With digital and scientific advancements happening at a speed many of us have trouble keeping up with; and to continue the theme of my presentation at Ausfenex19 (available on the AGWA website for those who were not able to attend) I have been doing some significant research into whether selling is, in fact an art or does it have some scientific background or process that can be replicated. What I have learnt has been fascinating and I want to share some of my findings with you, including some of the tools you can use to improve your success rate as a professional salesperson or sales manager.

To kick off, let’s define the difference between “art” and “science”. Artistic ability is often considered to be innate or more simply a natural ability that you are born with and not something you have learnt. If you look at some of the finest artists in our world; painters, singers, designers, sportspeople; I often say to myself “Wow … how do they do that so well?” Yes, they practice for hours on end, but the background is that they have been born with a natural talent that they have nurtured from a young age. Often, we can see the results of talent, but not the talent itself.

Science, on the other hand is the process of systematically organising information and knowledge into a reliable and repeatable sequence of events. Science very much has “cause and effect” that can be explained and has the ability to eliminate unknowns.

That said, people do not quite fit neatly into the “laws of physics” and I have often thought or have had others ask me with the shake of a head “why did they do that?” I believe that selling is not a pure science and has a lot of creative aspects; but there is also cause and effect and unknowns that can be removed and repeatable processes that add a scientific aspect to selling.

Now, let’s complicate things a little more and add two other aspects – influence and decision making. Both of them play a significant part in the sales arena . Let’s kick of with influence. How does one-person influence another to decide? For years, little was known about influence and it was treated as more of an art than something that could be replicated, but more recent studies have shown that influence and/or persuasion can be replicated and has a systematic set of procedures. Here are a numbers of different tools you can use that will assist you with influencing people:

  • Reciprocity: give something to get something. Give your client something that makes them feel lucky or special. Add an extra product or service to your offering that they would not expect but will value. They will be more likely to view you as a generous person and purchase and refer you on to others.
  • Authority: buying means trusting someone. Human beings, hence consumers, follow credible leaders. If a person called Bob tries to sell you a bi-fold door , you will be less inclined to buy it from him than if he was introduced to you as a window and door professional with 22 years of experience in selling, building and installing bi-fold doors.
  • Social proof: people tend to do what other people do. Instead of telling them what to do in a certain situation, it is easier to get someone to change his/her behavior by telling him/her what other people did in similar situations.
  • Liking: we tend to buy more from people who like us. We are narcissistic beings who easily buy from people who complement and appreciate us. Of course, the main question here is the authenticity: how can you authentically, naturally and believably thank and be grateful to your consumer? I will leave you to ponder that one.
  • Scarcity: people love to buy things other people cannot buy. We tend to rush for things that are rarely available. So, the question here is: ‘How do I make my product look and feel rare and scarce?’. A powerful example is the Concord example: The day British Airways announced one round trip a day from London to New York instead of 2, sales actually went up spectacularly. So, fewer flights at a higher cost resulted in a huge sales increase. How do we make our products seem scarce and increase sales and profit … mmm?

Now, let’s takes a look at decision making, I will again refer back to my Ausfenex19 presentation where I talked about the Golden Triangle and Simon Sinek’s discussion about how people make decisions using his Why, How and What methodology. For those of you who have not heard of Simon Sinek, I strongly suggest that you do a little googling and check out his podcasts on youtube … well worth the 20 minutes you will invest. In his book, “Start with Why” he talks about decision making and how that correlates to his theory of WHY companies or people do WHAT they do, and his theory is that if you can articulate your WHY rather than your WHAT, this will have more influence over your customers decision making process. Take a look at this diagram below and you can see how he relates decision making to his theory:

In his book, he outlines the following:

  • Neocortex: This is our newest area of the brain, our homo sapien brain, and this corresponds with the WHAT level of the Golden Circle.  This is responsible for all our rational and analytical thought and language. This allows us to look through vast amounts of facts and figures, but it doesn’t drive behavior. This is why it’s so confusing when we go shopping for a specific type of product that’s offering a range of similar features and benefits.
  • Limbic Brain: The Limbic brain comprises of the middle two sections and is responsible for all our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. This area of the brain is responsible for all human behavior and all our decision making. It is where our emotional connection takes place, and interestingly, it has no capacity for language.
    It is this disconnection between these areas of the brain that makes it so difficult to articulate our feelings. Simon goes on to talk about how when you meet ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs Right’, how hard it is to put this feeling in to words. What is it that makes that bond so strong?

So, put shortly, your “gut decisions” come from your Limbic brain.

Is selling an art or a science? After all my research and reading, I think it is a creatively applied science, which involves actual doing and practical application of knowledge and also natural ability. The knowledge of selling principles alone is not enough to make you successful; it is their application and execution in the field that delivers results.

I also think that the art of salesmanship can be defined as the ‘ability to apply fundamental selling principles to the circumstances of the individual selling situation’. This is also based on the many unmeasurable human elements involved and it will always remain, to some degree, an inexact science. Therefore, the term Sales Professional includes both a knowledge of fundamental selling principles and the ability to apply them when making a sale.