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Sales: Is it Art or Is it Science?

That’s a question I’m often asked about business-to-business selling. Left and right brained selling

I define science (in this application of the word) as the ability and willingness of a person to follow a set of processes in order to carry on the business of day-to-day selling. Examples would be formal planning, the use of checklists, dependence upon research, vigilant qualification, etc. Traditionally, people who demonstrated such behavior have been labeled left-brained.

With that in mind, then art (again, as applied to selling) is the ability to excel at such things as interpreting nuances in a customer’s behavior, effectively responding to a question with relevant examples (and diagrams), making decisions based upon gut feel, counting on instinct and acting upon hunches as a critical success factor. That’s typical right-brained behavior.

In my experience, and in the opinion of many sales experts I trust, successful business to business sales people depend on 80 to 90% science and only 10 to 20% art.

Too Much Left Brain

You might observe a person with a 95% bent toward science as being too mechanized and showing a lack of situational awareness and EQ in sales campaigns. They don’t really know what’s going on. They may also be less able to build relationships than their right-brained counterparts. Their inability to pick up on non-verbal cues or come up with creative ways to solve a customer’s problem would prevent them from being consistently effective. Too much left-brained behavior inhibits effective selling.

Too Much Right Brain

Someone with only 60 or 70% (or much less in many cases) of the science component is someone who is probably right-brained, and depends on spontaneous creativity, perhaps using anecdotes and diagrams to paint the vision of a solution for their prospects. They process information randomly, often with the result being the inability to prioritize.

These people would generally feel burdened by discipline and process. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Salespeople are born, not made.” The kind of person to which that characterization would apply would generally not have the level of ability and degree of credibility required to provide a reasonable degree of detail, such as quantified business benefits resulting from their product or service to a finance executive, or technical capabilities to an engineer. (Right-brainers would much prefer to improvise and summarize, leaving the details to sales engineers.)

The challenge for sales leaders, consultants and trainers who know that certain sales reps are at the wrong place on the left- and right-brain continuum, is to understand what inherent traits are required for success at the sales job in question. Some sales jobs require more right-brain tendencies than left-brain and visa versa. Educating reps on what they have to do is one thing. Getting them to do those things is entirely something else. That’s where behavioral change comes into play. Attempting to change certain behaviors of someone that is inherently too left-brained (science) or right-brained (art) is often more of an investment in time and money than most companies are able to make.

So, sales is part science and it’s part art. Understanding the right proportion for your sales people to effectively sell your products and services is critical to their success and yours.

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