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The ‘Chimp’ and its influence on modern sales techniques

The Chimp Paradox

If you’ve read Steve Peters’ seminal work, The Chimp Paradox, you’ll be aware of the useful way that Peters models the brain:

  • The ‘Human’ or pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for executive control/planning/considered responses)
  • The ‘Chimp’ or limbic system
  • The amygdala (emotional reaction)
  • The ‘Computer’ (the subconscious memory bank)

The job description of the ‘Chimp’ is to get our genes into the next generation and is concerned with our most basic needs: food, sex and survival. A very useful thing some 100,000 years ago when our ancestors’ life expectancy was only about 25 years and they were constantly hiding from or fighting predators in the form of animals and other tribes.

The ‘Chimp’ has not evolved

Fast forward to the 21st Century and society is no longer dependent on just the basics, but evolution has not kept pace with human advances and the ‘Chimp’ part of the brain has changed very little. In a sales situation, the problem is that, unchecked, the ‘Chimp’ will react to a difficult buyer or a sales objection with the same intensity as if our very survival was being threatened and we were back on the plains of Africa.

In those times, the three main defence mechanisms of the ‘Chimp’ was flight, fight or freeze. When you bring these mechanisms into a modern sales scenario, they play out in customer interactions in three unhelpful ways:

  • Flight: Get the meeting out the way as quickly as possible and remove yourself from the situation.
  • Fight: Take the customer on and try to impress them with your superior knowledge of products, services, industry and sector. This normally results in an ego-invested knowledge dump, or as we call it ‘showing up and throwing up’.
  • Freeze: This is where the sales person is stuck like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights and will prefer to talk pleasantries rather than business matters. This state is normally the precursor to the flight mode.

None of the above states are conducive to winning business, though I’m willing to bet that, unless you’re one of those lucky ones blessed with an unnerving self-confidence, the vast majority of salespeople who have carried a target would acknowledge that they’ve been caught in at least one of these states at some point in their career.

Dragging your ‘Chimp’ into the 21st century

So what’s the antidote for something that’s so ingrained in our evolutionary psyche?

Bring out your ‘Human’ with mindfulness and practice:

  • Mindfulness: the state of ‘in the moment’ self-awareness that can detect a ‘Chimp’ take-over or muttering before it happens. Committing to practice mindfulness for just 10 minutes a day can make a real and sustainable difference. Search for “guided mindfulness” on Google or YouTube – there are plenty of free introductory exercises to try out.
  • Practice: This is, in our experience, the most underutilised of all sales tools. The ‘Chimp’ is generally triggered by fear, uncertainty and/or doubt about our product knowledge, sales process/methodology, value based propositions and competitive positioning. All of which can be dealt with by enough research, and role-playing exercises with a supportive team member. In the music world, you’ll never get a member of an orchestra just turning up and playing – everyone puts in a lot of practice beforehand, and will spend time tuning up before the performance. In the sports world, the thing that separates the good athletes from the great ones is the amount they practice. So, our challenge to sales managers is to instigate and support a sustained element of practice for your team.

By using both these useful and pragmatic tools, we can successfully tame the ‘Chimp’ mutterings and give ourselves the best possible chance of success.

Contact us to find out more about our innovative sales training which puts your sales team firmly in the ‘Human’ mindset and gives their ‘Chimps’ the elbow.

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