To Improve Sales Outcomes, Try Lateral Thinking

A recent survey of training directors revealed that on average, only 15% of sales calls achieve a level of critical thinking.

In baseball, a player who hits more than 30 out of 100 is a star. A player who hits only 15 out of 100 is unemployed.

If a conversation between two individuals does not obtain a level of critical thought, your chances for convincing that person to do something different are limited. In other words, a customer’s mindset or habits are unlikely to change—and if they don’t find the conversation relevant or stimulating, you’ve wasted your time, diminished your access and reduced your value.

To improve the outcome of your sales calls, apply lateral thinking—an approach which involves viewing the problem in a new and unusual light by rearranging information or responses.

In the book “Lateral Thinking,” author Edward DeBono explains that individuals speak in subconscious patterns and codes, saying the same things day in and out. He suggests that people with short attention spans are particularly prone to resorting to preset patterns or biases—probably a common ailment for many prospects who are speaking with a salesperson.

DeBono goes on to explain that when people have a limited attention span, they activate an incomplete portion of their memory surface during short interactions. Therefore, they’re more likely to maintain their preset memories or biases—and less likely to want to do something different.

Most people are vertical thinkers. They seek the correct answer every step of the way, and that makes sense—they don’t want to make a mistake, so they follow the patterns they’ve learned throughout their career.

But if you rearrange the way you present information or questions, you can get prospects to think differently—breaking their patterns, habits and preset memories in the process.

Consider how a friend, family member or colleague might respond to one of the following questions: “If your middle child or was a different gender, what would you have named them?” “How would XYZ have changed your life?” “If you relocated to a different city when you were younger or attended a different school, how do you think that would have impacted your life?”

These types of questions accomplish something challenging: They encourage the person to reconsider their choices in a non-threatening way. Changing someone’s viewpoints and perspectives is essential to initiating change—and changing that 15% to a 30%.

Charles Brennan is president of Brennan Sales Institute, a provider of advanced and strategic sales training.