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Why doesn’t traditional sales training work anymore?


I have been training salespeople for over 25 years. I have carried a sales bag for around 30 years.

The first sales training program I attended was called Counsellor Selling by Wilson Learning in the 1980’s. I learnt a lot about “Discovery Agreements” which was the output of good questioning.

In the early 1990’s I became accredited in Professional Selling Skills (Learning International/Achieve Global) and was excited to learn about the “Need behind the Need” by asking “probing questions”.

Then when I joined The Forum Corporation in 1995 I became a master trainer of the classic Face-to-Face Selling Skills and Consultative Selling Skills programs. I fell in love with “High Gain Questions” and use them to this day.

Later I went through SPIN Selling from Huthwaite and in the last 5 years I have also facilitated Consultative Selling Skills form The Baron Group.

All of this has taught me a significant amount about how to engage with a customer or prospect.

In the last couple of years I have come to the shocking realisation that these skills were no longer enough in this digitally transforming world.

The common model of sales training over the last 40 years has been around a question based approach to selling. The question based approach is a rational left brain model which assumed that if you asked great questions than the customer would tell you everything they know so that you could put together a proposal. It works sometimes at the Order Taker and Solution Provide Level (see previous blog post (insert hyperlink)).  It is not enough at the Needs Developer or Advisor level. At these levels trust is the essential ingredient. The question based approach does not correlate with building trust. It provides valuable information for us to develop a solution and meet a customer’s needs, but does not necessarily build trust.

Neuroscience has turned the question based approach to selling on its head. The advances in brain imaging technology (FMRI – functional magnetic resonance imaging) allows us to now look into the brain and better understand how decisions are made and what factors form trust.

The Trust Formula

In Ariel we use the Trust Formula developed by John Phillips of SYNECTICS in our sales training as it breaks it down into a simple and easy to understand concept. It simply shows that trust is an outcome of:

  • Credibility (Demonstrating Character and Competence) plus
  • Intimacy (Emotional Understanding between Salesperson and Buyer) over
  • Risk (the perceived uncertainty).

We increase trust by increasing our credibility, increasing our Intimacy and reducing risk.

Without going into the intricacies of neuroscience, we are uncovering a fascinating enhancement to this skill of salespeople who now need to operate at higher levels of trust. One that we believe provides a more effective way of not only understanding customers more intimately, but also building trust between salesperson and customer. That skill is selling through the skillful use of stories.

When we look into the brain we see that stories build relationships. A story is the shortest distance between being a stranger and a friend.  We believe that a salesperson’s skillful use of storytelling will do three things:

  1. Enhance their Credibility with the buyer
  2. Increase the Intimacy between the buyer and salesperson
  3. Reduce perceived Risks by the Buyer

Neuroscience now shows us that receiving data and opinions are not our minds natural language and is difficult to assimilate. A salesperson speaking in data and opinion is causing the buyer to put in a lot of unnatural effort to understand. If the salesperson switched to skillful storytelling we now know that it is a natural, low-effort way for a buyer to take on new information. Moreover, stories can also inoculate objections if delivered well. Stories will persuade better than any pitch ever.

This is why stories will turbocharge the sales process and why the question-based approach which got us here is no longer enough to take us where we need to be in this digitally disrupted world.

To learn more about the impact of neuroscience of sales training.

Are you ready to increase your sales? Sign up to one of our sales training courses:

Sales Presence course

Building Relationships course

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