The art of sales is the art of assisting people in coming to effective decisions. But how do people come to decisions, what is the process of decision making, and how can we come to know and support powerful decision making?

Previously, we had spoken about the unconscious forces that determine the sales process and its outcome. Though these forces are unconscious, they are the true drivers of the “conscious” choices we make. If you have been following these articles, there is much you have already come to understand about the power of attention, intention, congruence in action and how to “read” other people.

Now let’s take our ability to read others much deeper. When we were very young, we did not have a decision-making process. Making decisions was a laborious task. Over time we developed a pattern, a groove in our minds, a habitual way that we could go about deciding anything. With the setting of this pattern, we found ourselves able to decide any number of things quickly and with much less effort. It became our “decision-making strategy.” In the beginning you determined it (and here comes the catch), but now it determines you.

You are no longer aware of your strategy. It operates automatically, mechanically and you have no choice when it comes to making decisions. In sales, knowing this about others is a hidden advantage.

The hidden advantage comes in being able to read other people’s decision-making strategies, and the best time is during the initial small talk, when people have not yet set up a defensive filter because the sales call has not yet begun. In most small talk situations, both people are thinking (while the other person is talking) about what they are going to say next.

What I recommend during the small talk phase of a conversation is that as a salesperson/master communicator, it is your job to listen. Real bonding between people happens when a person feels listened to or understood – not by talking. One of the most productive ways to go beyond just talking about the weather, travel or what the person has in their office is to ask them questions that will generate an understanding of them and of how they make decisions.

Begin by asking them, “How did you first get started at (whatever their career or business is or was)?” Another great question to ask is, “What do you find most challenging about (their career, business, retirement, etc.)?”

While they are answering all you want to do is listen. In particular, you want to listen for when they say something that indicates that they made a decision. For example, “Well, when I was young I came out of college thinking I was going to be a doctor, but instead I decided I would …” This is the point at which you ask them the key question for discovering their decision-making strategy: “How did you decide that?” or “How did you choose that?”

The wording is critical because the “how” is a process question and the “decide” or “choose” is directing their minds to speak about the process of how they make decisions. The reality is they have no idea how they do it and neither do you – it’s all unconscious.

As they are speaking you will need to listen closely. If you do, they will begin to give you very clear information about how they think, which is critical to helping them to make powerful decisions. Most sales people get stuck at the level of content and they may end up knowing a lot about the decisions people made or what they think about the decisions they have made, but they know nothing about how the person makes decisions.

This week give the simple questions in this article a try, use the power of attention (I describe how to do this in some of my past columns) and see what you can discover about how people make decisions.