I became aware recently of a sales training course aimed at new business owners that teaches Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). For the reasons listed below I feel NLP is completely inappropriate in modern selling situations and especially for inexperienced sales people.

NLP is an approach to communication, personal development and psychotherapy and was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s. It was widely taught in many sales training courses I attended in the 1980s and was marketed as a ‘silver bullet’ for sales people. It became so prevalent that many professional buyers were sent on NLP courses to understand what sellers might be trying to do to them!

I could see some benefits of NLP but didn’t like the way that it was taught or used in sales situations. The concept of ‘forcing rapport’ through matching and mirroring I felt was just something that people with a high degree of empathy would naturally do anyway. The ability to listen and understand buyer motivations based on the client’s language may have been cutting edge in the 1980s, but so was the cell phone. Since then the cell phone has developed beyond all recognition but NLP on the other hand has been discredited and branded a pseudoscience* by modern neurological scientists. Despite this some leadership and management companies still market and use NLP concepts. I have however noticed a steep decline in its use when training sales people.

*Pseudoscience includes beliefs, theories, or practices that have been or are considered scientific, but have no basis in scientific fact. This could mean they were disproved scientifically, can’t be tested or lack evidence to support them.

These are the reasons why I would not advocate the use of NLP when selling, especially for inexperienced people:

  • It teaches the wrong ethos for modern selling. Modern selling is not something you ‘do to’ people. Modern selling is a collaborative process.
  • Mirroring the body language of a prospective client means you are ‘acting’, acting is the art of pretending to be someone else. It is therefore false behaviour.
  • Modern buyers avoid dealing with sales people until THEY have done their research and due diligence. When we are contacted by people they are 70% ready to buy and therefore the deal is ours to LOSE! Don’t mess it up by trying to be clever.
  • NLP is just not needed. Focus on developing excellent listening and questioning skills and TRULY understand how your product or service will add value to their business.

Where do you stand when it comes to NLP and sales? Best thing since sliced bread or chocolate fireguard?

Thank you for reading!

Stuart Allen ~ MD of The Sales Performance Company Ltd


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