What’s a sales rep’s favorite word? Yes. Closing a sale ends with a yes. But to get to that point, you need to get inside your customers’ heads to:

  • Understand their individual needs so you can demonstrate how your product will help them
  • Anticipate and overcome objections and deal with them in a way that satisfies the prospect
  • Prepare to negotiate on factors like terms, conditions, price, or other variables so each party is satisfied with the potential deal

Buying decisions are based on 20% logic and 80% emotion

To be successful in sales and as a sales enablement professional, you need to know what drives people emotionally.

Although we humans may like to think of ourselves as logical, intellectual beings, psychological research keeps proving that we’re emotional creatures at heart.

Antonio Damasio, a well-known neuroscientist and respected author once said: “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think”. Consciously or not, feelings are what drive our purchasing decisions, brand preference and customer loyalty.

Sales reps as psychologists

Every good salesperson has a solid grasp of psychology and its concepts, even if they don’t know that this is what’s behind their skills and success. Here, we’ll run through the eight key psychological concepts that come into play during the sales process, and how you can use them strategically to grow your sales - and to include in your sales enablement programs.

Many of them are common sense when you think about it, but are so effective at building influence that they bear emphasizing.

The Reciprocity Principle

One of the first social norms we’re taught from childhood is to say ‘thank you’ when someone is kind to you or gives you a gift. This is the reciprocity principle at a very basic level, and a powerful one that we carry into our adult lives.

You do me, I’ll do you

In practice, it means that most people feel obliged to return a favor (even if we didn’t request the favor in the first place).

Reciprocity is one of the core principles behind sales and marketing: you’re essentially giving away advice and resources that are valuable to customers and potential customers. This encourages them to give you their contact details, sign-up to your mailing list and, hopefully, spend money with you in future.

Lesson

Reciprocity comes into play in sales because when you do something for a prospective customer, it makes it easier for them to do something for you in return. For example, if a sales rep approaches a prospect with generous intent and is able to offer something of value - such as advice, resources like content, or a free trial - this is a step towards engaging in conversation and developing into genuine leads.

This works best when it’s offered:

  • Before asking them for anything in return (now they’re indebted to you)
  • Exclusive and personalized (making them feel special)

The Liking Principle

Sometimes it's not about what's being asked but rather about who is doing the asking. It won’t come as any surprise that people find it easier to say no to a stranger than to someone they know and like. For example, if a friend asked you to review and give feedback on their LinkedIn profile, you’d probably be more willing than if a stranger asked you to do the same.

Let’s go retro

Research has shown that this partly accounts for the success of demonstration parties, which began Tupperware in the 50s and 60s (ask your nan), and continues with Avon, Ann Summers and Body Shop parties, where hosts invite friends and family to their homes to demonstrate and sell products for a commission. With party games and snacks, this sales model is based on social activity as direct sales.

Tupperware party
Image courtesy of NostagliaCentral.com

Lesson

Find common ground. Establish a friendly, authentic and approachable style; ask questions to show you’re genuinely interested in their needs and how you can help them (and, of course, to inform your sales tactics and positioning). Show how you identify with your prospect and create a connection. If you've taken time to get to know your prospective customers and build some rapport, it will be much easier for them to say yes to you.

The Social Proof Principle

This is the concept that when people are not sure what action to take, they often look to the behavior or opinions of others to guide them - especially their peers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 88% of people say they’re more likely to be influenced by word-of-mouth recommendations by someone they know.

And take the example of online reviews or recommendations; according to a Pew Research Center survey: an eye-opening 84% of Americans trust online reviews on sites such as Amazon, Tripadvisor and Trustpilot as much as a personal recommendation.

We’ve got so much in common!

Belonging to a group with shared characteristics appeals to our primitive needs to feel safe and establish social identity. From supporters of a particular football team, to those who can afford to demonstrate their status by owning a Rolex, we’re all pack animals at heart.

Lesson

In general, people are more comfortable ‘going with the crowd’. From a sales point of view, this is where storytelling and case studies come in: when people just like your customers are using a product and found success, it makes them much more likely to consider using it themselves.

The Authority Principle

It almost goes without saying, sales reps need to know their products inside out - not just the technical features, but the benefits it offers to customers, how it sits in the market alongside competitors, etc. But being able to actually demonstrate that credibility is exceptionally important. We need to feel that the person we’re talking to is an expert and that the advice they give is of real value, rather than ‘just a sales pitch’.

Oh, just forget it then...

People seek reassurance that they are making the right decision, whether that’s to continue to engage with the initial conversion, or making the actual decision to purchase. They want to be guided away from the uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty and choice paralysis (where there are so many options to choose from, it's easier to make no decision at all).

Lesson

Empower your salespeople by arming them with simple narratives supported by whiteboards, use cases, storytelling. Encourage them to establish and demonstrate thought leadership through their activity on LinkedIn and other online communities. Make sure they’re confident in their knowledge of your product and its benefits, as well as how to differentiate it convincingly from competitors. Social media is another important tool for developing personal and professional credibility, so encourage profile optimization, and the writing and sharing of high-quality content.

The Consistency Principle

Consistency is a compliance technique that works on the basis that people prefer not to contradict themselves in both actions and beliefs, both from a personal and social point of view. The need for us to feel good about ourselves is such that we want to be seen to be living up to prior choices and commitments.

It’s behind what’s known as the ‘foot-in-the-door’ sales technique (a nod back to the days of door-to-door sales), which is based on the idea that if you can get someone to agree to a small initial request, they will be more likely to agree further down the line to a more significant request, which they would not have agreed to had they been asked outright. The theory is that agreeing to a small favor in the first instance makes someone feel good about themselves (positive self-perception), which they then feel compelled to maintain.

door-to-door salesman


Once you’re in, you’re in

Have you ever been stopped in the street and asked to take part in a survey that will ‘take about two minutes’? Once you’ve stopped and engaged with them, most people will find it psychologically difficult to disengage when the researcher is still asking questions five minutes into the conversation because they have already committed to helping them out. It would seem rude.

Another interpretation is in online remarketing. How often do you see ads following you for sites you’ve previously visited, but not made a purchase? These ads remind you that you invested time in browsing that site - you chose to and you accepted their cookies - and it’s effective in persuading people to return and possibly make a purchase this time (or a further purchase if they’re existing customers).

Lesson

Coach salespeople on how to ask the relevant questions to engage consistency. If a prospect has given their email address (your small request) in order to download your guide to choosing accounting software, you might ask them questions about their current accountancy pain-points and the effect they’re having on their business and profits (the bigger request). This creates a conversion and draws them deeper into revealing information to help the sales rep nurture the sale.

The Scarcity Principle

The fear of missing out can be a potent motivator to take action and is known as the ‘scarcity principle’. Think of those “while stocks last”, “limited offer”, and “sale must end soon!” marketing messages we see everywhere.

This principle tells us people are more motivated by what they stand to lose as opposed to what they might gain. Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his work in this area when he proved that human beings feel the pain of loss anywhere from two to two and half times more than the joy of gaining the same thing. In other words, losing $100 hurts much more than the joy you might feel if you found $100.

It’s all about the FOMO

We also tend to assume that things that are difficult to obtain are usually better than those that are easily available, as are those that other people want. This inclination to be the one that ‘wins’ the coveted item is a strong motivator. What you think of it like this, it explains the popularity of eBay and other auction sites. It’s not just the item itself that compels people to bid, but the competition element.

Lesson

Create excitement and a feeling of urgency with limited edition opportunities or products. Highlight closing or end date for offers, and what the prospect could lose by not going with you, your company or your recommendation. You need to highlight this potential loss if you want more people to take action.

The Comparison Principle

We’re naturally wired to perceive things and people into a context that’s easier to understand by thinking comparatively.

We ask ourselves questions like: is this iPhone value for money? The answer depends on what we’re comparing it with. You may think “no, because it’s more expensive than my last phone”; “yes, because it’s got more functionality than my current model which will save me time and make me productive”; or even, “yes, because it’s flashier than my manager’s so will make me look/feel better about my status”.

On the other hand…

Robert Cialdini, author of The Psychology  of Persuasion, explained that if we see two things in sequence that are different from one another, we will tend to see the second one as more different from the first than it actually is. This is called ‘perceptual contrast’. He gives the example that if you lift a heavy object, followed by one that’s lighter, you’re more likely to judge the second as weighing less than if you hadn’t picked up the heavy one first.

He also tells the story of a real estate agent who deliberately showed potential buyers around houses that were in poor condition and overpriced, before showing them the one they really wanted them to buy. By contrast, the second one looked like a great deal, making customers want it more.

The salesman said: “The house [I want them to buy] looks really great after they’ve first looked at a couple of dumps.”

Lesson

We mentioned choice paralysis earlier: this issue occurs particularly when we have to select from options that are difficult to compare. We become psychologically overwhelmed - paralized - by information with no point of reference that it’s easier to walk away than to make a decision we’re not sure about. Don’t overwhelm a prospect with choices. Discussing two or three competitors or comparative options is often enough (especially ones that have been identified by the customer themselves). Good salespeople make the proper comparison, so customers see their product or service in the best light.

The Because Principle

Giving someone a reason behind a request is a powerful way of increasing the odds of them complying. Think of how often kids ask “why?”. Asking them to stop talking loudly at the movies is more likely to shut them up if you add “... because it’s spoiling the movie for other people”.

As a sales rep, you might say: “Investing in this CRM system will help achieve [your objective of] cost efficiencies because it improves internal processes to understand customer data, helping to create outstanding customer experiences that lead to higher sales and repeat business.”

Lesson

Whenever you make a suggestion to a prospective customer, back it up with a reason using “because”. Show what’s in it for them. Demonstrate how your product will help them, and use it to handle objections effectively.

Conclusion

Familiarity with these eight principles is valuable throughout the various stages of the sales cycle to improve engagement, relationship development and, ultimately, your sales figures. For now, consider how you currently sell and how you might incorporate them into your sales process.

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