Few would argue that one of the most important skills a salesperson can have is to understand what the customer is thinking, but that’s a skill that’s difficult to measure. Instead, hiring managers rely on evidence of past sales success (a good predictor of future performance) and the interview (a reasonable simulation of an in-person sales call).

Perhaps those managers hiring salespeople should consider checking the candidate’s SAT Verbal score, too. An interesting new study from Wellesley College researchers suggests that advanced language skills correlate with the ability to predict what another person is thinking:

The research was conducted in Nicaragua using deaf adults who had developed varying degrees of sign language skills. The subjects were shown a sequence of pictures that told a story, and then asked to choose one of two pictures to complete the story. The subjects with advanced signing skills were more likely to correctly predict what one of the participants in the story was thinking and choose the right picture to complete the sequence.

Subjects who improved their language skills (signing, in this case) over a two-year period also improved their perfomance on the “mind reading” test.

The findings support the hypothesis that although an implicit understand­ing of other people’s knowledge and belief states develops early in life, ad­vanced language is needed “to unlock the ability to productively use it,” Pyers says. [From Scientific American Mind – Ability to Guess Others’ Thoughts Tied to Language Proficiency by Nicole Branan.]

So, hiring an articulate salesperson may have a dual benefit: not only will that individual likely make a better impression on the customer, but he or she may be better able to “read” the customer’s intentions.

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