The Brain Audit

"You’ve done everything to get [the customer] interested and ready to buy. They obviously like what you’re selling, but they shift, fidget, and inexplicably walk away. And your sure sale slips through your fingers forever."

- The Brain Audit, back cover

In the last several years, selling has really changed. That’s true whether you sell business to business, business to customer, online or in person. Consumers today are more informed, more connected, and more empowered. It’s not unusual that they know more about your product than you. Disruption is a trendy word right now in business. And to say the least, this trend has been very disruptive to salespeople everywhere.

Amidst all this change, it can be very tempting to make drastic changes to the way you sell or the way you position yourself. And while there are definitely times to do so, there are some basic and fundamental selling skills that still make up the foundation of building relationships, establishing trust, and making sales. Sean D’Souza does a great job of reminding us of what those fundamentals are in his book, The Brain Audit.

Having spent nearly my entire professional life in sales, I was eager to get my hands on this book based on a recommendation from a colleague. It’s an easy read packed with some great information. Today, more than ever, it’s really the buying process that’s undergoing a dramatic shift and D’Souza helps the reader understand the psychology of the consumer.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Start With the Process

"The Brain Audit is a language the brain understands. It’s not a language of persuasion. Or coercion. It doesn’t psyche the customer into buying against his or her will. It’s simple a language the brain understands and responds to."
- The Brain Audit, page xvii

Selling has a complexity to it. The buyer goes through several steps, many of them subconscious, before they get to the point where they say, “Yes, I want that.” Knowing the psychology behind this, salespeople can build an approach that follows and support the buyer’s process.

D’Souza suggests the following sequence that salespeople should follow:

1. Identify The Problem
2. Present A Solution
3. Define The Target Profile
4. Handle Objections
5. Collect Testimonials
6. The Risk Reversal
7. Establish Your Uniqueness

I wish I had room to discuss each on in-depth, but that’s not the case. But looking at the list, it’s easy to see where salespeople get off track. For starters, many salespeople are passionate about their product and their company. They believe in what they sell and the value they create. So much so, they like to start the conversation talking about themselves, their solution. They list features and benefits. They talk about promotions and deals. But that doesn’t work unless you’ve identified the problem. People spend money to fix problems – to eliminate pain or create gain. Simple as that. Until you understand what the customer wants to achieve, it’s hard to achieve what you want.

Let’s look at two of these sections in more depth.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Strategic Testimonial

"What if you had a more believable testimonial? A testimonial that not only shows us the ‘after’ scenario, but reveals the ‘before’ as well. A testimonial with the complete picture."
- The Brain Audit, page 87

Everyone in sales understands the value of a testimonial. But this book has completely changed how I will go about collecting them in the future. One of the problems with testimonials is they are “too sugary.” They are filled with lavish praise, making customers skeptical about them in the first place.

D’Souza says there is a specific “construction” that makes testimonials far more effective. “When you use structure, you don’t get random testimonials, but instead you get testimonials that are specific and story-like.”

The key word is story. Testimonials that work tell a story.

  • They share the concerns and hesitation someone had before buying: “I was concerned about the technology or I wasn’t sure it would be worth the investment.”
  • They talk about what happened as a result of buying: “The return on investment was almost immediate.”
  • They highlight a specific feature or benefit: “The software helped identify new opportunities for growth.”
  • They list additional benefits: “I’m a more confident, more energized, more knowledgeable business owner.”
  • They make a recommendation: “If you’re looking for ways to build a stronger, more credible online presence, ABC Company can help.”

With this format as a guideline, you can now begin to coach customers on how to structure their testimonials in the future. 

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Be Remarkable or Be Forgotten

"If you’re customer can’t tell you the uniqueness of your brand in a millisecond, then either you don’t have a uniqueness, or you’ve failed to make your uniqueness well known."
- The Brain Audit, page 126

As the barriers to entry in virtually every market and every industry get smaller, the ability to identify and communicate what makes you unique, what makes you special, and worth paying attention to is arguably the most important thing every business and salesperson needs to establish.

D’Souza says there are two things a business or salesperson must do to accomplish establishing their uniqueness or point of differentiation.

First you have to choose something that really is unique. If someone else can make the same claim, you haven’t succeeded. If someone else can easily copy what you do, that won’t work either. Being unique requires focus, discipline, and commitment.

And second you have to choose one thing. Not two, not three, but one single characteristic, one feature, one skill that you want to be known for and highlight it like crazy. It’s tempting to want to talk about everything you do all the time. And while those things may be important and relevant in specific situations, you need to establish the one thing that makes you different.

You can see how major brands have done this. Volvo cars have plenty of features, but they are known for one thing – safety. Walmart sells a lot of things, but they are known for one thing – low prices.

Very few absolutes exist in sales and marketing, and almost no guarantees. You’re dealing with individuals who have specific needs, different motivations, and different triggers. This means that no process works 100% of the time. It will, however, help you to position your product more effectively and identify which areas you need to make changes or modifications to.

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Joe McGonigal

ABOUT Joe McGonigal

WHO ARE YOU? My name is Joe McGonigal. In October 2012, after 12 years as a sales executive with a large healthcare distributor, I left to start my own venture...
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