Neuroscience: You Don’t Make a Sale Without It

Recently, I was traveling to a speaking engagement to an area of the country I had not been to in several years.  When I left the office to head for the airport, I jumped on a conference call with a client and before you know it, I was standing at the security checkpoint at the airport.  I never even gave it a second thought. When I arrived at my destination, however, I was really unsure of where I was going. A few mental gymnastics and a Google maps episode later and off I went in my rental car, paying very close attention to the commands being uttered by my trusty iPhone.  I was completely locked into finding my destination and had blocked out all other distractions. This made me think about how the brain is involved in the B2B sales buying decision…and it’s likely not in the way you think.

The brain is made up of approximately 100 billion neurons.  Through this super highway of interconnected amazement, all learning and memory takes place.  Sensory information is transmitted by synapses along the neural pathway and stored temporarily in short-term memory.  The short-term memory area of the brain is a very volatile region. Think of Grand Central Station. This is where the brain initially receives all sensory information and encounters in our daily lives.

What’s really interesting about the brain is that it essentially throws all new incoming information or experiences up on the “cerebral whiteboard” and proceeds to run through the long-term storage area to see if you’ve ever experienced anything like this before in your life.  This process happens in an instant.


From the sales person’s perspective, when we communicate information to a prospect, they are subconsciously determining whether or not they are familiar with that “story.”  Similar to my trip to the airport, my brain instantly recognized the task of driving to the airport and didn’t require additional information to execute on the decision. But let’s say you told me that the airport was in the opposite direction of the way I was traveling.  Due to the strong nature of the neuron connections my brain had created around this path to the airport, my brain would have run that new information quickly against the long-term database and dismissed it as useless (as well as you.)

A recent study done by CEB found that 86% of Executive Buyers saw no apparent difference from one supplier to the next. Why is that?

From the prospect’s perspective, when a salesperson engages them with transactional facts and figures and spends the majority of their time talking about themselves and the features and benefits of their solutions, the prospect subconsciously believes they have “seen your movie before.”  Their brain is quick to dismiss all self-focused, fact-based, transactional information as useless to them. The reason for this is that when they throw our information up on their “neural-whiteboard,” it gets instantly compared to all the other transactional, useless sales interactions in their long term memory and is immediately discarded.


According to the University of Michigan’s Biopsychology research, when the brain selectively receives information through the five senses that it deems as novel or new, it pays special attention.  Essentially, when it runs the new information against the existing database, it comes back as “no match” to anything it has experienced. Now you have the brain’s attention.

In fact, another recent study by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that as the brain receives this new information from the various senses, it will assemble the bits of data into a complete picture and that “picture” becomes the memory of the event or data.  That’s why if we both see and hear something, it becomes more memorable.

In addition, when that information comes attached to emotion of some sort, i.e. fear, anger, laughter, or joy, the emotion becomes a central part of the memory and makes the neural coupling over 20 times stronger for future recall.  This explains why highly emotional events like a death or birth become instantly retrievable and unforgettable.

Now, back to the prospect.  They have likely seen hundreds, if not thousands of sales presentations and their long-term memory is full of preconceived notions on what to expect from the next one to walk through their office.  Subconsciously, their brain is looking for something novel and it’s looking for it quickly. If you simply communicate with him or her the way every other sales person has for the past decade, you will be instantly discarded as irrelevant and useless in the mind of your prospect.  This explains why Jill Rowley, renowned Social Selling expert, was recently quoted as saying that “trust between the buyer and the sales rep is at an all-time low, hovering around 30%.”

How can you expect to make a sale when you have been dismissed in the mind of your prospect?


  1. Don’t open the meeting with a transactional verbal agenda or an elevator pitch about “what” you or your company does.  Start with “WHY.” Get personal. Build trust. It will work wonders.
  1. Use relevant industry insight to show your prospect something new and interesting relative to trends in their world that they may not have been aware of.  Make sure that insight evokes emotion and forces them to think critically about what it would mean to not take action on this information.
  2. Use visual storytelling techniques when positioning your solution.  Create contrast. The prospect’s brain will associate the value of your solution based on the contrast you can create between the cost of the problem and the price of your competition.
  3. Show them an easy and straightforward path to implementation and ensure they clearly see how your solution solves THEIR primary problem.

Remember, every word coming from your mouth has only seconds on the “whiteboard” of the short-term memory station of your prospect’s brain.  If you don’t show originality and novelty, like so many reps before you, you will be discarded on the prospect’s pile of “been there, seen that.”

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