Knowing how a peson is going to respond to something is a powerful skill in sales. Sales people who are good at this know what cards to play when. They know what their prospects and customers are going to do with different types of information. They know what information to give, what to hold back, when to give it and how to give it. Good sales people understand the reactions of the people around them and use this knowledge to improve the selling process.
This unique trait and talent is something all of us have. It is more prevalent in some of us than others, but we all have it. The ability to understand how others will respond to us, our actions and information is called Theory of Mind.
Having a theory of mind allows one to attribute thoughts, desires, and intentions to others, to predict or explain their actions, and to posit their intentions. As originally defined, it enables one to understand that mental states can be the cause of—and thus be used to explain and predict—others’ behavior.
Theory of Mind can be likened to empathy. In many ways empathy is at the core of Theory of Mind. By getting into the shoes, and effectively attributing thoughts, desires, and intentions of others to predict actions requires the ability to look outside of ones own mind and perspective. This ability explains the some of the art of sales. That elusive part of sales which is impossible to quantify and measure, the part of sales which differentiates between the good and the great. the part of sales we all know exists but can’t put our finger on — much of it comes from the Theory of Mind.
Can Theory of Mind be cultivated? Can any sales person get it? It appears any can, but requires “social and other experience over many years to bring to fruition.” I’ve seen the best sales people leverage Theory of Mind brilliantly. They manage an environment with power and precision, moving everyone in the same direction, ultimately driving the meeting and the sale in their direction of choice.
Theory of Mind isn’t manipulation, it’s just the opposite. It is understanding and being able to predict how people think, what they want, and how they will respond innately. It’s being able to get in the head of your prospects and lead them with the information and actions they are most in tuned to.
Selling is both a science and an art. Theory of Mind is a little bit of the science behind the art.