Research Paper By Yong Sun Terrence Ho
(Sales, Business and Leadership Coach, MALAYSIA)
Most B2B (Business to Business) sales practitioners, managers, and leaders that I’ve had the pleasure to work with usually cite product and technical knowledge as the primary competency gap in a salesperson not being able to win the sale. When we drill deeper within the company and with their customers, we usually uncover other key competency gaps such as knowledge of the customer and selling skills. Within selling skills, there are a whole array of skills set that can be addressed – from the sales system (e.g.: planning and knowing which customers to target and prioritize) to knowing how to sell to customer engagement skills, usually the most overlooked and underrated amongst all the competencies to be improved.
Through qualitative research such as interviews about what customer engagement means, several definitions were received with most of them hovering on developing ongoing and loyal relationships. Gallup research shows that a fully-engaged customer represents 23% more revenue than average which supports the notion that highly engaged customers are not only likely to buy but they would return to buy more, promote more, and demonstrate more loyalty. Providing a high-quality customer engagement at the beginning of the relationship or sales process is therefore a crucial competency in a salesperson. Nevertheless, there is no single or one and only customer engagement method that works for every company and salesperson across all industries and yet, salespeople want customers to clearly understand their message, and be moved by it enough to take the desired action resulting in sales. This is no easy task as achieving that ‘perfect’ communication is an ideal that many salespeople dream about when selling a product, service, or idea to customers. Even when we speak the same language there are educational, cultural, environmental, circumstantial, and psychological factors that can influence the way each person understands what is being said. Therefore, a sincere focus on empathy, clarity, and simplicity in the salesperson’s dealings and communication should be the basis for all customer engagement activities. This is where NLP can be useful.
What is NLP?
NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is defined as the “systemic study of human communication and how humans create their reality”. It focuses on replicating excellence studying how successful individuals consistently achieve the results that they do. Applied to the sales environment, these successful salespeople have naturally created internal productive strategies which they can repeat and map over to different sales situation and customers.
The terminology was coined in the late 1960s by Richard Bandler, a computer science undergraduate at the University of California, who had a strong interest in psychotherapy. He noticed how ineffective most therapists were but noticed that there were a few who got results like Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls. He and colleague John Grinder intensively studied them and realized that the supposed “intuition” both used in their work had a structure. Later, Bandler and Grinder studied the hypnotist Milton H Erickson. Combining the approach from the study of the conscious and unconscious behavior of their study subjects; NLP was born.
As the name suggests, it is a combination of 3 components namely neurology, linguistics, and programming.
The structure of our mind; how we think and everything we experience stems from the neurological processes of our five senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Once we make “sense” of what we experience, we then act on it. By understanding neurology, we can achieve excellence in action.
Linguistics is defined as “the scientific study of language (how we use it and how it affects us) and its structure, including the study of grammar, syntax, and phonetics”. We use language to order our thoughts and behaviors to communicate with others. Therefore, it is of little surprise that the essence of creating excellent results comes from excellent communication.
Programming involves an individual’s behavior; meaning the sequence of our internal processes, actions, and outward behaviors that we use to achieve our goals. We can choose to organize our ideas and actions to produce the results we want.
How can the principles of NLP and Coaching complement each other?
Firstly, NLP argues that people are not their behaviors and that when we accept the person, we are free to change behaviors. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”.A client will explore how they look at the world, what inspires them, and what ideas or thoughts might be blocking their progress and then develop action plans, create structures, be accountable and take action to effect the change.
Secondly, NLP states that people already possess everything they need to succeed and to achieve their outcomes and that they simply need to learn how to unlock them. The underlying philosophy behind coaching is that people are resourceful and creative with energy, wisdom, ability, and genius waiting to be set in motion.
Thirdly, NLP is based on the notion that the success of communication is based on the response we get. As we learn to communicate better, the world will respond to us better than before. Through coaching, we will begin to see and think through things in a clearer and more balanced way including our communication as the coach will observe actively and intently what is and is not being communicated and pose deep and powerful questions and thought-provoking.
Finally, NLP is rooted in the principle that we are in charge of our mind, and therefore our life. Coaching is of the view that we can create the life we want, and we can do so faster and more easily by partnering with a coach who helps us utilize the resources within and around us to facilitate change and realize our potential.
From the above, we can summarize that in a sales setting, NLP is a strategic approach, methodology, and skill set to recognize and change the structure of a salesperson’s habits and experience promoting ongoing personal growth. It is also a useful motivational tool, as it supports positive thinking offering insight into sharpening skill sets that might train salespeople on how to be more aware of conditions and clues that leads to positive results. When utilized effectively, it helps enhance the salesperson’s performance and maintain a stronger regulation over their emotional state, mental behavior and stay focused on what they want to achieve.
What are some of the specific customer engagement and sales outcomes that can be achieved?
- Building rapport and create a great first impression with a potential customer.
- Understanding what the need, pain points, and values of the customer.
- Elicit the buying strategy of the customer and presenting the product/service in a way for the customer to arrive at a decision faster.
- To influence, persuade, and negotiate using persuasive language to reframe and handle objections and close the sale.
- Most importantly, NLP is based on modeling successful behaviors, and if someone can be efficient in selling, with the right belief system, right attitude, right communication so can anybody else.
What are some of the NLP strategies and techniques, designed to produce specific sales outcomes, that can complement sales coaching?
Almost every salesperson has been in a situation that gave them an unpleasant feeling. It could be speaking to a room full of power sponsors and key decision-makers of the company who is our customer. Or it could be a meeting where the customer just had a bad morning and is now looking for an outlet to vent. While these feelings of nervousness or anger seem to be automatic or unstoppable, NLP techniques of dissociation can help immensely.
Identify the emotion (e.g. fear, rage, discomfort, shyness, dislike of a situation, etc.) that we want to get rid of. Imagine that we are now looking at ourselves from outside our body (as if we are the mirror looking back at ourselves), experiencing the entire situation from an observer’s perspective. Notice that the feeling changes dramatically. For an added boost, imagine the negative emotion float out or disperse from our body. This added dissociation should take the negative emotion off almost any minor situation.
This technique is especially useful for situations where the salesperson feels that a situation is negative or helpless. Reframing will take any negative situation and empower the salesperson by changing the meaning of the experience into something positive.
For example, a longstanding customer ends the relationship with us and goes to a competitor. That may seem awful, but let’s reframe it – what are the possible benefits of losing the customer? For example, we may now have more time for other key customers who could buy more from us. The customer who left could have been very needy and perhaps now better cared for by someone else. And we would have learned valuable lessons from this relationship loss that will allow us to have even better relationships in the future.
By reframing the meaning of the breakup, we have given ourselves a different experience of it. It is natural to panic or focuses on fear in such situations, but this just leads to more problems. In contrast, shifting our focus by reframing our thoughts helps us to clear our head, feel better, and make responsible, even-handed decisions.
Anchoring has its origins from Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov who experimented with dogs by ringing a bell repeatedly while the dogs were eating. After repeated rings of the bell, he found he could get the dogs to salivate by ringing the bell anytime, even if there was no food present. This created a neurological association between the ringing of the bell and the behavior of salivating called a “conditioned response”.We can use these types of stimulus-response to “anchor” ourselves.
Anchoring helps us to associate any desired positive emotional response with a particular phrase or sensation. When we choose a positive emotion or thought and deliberately connect it to a simple gesture, we can trigger this anchor any time we are feeling low, and our feelings will immediately change.
Identify what you want to feel (e.g. confidence, happiness, calmness, etc.)
Decide on where you would like to place this anchor on your body, such as pulling your earlobe or squeezing a fingernail or it could an accessory on your body, such as your ring on your finger or pendant around your neck. This physical touch will allow you to trigger the intended positive feeling at will. It does not matter where or what you choose, as long as it is a unique touch or feel that you do experience for anything else.
Think of a time in the past when you strongly felt the intended positive state (e.g. confidence). Visualize that moment and get into your body, looking through your own eyes and reliving that memory. Feel free to adjust your body immersing yourself in seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard, and feeling the feeling as you align with the state and memory. This is similar to telling a customer a funny story from the past, and as “get into” the story, you start to laugh again, because you “relive” it.
As you go back to the memory; touch, hold or pull the area or accessory on your body that you chose. You will begin to feel that state (e.g. confidence) as you relive the memory. Stop touching the moment the emotional state peaks and begins to wear off. This will create a neurological stimulus-response that will trigger this anchor or particular state (e.g. confidence) whenever you make that touch the same way again.
This is an easy NLP technique that has the power to help us get along with virtually anyone. This technique involves subtly mirroring another person’s speech (words), tone of voice, gestures, and body language.
People like people who are like themselves including customers. By subtly mirroring the customer, the brain sends out pleasure sensors in the brain which make the customer feel a sense of liking for us who is mirroring them.
The technique is simple- stand or sit the way the customer is standing or sitting. Move or tilt your head the same way. Smile when they smile. Mirror their facial expression. Use the same words in your response. Cross or uncross your legs when they cross or uncross theirs. Mirror their tone of voice, the pace of speech, etc.
The key to creating an unconscious rapport is subtlety. If you are too apparent, the customer may notice consciously, which would most likely break rapport. So keep your mirroring natural and calm – practice, practice, practice.
Research Paper: NLP A Neuro-Linguistic Programming Coaching Model(Research Paper By Robyn Goddard)
What is Coaching? International Coach Academy (ICA) 2018
What is NLP and how does it work? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQiMFs2SIFk
How to use NLP for motivation and sales training? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-PeV8uklrw
How to use NLP phrases for sales & persuasion? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9aPc5jRrnE
Selling with NLP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0KFInf4_rg
NLP and Sales: Sell how the buyer wants to buy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkU3cd7vHt8
Sales and NLP Introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSCyH1Ovle8
NLP in sales – strategies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1a1WhqEwo8