The Mind of a Top-Notch Sales Person

Positive and negative moods in the Brain

The Mind of a Top-Notch Sales Person

There is no other person in the world with a future as bright as the one of a good salesman. Selling is the world’s highest paid profession – if you’re good at it. Every company needs top-notch salespeople. And they reward them handsomely. The sky is the limit for them. But how many top-notch salespeople can you really find? And what distinguishes the top 1% from all the other salespeople out there? How come a few have that magic touch and seem to get what they want easily, while all the rest works hard without achieving their goals?

In order to answer these questions from a scientific point of view it is essential to understand how our brain functions. It was long believed that our brains lack flexibility. However, recent research has proven this to be false. Our thoughts and experiences can change the structure and function of our brains, creating new neural pathways. This phenomenon is known as neuroplasticity and is of utmost importance for everybody wanting to become a better salesperson.  


The 6 characteristics that make a top-notch salesperson

So, what makes the difference between the top 1% and all the other salespeople out there? Through our study we have narrowed it down to 6 characterstics. The good news is: Most of them can be learned thanks to neuroplasticity.


1. Optimist or Pessimist?

A study conducted by the University College London suggests that optimists tend to receive negative information selectively. When hearing bad news, the brain scans of optimists showed very low activity in their frontal lobes as opposed to pessimists who had higher activity levels. Meaning: Optimists process negative news differently than pessimists do. This doesn’t mean that optimists don’t register negative news. But they manage to approach hardship in a more productive way.

Frontal Lobe of optimists is less active when hearing negative news than the one of a pessimist.

Frontal Lobe of optimists is less active when hearing negative news than the one of a pessimist.


Why is this important for someone working in sales? How you show up at a customer meeting is essential. This is why before a meeting, you should always ask yourself the following three simple questions:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What am I thinking about?
  • Why am I here?

Let’s say you’re feeling anxious, because you forgot customer samples in the office. Some sales cultures would now suggest to ignore those feelings and take care of the situation. However, recently suggestions have much diverted from this approach. Instead of ignoring your feelings, try to accept them. Then, start looking for a way to turn your issue into an opportunity. The samples you forgot to bring to the meeting can be a great reason for a follow up discussion next week. And there you already created the chance for a second meeting.

By re-framing your feelings and thoughts you can redirect your attention (Why am I here?). Your answer could be: I am here to get to know a potential client, tell them about what our company can do for them and how they can benefit from it. Your focus is now on your mission and not on your anxiety.

How to become an optimist?

Can optimism be learned? Yes. A book called Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman grabbed quite some attention in the 1990s. Based on Seligman’s book the University of Pennsylvania published a study that showed how their most pessimistic students significantly adopted learned optimism.

So how can optimism be learned? Positive moods are associated with more left brain side activity. Negative emotions are stronger associated with right side brain activity.

Positive and negative emotions in the Brain

Positive and negative emotions in the Brain


According to Seligman learned optimism can be adopted by following his ABCDE model:

  • Adversity– The event that causes stress.
  • Belief– How a person interprets the event
  • Consequence– The resulting action from the belief caused by the adversity.
  • Disputation– Using evidence to challenge negative thoughts from A-C.
  • Energizing–  Once a person is able to condition themselves into positive thoughts and behaviors in response to A, B-D will eventually lead to a person feeling more energized.

Translating the model into simple language: If you want to become more optimistic, you first have to understand your reactions to events causing stress. A good way to do this is to use a journal where you document your reactions to adversity (stress causing situations).

After a while, examine your journal entries. Pay particular attention on patterns of pessimism. Brainstorm on how to replace negative thoughts and reactions with positive ones. Keep writing your journal and keep examining your behavior.

After repeated use of this practice, your behavior should start to become more optimistic.

Although it might sound easy now, becoming an optimist doesn’t happen overnight. It is absolutely normal if you don’t see a change immediately, keep working on it. Every attempt gets you closer to becoming a better sales person and living a happier life.

If you’re interested and want to learn more about Learned Optimism I highly recommend you to read Seligman’s book: 


2. How much does a rejection hurt you?

Another long believed misconception was that the best salespeople are not effected by rejection. However, recent studies show that the exact opposite is true. Even the best salespeople get turned down from time to time. This causes mental and emotional frustration.

Anterior Cingulate Cortex is registering emotional pain

Anterior Cingulate Cortex is registering emotional pain


MRI scans conducted through a study of the Colombia University show that good sales people not only feel mental and emotional stress. They showed that the person also was in physical pain. In other words: The best salespeople feel physical pain if a deal goes sideways.


3. Never forget a Face

Facial recognition area of brain

Facial recognition area of brain


Yes, remembering faces is an advantage in every profession where you interact with other people. However, for a salesperson the significance is an entirely different one. People that can remember faces easily tend to read another person’s emotion much more accurately. And this is a true asset for everybody working in sales. Different studies have shown that the ability to read emotions correctly is directly linked to grasping customer requirements quickly.

An MIT study found that the ability to remember faces has nothing to do with a person’s IQ in general. It is an inherited specialized trait. Meaning: You either have good facial recognition genes or you don’t.


4. Talk about your “Why” first.

History’s greatest leaders have all understood how to sell their ideas to the public: Through inspiration. And how did they do it? By starting with why. A company’s why can be their purpose, cause or believe. It is something that very few salespeople can actually explain. They can all explain what their company is doing, most of them can explain how their company is doing it, but hardly any of them explains why their company is doing it. But exactly this is what inspires people. And people still don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

There is a fantastic book about this topic written by Simon Sinek. Simon’s first TEDx talk from 2009 meanwhile is the third most watched TEDx talk of all times. The reason for his huge success is that his ideas are very simple, yet universal and highly effective.

Emotions win over reason every time. When we base a decision on a strong why, we own it. Only if we know why we do things we feel a sense of belonging. Once we are convinced by the why, we’ll go above and beyond to support it. With our money, our time and in cases of some movements, even with our lives.

Great companies, leaders and salesmen have understood that and therefore start their communication with why the do things. They follow with how they do them, eventually followed by what they do.

A fantastic example is Apple. After telling us why the shake up things, they tell us how they do it (easy to use, beautifully designed products). Finally, they let us know what the do (computers, phones, etc.). However, by the time they get to their what, we’re long sold on their cause.

If you want to inspire others, start by telling them why you do things, instead of what you do, and you’ll see a massive change in engagement.

If you want to learn more about how inspiring leaders and the best salespeople use their why, I recommend you to read Simon Sinek’s book start with why:
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5. Selling is a brain to brain process

From a neuroscience perspective, buying and selling are brain-to-brain processes. Dr. Schwartz, a research psychiatrist at UCLA, explains: “Our brains are pattern-making organs that have been programmed to look for cues, visual and emotional, that will determine the resulting behavior. Most of these cues are picked up by the brain and acted on before we are consciously aware. These cues will trigger us into either a threat or reward state.”

What this means is simple: Your customers will either be triggered into a “threat” state or into a “reward” state. If they’re in a threat state, they will likely walk away from you. However, if they are in a reward state, your chances of selling to them stand good because “it just feels right” to them.

So, how do you put your customers into a reward state? Dr. Schwartz suggests to create an environment with your customers that:

  • Alleviates uncertainty
  • Connects emotionally with the customer (Start with why)
  • Includes the customer in the product’s vision (Know your customer’s why)
  • Provides a contrast to allow the customer’s brain to choose or decide
  • Shows how you can provide a tangible solution

By taking the above mentioned 5 points into consideration you are creating a brain friendly selling environment. Thereby, you can put your customers unconsciously into a reward state.


6. Are you humble?

Last but not least, again something that is probably contradicting with traditional stereotypes of a successful sales person. A study of 1,000 top sales performers have found 91% to have medium to high scores of modesty and humility. Meaning, the vast majority of the best performing sales people are not pushy or egotistical.


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