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The "Real" Secret Sauce of Selling… Recognition and Situation Awareness:

secret sauce pic Three Ingredients to Boost your Perceptual Skills to the Expert Level:


We've all seen it first hand, that brilliant sales performance where the expert seems to nail every aspect of the selling interaction. But what exactly is that "it" in selling, the part that's hard to put a finger on and we most often dismiss as simply having a knack or "it just comes with experience." But when we peel back the onion a bit more, we discover the underlining intuitive actions that are actually at play. And not only can we unravel the mystery of implicit selling, thanks to science, we can now learn to repeat and improve these skills without sacrificing large amounts of selling time.

What is Recognition and Situation Awareness?

In virtually all domains of expertise, perceptual skills account for the major differences found in experts compared to novices. These are the “windows of expert advantage.” Whether a superior batter in baseball who has the ability to know what pitch type is coming (fastball, curve etc.), or a business executive who detects cues from a situation and makes the right decision, in recognition lies the key to expert performance. Likewise, in sales, the ability to quickly interpret and respond appropriately to messages is part of what separates top sellers from the rest of the pack. Therefore, we refer to recognition in selling as: connecting. During sales interactions, verbal and nonverbal messages flow to and from the seller, requiring rapid decision making. Since these skills are implicit and fluid, we describe them as the “Spidey-sense” we all experience in brief moments of glory. But the top performing experts seem to have their Spydey-sense much more often than others.

One key element of recognition involves situation awareness−a term commonly used in the emergency (fire, medical, and rescue) and military domains. These professionals have to be able to make life and death snap decisions with a high degree of accuracy. This raises the question of the role of situation awareness in selling. While it is not life threatening to mishandle a sales objection, knowing how to adjust to situations is essential to success.

The Price of Oblivion

One major reason that many salespeople struggle to succeed is because of missed cues, a blindness of the sales environment. By blindness, I mean the seller will often ignore cues because she doesn’t see a reason to react. Others may lack intuitive skills which lead them to take the path of least resistance. But either way, if she is consumed with her own presentation, the opportunity for connecting is often lost. 

The Recipe for Improving Sales Recognition
  1. Add 1 pound of “Attentionality” (Laser Mental Focus). To best understand attentionality, we turn to an example in sports. Let’s say a football team wants to win a big game against their arch rival. During the course of that contest, if the players think about scoring touchdowns and winning the game, inevitably, they do not perform well. Therefore, excellent coaches guide their team’s thinking to focus explicitly on the task at hand. The offensive line focus on executing the proper blocking technique while the receiver visualizes the perfect route and catch he will make. And of course the quarterback, hones in on the defensive coverage, before and during the play so he knows exactly where to pass the ball. During interactions, expert sellers don’t think about the past or the future−only what’s happening in that moment. They aren’t thinking about what they had for breakfast or stressing because they just realized they forgot to call a customer back. Instead they’re minds become like trained ninjas, disciplined and focused on achieving the goal by executing selling tasks to the best of their ability.
  2. Sprinkle in some feedback from your sales manager or peers. Ride-a-longs make a great way to build connecting skills using reflective learning. The ideal time for a reflective discussion is right after the joint sales call. The sooner you can talk after ending the call, the more accurate your recall will be. But for reflective learning to take place, you must avoid focusing on results and be open to receive feedback from your colleague. Ask your ride-a-long partner to observe the buyer’s reactions to your presentation as well as your reactions to their messages. The idea is to think about your thinking in order to become more aware of the meaningful cues that affect sales outcomes.
  3. Use the Right Utensils (Tools) for Improving Your Recognition Recipe. Though it’s not necessary to try to identify all situations you might face, it’s useful to prepare for the most common ones. In the chart below, I have listed several of the most common situations along with effective responses derived from top experts.
Situation Response Chart

Here is another excellent job aid: the Situation-Primed Insight Tool. Use it to identify your own selling situations and responses.

Sit Primed Insight Tool

In sum, you now have the recipe for success when you add attentionality to your thinking, sprinkle in some colleague feedback, and use the right tools to enhance and expand your recognition skills over time.