And how does that make you feel?…
This ain’t your grandmother’s psychotherapy. Despite all of his cultural preeminence, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud is now completely outdated and out of favor. Our favorite father of modern psychology has been sidelined, with almost all of his theories disproven by science. So what’s the appeal of Freud and why do we still think of him when it comes to psychology? It’s because we associate him with having supernatural insights into how people think. And who doesn’t want the power to influence people? In the context of any business, this potentially means more sales.
It’s no secret that people make a purchase based on their feelings. Haven’t you heard the saying that retail therapy is cheaper than a psychiatrist? While the path to purchase may start with an unmet need, your customers will only purchase when they feel that they’re making a good decision. That’s right, people don’t buy the best solution, they buy the one they feel the best about. You can draft the most logical argument on earth (looking at you, salespeople writing long-winded essay-style emails) and still lose a deal. It’s no wonder then that a primer on basic psychology can supercharge your sales. Here are the five most important psychology principles for you to know:
1. Social Proof
Social proof is the idea that we look to others to make our decisions. In essence, we’re social animals and we feel more comfortable moving with the entire herd. This is precisely the reason that companies list the logos of their customers prominently on their website. In a way, it says “No need to worry, others have purchased from us and are happy with their decision. We’re a safe bet.”
Leverage social proof in sales:
Do your homework: Before approaching a company or client, draw up a list of your customers that look just like them. This requires a good understanding of their business model or your efforts will surely backfire. For instance, pitching an investment banker the same as you would a personal banker will discredit you right from the get-go (speaking from experience). They may even ask you directly, “Who else in our industry do you work with?” and this is your time to shine. Rattle off some examples and direct them toward relevant case studies.
Use third-party stories: A common mistake is telling people how you’ll help them rather than showing them. Avoid talking in ambiguous, passive voice about potential benefits. Instead, talk concrete terms about real results already driven for companies like theirs. Try the time tested phrase “XYZ company, who you might be familiar with, was able to realize a 10x increase in marketing revenue.” Or if you’re selling to consumers, post some customer testimonials and reviews on your site. This gives people something solid they can sink their teeth into, erasing their concerns whether or not your product or solution will work because it already has.
2. Rule of Reciprocation
People are compelled to return favors, even you don’t ask for them. It’s just common courtesy, right? Our society thrives off of cooperation—we’ve grown up with the instinct to return favors. In fact, it even pains us not to be able to return the favor. Have you ever been frustrated with someone who won’t let you pay the dinner bill as a thank you? Or been offended by someone who refused a gift? I’ve seen sparks fly at otherwise sanguine holiday family gatherings because someone feels indebted but isn’t allowed to pay. We, as humans, feel a psychological anguish to relieve that burden of owing someone, and we’re likely to return oversized gifts to be free of it.
Do favors for people: The magic is in getting people to realize that you’re doing them a favor and it’s not part of your everyday job. Otherwise, people will assume that everything you do for them is standard. Be refreshingly honest and let them know the sorts of hoops that you have to jump to get them what they need. Phrases like, “Just so you’re aware, this is going to take a conversation with my boss…” Make it easy to break that news and drive it home that you think they’re valuable. If you do this well, you’ll find yourself following up on fewer extraneous demands, and clients will feel more gratitude for the attention given. They’ll also feel compelled to respond in kind, which will trigger additional willingness to work together.
Cookies for contracts: On the last day of a month, I once had a tray of freshly baked cookies delivered to a prospect who was holding a contract. There were enough cookies to share with the entire office, and that convinced them to walk across the hall and ask for a signature from their boss that I would not have gotten otherwise. The secret? The power of the rule of reciprocity (and freshly baked cookies).
3. The Contrast Principle
This is the underlying secret to many negotiations: value is completely relative. If I tell you this gold watch is $200, you may think that’s on the pricey side. However, if I tell you the gold watch is $1250, but I can let it go for only $250, you’ll feel that you got an exceptional deal. And chances are, you will be okay with paying more than the $200 you had budgeted. In fact, studies show that you’ll be happier with that purchase and more likely to purchase again. Hence, the reason that all negotiators inflate their initial demands is so that they can end up with what they want and still seem reasonable.
Retail companies do this all the time and it’s been proven to increase the average sales price by 20%. Jewelry stores place oversized “aspirational” pieces up front and let you settle for something that costs less. Men’s suit stores “talk the top of the line” by showing you the most expensive suit, then a less expensive one, and suddenly, albeit pricey, the herringbone pattern suit seems like a good idea. The applications are endless.
Get started on the right foot:
Start high: When you share the price of your product or service with a customer, don’t be afraid to tell them your full list price and let it sink in. Give them time to react before alluding to cheaper options that you can explore with them. Any sales professional that starts out with a discount has committed a grave error: they’ve negotiated with themselves. And in my experience, not only do clients not fully appreciate the up-front discount, but it encourages them to ask for more. So why make your life harder? Allow them to go through the motions and work you down so that by the time they reach the number you wanted to begin with, you’re both satisfied with the result.
4. Authority Principle
People instill automatic trust in things that seem official. Have you ever noticed that you’re being followed by a police car and tensed up, driving exactly the speed limit until you got to a stoplight and realized it was just someone’s Crown Victoria? This is the sort of obedience that authority compels. And people identify authority in many different ways—titles, uniforms, written signs, and more.
One commonly overlooked form of authority is by putting something in writing. I once had a curious customer who wanted every little detail of how our product worked with their existing systems. After countless hours of back and forth explanation, I finally asked our marketing team put the exact explanation into letterhead and published it on our website. The result? Immediately, the credibility issue was solved because no,w the same words, albeit identical, were coming from an authoritative figure. And with no further explanation needed, they purchased.
Bolster your credibility by putting it in writing: When your marketing materials and one-pagers confirm what you’re telling prospects, you’ll have the backing of authority through the power of the written word. If you find yourself forging into new markets and verticals, team up with your marketing team to create whitepapers and blogposts that you can reference.
Bring in your boss: Sometimes, people just want to know that they’re being taken care of by someone with authority. By simply bringing your boss into the conversation to give the same guarantees you would have given, you’ll ease their concerns.
5. Scarcity Principle
We value things more highly when they are scarce or may become so. Examples of this are prevalent in society. In his book Influence, psychologist Robert Cialdini shares a tale about how a specific type of laundry detergent was outlawed in parts of Florida and, suddenly, the neighboring counties saw a skyrocketing use of that detergent. What’s more compelling, users there saw a spike in satisfaction with the laundry detergent and attributed all sorts of wonderful restorative properties to it. Crazy? Hardly. If you’ve ever been told as a kid not to touch something, you know that your desire to do so only increases. And this is what’s happening every day in business, when “limited quantities” of things are advertised as “going fast.” Have you ever see in an online store “4 left in stock” above an item you want? This isn’t a helpful indicator, it’s a sales tactic at work. And it works.
Apply the scarcity principle:
Create urgency with deadlines: There are different deadlines—ones like contract expirations and product launches or ones that your business cycle or model imposes (end of year pricing, start date availability, unusual contract terms, etc.). Focus on the most impact full ones and help clients understand that they can only benefit by acting now because the deal won’t be around forever.
Psychology can empower you with deep insights to woo your prospects. While these may not be superhuman ones, these are certainly effective and time-tested heuristics that can help you persuade already interested buyers down the path of a sale. What are some other psychology principles that are relevant in sales? Share them in the comments below!