Stop Selling on Autopilot

By Whitten & Roy

Why is it so difficult for people to change and develop?

This is one of the great questions of human history. It has been addressed by the leading thinkers in philosophy, theology, psychology, and sociology, as well as new disciplines focusing on the field of transformative learning and change.

This work spans centuries – from ancient practices (e.g., mindful awareness) to the new science of neuroplasticity (the study of how the brain rewires itself to pursue the aims of its owner).

All this reflection points to one fundamental observation about human behavior: We live our lives like we drive our cars…on automatic pilot, or what the Sufis call being asleep instead of awake. We get stuck in ways of thinking and behaving that we keep repeating – even when they’re ineffective and unhelpful.

This is equally true of salespeople.

Operating on Autopilot: Every Salesperson’s Challenge
We have found throughout the world that nearly everyone – customers and salespeople alike – believe selling is the dark art of talking people into buying. Sellers pitch and customers dodge; sellers persuade and customers resist; sellers say (and customers hear) the same things over and over again. Customers may love to buy, but they positively hate being sold.

If salespeople are to excel at what they do, they must change any behavior that is repetitive, inauthentic, and inflexible. They need to respond with fresh eyes and ears to what’s happening right in front of them. They need to listen more and talk less – to explore problems before explaining solutions. Over and over each day, they need the capacity to stop what’s habitual and summon the courage to do something unexpected and effective. They need to turn off the autopilot and be themselves in every conversation.

How Do We Go on Autopilot?
It happens to everyone, starting around five years of age. Very young children are incredibly “neuroplastic.” They learn quickly and deeply; they fearlessly pursue what interests them; and they change naturally and easily.

However, starting about age five, the human brain develops a self-reflective capacity that starts interpreting what it senses in the world. It draws conclusions about what it sees and hears, decides what we need to think and do in response, and makes predictions about what will happen to us if we ever think or behave differently.

This is the birth of the autopilot, and the problem is that we do well enough on automatic that we strongly resist changing. To learn anything new, people must first learn how to “turn off” their autopilot and return to their “natural state” of curiosity, open-mindedness, and desire to learn – just as they were when they were very young and learned so much so quickly with so little conscious effort.

When you can help your salespeople do this, sales training takes off like a rocket.

How to Turn Off Autopilot
Fortunately, this is a very simple process. It is often described as “waking up,” for that is what it feels like when you do it. It is instantly moving into what has been called “present moment awareness.” It is often described as relaxing, calming, focused, and fully aware of what’s happening around you and inside you. It brings curiosity, enjoyment, and an awareness of new possibilities. It is the starting point for any salesperson who wishes to learn something new.

There are several ways to do this, but we prefer the one we learned from the writing of a rather strange character named Gurdjieff. We call it “split attention.” The theory is simple and – this is the best part – you do it while you’re working, while you’re talking to customers or colleagues. You do this by (a) continuing to do whatever you’re doing and (b) at the same time, place part of your attention on something you can physically feel – like your breath, the touch of your fingers, etc.

It’s highly unlikely that you can read those words and go do it. Here’s a video in which we guide you through the experience.

This is simple, but not easy. You’ll get it for a few seconds, and then you’ll drift away from it (back onto autopilot, back into “sleep”). That’s the way it is. That’s the way we learn it. Doing it over and over again throughout the day, returning to the present moment, if only for short periods of time.

Start with that; see where it takes you; notice how you feel and what you start to do differently.

That’s the beginning of the transformative process.

Founded in 2009, Whitten & Roy Partnership takes a radically different approach to sales training that benefits from the combined experience of its two founders. Dr. Roy Whitten is an expert in attitude and its role in human performance. In over 40 years as a trainer, consultant, and coach, he has personally coached and trained more than 100,000 people. Scott Roy, an expert in the art of selling and sales management, has built and run large sales teams as well as founded a nationwide insurance company.