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Is NLP outdated in sales?

After nearly 40 years, the jury is still out on NLP as an approach to sales. Is it a potent weapon in the sales professional’s armoury, or is it a tired hangover from a decade of pseudo-scientific cults? How relevant is it to the medtech industry and its specialised market?

What is NLP?

NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming, an approach to professional (and personal) life that emphasises how we ‘programme’ our own behaviour through the ways in which we think, speak and behave. In relation to sales, NLP offers strategies for modifying our own communication in order to influence the people we are doing business with. Some people see NLP as a useful collection of techniques. Others view it as a science of excellence in human behaviour. To sceptics, however, it is merely a corporate cult of jargon and self-delusion.

Yes: NLP is outdated

Sales expert Andy Preston presents his arguments for viewing NLP as irrelevant to the demanding environment of modern sales.

NLP is mostly outdated when it comes to sales, and is not as useful in the sales arena as most NLP trainers and supporters would have you believe.

You may be surprised to read that statement from someone who has trained in NLP and has many friends in the NLP community – a number of them being trainers in NLP itself. But that’s precisely why I can offer an unbiased opinion on the ‘value’ of NLP to the average sales person (or not).

I used to be a professional buyer. Then I became the top sales person in my industry. Now I travel all over the world, helping people to sell more. Here are the reasons why I think NLP isn’t as appropriate for sales as some people would have you believe:

Reason 1 – NLP was created nearly 40 years ago

NLP was ‘invented’ in the early 1970s at an American university. Nearly 40 years have passed since then, yet some people are still trying to tout NLP as the ‘latest’ technique. Have some things changed since the early 1970s? You bet they have! Buying patterns have changed, lifestyles have changed, people have changed, yet some people still claim nearly 40 years later that NLP is the panacea, the answer to everything. That’s very strange.

Reason 2 – The original concept had nothing to do with sales

When NLP was conceived, it was developed by studying therapy and psychotherapy (and a small number of individual therapists in particular). Nothing to do with sales! In fact, to this day the majority of NLP courses focus on learning the skills and techniques of therapists – not what you’d be expecting to learn if you’d booked on a course to improve your sales skills, is it?

Reason 3 – Your buyers are too ‘savvy’ to fall for the tricks

Buyers and decision makers are getting smarter these days. Gone are the days when you could copy body language to get on better with people. The very people you’re talking to have been on those courses and often comment on what you’re trying to do – not the result you are looking for.

Reason 4 – Instead of helping, NLP ‘skills’ can often damage your chances of making a sale

Far too many people come off an NLP course and focus too much on what ‘type’ of person they’re sitting in front of. They try to derive hidden meaning from every word, or watch for any kind of body movement. Do you think this could be counter-productive when trying to be ‘natural’ in front of a prospect? Of course it could! It’s likely to get you shown the door much faster than normal.

Reason 5 – Even the skills you do learn are difficult to apply in practice

Because NLP comes from an academic base, it’s very theoretical in nature. Plenty of NLP trainers will tell you how ‘useful’ it is for sales, yet often cannot sell themselves! I’ve met thousands of people trained in NLP (including many NLP trainers), but only a few have any kind of sales ability and most can’t even fill their courses with students. That’s not a great place from which to be teaching people how to sell better, is it?


Companies will achieve a far better ROI by identifying the core skills their sales people need, and working on these, than by getting them to learn extraneous techniques that will hamper their chances of making the sales.

Andy Preston is a leading sales expert. To find out more about Andy and read his free sales tips, visit www.andy-preston.com.

No: NLP is not outdated

NLP practitioner Richard White explains why, in his view, NLP can still be a relevant and potent sales technique.

Words are the tools of the trade for sales people. It’s not the words that count but how we use them. Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) provides a wealth of strategies that show us how to use words effectively to communicate, persuade and influence.

It’s fair to say that NLP has more than its fair share of jargon. A lot of NLP techniques were originally discovered by studying a number of top therapists. The aim was to teach the skills to other therapists, and so there is an element of therapy-related jargon. It is perfectly possible for sales people to learn and apply many of the strategies without the jargon. It does, however, require a bit of effort from the trainer, and many NLP trainers who work with companies do still use jargon.

It seems that the top communicators in any discipline share certain language patterns. Indeed, I have discovered that many advanced NLP language patterns can be found in top sales people who have never even heard of NLP!

Many areas of NLP involve language skills that can have a positive impact on sales effectiveness. The following are some practical applications:

Selling stories

This is my favourite application. I have never met a top sales person who does not use stories and metaphors. It is very effective for developing trusted relationships. It is also invaluable when selling complex products and services, where the benefits are not immediately obvious. Stories also have applications such as lead generation to make sales presentations persuasive and to pre-empt objections. Stories in sales are more like anecdotes than fairy stories.

Advanced questioning techniques

NLP provides a deeper understanding of questions and a number of very powerful questioning techniques. It also provides an understanding of how to structure questions to influence someone’s point of view. That can be useful in any area of sales, and especially in qualifying, discovering needs and overcoming objections.

Flexible communication

Top sales people are excellent at adapting their own language to match the way their clients and prospects prefer to communicate. They instinctively use the right kind of words to match how the way their prospects think. NLP gives sales people the ability to develop these skills and increase the range of people they can influence.

Advanced persuasion

NLP includes a number of strategies that are very subtle and can be used conversationally to put ideas across in a highly attractive way – and also to get prospects to see things differently. This has applications in all areas of sales, and especially in overcoming objections and negotiating.

When sales people really ‘get’ NLP, it’s like seeing a child in a sweet shop. Any one of the strategies can have a big impact once mastered. For some people it is a case of learning a new skill, and for others it’s a case of further developing an existing skill and understanding how else they can apply it.

Rather than learning all the NLP techniques together, another approach is to master one or two at a time. It is easy to understand a technique intellectually, but the real power comes when the technique is so ingrained you do not even have to think about it.

There are a lot of areas where NLP can help a sales person to increase their sales effectiveness significantly through improving their language skills. NLP at the basic level can be taught without the jargon, but even with the jargon the potential for greatly improved results makes it worth the effort.

Richard White is Managing Director of Pro-Excellence, a company providing business development coaching and mentoring for business owners, reluctant salespeople and non-sales staff. For more information, visit www.pro-excellence.com.

Do you fancy an argument?

Would you like to be involved in a Medtech Business head-to-head debate?

Send us your views on a topic you feel strongly about. If we can find someone who disagrees with you, we’ll let debate commence.

E-mail joel.lane@healthpublishing.co.uk.

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