Any salesperson worth their salt knows using the right words in a pitch means the difference between a monumental win and a colossal failure.
But only the best sellers understand that there’s far more at play here than just words. There are plenty of other ways to subtly nudge buyers towards a yes decision. And using neuro-linguistic programming is one framework for tapping into those techniques.
But what is neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)? Does it work? And how can you use NLP in sales?
This guide takes you through these questions and more. We’ll also look at a proven 4-step framework you can use to sell more with NLP.
What Is Neuro-Linguistic Programming?
First off, let’s define neuro-linguistic programming.
Coined by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in The Structure of Magic I and II, NLP is a framework for explaining and influencing how people think and behave.
Initially, NLP was based on the idea that we operate according to an internal and unconscious “map.” Unfortunately, that map doesn’t always reflect the reality of the world. And by using a system of language, strategies, and subtle behaviors, we can influence and change that map—both in ourselves and others.
One of the most influential aspects of NLP is that so much of our lives are built on unconscious thought and communication. According to Bandler, “The greatest personal limitation is to be found not in the things you want to do and can’t, but in the things you’ve never considered doing.”
Bandler and Grinder also believed that NLP could identify the patterns of thoughts and behaviors of successful individuals. After they were identified, others could then learn how to replicate that same success.
NLP has been applied to everything from improved work productivity and career progression to phobias, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
NLP has a place in the world of B2B sales too to help influence and build rapport with buyers.
Does It Actually Work?
Research on the use of neuro-linguistic programming for treating health conditions is scarce.
One review of five randomized controlled trials found that only one trial indicated any support. The other four showed the opposite. Another report from the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health found zero clinical evidence supporting NLP.
That being said, there’s a growing body of research supporting the use of NLP too.
It seems that, as of now, there isn’t enough data out there to say conclusively if NLP works as a tool for B2B sales professionals. But, as the authors of the first review put it, their conclusion “reflects the limited quantity and quality of NLP research, rather than robust evidence of no effect.”
However, many professional salespeople swear by its application in sales.
How Does NLP Apply to Sales?
The science may still be out on NLP’s effects on health conditions.
But most NLP studies focus exclusively on treating conditions like anxiety and depression. Not for influencing the successful close of a sale. And as you might expect, research on that topic, in particular, is even scarcer.
But instead of thinking of NLP in sales as several specific practices, it’s better to view it as a set of principles.
As a professional salesperson, you know that clinching the deal is about more than just words. Other factors affecting the sale include your:
- Body language
- General demeanor
- And more
These almost invisible cues all influence whether a buyer trusts you or thinks you’re just plain lying. They may not know why they feel that way. But they still feel it all the same.
The value of NLP is that it identifies what’s causing buyers to feel that trust or distrust. It’s a way to step back, examine your subconscious behaviors, and find ways to use them to your advantage.
In the end, NLP in sales isn’t about manipulating others. Instead, it’s a way of refining yourself. And it’s one more way to prove to buyers that your product is the solution to their problems.
NPL in Sales: 4-Step Selling Framework
There are plenty of ways you can apply the principles of neuro-linguistic programming to your processes. Below are four of the best NLP techniques for sales you can start using today.
#1: Emotional Anchoring
The emotional anchoring technique helps induce a specific emotional response they’ve had in the past. These emotional responses can then be associated with a particular outcome (like buying your product).
Let’s say you’re selling a product that lets your buyer achieve greater productivity. A positive outcome of that greater productivity is the ability to attain hard-to-reach goals and impress the C-suite.
An example of emotional anchoring when pitching to this buyer might look like this:
- Get the buyer to recall the feelings of achieving a lofty goal at work.
- Solidify the experience by using visual language and bringing other feelings into the experience (e.g., impressing their boss).
- Anchor that experience with a specific phrase (“your crowning achievement”) or a particular gesture (a chef’s kiss).
- Use that anchor when you talk about what your product can achieve.
By anchoring a powerful experience, you can then tie that anchor back to your product. The result is an intense association that’s more likely to win buy-in.
#2: NLP Phrases for Sales
One way to achieve emotional anchoring is by using emotionally rich language to “prime” a buyer for a specific feeling. This, again, is a technique that many of the best salespeople use intuitively. Even when they aren’t well versed in neuro-linguistic programming or language manipulation.
Also known as “magic words” or “power words,” marketers of all kinds have used these phrases to elicit emotions of rapport and persuasion. Some examples of NLP phrases for sales are:
For positive emotions:
For inspiring curiosity:
For triggering urgency:
- Limited time
- Running out
For building trust:
- No risk
Try peppering these words into your communication with prospects. You’ll be surprised at just how powerful they can be. They can help you break through sales objections, influence a buyers behavior and change selling outcomes.
#3: Body Language & Communication Mirroring
Like attracts like. It’s a core tenet that’s hardwired into our brains. And we’re more likely to get along with those similar to us. So a skilled communicator can use that tendency to their advantage.
Mirroring body language is a technique that puts the buyer at ease and breaks down mental barriers. It can be done by copying the mannerisms, gestures, and posture of the buyer. But it can also apply to communication styles (expressions, humor, cadence, cordiality).
The trick, though, is walking the fine line between mirroring body language too closely and too subtly. Too closely, and they’re likely to catch on and become suspicious. Too subtly, and you won’t achieve much of an effect at all.
Here are a few tips to make your mirroring more successful:
- Maintain great eye contact
- Look for unique hand gestures
- Mimic posture
- Pick out phrases they tend to use
- Match their cadence
- Don’t forget about volume
#4: Mastering Modeling (a.k.a “The Swish Pattern”)
This is one of the more challenging NLP techniques to learn.
The “swish pattern” is a way to inspire buyers to recognize pre-conceived notions they hold in their own heads. These can be biases, investment hang-ups, prejudices—anything that happens automatically in their minds. Once they’re out in the open, you can then show them why overcoming those notions can benefit their business.
Let’s look at an example.
Say you have a buyer that’s extremely averse to investing in optimizing the e-commerce side of their business. Despite all that’s changed in doing business digitally, they still prefer the “old school” way of doing business. You, however, represent a service that offers 24/7 live chat for helping online customers.
So, how do you convince a buyer like that to sign on for a focused e-commerce service like yours? Even when there’s little rapport in the customers relationship?
The swish pattern technique involves showing the buyer the value of investing in the e-commerce side of their business. Pointing out specific statistics and trends is helpful here.
But then (and this is the trick), you have to install a new self-image that comes about because of the investment. A great strategy here is pointing out case studies of similar past clients. Ideally, they’ll be clients that had the same hang-ups as your prospective buyer. The more you’re able to put your prospective buyer in the shoes of satisfied past clients, the better.
By swapping out their old ideas (e-commerce doesn’t matter) with a shiny new self-image (e-commerce can help me thrive in my career), they’re one step closer to signing off on the deal.
Start Using NLP for Sales Today
Using NLP for sales forces you to be more aware of your subconscious behaviors, both verbal and non-verbal. With that newfound awareness and a few new skills and key strategies, you can fine-tune your pitch or sales presentation to meet the specific needs of your buyer. And that, of course, means closing more sales.
Give the four-step NLP framework for selling a try today. But always remember, NLP is about getting better at connecting buyers with your valuable product. Not about manipulating them into a sale.
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