Review: “The Science of Selling” by David Hoffeld

What you think you know about sales may be just plain wrong.

That’s because a lot of sales know-how is merely anecdotal and not based on science, according to David Hoffeld, author of the book, The Science of Selling (2016, TarcherPerigee). The book, which releases today, draws upon thousands of studies in psychology and neuroscience to give you a blueprint for getting inside your buyer’s head.

"The Science of Selling" by David Hoffeld

To be sure, every sales professional should read this book. But honestly, I believe there’s something in this book for anyone who wants to understand human nature and how decisions are made. That’s worthy reading for anyone, regardless of whether you’re trying to sell a product—or a great idea—because we often get it wrong.

If fact, one study Hoffeld uncovered concluded that “the majority of behaviors salespeople engage in hinder the likelihood of the sale.” That’s because decision making is often thought of as a rational process: Line up more pros than cons and you’ll get the sale.

It’s is far, far from that. After six years of compiling scientific research on influence and confirming them through field tests, Hoffeld identifies six steps that are “so ingrained in how we humans formulate buying decisions that we rarely noticed we are engaged in it.”

These six steps, or “Six Whys®” as Hoffeld refers to them, are commitments gained throughout the selling process that map to the way our brains process information and make decisions:

  1. Why change? This is ground zero. We’re all subject to the “status quo bias” meaning simply, we resist change. If there’s no reason to change, then no other sales effort matters.
  2. Why now? What’s the compelling reason to change now? Sales people know this challenge, which is often what gets them into trouble. To create urgency they get pushy, only to trigger a psychological response known as reactance. Hoffeld defines reactance as “our intrinsic desire to push back or resist when we perceive that our ability to freely choose is being restricted.”
  3. Why your industry solution? Once a buyer is committed to a change now, where do they turn? It’s easy to assume the choice would be between you and your competitors. But don’t bank on it. You risk losing a sale to an internally developed option or one from outside your industry.
  4. Why you and your company? Every buyer takes a risk purchasing your product or service. According to Hoffeld, “the best way to reduce a buyer’s perception of risk is through trust.” Effective sales people know how to build trust and Hoffeld shares some important trust building strategies.
  5. Why your product or service? Once a buyer knows they can trust you, they are now ready to discern the distinct value of your offering. Amazingly, however, many sales people start with this step—selling “speeds and feeds” in the hope that the product will sell itself.
  6. Why spend the money? Buyers purchase a product or service to either gain an outcome or to prevent a loss. Both motivations require an understanding of the underlying psychology of perceived gains and losses and Hoffeld presents a number of strategies to help discern those motivations.

These Six Whys, in fact, appear very rationale. While we do engage—more or less—in working through each of them, the real clincher is our emotional state as we do. Here, Hoffeld presents some interesting studies on emotions and how emotions impact decision making. He offers strategies on how to detect them and how to help a buyer move to a more favorable emotional frame.

The Science of Selling is packed with insights about human behavior and decision making. I’ve already applied some of the principles I learned with my clients. However, drive its principles with care. Any work describing human behavior—especially one so rich in insights—can be used to manipulate a purchase. It would, of course, be a short lived victory. But for those who want a greater understanding of decision making in order to be of service to their customer, there are few books based on science like this one to sharpen your sales acumen.

Comment below: If you’re in sales, which of the Six Whys do you have most trouble with?


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2 thoughts on “Review: “The Science of Selling” by David Hoffeld

  1. Leary,

    Thanks for your insightful review on David’s book.
    I look forward to gleaning valuable resources to better assist my sales career. I have never read a sales book that covers the science of selling but it seems like it will be a great read.

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