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7 Principles You Need to Know About the Psychology of Selling

Psychology of Selling

Posted in Sales Process, and Inbound Sales. 9 min read

Neurology – what goes on in the human brain and why – changes on a very slow timescale.

The mental hardware we’re lugging around between our ears today is still roughly the same as what our ancestors were using many millennia ago. The earliest known cave painters working 30,000 years ago had basically the same mental faculties as Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).

But psychology – our understanding of human thought – is moving faster by the day.

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Since the beginning of time, commerce has been a core part of the human experience. Simple barter exchanges in local areas gave way to recognizable systems of trade as early civilizations minted their first coinage. Surprisingly, many of those “ancient” experiences may as well have happened last week.

For example, the first known customer complaint was recorded circa 1750 B.C. in Ur!

That’s nearly 4,000 years ago – and though the language it was written in is has long been dead, the sentiments are surprisingly familiar. It’s not that a psychology of selling only recently came around: It’s that, until now, we had no way of using data to figure out what it is.

But data is the lifeblood of the modern scientific marketer – and that data is accumulating.

Over the last few years, researchers have done a tremendous job verifying the hunches (and, yes, correcting the mistakes) of the old direct marketing dynamos whose work in the heyday of the mail-order catalog formed the early foundation of today’s digital sales landscape.

In short, we finally have a path to a repeatable, refined psychology of sales.

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It’s not surprising that the incredibly fast pace of the ecommerce world and the enormous number of marketing and sales interactions that take place every minute form the crucible that has finally clarified the lead of sales success stories into the gold of real sales data.

And what have we learned so far?

Here are seven principles of the psychology of selling in 2018.

1. Reciprocity

This is probably the most intuitive thing in the whole psychology of selling: Whenever you do something for someone, or give them something, they’re more likely to do something for you.

Inbound sales pros already have a great grasp of this concept. Working with their inbound marketing colleagues, they’re always adding value to their interactions with leads. Teams do it by ensuring that useful, informative content is always available to help leads reach their goals.

If your brand is doing things the inbound way and posting new content on a regular basis, you are ahead of the game on reciprocity. Just make sure that you’re truly committed. Provide that content regularly and make sure it’s truly aligned with the needs of your best customers.

2. Commitment

Speaking of commitment, it stands on its own as a critical part of the psychology of selling: The observation that once someone makes an initial decision, they usually work hard to avoid contradicting their past position. That is, people want to appear stable, grounded, and consistent.

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Of course, this can be a very bad thing. It’s the same impulse that causes people to double down on decisions that are proving to be destructive. And nobody is consistent all the time. In fact, people often build an emotional case for making a purchase, then rationalize it.

Sales pros who recognize this realize every step toward the sale is a little victory. You want to set up lots of little conversions throughout your sales funnel, often starting with a lead magnet that converts visitors into email subscribers. This way, you foster momentum for a bigger commitment.

Commitment helps lead people on a gradual journey rather than toward a leap of faith.

3. Liking

What are companies doing when they share their brand story or pursue authenticity?

On some level, we all realize that companies can’t have values the same way people do. In many cases, values are determined at the top level and they might have little bearing on the day to day.

Yet, more modern companies are making core values and a mission statement major planks in their brand identity. And younger consumers, led by the millennials, are looking for brands that help them live their own personal values in return. What’s the secret?

The answer is liking. Liking means having a connection – and modern buyers don’t connect with a list of features or a given price point. They feel connection when they’re presented with the opportunity to be the person they want to be, either at work or at home.

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That sense of purpose comes from values that make a real difference in customer experience.

It also comes from testimonials, quotes, and success stories from sources leads will find relatable and want to emulate. You can work this into the visual landscape of your site, too, by taking care with the kind of hero shots you use, the activities they portray, and the central figures.

4. Authority

Everyone is an authority on something, but being an authority on the right things is crucial.

When you hear “authority,” you might think of someone like a business leader, a professor, or even a TV personality like Oprah. All of those are authorities in their own ways.

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The question is: What is your brand the authority on and how do you express that?

Reducing risk is a key factor in influencing any decision-maker to buy. Established authority helps to do that, giving readers confidence by showcasing your specialized expertise.

In B2B contexts, authority is usually disclosed through sophisticated thought leadership content such as white papers and ebooks. However, authority can also be subtle, especially on the web.

For example, simply making sure your site provides a sleek, professional experience is an indicator of authority. It shows that you have the skills, knowledge, and budget to provide a world-class experience that many organizations would not be able to duplicate.

The better known your brand is, the more authoritative it can feel, and vice versa. Always build authority into your content by referencing awards your brand won, events held or participated in, or anything that demonstrates you’re a cut above the rest.

Some people consider this the anchor of the psychology of selling, claiming that all the others are a form of authority. While we won’t go that far, it’s definitely vital to center it in your sights.

5. Social Proof

Social proof is sort of like “authority for the average person.”

After all, people don’t always look to doctors or lawyers when it’s time to make a buy.

Your own friends and family can be “authorities” you rely on if they’ve tackled similar problems by making a purchase. You know you can trust a familiar face over a stranger on the web, even though anonymous web reviews can be mighty social proof, too.

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Social proof, the wisdom of crowds, can be thought of simply as evidence that others have had success in the past making the same buying decision you are pondering. The more “like you” those others seem, the more effective the social proof is in inspiring a sale.

Social proof comes in a variety of forms:

  • Testimonials integrated throughout your web copy and in video format on your site.
  • Case studies that demonstrate how your B2B solution worked in a specific context.
  • Distributed within your copy. Think of things like “Join 10,000 Fellow Marketers!”

We all know that, in fact, 10,000 fellow marketers can be wrong. However, we also know – or think we know, thanks to the quirks of neurology – that 10,000 people aren’t all likely to be wrong about the same thing in the same way at the same time.

You can use that feeling throughout your sales and marketing collateral and within your sales presentation to position a brand as the trusted choice, especially if you have a well-defined niche.

6. Scarcity

Scarcity is one of the most powerful elements of the psychology of selling, especially in B2C.

Long story short, humans are predisposed to believe the rarer something is, the more valuable it is. There’s no greater example of this than the most familiar one: Diamonds.

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Diamonds are unremarkable in almost all ways. Sure, diamond is the hardest naturally occurring substance on Earth, but this is Earth – we’ve made up much harder materials in the lab, and we already use them every day.

Plus, artificial diamonds that can only be identified by experts are cheap and plentiful.

There’s almost no reason why anyone should want a diamond over any other stone.

And yet, people undeniably do, for two main reasons:

  • Diamonds are seen as scarce because a relatively small set amount hits the market yearly.
  • Marketing and sales campaigns by diamond companies focus on the idea of this scarcity.

That really highlights scarcity’s place in the modern psychology of selling!

If you want to see some masters of scarcity at work, check out small online entrepreneurs. Under the cover of being a one-person shop with limited resources, they consistently reinforce the point that they have a limited inventory – and when that inventory is gone, it’s gone.

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There are several different ways this can shake out:

  • Limited time offers that get advertised early but go on for a relatively short duration.
  • Limited in-stock inventory, with the remaining inventory indicated within your site.
  • Ambiguity as to the long-term fate of the product – whether it will be offered again.

Sales pros sitting across the table from a lead have to be subtle about how they employ scarcity in their strategy. Price alone is often not a deciding factor for B2B decision-makers, but there is one resource that will always be both scarce and valuable: time.

You can’t push a decision-maker too far, but you can focus their attention on the scarcity of their passing days. In general, the faster a decision is made, the sooner it yields results. The sooner that happens, the sooner ROI will eclipse what will be possible otherwise.

So, when it comes to B2B, opportunity cost is your main point of scarcity. Use it!

7. Unity

Unity is the belief that everything you present to a potential customer should be congruent.

That is, it should hang together in the form of a single, seamless whole that all makes sense.

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Individuals experience unity with reference to their values. When people don’t have well-defined values, they might tend to make decisions on the spur of the moment or change their decision criteria in ways that produce inconsistent results from one situation to the next.

This is one reason today’s most successful companies home in on the power of brand values.

When your values suffuse every customer touch point, you build a bridge to your audience. Buying decisions that are consonant with values are becoming essential, whether among millennials who want to save the environment or executives who want to be good corporate citizens.

You can take this a step further by using your existing buyer personas and segmentation to define specific interest groups and sell a certain worldview. What are the commonalities between the people your brand is speaking to? What are their shared aspirations? And – yes – what do they dread?

Where do you fit in?

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Answer these questions and you can “bring it all together” in a way that’s psychologically and socially satisfying for your leads. That’s often the magic ingredient that gives you the leading edge against competitors whose solutions are nearly as attractive as yours.

The psychology of selling lets you think faster and better about your leads' desires.

Phew! There you have it: the seven principles of the psychology of selling.

These ideas are so intrinsic to how people think and behave that, no matter how much industries or products change, you’ll still be able to use them. With them, you can always check yourself and ensure you’re moving toward better understanding of – and better rapport with – your leads.

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