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If NLP is Dead, What Now?

Although neurolinguistic programming (NLP) was invented back in the 70’s it was during the 90’s that it began its meteoric rise to fame. Unless you’ve been hiding under your desks for a decade or two you will have been unable to escape this trail-blazing acronym. Hailed as the sales and marketing Holy Grail, NLP quickly became the buzz word for any company pitching their services to any human. If you didn’t mention or use NLP somewhere in your copy you may as well have broken into the Natural History Museum and slept with all the other dinosaurs.

Tim Newman, Telemarketing Specialist

The Telemarketing Company

If you’re one of the people who has indeed barricaded themselves under the desk for a couple of decades here’s how Wikipedia explains NLP in brief:

“Neuro-linguistic programming is an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, United States in the 1970s. Its creators claim a connection between the neurological processes ("neuro"), language ("linguistic") and behavioural patterns learned through experience ("programming") and that these can be changed to achieve specific goals in life.”

Over the years, as a company, we’ve used (and still use) some of the less blatant and salesy tips and tricks NLP has to offer. Simple behaviours like using open questions to encourage detailed answers and matching a customer’s pace are very effective in the world of telemarketing and always have been.

Along the way we’ve also come across some of the less professional NLP tools; for instance, stuttering so that a customer has to really concentrate to understand what you’re saying, or pausing for unnatural lengths of time to force the customer to speak. Those last examples are, of course, techniques worth swerving.

The term “NLP” has slowly waned in popularity from bold type to small print over the recent years, but it is still promiscuously prevalent; a quick search of LinkedIn shows that more than 35,000 people in the UK still have the acronym stamped on their profile, so people obviously still have a warm spot in their heart for this devilish pseudo-art.

Performers like Derren Brown started to popularise NLP at the beginning of the new millennium; all of a sudden mainstream TV viewers were being shown how us feeble brained humans could be manipulated using discrete audio and visual cues. The cat was out of the bag, could NLP ever work again now that a wider audience was aware of how susceptible they were?

A quick Google search will find you plenty of companies claiming that an NLP-based script can improve sales/leads by “80%” – that’s pretty hard to swallow, but it’s proof that there is still a bit of money to be made in the sector.

NLP can never be swept fully under the carpet. As a concept it is unbelievably broad, covering subtle techniques right the way through to the downright ludicrous.

I guess the real question is, with attention waning and fashions shifting, should we still be using NLP at all? The most obvious point is that if something works then it doesn’t matter how fashionable or unfashionable it is, it should be used. The water is muddied in NLP’s case due to its sprawling breadth and scope. What aspect of a sales pitch / training technique doesn’t in some way roll on to NLP’s turf?

The success of NLP in telemarketing isn’t just the dissemination of specific techniques to telemarketers, it is a myriad of factors. The simple fact that management, trainers and coaches are taking the time to pass on knowledge is a positive and uplifting exercise for those brave telemarketers facing their first calls of the day.

The business’ willingness to transfer knowledge to frontline staff is often enough to give a telemarketer the oompf he needs, regardless of content. That feeling that your company is bothering to spend time and money to pass on nuggets of info is motivating, bolstering and positive.

Yes, of course, if you’re going to force feed your staff avant-garde guff they’re not going to get anything out of it, but any serious attempt to improve performance will have an effect, whether you have your A+ master-ninja-10-star-NLP certificate or not.

Having read a few threads on various sites asking the question “what will happen when NLP dies?” I have realised that the only people who will truly miss it are the practitioners and those whose income relies on it. NLP has become part of the fabric of telemarketing and general sales training. The term “NLP” itself might slowly die off, but its tendrils will forever be squirming in the minds of trainers and coaches. Some skills now attributed to NLP (like matching tone of voice and using similar language to your customer) have been around since long before neurolinguistic programming was termed.

In conclusion, no one can say NLP is ineffective, and if you put effort in to boost morale and share the load, performance is likely to improve. Whether you’re gently brainwashing the customer or accidentally brainwashing yourself, the result will be the same: positive.

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