IT WILL seem strange to some that men in white coats studying brain patterns are revolutionising the way people think about sales, but that is what the emerging field of neuroeconomics is doing to sales teams across the world.
Research in neuroscience (which looks at brain activity) has in recent years challenged conventional understanding of human behaviour by revealing that we are more instinctively driven than we'd like to think - and now the findings are shedding light on buying behaviour too.
In fact, getting to grips with this cutting edge research could prove the most important move sales managers make as they look to get exceptional performance from their teams.
Essentially, neuroeconomics combines neuroscience with psychology and economics to study how people make buying decisions - and what factors motivate or hinder them when making a purchase.
Chief among these findings is that purchasing decisions are intensely emotionally motivated - not based on logic as salespeople might like to believe.
According to MRI scans, the strongest motivator in purchasing decisions is fear of loss. This reveals why people are often so resistant to making large purchases, or switching products and suppliers, even when there is a clear logical motivation to do so.
It also proves that building trust and good rapport is one of the most crucial elements of a successful sales process. Forming a relationship is the one sure way for salespeople to work around this instinctive fear - and turn it to their advantage. Rapping off the benefits of your product or service before building trust with a client is, on the other hand, doomed to failure.
Secondly, and interestingly, making a purchase has a similar effect on the brain as taking cocaine - again revealing the intensely emotional experience that shopping elicits.
These findings reveal that buying behaviour is controlled predominantly by the primary - or more instinctive - part of the brain. The best sales pitch can fall flat if it does not take into account the fear and excitement that come with making a purchase.
They also expose how misplaced many common sales practices can be. The pressure sales managers place on immediately closing a deal, for example, can actually exacerbate the fear of loss and create mistrust in many buyers.
The upside, however, is that with this new knowledge, salespeople can change their approach to increase their success.
For example, salespeople should know who their clients are and introduce themselves and their companies better. Many people who are recognised as having "good people skills" often make good salespeople - they are essentially good at gaining people's trust, thereby lessening the fear-of-loss emotion.
Next, salespeople should appeal to the emotions by painting a visual picture of how their service or product can improve their client's life or business. This helps them to visualise the benefits as they apply to their own life, creating a stronger emotional connection to the product.
Brand managers, for instance, have long suspected that people have strong emotional connections to brands - and neuroeconomics is proving that beyond a doubt. One study even equated brands to a religious experience by studying the brain patterns of a group of nuns. The area of the brain that fired when they thought about God was the same as for Coca-Cola!
lKeys is the MD of The Sales Institute.