The following is an interview with David Hoffeld, founder of sales training firm Hoffeld Group and author of The Science of Selling: Proven Strategies to Make Your Pitch, Influence Decisions, and Close the Deal. During our interview, David discussed some of the most important concepts from his recent book, as well as shared his perspective on how data and psychology can work together to transform sales.
Q: Fields like marketing and customer success have been fairly scientifically driven for some time now. Why do you think it has taken sales so much longer to get to this point?
A: It’s somewhat alarming when you look at how long it has taken sales to embrace science. Marketing has been leveraging so many methods for better understanding people and how to engage them for some time now, but in sales, a lot of the books and articles that are coming out with “new ideas” are simply repackaged, renamed ideas from 80 years ago.
However, what we know about how human beings think, perceive value and make choices has dramatically shifted because of breakthroughs in various scientific disciplines. And the biggest reason why it has taken sales so long to embrace this is that academics have not cared about selling. It’s rare that any college has a course on selling, but most all have courses on marketing. And because of this lack of academic scrutiny, sales has been left to stagnate.
Because of this, most sales methods are based on anecdotal evidence and the way certain people sell and their opinions about what works. The problem with that is it doesn’t always work, it’s not predictable and you don’t get buy-in from sales people. Why is one person’s anecdotal evidence better than anyone else’s? It’s not.
Science-based selling is different. It says, here is what science has disclosed – it’s verifiable and objective. We explain, here is why we ask questions this way, or present a choice that way. We don’t just tell people how to do something, but why they should do it. That is the missing piece in sales in general – why? When you bring science to the table, it gives salespeople the evidence that reveals how people buy, which shows them how they should sell.
Q: Your book, The Science of Selling, pioneers the concept of the Sales Equation. Can you tell us a little bit about this and how it works?
A: The Sales Equation took me 6.5 years of testing and trying to apply numerous breakthroughs in many different scientific disciplines to sales. I literally looked at thousands of studies around how people buy and then began to ask, what does this really look like in sales? What has to happen for someone to say yes to a product or service? What’s happening in their brain?
The goal of a salesperson is to help people buy, but how do you do that if you don’t know how someone buys? If you don’t know the mental process that they go through, how do you know whether the way you’re selling aligns or conflicts with it? And the sad reality is that most salespeople don’t know – they’re just guessing their way to success.
The Sales Equation shows us that there are are certain commitments that our brains must make for us to say yes to a product or service. Meaning, a buying decision is composed of certain small, strategic, incremental commitments that guide us on a progression of consent and advance the sale. The Sales Equation takes the guesswork out of selling by showing sales people exactly what they need to do to enable that buying decision to purchase a product or service.
Q: Your book ties The Sales Equation closely to something called The Six Whys. What are these Six Whys and what purpose do they serve?
A: The Six Whys address the incremental commitments our brains must make for us to say yes. Answering these whys should be the goal of every sales process. If even one of these whys is not committed to, the buying process breaks down and a sale never occurs. In fact, every objection can be traced back to a lack of commitment to one of these six whys.
The first one is, “why change?” Why should a prospect do something different by buying your product or service or even considering it? How do we enable change and get buyers to see it as an imperative?
The second is, “why now?” Why should they move forward now? Why can’t they wait a few months or years?
The third is, “why your industry solution?” Why can’t buyers create the outcome that your product or services will deliver themselves? Why do they have to engage your industry?
Fourth: “why you and your company?” This one is really important, because what we’ve found is that there is a direct correlation between the way prospects judge the salesperson and the way they judge the company. If they trust the salesperson, they trust the company, and vise versa. So there is a lot of opportunity to build trust through the way we sell.
Why number five is, “why your product or service?” How do you differentiate in today’s busy marketplace and get people to see why investing in your product or service is in their best interest?
Finally, number six: “why spend the money?” Why should they buy this instead of something else? There is usually a limited amount of funds and you must compete against other priorities.
Q: Your book also talks a lot about the Science of Asking Powerful Questions. Can you walk us through this concept and how it can fundamentally change the way reps communicate with buyers and close deals?
A: A lot of the ways we ask questions as salespeople is wrong in that it conflicts with how our brains disclose information. Most questioning models are based on surveying salespeople, so we decided to focus questions on the buyer and not the seller. We based our questioning model on some groundbreaking scientific research that reveals how the brain discloses information.
This powerful research out of cognitive psychology has proven that the brain reveals information in layers. So we created a layered questioning model, and when we tested it, I was able to validate that it guided salespeople in devising high-gain follow-up questions with ease, and also significantly reduced the time to learn how to ask effective questions. And the reason why is because it’s intuitive because it’s how our brains are naturally wired to disclose information. When you align your behavior with something that’s natural to you it’s easy to execute and, most importantly, it works.
Q: Here at Base, we are big believers in the Science of Sales and the role that data should play in making smarter sales decisions. Of course, your book also focuses on the Science of Sales, but does so from a more psychological standpoint. How do you think these two scientific concepts, data and psychology, can work together to transform and grow sales?
A: Having both is essential. Data can help you drastically improve your sales, but you have to start somewhere. You have to make assumptions: where should I start and what am I looking for? Understanding how the brain makes choices gives us that evidence to begin as our foundation and start testing hypotheses.
It also gives us a common language. Salespeople need to have an understanding of psychology and what’s going on behind the scenes to apply data more effectively. So they work hand-in-hand, and there is a great synergy between utilizing data and then applying that data with how the brain makes choices. Together, data and psychology allow you to be so much more effective so much faster.
For more insight into how science is changing sales and how your business can adopt a scientific sales approach, download the free eBook, From Art to Science: 5 Steps to Predictable Sales Growth.