customers to move towards a reward state, engage with you and most often buy from you,” Schwartz and Gray say. 

Moving ahead with your head

Weber points out wisely that the goal here should naturally extend beyond simply sharpening one’s sales skills. “Learning throughout the life span helps to maintain and preserve cognitive abilities by stimulating the brain and creating new neural connections,” she says. “Stay active and keep your brain occupied with challenging activities. Be flexible in daily tasks, and don’t be afraid to try new ways of performing older well-known tasks.”



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