January 26, 2013

Sales Training – Uncompleted Tasks Can Trip You Up

neuroscience and the zeigarnik effect sales trainingWhen tasks are incomplete it causes the brain to unhinge. The Zeigarnik effect named after the Gestalt theorist, Bluma Zeigarnik states that mental tension and unbalance is caused by uncompleted tasks.

So, how does this neuroscience theory affect sales success? Let’s look at at three scenarios, your website, sales professionals and training.


Most readers scan your website to find something that interests them. They check out a bunch of buttons and links on your page. Finally, something grabs their attention and they click on it. They make a mental note to check out the other links or buttons later.
Here’s where the Zeigarnik effect comes into play. Whilst they are reading your sales page, they’ve got a niggling feeling that there’s unfinished business … they feel compelled to click on a button or link that they have earmarked for attention later.
If they click on another button, you’re probably not going to get them back on your page and you’ve lost an opportunity to sell them.

What to do?

It is our job to keep mental tension to a bare minimum. Keep your sales pages simple. Don’t have flashing banners calling for the reader’s attention. Don’t have links that go to other pages. Don’t let there be any distractions! Once you’ve lost them, they aren’t coming back.

Sales Professionals

Have you ever seen a piece of lint on someone’s jacket and felt the urge to remove it? And, have you ever seen someone with a skew tie and you just wanted to straighten it out? If you have, you’re definitely not alone. You are falling for the Zeigarnik effect and you just want to finish unfinished business.
So, if a sales person is sitting in front of you and you see the skew tie, the piece of lint, the loose button, the spot they missed when shaving the Zeigarnik effect unbalances you. All you want to do is fix the faults … it is unfinished business. The mental stress you feel at this time totally distracts you from the sales person’s pitch.

What to do?

As a sales people, it is our job to help our prospect feel at ease. So, make sure that there is nothing to distract your prospect. Check yourself out in the mirror before you go on a sales call so that you leave nothing to chance.


Although training is not selling, one is still trying to get a point across in the most effective manner and hope that it sticks.  Every training room should be kept as clutter-free as possible. If you have extra chairs in the room, remove them. Your delegates will keep wondering when the latecomers will arrive (because those darn chairs have to be filled otherwise it is unfinished business) and this will distract them from your message.

I remember attending a training session where there were glasses on the table, but no water jugs. I kept wondering when the staff would bring the water and I got totally distracted and disengaged from the trainer. And, of course, suddenly I was thirsty. It wasn’t until the water jugs were brought in that the mental tension lifted. And then the air conditioner started making a noise … well you know what comes next, don’t you?

In another instance, the training centre I used had a bunch of framed pictures stacked up on the floor. Both the delegates and I kept wondering why they weren’t hanging on the wall. Not an ideal start to a training session. I for one kept obsessing about the pictures and started getting irritated with the venue staff for not having sorted the pictures out. Having your delegates distracted, having the trainer is quite another thing.

What to do?

Check out your training room and take out anything that will distract your delegates.

So, if you don’t want the Ziegarnik effect to totally derail your sales and training efforts, keep things simple, keep things clean and de-clutter. This little tweak will increase your sales.

Author: Jacques de Villiers talks about the Zeigarnik effect in his sales training courses.

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