SPECIAL EPISODE 009, Part One: Sales Training Expert John Asher Shares How Understanding Neuroscience Techniques Will Improve Your Sales Skills

SPECIAL EPISODE 009, Part One: Sales Training Expert John Asher Shares How Understanding Neuroscience Techniques Will Improve Your Sales Skills

JOHN’S CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “The comprehension rate of our brain for video is 60,000 times as fast as reading words on the internet, so the practical application here is get more videos in your proposals, in your presentations, on your website. And the best videos are where you can turn down the audio and still get the idea.”


For those of you who’ve been long time listeners of the Sales Game Changers podcast, you may recall John Asher was featured on Episode #10.

John is the president of ASHER Strategies and an expert on neuroscience and sales and the author of the sales best seller Close Deals Faster.

He is a top sales trainer to Vistage Groups around the globe.

If you’d like to learn about John’s sales journey, what he thinks from a sales perspective in his career go back and check out our episode with John.

You can also watch John at the Institute for Excellence in Sales 2017 award event speaking about Neuroscience by clicking the image below.

Find John on LinkedIn!

Fred Diamond: We’re going to talk today about how neuroscience has changed in selling and how sales professionals need to be more conscious of how they speak to their customers and prospects and how recent studies in science have shown that we’ve been doing it wrong the whole way and now we’ve discovered better ways that we can be using science to be more effective in selling.

John Asher: Agree. It’s always been an art and science to sales, Fred and many of us have been in sales for quite some time. We’ve learned from experts, we’ve read books, we’ve gone to sales training and we’ve had our sales managers coach us. Sum all that up, the science part of sales has always been have a sales process, steps you can follow. The art of sales is we all have different personalities so how each one of us accomplish each step could be different but that’s OK as long as we follow the process.

Now I know there’s a real science behind sales – neuroscience behind sales and it’s come from a world-wide forum of 70 countries with neuroscientists sharing their studies, sharing their research, collaborating. In many cases, especially in the last 3 years many of these studies are done with what are called functional MRI machines – think of a buyer sitting on a chair with a helmet on and an MRI machine built into the helmet, so we can now see exactly what areas of the brain wake up, which areas of the brain stay asleep, when do different areas of the brain wake up with various techniques salespeople use.

If you ask these neuroscientists why they’re doing all this, they’ll say other than academic reasons we really want insight into human relation, human communication and decision making. If you ask neuroscientists how does this all apply to sales, they may give you a blank stare or say, “What do you mean by sales?” Our company’s job for the last 3 years is to really take all that information, boil it down, see how it applies to sales and give these new techniques to salespeople that they can use tomorrow.

Fred Diamond: Basically, we’ve been doing it wrong. We’ve been speaking to the wrong side of the customer’s brain, we’ve been selling the wrong way. Why don’t you talk a little bit about the brain, the concept of the new brain, the rational brain if you will versus the emotional brain and the reptilian brain?

John Asher: About 500 years ago – sounds like a long time ago – the reptilian brain came on the scene and it’s with the advent of vertebrates and it’s all about fight, flight, freeze, appease brain. It controls our autonomic or automatic functions that we don’t have to think about like breathing, heart rate, digestion. Then about 150 million years ago with the advent of mammals like a manatee or a whale the emotional brain came on the scene, and the emotional brain is all about excitement, engagement, emotion. The emotional brain doesn’t see facts, figures, can’t do complex thinking.

Then about 2 million years ago with the advent of primates like us humans, the logical brain came in the scene. The logical brain is the brain we all know we’re using. It’s all about facts, figures, complex thinking and if you ask neuroscientists so boil this down and make it even simpler they’ll say, “Well, since the reptilian and emotional brains are both over 150 million years old you can call them the old brain and the rational brain the new brain.” It really begs the question, “Where do we all make decisions? The old brain? The new brain? A combination of both?” And the answer to that question many listeners I’m sure have heard this statement: we decide on emotion and justify with logic.

Everybody’s heard that statement so the real question is what does that practically mean from a day to day decision making process and of course what does it mean for sales? Here’s what it means for sales: your company and two others are after a hot opportunity and all three companies have great experience, good quality, good service, reasonable prices. In the buyer’s mind all three companies are tied for first, so which one does the buyer choose? Well, the buyer’s going to choose the one where they like the salesperson the best. The salesperson that’s built the best rapport, the salesperson they feel the best about.

Here’s where the logic comes in. Your company and two others are after another hot opportunity, your company and one other are tied for first in the buyer’s mind and then there’s an average company. Even though the buyer may like the salesperson from the average company the best they’re not choosing them because they don’t have the logic to justify the emotional buy. The practical application is this, many salespeople think, “I got such great stuff, that’s all we need to sell it.” When in fact, it ain’t, that’s just the logic.

You’ve got to get the emotional buy from the customer. That’s a way to think about the old brain and the new brain, the old brain really makes the decisions and we in fact know this from many studies from neuroscientists who study people in hospitals who have tumors, got sick, car accident, have lost their emotional brain. Those people can’t make a decision, they can’t decide whether to have the ham or turkey sandwich for lunch, so we know all decisions come from the old brain.

Fred Diamond: Interestingly, one way to think about it is if you’re showing up with features and benefits and bullets you’re probably not going to get the sale. The customer’s not really listening to you.

John Asher: Their old brain is fast asleep. [Laughs]

Fred Diamond: John, let’s talk a little bit about the six stimuli, let’s get deep into this. What I want our listeners on the Sales Game Changers podcast today is to get a better understanding of how they need to be thinking, how neuroscience should become a part of their sales process and then later on we’re going to talk about some specific ways to make that more successful, they can become better at the art and science of selling. We call this the old brain and how it responds to the six stimuli. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

John Asher: We now know from these functional MRI studies that there are six stimuli that will wake up the buyer’s old brain. If any of us are with a buyer – whether it’s a suspect, prospect or even a current customer – and we’re not using any of these six stimuli to wake up the buyer’s old brain, closing rates would be zero. We now know there’s six stimuli, the first is because of the reptilian brain mainly we are al, “Me, me, me” focused. It’s all about ourselves, our own safety, our own happiness, our own success.

One way to think about this is if you’re giving a logical presentation to the buyer, the buyer’s old brain is not awake. The buyer’s old brain does not see facts, figures, graphs, it only will see pictures. So the buyer’s brain is not awake when we’re giving a presentation so here’s the practical application of that. To drop back and give you a little bit of information about sales, people in the US according to Harvard – and Harvard has the biggest research department on sales – right now there’s 25 million hunter salespeople in the US selling B to B and B to G. Not B to C, cars and Macy’s, but B to B and B to G.

About 20% of those are elite, so about 5 million elite salespeople in the US which means 80% or 20 million are pretty bad, usually untrained. When you watch an untrained salesperson give a presentation, here’s their architecture: here’s the vision of our company, here’s a picture of our executive team or our facilities, here’s the list of our 7 integrated cyber security solutions, let’s start with the details of cyber security solution #1. So what do you think? Would the buyer’s old brain be awake yet?

Fred Diamond: No.

John Asher: Obviously not. When you watch great salespeople give a presentation, totally different, totally upside down and they take advantage on understanding the buyer’s brain’s, “Me, me, me” focused. Their title of their first line is, “Here is our understanding of your need.” And if you’ve got that pretty well nailed – you don’t have to have it perfectly nailed – then in 95% of the cases, we know from these functional MRI studies that’ll cause a big conversation. Once that conversation is over, how many slides in our slide deck of 21 slides do we have to show? Obviously not too many, maybe a few.

To give you a quick example, I was in Toronto recently doing a Vistage presentation as Fred mentioned and one of the women running a marketing company when I got to this point, she said, “Wow. I’ve got a big presentation company tomorrow to Telus, a big telecom company in Canada. There’s 4 of us presenting. 3 large companies, one’s the incumbent and me, I’m a small company. I’m pretty sure they invited me so they could check off that we talked to a small business or a small women-owned business box.” So she said, “What do I have to lose? I’m just going to dynamite the presentation and start with the customer needs.” I said, “Let me know what happens.”

She emails me a day later and said, “I won.” She got a conditional win and that had to meet with the buyers so that they could tell her which of the people in the incumbent they wanted her to bring over to her company but she basically won by taking advantage of this first old brain stimuli, start with the customer needs.

Fred Diamond: Just a quick question there, a lot of people are probably thinking, “My product needs to satisfy customer requirements. The customer is going to buy my product because it does what they need it to do and I can prove that.” I want to make it clear that you just said there she won the deal because of appealing to the customer’s old brain but then the customer said, “On the condition that you’re going to be having people who know what they’re doing”, if you will.

John Asher: Exactly.

Fred Diamond: So you still need the goods, but the point here is how do you get break through early on to get into the sales process further down the bat, if you will.

John Asher: Exactly. Another example of that, “Me, me, me” focused is are buyer’s old brain energized by listening to salespeople talk? We all know the answer is no. Another way to think about this is we know from these latest functional MRI machines if you can get another person to talk about their passion, interest, problems, issues, where they came from, how they started their company more of the 3 positive hormones – dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin – are released in their brain than during romance or a great meal.

The practical application here is always do the right research on the buyer before you go to see them. Use the sales navigator on LinkedIn, use the #1 app for salespeople, CrystalKnows, www.crystalknows.com to find out everything about them. Then when you first meet them, ask a question to get them to talk about what they love to talk about. It’s another practical application of this first old brain stimuli, the, “Me, me, me” focused.

Fred Diamond: Interesting. Let’s talk about maybe the concept of simple and easy to grasp ideas and moving on to the second stimuli, if you will. How does that apply?

John Asher: The second is the salesperson says to the buyer, “We have a flexible, integrated scalable solution with 50 next way points.” The buyer’s logical brain goes, “Great” but how about the buyer’s old brain? The buyer’s old brain is confused. We all know a confused brain will not make a decision so the practical application here – we’ve all heard this through our whole lives – keep it simple. You do not have to keep it simple for the buyer’s logical brain, but you must keep it simple for the buyer’s emotional brain and that’s where the decisions are made.

To give you a quick example of this, I’m doing a keynote in February, the IPPA, the payroll industry. I had 2 different keynotes so I had time to walk around and if you were a vendor to them, you could rent a booth for, I think it was 20 thousand dollars for a 10 by 10 booth. If you asked trade show consultants how should you design a 10 by 10 booth they’ll say, “Well, the average person walking by gives it 3.3 seconds.” So you want to design your booth so that a qualified lead in about 3 seconds could say, “OK, get what these guys do or come in and talk to them” and an unqualified lead would say, “No, I don’t need this” and move, and most importantly not come in and waste your time.

Having a round look at all 20 booths out there in Vegas, every single one was too complicated. One had 17 products and services listed on the front column. The practical application is consider simplifying the description of your products and services.

Fred Diamond: I have a question for you, John. A lot of the people listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast around the globe sell IT or complex products or complex financial services products and they’re selling to smart people: directors of IT, CIO’s, chief technology officers, financial analysts, if you will. These are typically smart people, so we talk here about the need to keep it simple and easy so they can grasp the ideas but what if your customer’s smart? What if your customer has master’s degrees or you’re selling to people who are creating infrastructure architecture?

John Asher: Remember, their logical brain is going to say, “Yes, yes, got it, got it” but not the old brain and the old brain is where decisions are made. That’s the fallacy.

Fred Diamond: Interesting. Do they know that? Again, you’re talking to someone who’s really intelligent. Is the customer conscious of this? Again, we’re talking to sales professionals today listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast with John Asher from Asher Strategies. A smart customer, is he or she conscious of the fact that it is the emotional brain – the reptilian brain, if you will – that is making the early decisions?

John Asher: I would say right now maybe 10%, but when you drop back in general most very savvy buyers love dealing with elite salespeople. They don’t want to deal with crappy salespeople.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. You also got to be prepared. You need to be able to engage them. You’re not just talking about going in there and talking about very simple concepts, we’re talking about taking sometimes challenging, complex concepts and making them simple and easy to grasp.

John Asher: We’re talking about it a little bit but one of the best ways to do it is with a video.

Fred Diamond: Interesting.

John Asher: I’m sure you’ve heard.

Fred Diamond: We’re talking today with John Asher. The question is, “How do you sell to the old brain?” We’re talking about neuroscience in the sales process. John’s a global expert on this, he speaks all around the world on using neuroscience for sales. We’re talking about how the old brain responds to the six stimuli, we talked about the, “Me, me, me.” The concept that your customer is always thinking about themselves, “What is in it for me? How does this apply to me?” Secondly, the need to make it simple and easy to grasp so that you can ensure that you get to the next stage of the process. John, what’s the third stimuli we’re going to be talking about?

John Asher: The third stimuli is the beginning and the end, and because the brain is such a complex organ – 100 billion neurons – each neuron has 10 thousand synapsis or connections, it takes a ton of energy to make decisions. We’ve learned over 150 million years the old brain has to get the idea right up front and then he can go to sleep and then maybe wake up at the end. An example would be if you have a friend who’s a pastor and you ask them, “When you went to theological seminary, how did they teach you how to give a sermon?” The architecture of the sermon’s been around for centuries, three steps: tell the congregation what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.

The great pastors when they started the sermons, they bring the biblical passage to life and with emotion, and everybody in the congregation is on the edge of the pew and listening. Then when the pastor gives them the details of the sermon, everybody in the congregation’s old brain goes to sleep. Maybe at the end the pastor, they know what they’re doing, brings it together with emotion again and shows them how that applies to our daily lives. The practical application for all of us is in any interaction with the buyer, whether it’s in person, on the phone, email, LinkedIn, in mail, always start and end with emotion or a bang.

Fred Diamond: We’ve always heard the point, “Death by PowerPoint.” Let’s say you get that opportunity to come in for the first call and let’s say yourself and maybe an engineer, maybe your manager if you will. Let’s say there’s 4 or 5 customers in the room and you’re in their conference room and you have the opportunity to present. Using this concept, let’s say you get an hour. What do you do around the 30th minute knowing that you got to start off with the bang? We talked about some examples of how we talked about the customer’s challenge in the beginning and we’ll talk about some ways to show that.

Then of course at the end we want to come up with a big bang to get them further engaged and want to continue to do business with you and take it to the next stage. Of course, every sales call needs to end with what’s the next thing that we’re going to do. What do you do in the 30th minute? What are some of the ways that you keep the – I don’t know, do you want to keep the momentum going? Do you have to be at a high pitch? Give us some thoughts on how do you avoid going into that 30th minute when you’re down and people are looking at their phones and you need to keep their interest before you get to the end?

John Asher: If you drop back onto stimuli #1, the great salespeople always start by getting the customer to talk about their needs. Once that’s a huge conversation, you don’t have to show them any of your slides. You only show the slides that now apply. That’s the first thing to start up front so you don’t get into this, “Death by PowerPoint.” Then always at the end – and I’ll talk about this in the sixth stimuli – have a video of a customer story.

Fred Diamond: That is a great point. I guess the key message here is you don’t want to be doing that 30 slide presentation and always the best sales calls go when the customer does all the talking. Your letting them talk goes back to the, “Me, me, me” so that’s excellent. John, the fourth old brain stimuli, clear contrast to make a difference. You, your product, your company must be different. Let’s talk about how we demonstrate that.

John Asher: The old brain cannot make a decision unless it sees a difference. A simple example would be if the buyer wants 7 days a week delivery, post office has 7, UPS has 6. The buyer’s old brain can easily make that decision, so you must give the old brain a clear difference for it to make a decision. This of course has led maybe in the last 50 years for companies that emphasize what’s called a unique selling proposition. That is how are you different, so if you can say things like, “We have unique testing facilities” or, “We’re the largest supplier of this end of the DC area” those types of terms, “Only”, “Unique” that separate you from the competition then the old brain can easily see the difference and make a choice.

Fred Diamond: How about talking about customers? “We provide solutions to American Express”, naming the largest companies in the world. Is that something that’s a distinction or differentiation?

John Asher: It isn’t much of a differentiation. It goes to one of those what are called social biases where you’ve got the branded companies which is good, but doesn’t show a big difference unless you’re the only company in this industry who sells to them.

Fred Diamond: I have a question for you, John, a little bit off-track here but we talked about elite sales professionals and one of the missions of the Sales Game Changers podcast is to help sales professionals and sales leaders take their game to the next level, step it up if you will. You’ve trained thousands if not tens of thousands of sales professionals in your career. What are some of the traits of the better presenters that you see? We mentioned elite professionals before, we talked about starting off with the customer telling us his or her challenges. Why don’t you give us some other thoughts from you about what makes a tremendous elite sales professional such a great presenter?

John Asher: #1, always start off with the customer needs, get the big conversation going. When you totally understand the customer needs, again then when you give your presentation it is not very big, maybe 3 of your 21 slides do you really have to focus and show. The other aspects of the great presentations are videos which is actually the next stimuli.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that now.

John Asher: Remember, the old brain only stores images, doesn’t see words, facts, figures. The old brain is full of images and then later does pattern matching. One of the cognitive biases I will know is stereotyping, and that stereotyping comes from all those images we have stored in our brain. The practical application here for salespeople is a video, let’s say a one minute video. 60 seconds, 30 frames per second or 30 pictures per second, 18 hundred pictures stored in the buyer’s brain.

That’s why videos are so impactful. The comprehension rate of our brain for video is 60 thousand times as fast as reading words on the internet, so the practical application here is get more videos in your proposals, in your presentations, on your website. I’m sure you’ve heard this, the best videos are where you can turn down the audio and still get the idea.

Fred Diamond: John, a lot of the sales professionals listening on the Sales Game Changers podcast maybe they have a marketing team or something. What have you seen with obviously the advent of the smartphone and the ability to take videos? Can sales professionals shoot their own video on their phone and use that to get the message across? Are those effective today? Have you seen that with the elite sales professionals or do they rely on well produced from marketing, if you will?

John Asher: They are, and LinkedIn has some data that people watch a native video – one made by yourself, a cellphone taking a video of yourself – people watch those three times as long as a production video. There’s a couple interesting reasons, they’re waiting for somebody to screw up [laughs] and they also know it’s a real person. It’s not actors, so it’s real interesting. People watch it 3 times as long, a native video as to a production video.

Fred Diamond: That is interesting. What else can you tell us about images or video that would help sales professionals be more successful?

John Asher: Again, it’s all about emotion. TV advertising is into this big time. We’ve probably all seen the Subaru ad – the guy goes to pick up the girl, the girl’s dog doesn’t like the guy, several more scenes, the dog doesn’t like the guy. Then at the last scene they’re at the campfire, she’s chilly, he puts his coat around her shoulders, the dog sees this, comes over and puts his head on the guy’s knee and then the last slide o frame is Subaru. How many words on the TV? Not too many. It’s all about connecting that emotion, great feeling with Subaru. Hardly any words, just pictures.

Fred Diamond: We have a lot of people listening on the Sales Game Changers podcast who sell services, very black and white type services. IT services, data analytics services or financial services or things like that. Talk a little bit about how you can apply emotion in video or something to something like that. If I’m an IT provider and I pop up a video of myself on a date and I’m putting my jacket around her and the dog… [Laughs]

John Asher: [laughs]

Fred Diamond: Then at the end it says, “DBA Analytics”, that might be coming across as corny or contrived if you will. How would I use something like that if I sell a product that’s valuable but it’s not really tugging at your strings like a car or food might, if you will?

John Asher: You’re a good, straight man, Fred. We’re coming to the sixth stimuli that answers that question, basically. That is we now know from these latest functional MRI studies that the best way to wake up the buyer’s old brain – emotion, excitement, engagement – is with a customer story. Meaning your customer talking about how great your company has done for them in a video. Many of the listeners I’m sure have heard that the great salespeople are the great storytellers.

We now know from these latest functional MRI studies where you’ve got a buyer with an MRI machine built into the helmet and you take a customer story and you tell it 10 different ways – 10 different architectures of the story –  we now know exactly the right architecture that best wakes up the buyer’s old brain. The practical application here is again on your website, the best possible use of the stories is videos on your website of your customers telling a story about how you’ve helped them following this great architecture.

Fred Diamond: Let’s bring it back here, from a storytelling perspective, let’s give some practical suggestions to the people listening on today’s call. What are some things that you would train them on or tell them to do to get better a telling stories?

John Asher: I know now the right architecture, I’ll give you a quick example of the story. Let’s assume Fred you’re running a mechanical contractor. You’re the buyer, I’m the seller so I could say, “Fred, we worked for a company just like yours last year in Rockville. Walt, the sales manager told me that sales were stagnant for 2 or 3 years and that’s why he asked me to come speak with him.

I said, “Walt, how many sales people do you have?” He said, “21” I said, “Where’d they come from?” He said, “Well, we’ve never actually hired a salesperson. They’ve all come up to the customer service route, the field tech route, a couple over at sheet metal benders who wanted to get into sales” and I said, “What’s the aptitude for sales for those 21?” he said, “What do you mean by aptitude?” So I gave all 21 an aptitude assessment and it turned out that their aptitude was what you would get by giving it to the general population.

Few high aptitude, few low, most in the middle, that is not what you want for your sales force. Obviously you want them to have a high or at least a moderate high aptitude for sales. Over the next 9 months we helped restructure the sales force so there was 9 with a high aptitude, 7 high moderate. Sales went up by 30% and gross margins because they were getting more sales on less sales people up by 70%.” As I’m telling this story to the buyer, the buyer’s old brain about halfway through the story feels like it’s in the story and near the end the buyer’s old brain is going, “Wow, I wonder if I could get those same results.” That’s an example of the optimum architecture.

Fred Diamond: Interesting. Do you do any training on working with sales professionals to be good at telling that type of story? Because you just told it to me in a minute and a half and I’m visualizing what Walt’s team looks like and I’m visualizing if I was the sales leader or CEO how those strategies would be critical for my business to make us more successful.

John Asher: That’s the power of the story, and you combine the sixth stimuli – the story- and the fifth stimuli – video – and now it’s like, “Wow, you got it.”

Fred Diamond: Interesting. This is the Sales Game Changers podcast, it’s a special episode, neuroscience and selling. It’s critical, it’s become huge in the last couple years. We talked about why it’s so critical and why you need to be selling to the customer’s reptilian or emotional brain and how the customer thinks. John, just in summary, one of the key things here is you got to not be thinking about you and you got to be thinking about your customer. We’ve actually noticed this in the Sales Game Changers podcast, it comes up time and time again that the elite sales professionals that we’ve interviewed through the podcast and we’ve met through the Institute for Excellence in Sales, they are providing tremendous value to their customer. They are providing not just a solution that their company has delivered but they understand the customer’s business challenges, they understand what their customer’s going through and they can relate to them from a value perspective and bring them significant value understanding this, understanding how the customer thinks, how their brain works. It can even take that to the next level.

John Asher: I could not say it any better than you said it, Fred.

Fred Diamond: I appreciate that. Once again, John Asher, this is a special episode of the Sales Game Changers podcast. John, this is a part 2 podcast, we’re going to do a second part where we’re going to talk about the cognitive biases. Can you talk about what that means for a second or two and tee up the second part of this podcast?

John Asher: Neuroscience has discovered about 100 cognitive biases and they are really what’s called a shortcut. They’re a rule of thumb, a tendency so it’s never black or white, it’s just a bias. Again, the reason for the bias is that the old brain wants to get the idea right away and then just go to sleep. There’s 100 biases, we’ve looked at them all, we’ve boiled down the top 50 that we cover in our sales training that apply to sales and so in our second podcast we’ll cover a handful of them. The ones that are most interesting, of course, are the ones that upset what we thought was the right thing to do.

Fred Diamond: Once again, thank you so much John Asher. On Part 2 of this podcast, talking about neuroscience and selling, we’ll be talking about the cognitive biases, the top 10 according to Asher Strategies.


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