Author David Hoffeld says science can improve your sales strategy.
David Hoffeld, CEO of the Hoffeld Group, a sales training firm, believes in taking a scientific approach to selling. His selling strategy is based on disciplines such as social psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics to understand what makes customers buy. Hoffeld recently spoke on the Knowledge@Wharton show on Sirius XM Channel 111 to talk about his book, e Science of Selling: Proven Strategies to Make Your Pitch, Influence Decisions, and Close the Deal.
Knowledge@Wharton: Behavioral economics is driving a lot of research into being a better salesperson these days.
David Hoffeld: You’re absolutely right. I always tell everyone there’s never been a more exciting time to be in sales because of this explosion of scientific research from disciplines like behavioral economics, neuroscience, social psychology and cognitive psychology. It’s the entire reason I do what I do.
I’ve been in sales for quite a while, but it was about 12 years ago that I stumbled on an academic journal. I read it and began to apply it in my sales career and for those I was managing. I saw such results that I developed an odd hobby of reading academic journals and applying them into the world of sales.
Fast forward to today, the book is based on over 1,000 different studies and gives salespeople verifiably effective behaviors that produce real-world results.
Knowledge@Wharton: So, the light went on when you read that first journal?
Hoffeld: It did. It was a wake-up call for me. I had always been a student of sales training, but most of it was based on anecdotal evidence or it almost seemed you were just supposed to do what the trainer said. There was never a why we should do one thing versus another. This research allows salespeople to literally sell in the way their potential customers’ brains are wired to be influenced and how they create buying decisions. In short, it helps people make confident buying decisions that are in their best interests and also yours.
Knowledge@Wharton: You talk about the fact that salespeople don’t relate themselves to the people that they’re trying to sell to or really get an idea as to what makes their customers tick.
Hoffeld: Unfortunately, it’s how they’re trained. A lot of the way that sales ideas have been based on is best practices. There’s nothing wrong with best practices, but when an entire methodology is based on it, whom are we focusing on? We’re focusing on ourselves when we develop best practices. We’re trying to innovate by looking in the mirror, and that doesn’t work. Whom should we be focused on when selling? Our buyers.
“This research allows salespeople to literally sell in the way their potential customers’ brains are wired.”
The science-backed approach is so exciting because it really aligns our focus with whom it should always be on: our buyers. How do we meet their needs? How do we truly understand them, what they need, the problems they want solved, how they’re making decisions? And then how do we sell because of this?
Knowledge@Wharton: Why do you think it has taken so long for this shift in the thought process of selling to take place? Was it all of the research that has been the push?
Hoffeld: That’s a very important question. For a variety of reasons that we talk about in the book, sales has not been embraced in the last 60, 70 years by academia the way marketing has. Most colleges, even community colleges, have classes and degrees in marketing. Sales has very, very few. So, there really hasn’t been research in the world of sales.
There is a price to be paid to do this originally. For example, my firm spent over a decade looking at these academic journals and reading them and then applying it. It’s a very tedious, arduous task. All these results were hidden until recently because they were put away in academic journals and salespeople weren’t reading them. The good news is they’ve been brought out of academia, dusted off and applied to the real world. Now they’re understandable, very practical, and any salesperson or business can use these strategies to instantly improve their effectiveness.
Knowledge@Wharton: With some types of purchases, the emotional attachment that a person has to the item is very important. Buying a car. Buying a home. You say it’s also the recognition that emotions are an important part for the salesperson.
Hoffeld: We’ve all known in the world of sales that emotions matter, but until recently we couldn’t prove it. Or we didn’t know what to do about that, so we acknowledged it and move on with our lives. But because of some breakthrough research in neuroscience, we have a great understanding now of how emotions impact decision-making. What they do is they allow us to create preferences. One neuroscientist put it this way: it’s the logical part of your brain that allows you to look at a person walking towards you and say, “She is my cousin.” But it’s your emotions that allow you to then say, “And I can’t stand her.” It’s the emotions that allow us to create those preferences. Emotions aren’t just involved in the decision process, they determine whether we choose in one direction or another.
Knowledge@Wharton: You talk about options as well. There’s the notion that too many options can backfire. But in the case of sales, having at least one or two options ends up being a positive.
Hoffeld: The research shows both sides of that. The reality is our brains can easily get confused, and too many options drive down sales results. We talk about that. But only showing one option also drives down sales results. One of the studies we talk about in the book was done by Daniel Mochon and published in the Journal of Consumer Research. He showed one option to shoppers and asked if they would purchase it, and 10% did. When he introduced a second option and allowed them to choose, 34% chose the original option, and 32% chose the second option. So, buying behavior went from 10% to 66%.
“The science-backed approach is so exciting because it really aligns our focus with whom it should always be on: our buyers.”
The reason is because our brains naturally do comparisons. When you only have one option, it’s very hard for your brain to compare it to say, is this a good product or bad product? A good price or a bad price? When you add that second option, it eases the cognitive load of the comparison, making it far easier for your brain. Once your brain does that comparison and selects a winner of the two options, it lowers the assignment of risk with now purchasing that option.
Knowledge@Wharton: But it also takes out your competition because if you’re giving somebody a couple of options in your business, then it doesn’t