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Sales Psychology – The Theory of Mind

July 25, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Life Skills, Mindful selling, Sales Psychology, Sales Relationships

When we interact and work with people (customers, colleagues, managers, friends, family, etc.) it is important to be able to interpret and understand where the other person is coming from – their perspective, especially if we want to continue interacting and working with them in a manner that is beneficial to both parties.

Interpreting and understanding where another person is coming from does not automatically imply that we agree with their perspective.  We may not agree. However, we at least know where they stand, what their perspective is, how they see the world. Ideally, the other person would respond in kind but that is not always the case.  It is critical to our survival that we understand that others might see things differently to ourselves.

This is about Theory of Mind.

customer-relationshipImagine that you are conducting a test with preschool children:

  1. You get a tube of M&M’s and take out the chocolate and put in coloured pencils.
  2. You then ask the child what they think is in the tube (they haven’t seen you take out the chocolate and put in the pencils) and they would (if they know what M&M’s are) say that they think there is chocolate in the tube.
  3. You then show them that there isn’t chocolate, but pencils in the tube.
  4. You ask them: ‘if your best friend (name) walked through the door and saw the tube, what would he/she think was in the tube?’
  5. If the child says pencils, the test is failed. If the child says chocolate the test is positive.

What is being tested here is if the child has developed Theory of Mind or not.

Theory of Mind is the ability to interpret and understand another person’s mind and see their perspective. Successful sales / business professionals have Theory of Mind.

Theory of Mind is a theory insofar as the mind of a person is not directly observable. Therefore one has to make the presumption that others have a mind because each human being can only intuit the existence of their own mind through introspection, and no one has direct access to the mind of another.

Having Theory of Mind allows a person to attribute thoughts, desires and intentions to others, to predict or explain their actions and to posit their intentions.

Empathy is a related concept of Theory of Mind. Empathy means there is recognition and understanding of the different states of mind, including beliefs, desires and particularly emotions of others. It is the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”.

empathy-explainedWhat is interesting is that Theory of Mind appears to be an innate potential ability in people, but an ability that requires social and other experiences over many years to bring to cultivate and bring to fruition.  We know that different people may develop more, or less, effective theories of mind.

To be able to accomplish this essential capability successfully is a life time’s work.  It involves the regular practice and coordination of many skills and capabilities including: active listening, questioning, empathy, reflection, analysis, interpretation and association, paraphrasing, innovating, challenging ideas, assertiveness, diplomacy, etc.  These capabilities, in themselves, can and need to be crafted over many years as a part of our sales / business and people resources if we are to master our roles as sales professionals and leaders.

The mastering of this psychological construct is essential for our success in any professional or personal relationship, especially Sales.

Why is Theory of Mind important to sales and business?

You cannot hope to survive or thrive in business or life without a well developed Theory of Mind. Only through the continuous practice and implementation of Theory of Mind can we fully understand our colleagues, partners and clients’ perspectives and then look for mutually beneficial solutions based on real, tangible and fair exchanges of value.


Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, MD www.barrett.com.au

Empathy – The New Sales Edge

January 18, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Brain Science, Complex Selling & Transactional Selling, Emotional Intelligence, Life Skills, Mindful selling, Neuroscience, Sales Psychology

Late last year we published the 12 Sales Trends Report for 2013 and released a brief summary of each sales trend in December.  Over the year we will delve a little deeper into each sales trend.  To kick off the New Year we will focus on the Sales Trend Empathy.

This sales trend is seeing smart businesses making it a priority to redress the balance and develop our brains’ Interpersonal sensitivities: our empathetic side to take into account the needs of others as well as our own needs.  We will see people working more in collaboration for the mutual benefit of each other while maintaining the best of analytical thinking and risk taking. 

Why?  Well, 2 reasons:

  1. Sadly, for some years now the business world, by and large, has been worshipping at the corporate alter of Profit which has created an Empathy deficit… and most people (read employees, customers, communities, etc.)  do not like it.  It’s not sustainable by itself.
  2. There has been, and still is, a shift away from product as central to the complex sale with businesses and markets becoming more intertwined, and people now featuring at the heart of viable business relationships.   

emotional qualities such as compassion, empathy, and benevolence can be trained

And the good news is that the emotional qualities such as compassion, empathy, and benevolence can be trained: they can be proactively developed and mastered.

Effective selling and building profitable businesses in 21st Century is all about developing viable relationships based on real value and substance which is a combination of the tangible and intangible.

The challenge will be to reconcile the prevailing norms of the cool headedness of the analytical thinking brain and the risk taking brain of the ‘cowboy’ entrepreneur with the empathetic moral compass brain as we navigate and manage the impact of our decisions on individuals, customers, suppliers and communities.

However, making Empathy a priority is not that easy.  A lot of emphasis has been placed on the importance of being ‘analytical’ in business, being rational, yet the newspapers are littered with stories of CEOs and leaders whose rationality and analytical thinking was of the highest order yet the decisions they made failed to consider the people factors, at worst, put the lives of people and communities at risk, destroying or severely eroding their business brands and future viability as well, creating horrendous consequences for those affected by their decisions.

We also read countless stories of risk taking entrepreneurs who are lauded as business celebrities one day for the way they have taken a business from zero to hero faster than the speed of light and then canned the next when their venture takes a dive leaving people jobless and out of pocket, and investors poorer for the experience.

Interestingly, in this increasingly complex world, capabilities such as empathy, compassion and benevolence are emerging as critical qualities of highly successful people, teams, organisations and communities. Even in the highly competitive world of business and selling, it has been found that those sales people and leaders who are able to incorporate these qualities into their daily work and personal lives are finding greater levels of success. This is coming in the form of better sales results and healthier, more prosperous client relationships as well as better personal health, resilience, and overall job and personal satisfaction.

Numerous articles and books are written about that ‘One thing’ or that ‘Secret to Success’ that will solve all your issues – and what happens? It doesn’t work by itself – it needs to work as part of a system.   And so it is with the brain.  The brain is a complex network and being able to access and develop key areas of the brain allowing them to work in concert and counterbalance each other for positive outcomes is the key. 

If you want to understand more about Empathy as a powerful societal force you may enjoy watching a very interesting video (see below)  about a concept called Outrospection by philosopher and author Roman Krznaric who explains how we can help drive social change by stepping outside ourselves. 

Now is the time to reconcile and place equal importance on developing the empathetic parts of our brain as our new sales and business edge.

If you would like to you can purchase and download the detailed 49 page report of the 12 Sales Trends for 2013 now to see which sales trends will have the greatest impact on your sales optimisation efforts in 2013.

 Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au 

How do your clients really perceive you?

October 11, 2012 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Business Acumen, Communication, Education in Sales, Mindful selling, Prospecting, Role Clarity, Sales Coaching, Sales Culture, Sales Leadership, Sales Relationships

Perception is reality. So what do your clients really think of you? Would you be happy with how they perceive you? Are they thinking any of the following when they think about you and your company?:

  1. ‘I’m so glad I’ve met you; my life/business is better off for knowing you.’
  2. ‘Oh that guy (gal), yeh they’re pretty good’
  3. ‘They’re nice but I don’t always have the time to chat with them’
  4. ‘That arrogant so and so’
  5. ‘Aghhh, I don’t trust them, get them out of my office now’
  6. ‘Who?’

Good relationships take time and effort to build and create something really valuable and viable. To the client, having a relationship with a Salesperson, Business Development Manager or Account Manager, who sells to them and manages their account means very little unless they perceive that we actually bring real value to them and the business relationship.

We’ve spoken before about the meaning of Value. Our real mission, as sales professionals is to find out what Value means to each of our clients and in turn have them find Value in us, our team, our products/services and the company that we represent.

However, as much as we would like to have a great relationship with all of our clients we do not seem to be able to achieve this with all of them. It’s a bit like our friendship groups: some are our closest or best friends and we love to spend time with while others are acquaintances whom we see occasionally and do not value as much as we do our best friends. Often this is because we do not know them well enough to be our best friends or we don’t have the time or inclination to progress it any further.

Do you ever get the feeling that your client relationships get stuck in a rut or stall or that they do not value you as much as you value them? We often say ‘If only they could see what we can really do for them, things would be different.’

How you are perceived by your clients is critical to your success with them. If you do not like how you are currently being perceived by your clients there are things you can do to change their perception of you.
The following table aligns customer perceptions to you, your product/service with the expected behaviours you are likely to see from them. It then offers tips about what to do to shift the perception to a better place.

Perception of relationship Client behaviour How to shift client perceptions up ladder
Commodity Sees your offering as a commodity; same as the competitors; they show no loyalty and have high price sensitivity; constantly asking for cheaper prices.

Make sure you differentiate your offering from competitors by presenting your competitive edge; highlighting relevant product/service benefits and demonstrate value beyond product.

Product/service provision Sees more value in what you offer however still looks around at offers from other providers. They have low or some loyalty but still have high price sensitivity. High price sensitivity Enhance customer experience by being a problem solver using your knowledge and experience
Value-add Loyalty is growing; likely to call you in if looking at new deals but may still have you go up against competitors on new deals.  Less price sensitivity and looking more at total cost of ownership. Understand real customer needs and priorities and create more value by being a problem preventer, not just a problem solver.
Partner There is high loyalty to you and your company; you are called on for advice and guidance and they see your offering as adding real value. There is lower price sensitivity and much more emphasis placed on real value and total cost of ownership. Offer a full management partner process.


As clients, we all like to buy from someone whom we trust, both the individual and the company they represent. The other day our team at Barrett was discussing how our clients perceive us and what they really like about us (based on their feedback and testimonials) and the overwhelming theme was that they really valued our straight talking, no BS, tell-it-like-it-is approach, our ability to demystify things and our ability to map a pathway forward to success and appropriately equip them and their teams for the journey ahead. That doesn’t happen by accident. We have to earn the reputation.

There are a number of things you can do

There are a number of things you can do

There are a number of things we can do that will help engender that trust and build highly effective client relationships based on real value:

  • Be open and honest in all communications
  • Keep the customer informed of processes, knowledge, market information, new products and ideas, etc.
  • Be interested in their business
  • Be a real professional and help them define what ‘Success’ will look like
  • Create and offer a planned approach for change
  • Use your business acumen & commercial awareness to offer ideas and make good decisions
  • think about possibility and help realise real results
  • above all be consistent – consistently good.


Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Solution Selling Isn’t as Dead as Some People Thought!

August 30, 2012 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Business Acumen, Communication, Customer Service, Education in Sales, Mindful selling, Sales Culture, Sales Driven Organisations, Sales Skills, Sales Tips

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, salespeople had a clearly defined role. They called on prospective customers, asked a lot of questions in an attempt to understand their customer’s needs, and in many instances they inadvertently helped their customers crystalise their thinking and clarify their needs. At that time salespeople controlled the sales process and comfortably directed their buyers. And buyers were happy to be led because they didn’t know any better.

Back in the 1970′s salespeople had an important role to play in providing customers with the right kind of information needed to make a purchase decision. As custodians of their product knowledge they doled out their ‘wisdom’ helping customers understand how their needs could be satisfied with the benefits of the products or services they were selling.

Remember that at the time needs satisfaction was viewed as a revolutionary approach to selling. It changed the playing field and forced salespeople to take greater cognisance of their customers’ needs and expectations. It taught salespeople to understand the importance of asking questions and explaining benefits that addressed the needs uncovered.

job has changed

job has changed

Since then of course things have changed. Buyers, who once had no option but to turn to salespeople for information, can now get that data, and much more, without the pressure of being sold to. They control the sales process – not the salesperson. As a result many salespeople have woken up to the reality that their job changed without them being aware!

A study done by US based SirisDecisions in November 2011 showed that decision makers complete upwards of 70% of the purchase making process before calling in salespeople. The question is ‘Why’?

It is, according to Peter Finkelstein: Head of Sales Strategy at Barrett: Because salespeople are so busy selling, they didn’t give customers a chance to buy…

In the aftermath of needs satisfaction selling salespeople have become so concerned about understanding buyer needs that they enter every sales call geared to ask questions. The challenge is that they ask the questions, but fail to listen to answers, unless these responses are around acceptance of their product features and benefits. In short, trained to ask questions about the customer’s need for the product or services they are selling, salespeople have overlooked the fact that their customers now have easy access to the Internet and as a result, no longer need to turn to them to explain the features and benefits. Instead, what customers are asking for are salespeople who are prepared to understand their customers’ business and who are skilled at helping them optimise the value of what they have decided they need.

On the upside for buyers, is the plethora of choice. On the downside is the confusion that so much choice encourages. Those salespeople who have the skills of developing trust-based relationships, of facilitation, consulting, problem solving, leadership, business and competitive strategy, risk and change management and who are prepared to explain how their organisation’s offerings can facilitate buyer requirements, already have a competitive advantage because they have made the shift from needs satisfaction to solutions selling. These sales professionals aren’t seen by customers as salespeople, but rather as Enduring Resources - knowledgeable professionals who can be trusted; who are unbiased and who have their customer’s best interests at heart, without compromising their own organisations.

a burden for sales people

a burden for sales people

This newly defined role places an enormous burden on salespeople, unless they are prepared to step up to the plate, make some changes and learn to apply both skills and behaviour in a more effective way. And if the pressure is on salespeople, so too are organisations under pressure to develop a whole new approach to sales structures, selling, sales leadership, remuneration, recognition and reward.

In the B2B context, solution selling is about understanding the impact a situation has on a customer’s business and then working with the customer to systematically, and with as little risk as possible resolve the challenge. To do that “solutions sales professional at Barrett we like to call these salespeople ‘sales fit professionals’:

  • Work in companies that are flexible and that recognise they need to partner with other companies to provide a total, best fit solution
  • Have sales professionals who understand the importance of asking three key questions – what, which and why, and not progressing until they and the customer understand the responses
  • Work tirelessly to earn the trust of the decision-makers so that they are included in the buyer’s strategic decision-making process
  • Never offer suggestions or solutions, but rather engage in group thinking about implications to arrive at the best solution, before considering specifics
  • Work with their customers once the purchase has been made, to help them optimise the value of what they already bought

Listening to the Needs of the Customer

Listening to the Needs of the Customer

All of this demands a new approach. Salespeople have to acquire a new mindset just as much as they do a new skills set. They need to learn to work with their customers throughout the purchasing process, rather than trying to sell their products or services; they need to understand what options the buyer has and the consequence of each of these options. As a result, they need to have more serious discussions with their customers, but they can’t do that if all they are thinking of is selling their products. That means that solutions salespeople need to learn more about business and problem solving techniques than about product features and benefits; more about buyer behaviour than product pack sizes etc.

Something else that has emerged along with the increased urgency for solutions selling is a range of what can best be described as ‘snake oil salesmen’ pushing their version of solutions selling as if it were the new mystical and magic potion. Fortunately most sales leaders are too wise to be caught out with the repackaging concepts. They already have insight into the way they should be selling and have been pushing to migrate to solutions selling for some time.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au


Every Sales Person Starts as an Educator

April 26, 2012 in Communication, Complex Selling & Transactional Selling, Mindful selling, Negotiation, Sales Culture, Sales Skills

‘Educate and Facilitate’ was voted by our readers as the fourth most important sales trend in Barrett’s 2012 Sales Trends Report. With the 21st Century ‘selling’ not being about features and benefits anymore what has taken its place?

Effective selling is a journey from education to opportunity. To sell something we need to educate in order to facilitate an opportunity. Our buyers determine where on that journey we must join them. Is it a well-informed buyer for whom we simply need facilitate the opportunity they seek? Or is it a novice whom we must help educate in order for an opportunity to be realised? Are they somewhere in between?

guide the buyer to destination

guide the buyer to the destination

Our effectiveness as salespeople is determined by our ability to identify where on the sales journey our buyer is and help guide them to their destination.

However creating and developing sales teams who can educate and facilitate is proving to be a greater challenge than many business leaders have anticipated. For years many sales teams were recruited for and trained to be product specialists who could recite product features and benefits. Essentially they were somewhat walking talking brochures. They were not recruited or trained to be educators or facilitators, a very different skills set as you would agree. And yet in today’s information society these new skills are exactly what are required.

Smart sales professionals have always known that they need to calibrate where a prospective customer is at before they start offering up products or solutions. They know their role varies along a continuum of education to facilitation. In 2012 and beyond, smart sales leaders know to recruit in and develop their sales teams to be educators and facilitators not product sales people. Their investment in their sales people will result in a whole new skill set including patience, listening, creative problem solving and dealing with ambiguity and complexity.

customers are at the heart of a sale

customers are at the heart of a sale

Customers will come to value the new and improved sales approach because in 2012 the customer, not the product, will be at the heart of the sale and they know the sales person will help them make the right decisions moving forward.

Here is the key – as we move into more unsettled times (the sales environment is now changing every 6 – 12 months) customers become more and more risk averse.

The most effective way to manage risk is to understand where buyers are on that continuum, just where they are on the knowledge platform. Understanding these two dimensions in the purchasing cycle not only speeds up the process, it gives those salespeople who educate and facilitate an edge.

Because they understand the importance of risk management as a competitive advantage that can’t be easily breached by rival’s who continue to push product related features and benefits.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

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