Digital illustration of human upper body showing the brain

Blind Spots Cause Awful Sales Conversations

Have you ever listened to a call between your salesperson and a prospect?  Perhaps you have overheard your rep’s side of the conversation?  Are they having a conversation or talking?  

I hear a lot of sales conversations on a regular basis.  What I hear is sad and frustrating because sales conversations are not two people talking to each other, but talking past each other.  

Most of the sales conversations I hear and debrief lack fundamental communication. This isn’t any different than most human interactions. 

I am working from Florida for a couple months.  There is a “conversation pool” at neighborhood club house.  Although the people are not salespeople, there are a lot of people talking.  Based on what I hear everyone struggles to communicate and have real conversations.  The “conversation pool” is no different than sales meeting-conversational blind spots get in the way of good conversations.

There are many academic studies that explain how the brain works when it comes to conversations. They explain how our amygdala and our prefrontal cortex fight against each when it comes to building trust.  This relationship is complex, but it creates blind spots for salespeople.  The blind spots cause salespeople to communicate ineffectively and conduct awful sales conversations. 

If you want to dive into how the brain chemistry works, Sharon Drew Morgen and Judith Glaser have great books and provide insights into this topic for those of us leading teams.  I am going to share some of their ideas that identify blind spots and will help you have better conversations with prospects, customers, friends, and family.  

During a sales conversation 87% of the time salespeople are making statements.  The other 13% salespeople are asking questions, but most of the questions are statements disguised as questions.

I coach and train salespeople to have a different type of conversation with their prospects and customers.  I call them bridging the gap conversations.  It requires a mindset shift where the goal is not to persuade and talk, but to connect and listen with their prospect. Make the prospect feel heard and understood is the mantra.

For years I have asked salespeople to engage with prospects with three basic principles.  Empathy.  Curiosity. Skepticism. My coaching was not driven by an understanding of blind spots or brain chemistry, but it worked.  However, in recent years I have begun to shine a light on the reasons the blind spots exist. Let’s look at the first three principles first.

Empathy helps the individuals connect and builds rapport.  If a sales rep demonstrate empathy by asking questions to learn and understand what the prospect is experiencing, the prospect’s amygdala is less likely to trigger fear and distrust.  

Curiosity drives us to ask questions and to connect on a human level.  A lot of questions are required. To build rapport and trust the questions must be about learning and uncovering the prospects situation not talking about products.  Discovery questions are questions that salespeople should ask because they don’t know the answer to them.  Being authentic and truly curious without an agenda allows a salesperson to listen.

Skepticism is about more questions and wondering why the prospect thinks the way they do.  It is not about persuasion.  Combined with empathy and curiosity, healthy skepticism helps the salesperson and the prospect share ideas and truly discover.  

When we combine these three attributes with an understanding of potential blind spots, sales conversations can elevate to bridging gaps and helping.  What I have learned over the last 20 years of sales leadership and consulting is that salespeople are compelled to pitch and talk too much.  

Digital illustration of 3 cars showing where the blind spots are located

The research indicates that being pitchy is hard wired into our brains.  Humans are compelled to persuade others see things our way.  Our brains release chemicals that drive this behavior. This causes what Judith Glazer calls blind spots.

This blind spot is what causes salespeople to be pushy and pitchy.  We want the prospect to see that our product and service is the right solution. This is transactional.  When a salesperson tries to persuade without developing common ground or demonstration of empathy for the situation, fear is triggered in the prospect.  This is a barrier that becomes difficult to overcome.  

The salesperson doesn’t recognize what they are doing (the blind spot) and they keep pushing causing the prospects amygdala to amp up the fear pushing the prospect away.  This kills trust.

Another blind spot salespeople have is they don’t understand that what the rep is saying is not what the prospect is hearing.  Yes – read that again.  This blind spot causes poor communication in just about every type of relationship – your team, your family and friends. 

The salesperson remembers what they perceived about the conversation, not necessarily what the prospect heard or understood.  They go too fast and don’t check in with the prospect to see if the listener actually understands or if they are on the same page.  This is often called happy ears, but is much worse.

The person talking is not in control of the conversation.  The internal dialogue that the listener is having is not what the speaker thinks it is, so this requires the speaker to slow down, and check in with the listener.  The salesperson who talks too much is not connected to the prospect. The prospect is having their own thoughts and take-aways and these are not necessarily in alignment with the salesperson. 

Neuroscientists have demonstrated that people check out of a conversation every 12 to 18 seconds to reassess and evaluate.  We remember not what was said, but what we interpreted from the conversation.  The listener is bringing all of their experiences and memories of similar conversations to this current conversation and taking short cuts.  It is easy for a salesperson to believe they connected and made a point, but the prospect “heard” something completely different.  

The meaning and take-aways reside with the listener NOT the speaker.

Salespeople must slow down.  Gain confirmation along the way and summarize what was said to insure everyone is on the same page.  They must assume that the communication is not always clear.  

Sales conversations go sideways early.  Rapport and trust are not created earlier.  This allows distrust and fear to operate in the prospects mind. So, all the talking, pitching is not falling on deaf ears.  The talking and pitching is driving fear and mistrust in your prospects.

The solution is to think differently about all conversations.  Assume there is a gap between what you believe and what the person you are talking to believes.  This goes for sales, but also leadership communicating with employees.  

We must bring our listeners along as we navigate a conversation slowly.  The conversation is not about a transaction or persuasion.  It is about discovery.  Most sales process have a discovery element.  A discovery question is about asking a question that you do not know the answer to, so we must listen and gain understanding. 

Communication is about listening not talking. Think about a sales call as discovery, so you must ask enough questions to find challenges the prospect has.  To sell something to a prospect is not persuading, but bridging a gap of fear and distrust and helping.  

Salespeople operate in an environment where their prospects are in a perpetual state of distrust and fear.  The fearful state of mind alters the reality of prospects and how they interact with salespeople.  It is the responsibility and the challenge of the salesperson to elevate their approach to conversational intelligence by being aware of their blind spots. 

As a CEO or Leader of a team, ask yourself:  is your organization or team operating in state of fear and distrust?  Salespeople perpetuate fear in prospects by pitching.  Leadership’s blind spot is perpetuating a dynamic of distrust by tell the team exactly what to do without inquiry.  When leaders and managers engage their teams as an advocate, seek information and share ideas, the team dynamic improves. 

Just being aware of potential blind spots and paying attention to the cues you can pick up from the listener will improve your conversational intelligence.