The Neuroscience of Effective Sales Habits

Denver-Based Sales Leadership Development Available Nationwide

Posted: August 13, 2013

In 1989, the late Stephen Covey authored the best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  It’s a great book and a must read for anyone in business. 

The key word in the book title is habits.  In working with hundreds of sales professionals, I have found that successful salespeople share two common traits in the development of successful habits:  focus and practice.  Let’s take a look at the art and neuroscience of developing these success habits. 

Focus:

Contrary to popular opinion, multi-tasking doesn’t work, particularly when a salesperson is learning a new skill or attitude.  It has nothing to do with IQ, it has everything to do with how the brain works. 

The prefrontal cortex, often referred to as the executive center, is charged with learning new information.  And when learning new information, this part of your brain can only concentrate on one thing at a time.  (It’s one of the reasons we don’t allow salespeople to turn on their technology during sales training.)

You don’t need a big research study to arrive at this conclusion.   Just apply common sense and observe professional athletes.  When they are on the field or the court practicing, you don’t see them texting or checking their emails.  Top salespeople, like top athletes, know that focus is needed in order to learn and execute the playbook.    

CEO’s and sales managers fall short on modeling focus.  During a meeting, they are often the first ones to pull out their smart phone to check messages. People watch what you do, not what you say, so their sales teams learn that it’s okay not to pay attention. 

Here’s the irony.  These same CEOs and sales managers are complaining that their sales team doesn’t know the company value proposition or responses to prospect objections.  Perhaps, it’s because members of your team are following your example.  They were busy responding to emails during a training or coaching session rather than paying attention and learning.    

Practice

When you meet successful people, you assume they’ve always operated at this level of success.  Nice house, car and lifestyle.   What you don’t see are the hours of work and dedication that went into becoming the best in their field. 

Here’s the neuroscience behind practice.  When you are born, you come into the world with approximately 100 billion neurons.   Each one of these neurons has the ability to make 15,000 connections, called synapses.  Continued connections become a neural pathway or something often referred to as hard wiring. 

This process is similar to hiking through the woods.  The more time the trail is traveled, the easier it becomes to navigate because the path becomes clear; free of branches and weeds.    When you practice, you are forming new ‘trails’ in your brain that can be easily accessed.  These new networks get stored in an area of the brain called the basil ganglia. 

Knowledge stored in the basil ganglia is recalled without a lot of thought or effort.  For example, if a prospect asks a tough question, the ‘practiced’ rep delivers a response without stumbling or mumbling.  They aren’t sitting in a meeting trying to think of what they should say or do. 

Tony Dungy, former NFL coach, understood the power of focus, practice and good habits, which helped his team win a Super Bowl.   He said, “Champions don’t do extraordinary things.  They do ordinary things but do them without thinking.  They are too fast for the other team to react.  They follow the habits they have learned.”     

Harness the power of your brain.  Focus and practice.  Two ordinary things that will help you achieve extraordinary sales results. 

Good Selling!

Colleen Stanley

Founder/Chief Selling Officer