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

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

JOHN’S CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “We know that there are many cognitive biases that help us influence buyers. There’s about 100 of them, about 50 of them apply to sales. Figuring out which of those apply to sales, how to use them and what’s the practical application for salespeople is critical.”


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: John, on Part 1 of this podcast we talked about how sales professionals need to sell to what’s known as the old brain, the emotional brain, reptilian brain as compared to the new rational brain. Why don’t you summarize what we talked about on the first episode for about 30 seconds to a minute? Then we’re going to get into some specific applications that sales professionals can apply to be more successful at selling once they understand how the customer utilizes their brain to process information and make decisions.

John Asher: Hey, Fred. Great to be back with you. We know now from neuroscience studies in 70 countries that all decisions really come from the old brain, which is a combination of the reptilian brain and the emotional brain. If you’re going to wake up the buyer’s old brain we now know from many functional MRI machines – think of a person with a helmet on with an MRI built into it – that there are 6 stimuli to wake up the buyer’s old brain and if you’re with a suspect, prospect, current customer and you’re not using any of those stimuli, closing rates would be zero.

We also know that there are many cognitive biases that help us influence buyers. There’s about 100 of them, about 50 of them apply to sales and that’s essentially what we’ve been doing for the last 3 years. Figuring out which of those apply to sales, how to use them and what’s the practical application for salespeople is critical.

Fred Diamond: Very good. It’s critical to understand this and what we’re going to be talking about today is once you understand how the customer’s brain works, it’ll help you accelerate your process to sale success and it’ll help you take your sales game to the next level. Thinks with understanding the customer always starts off with me, thinking about what’s in it for me, how does this apply to me. Also, how they synthesize information more effectively using images and using video. We talked about strategies on how you can become more effective.

Also talked about the whole concept that it’ll be more effective if you have a sales call and the customer does all the talking. Obviously then the customer’s thinking about how this applies to you and elite sales professionals understand that, they know that and that is how they take their game to the next level.

John Asher: Exactly.

Fred Diamond: The second part of the podcast series is on cognitive biases. Tell us John, what exactly is a cognitive bias? I know you’ve identified about 100 cognitive biases, about 50 of them apply to sales and marketing. We’re going to talk about a handful of them today that the sales leaders listening to the podcast should be conscious of and knowledgeable on to be more effective. To start off, what is a cognitive bias? What does it mean so the people understand what we’re going to be talking about?

John Asher: The old brain is a complex organ, 100 billion neurons, each neuron has 10 thousand sinapsis or connections and it takes a ton of energy to make decisions. The old brain has learned to develop shortcuts, rules of thumb, tendencies and neuroscientists call them cognitive biases. Cognitive meaning brain and a bias means a tendency, shortcut, rule of thumb. There’s a special case of a cognitive bias called a heuristic, and that is when a cognitive bias can lead us astray and cause us to make a bad decision.

An obvious example would be stereotyping. So somebody comes in to apply for a software developer job, got their ball cap on backwards, shirt’s hanging out, beard’s not trim, tennis shoes are actually dirty and so our old brain could just dismiss them based on appearance, but it could be that they’re the best software developer available in Northern Virginia. Now, that’s a heuristic. It’s a cognitive bias stereotyping that’s led us astray and caused us to make a bad decision.

Fred Diamond: Let’s start off. We’re going to talk about 6 or 7 of these today that you’ve identified that are critical at sales. The compliment bias, what does that mean?

John Asher: The compliment bias means that when you compliment another person a lightning bulb goes off in their brain. Anytime anybody gets a compliment, they’ll immediately smile and they feel great and a lot of research is done on this in the 60’s by the founder of the Gallup organization. He was researching how do you make people better when almost every psychologist was researching how to fix people, and he wrote a little book about it called How Full is your Bucket. A short book, quick read. What the book means is if you compliment other people, you’re filling up their bucket.

If you’re criticizing other people, you’re emptying their bucket. In most companies where the compliments flow a lot, the culture is just through the roof. The practical application for sales is always compliment the buyer quickly when you first meet them. It doesn’t mean you have to compliment their shirt, but do great research. Be able to compliment them on a video you watched on their website or their website, or their facilities or perhaps how you were treated by the receptionist. Always compliment the buyer early.

Fred Diamond: John, you’re wearing a great shirt. That is a good-looking shirt, and that was a great answer. How do we avoid being kowtowing or obsequious? How do we be genuine? A lot of the people listening on today’s Sales Game Changers podcast sell complex products, they sell IT solutions, financial solutions, detailed manufacturing or analytical type solutions and you’re selling to intelligent people. You’re selling to [Inaudible 06:04] people, people who don’t have a whole lot of time, they have big decisions to make. Talk about being complimentary in a genuine way versus being obsequious or kowtowing.

John Asher: Of course it has to be relevant, it has to be true. You can’t just make stuff up to compliment. Again, great salespeople are the great researchers, the great preparers. They will again do great research and know they can compliment something about the buyer’s company – website, video, facilities, whatever. It’s got to be genuine, of course.

Fred Diamond: What are some strategies you have for the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast to know something specific about the customer? To do that type of research so that they can compliment them on something genuine like a big win or something like that, a new certification.

John Asher: Just great research. Sales navigate or level on LinkedIn, social media.

Fred Diamond: OK. How about CrystalKnows? You talked about that a lot, is that a good solution for them to be using?

John Asher: CrystalKnows is really about your personality style, so you probably wouldn’t compliment somebody about their personality style but CrystalKnows is great to use to modify your approach to their personality.

Fred Diamond: Very good. How much complimenting should you do?

John Asher: Just one, right up front.

Fred Diamond: Let them know that you’ve done the research, you’re thinking about them, you understand what’s important as well before you begin the call.

John Asher: Quick example, I’m an outgoing person, I talk to 100% of the people I meet in the elevator. The reason I do in the play it forward idea is #1, I have validated them as a person worth talking to and about a third of the time I can give them a compliment and it’s a sincere compliment. I just gave a young woman one recently in Fort Lauderdale. She was dressed for business, very well dressed, had nine bracelets that all matched her outfit. I mentioned that, her smile lit up the elevator. I made her whole day. That’s the compliment bias, we’re all biased towards people who compliment us.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. I recently had a meeting with a CEO of a company, and his assistant who scheduled a meeting was just energetic, she was great, she was very respectful to me and my time, if you will. When I met the CEO I said that, I said, “Hey, I want to let you know I had a great experience working with your administrator who scheduled today’s meeting. She was very respectful, nice and she really understood what you were looking to meet with me about” and he was blown away. He goes, “That made my day.” He said, “When I hear people talk about my people in such glowing terms, it really makes me feel good.” The reciprocity bias, what is that?

John Asher: We are biased towards people that give us stuff. It’s strong in every culture, particularly strong in China where I’ve been – I know it sounds like a lot – 103 times since 1980. In China, if you do a favor for somebody they must return the favor even if it’s 20 years later, and if they pass, their family must return the favor. In China it’s called the ren qing, but it’s strong in every culture. The practical application for salespeople is always bring the buyer something, maybe a book you read that applies to their business. Give them more information.

What happens when you give the buyer a gift – and again, it doesn’t have to be candy or something stupid – if you give them some reasonable gift their old brain now is energized to give you something back. Of course, in sales what you normally give back is greater insight into their issues, so always give the buyer something. In fact, Kyle who you know, our VP of sales put out a missive to all of us in the company two years ago. She said, “From now on, every email, every LinkedIn in mail you send must include a link to one of our educational videos.” Made a tremendous difference.

Fred Diamond: John, I’m going to take a short detour here. Not many people know this but you just eluded to this, you’ve been doing business in china for a long time and you’re one of the world renowned sales experts. By the way, for the Sales Game Changers, we mentioned this on the part 1. John also is the author of a best-selling sales book, Close Deals Faster that came out 2017. Great book, I highly recommend that you read it. John, why don’t you give us a little bit of an insight into selling in China? I know that’s not what’s on the agenda for today, but you eluded to it. We have Sales Game Changers listening around the world. Can you maybe give us a minute, a minute a half worth of insights into the differences between selling in the US where most of our listeners are or Australia or Europe versus what it means to sell in China?

John Asher: Interesting. My first book actually in 2012 the title was – for the Chinese – How to Sell to The West. I was a co-author with my president of operations in China. One of the interesting things about China is because they’re so skeptical as a people, because of foreign domination, confuses rules, men rule women and all that sort of thing then rapport building in China even more important than it is here.

That’s why you hear about going to China, you’ve got to go out and have 30 drinks, toast and all that sort of stuff. Unless they trust you, you just can’t do business with them. Rapport building all important. Second issue is if you’re selling in China, they want to see the boss. I’ve had many trips to China where I fly over, have pre meeting with my team, go to the meeting with the prospect, have a debrief with the team and fly back. The only reason I do that is because they must see the boss or you just can’t get the business.

Fred Diamond: Interesting. This isn’t a political podcast, this is Sales Game Changers podcast. We’re helping sales professionals around the world get better. We’re actually recording today’s podcast in July of 2018. Has the trade conversation changed selling in China for US or western companies? Have you seen anything yet?

John Asher: There’s always some upset to it, but I think as you know, the president is doing what most business people are like him to do, and that is get China to change their behavior. Stealing our IP, requiring that we have a partner if we’re going to sell in China and all that sort of thing. All this upset right now is just him negotiating the way most business people want him to negotiate. Most people don’t particularly like all these tweets and stuff, but what he’s actually doing from a business standpoint is what we want him to do.

Fred Diamond: I agree. A little bit of a detour there in the Sales Game Changers podcast. Special episode with John Asher, again my name is Fred Diamond. Not sure if I mentioned it or not but today’s podcast is sponsored in part by the Institute for Excellence in Sales. The third bias, John, is the similarity bias. Tell us about that.

John Asher: Hundreds of millions of years ago when you first saw somebody else, you had to make a decision. Is this a threat, is this a friend or is this a potential partner? You have all these images, and so if they’re similar to you then it looks safe. An example would be if you go over to a friend’s house and they have had a baby and the baby is 3 months old and you pick up the baby, what’s the baby do? Immediately cries. Stranger danger type of thing. We’re all biased towards people who are like us. Age, gender, religion, sports preferences, personality. We’re just totally drawn to people like us.

The practical application here for salespeople is use neurolinguistics programming techniques. Find out everything you can about the buyer before you go to see them so that you can use NLP. If I’m with a buyer for example, and they’re talking slower than I’m talking, I’m going to slow down. If they’re talking louder, I’m going to talk louder. If they’re doing all kinds of body language then I’ll slowly integrate in some body language. If they’re using acronyms associated with their business, I’ll pick up on those pretty much right away.

Then within a very short period of time in the buyer’s old brain, the old brain says, “Wow. This person is just like me, therefore they must be awesome” and you get the deal or the sale. It’s just called a similarity bias and I know you’ve heard of NLP and I know your listeners have heard of NLP. It’s been researched in Stanford, there’s a day, two day, week long courses, books. It all just goes back to the similarity bias.

Fred Diamond: Very good. Actually, we did a special episode with a man named Ramzy Ayachi who I know that you know who is an expert on NLP. That was a previous episode of the Sales Game Changers podcast, I believe it was special episode #6. We also wrote a couple articles about that based on that. John, we’ve spoken numerous times and a lot of people believe that they need to be the last company to present, that their odds are going to go up of being successful if they’re last but you tell me you want to be first. That’s called the anchor bias. Tell us about that.

John Asher: It’s another one of these cognitive biases. From a sales standpoint it upsets what we’ve all thought. If you’re going to make a presentation and two other companies are in the same time frame to a buyer or a group of buyers, because of the anchor bias you always want to be first. The reason is the buyer’s old brain anchors on your presentation. Unless your presentation’s all hosed up, when the buyer hears the next two they’re not looking for a reason to change their mind, the buyer’s mind.

Remember, the buyer’s old brain doesn’t want to change its mind, it looks for negative aspects to quickly get rid of it. If you’re giving presentations with other companies in the same time frame, always be the first to present.

Fred Diamond: Next we have the status quo bias, the competition is not your biggest competitor. Tell us how that applies.

John Asher: There’s three main companies in the US selling B to B and B to G – government. If you ask most salespeople and most companies, “Who is your biggest competition, your competitors or your status quo?” Most of them will say, “Probably the status quo” and it is true. 80% of the competition is really the status quo that was getting buyers to move. It’s why so many companies have what’s called a clogged pipeline, you just can’t get them over the finished line. To give you an example, if there’s a prospect for your customer and they’re unhappy with their current vendor we have a real chance. That’s a great opportunity but if they’re happy or OK with their current vendor or supplier, very difficult to get them to move.

There’s three reasons that all buyers know, one is there may be switching costs, they may have a warehouse full of inventory of the current vendors. All buyers know that all change is difficult, even good change and buyers just won’t shift for a small, say 4% improvement. In many cases, buyers will discount the salesperson’s claimed ROI and it’s not that they think salespeople are dishonest, they just know salespeople are going to put the best spin they can on their offerings. The practical application for salespeople is if you’re going to get buyers to move, you must address the switching cost.

For example, I’ve got a customer in Alabama, hardware manufacturer sales to distributors. When he’s trying to get a new distributor, he’ll offer to buy their inventory of the current distributor, sell it off in a discount but now he’s got a big new customer. That’s one way to address the switching cost. From the change standpoint you’ve got to show the buyer that they do not have to lift a finger to make the transition. You will totally take care of it.

Then from an ROI standpoint, we know from the latest ad from the big outsourcing and technology companies, Accenture, KPMG, Deloitte, etcetera – and it doesn’t matter what the financial metric is, higher revenue, higher cash flow, higher gross margin, lower cost – you must have at least a 15% improvement or buyers just won’t move. It’s an example of why the challenger sale idea is such a good idea, you’ve got that big difference you can make for the buyer. You see this play out in real life, we’ve all heard the Geico ad, “Give us 15 minutes and we’ll show you a 15% improvement.” If the Geico ad said, “Give us 15 minutes and we’ll show you a 4% improvement” would anybody call Geico?

Fred Diamond: Probably not. Again, we’re talking to John Asher. We’re talking about some cognitive biases to help you be more successful once you understand the neuroscience behind sales. John, let’s just take one more bias here. Let’s talk about the single option aversion bias and actually, let’s just take a second here. 

John Asher: The single option aversion bias means that if the old brain doesn’t see a choice, it can’t make a decision. It goes back to the first podcast we covered, that stimuli #4 clear difference. The practical application is never offer the buyer only one solution. There are numerous studies over all 33 industries that show if you offer the buyer a single solution, 10% will buy. If you offer 2 similar solutions, 64% will buy. That’s a difference in closing rates to 640% so the practical application is never offer the buyer just a single solution.

Fred Diamond: How about the choice paradox? How does that apply specifically?

John Asher: The choice part of the choice paradox bias means many salespeople think, “If I can just show the buyer all 7 of our solutions, one is bound to stick.” The paradox part of the choice paradox bias means if you offer the buyer’s old brain more than 3 choices, the old brain becomes confused.

Because of the choice paradox bias, never offer more than 3 because of the single option aversion never offer only one. So the right answer combining those two biases is always offer the buyer 2 or 3 choices, and you see this play out in real life a lot. If you take your partner to a fancy restaurant for your anniversary, it’s a white table cloth, how many specials do they typically have?

Fred Diamond: Two or three at the most.

John Asher: Yeah, two or three. At my age when I bought a car 30 years ago there was all these options to consider. Now, two or three packages of options.

Fred Diamond: Sometimes even when you’re the seller and you have to describe the three options, we saw this, I think it was a 2016 republican debate with Rick Perry, the governor from Texas. He said if he becomes the president he’s going to eliminate three agencies. He mentioned the first two and he couldn’t think about the third one. Same thing in selling and ironically the third one happened to be department of energy which of course he is the secretary of. You want to make it as simple for you. I think one of the key things here selling to the old brain, we talked about again the 6 stimuli, #2 was make it simple and easy to grasp not just for the customer but for you to be able to communicate as well.

John Asher: Agree.

Fred Diamond: John, before we wrap up, is there any final thoughts you want to share with us? Once again, thank you so much for the great insights on the last two podcasts. This is information that sales professionals around the world truly need to understand as it gets more complicated at the customer site, and you need to be as clear and differentiated as possible.

John Asher: I’m an engineer, so for me this is all thrilling. To be able to finally understand the real science behind sales and for the elite salespeople today it takes that understanding of the old brain stimuli and an understanding of the 50 cognitive biases that apply to sales.


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