How to Use System 1 & System 2 Thinking in Sales Training

Justin Byrne

System 1 System 2 (2)

I’ve always been a little fascinated with psychology; perhaps that’s why I ended up working in sales (sales recruitment no less). Sales is a profession with so many facets, many of which are driven by none other than our very own nature – both when it comes to those doing the selling and those doing the buying.


As our Certus Graduate division branches further into the world of training, we’ve naturally been doing research of our own into the psychology behind sales, particularly the concept of System 1 and System 2 thinking.


Made popular by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, the concept follows that our brain operates on two different platforms: one which involves automatic responses versus another which is slower, more analytical.

  • System 1thinking governs your automatic responses; the intuitive thoughts and reactions we don’t even think about. System 1 thinking is an unconscious process which takes little effort and requires very little of our energy to operate – it’s the things we know inherently, therefore are able to respond with using limited thought or attention. System 1 is also widely regarded to be where our emotional responses are processed.

  • System 2thinking is more analytical; the slow, methodical way of thinking we use to make important decisions or assemble complex responses to questions or circumstances. This is what we use to govern decisions which require real thought; we use System 2 thinking to make the best decision, rather than whatever comes to mind the fastest. System 2 thinking is deliberate, rational and – for want of a better word – systematic.


It’s easy to see how both of these can play a part in a sales role, where we’re constantly responding – whether that’s to a prospect on the phone or an existing customer with needs to meet. But how can we implement System 1 and System 2 methodologies into the training of our salespeople?


Teach them when to switch from System 1 to System 2


In many sales roles – particularly at a graduate or entry-level – we use scripts to help individuals learn the lay of the land in those initial stages of the job. Using a script teaches the basic responses, what’s expected and how a typical sales process should look; effectively, drumming in those System 1 responses from the off. But, as important as that is to do, knowing when to step away from that and start using System 2 instead (i.e. to hear and then handle an objection based on the information you’re given, instead of stepping away from a prospect) is crucial to success in sales.


Help them respond quickly – but not emotionally – even in trying times


It’s no secret that sales can be a tough job. It requires resilience. System 1 thinking can often result in impulsive, emotional responses which sometimes may be detrimental in a sales environment – so reiterate practices which help your sales staff keep these in check, whilst not taking away from those snappy responses to the basic questions. Maintaining professionalism and an air of competency at all times, however difficult that may be under certain circumstances, is a huge part of developing a successful career in sales.


Use case studies and past experiences to help System 2 thinking operate at System 1 speed


The more experience you gain in sales – speaking with different customers, garnering different responses, dealing with different scenarios and experiencing the subsequent outcomes of those actions – the more knowledge you have to draw upon on the next call: fact. So, spend time going over previous scenarios (regardless of the outcome – failure is as great a learning tool in sales as success) and use them for proactive training with the team. Help your team understand the intricacies of the ‘System 2’ portion – who the customer was, what was their need, any objections, and how it was eventually handled – to begin learning what works, what doesn’t, and how to get there next time. Yes, every prospect they deal with is going to be different and require at least some of the System 2 method of thinking – but, the more bridges you can build between past experiences and the present, the faster they’ll be able to draw upon that knowledge and respond in kind.


Here at Certus Graduate, we’re certainly able to help you build a high-performing inside sales team – but, further to our recruitment services, Certus FastStart combines a great recruitment service with a structured introduction to sales training program which combines skills focused training with an assessment of each participants underlying belief systems. The combination provides both the individual and their manager with powerful insight into how to get the best results in a sales role. Contact us to find out more about Certus FastStart. ​