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Crushing quota: Why curiosity matters?


It’s cliché to say but truer then ever: Buyers buy to remove pain or achieve gains. You won’t take a consultative sales training program without the facilitator saying some version of “you need to ask enough questions to elicit your buyer’s pain or gain.”

Current research in neuroscience is helping us understand the emotional states associated with pain and gain. Several studies have focused on the origins of curiosity and have demonstrated that curiosity occurs in the same parts of the brain as pain and gain with implications for hiring, training, role assignment and territory management.

The science

Neuroscience researchers have long known that pain and gain occur in different parts of the brain. More recently they have identified discreet neural pathways associated with two related but distinct types of curiosity: perceptual curiosity (PC) and specific-epistemic curiosity (SEC); as summarized in Mario Livio’s “Why Curiosity Can Be Both Painful and Pleasurable” (Nautilus, September 28, 2017):

  • Removing Pain: PC is akin to clarifying ambiguity and activates the hippocampus, a region sensitive to feelings of need and deprivation. Satisfying one’s PC is comparable to “having good food, good wine, or good sex.” Marieke Jepma of Leiden University discovered that activities associated with PC also enhance retention with obvious implications for training.
  • Achieving Gains: SEC is associated with a general hunger for knowledge. Caltech researchers Min Jeong and Colin Camerer found that activities associated with general curiosity activate the left caudate and bilateral prefrontal cortex… newer brain regions associated with reward stimuli.

In "Why Curiosity Matters" Francesca Gino, Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, analyzed research from Google, IDEO, WebMD & Pixar (amongst others) demonstrating that:

  1. Curiosity is more important to organizational performance than previously thought;
  2. Leaders can increase organizational curiosity with small changes in management style; and,
  3. Although leaders say they treasure inquisitive minds, most stifle curiosity.

While leaders recognize the value of curiosity they tend to fear losing control and, therefore, don’t model the behaviors necessary to encourage their organization to behave curiously.

Why should salespeople and sales leaders care?

Understanding the current state and potential for increasing PC and SEC in your sales organizations provides another lever for identifying and assigning sales talent that is best aligned with your organization’s culture and sales model.

Do you believe that it’s important for account managers and salespeople to express your products and services in terms of a “personal win” for their prospect? A Sales Magazine survey of 100 B2B sales organizations identified the strongest indicators of sales success as:

  • Key relationships with many decision makers and influencers.
  • A clear understanding of business goals & initiatives and how their solutions supported them.
  • Quantified ROI potential for their solution.

Curious salespeople build rapport faster, understand their client’s business and personal issues more intimately, and can connect the dots between their client’s financial engine and the solutions they are selling more effectively.

Measuring curiosity

If we can agree curiosity is important we should be able to agree that it must be measured.

Let’s start with a wild theory (work with me here): People with high Curiosity Quotient (CQ) are above average performers. When you think about your top 20% do you see the markers of curiosity? Observable differences in how they conduct discovery?

  • Time talking vs. listening?
  • How well they know their prospects?
  • Perhaps the types of questions?

Do they understand their clients’ financial engine? Can they describe – in financial AND personal terms – how your solution will impact each stakeholder:

  • CEO - Market cap and that vacation home in Key West
  • CFO - EBITDA and that 529 savings plan for daughter Mary
  • CMO - Revenue Growth and a new top for that ’69 Mustang convertible

Curious salespeople - with their intent in mind - can answer these questions.

Building a more curious sales organization

While we are all born with a unique capacity for curiosity, organizations can nurture curiosity through:

  • The exposure of their workforce to diverse experiences.
  • Their compensation structure.
  • Messaging from leadership.
  • The behaviors they model.

The benefits are greater creativity, increased efficiency, improved morale & retention, stronger collaboration, and better overall organizational performance. In other words, curious sales organizations are more likely to consistently CRUSH QUOTA!

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