About this guide
All sales efforts are ultimately about persuasion and compliance. Obtaining compliance can be as simple as offering the right product at the right price, but it rarely is. It is too simple for the prospective customer to bookmark your page or simply walk out of your store with a vague mental note to maybe come back another time. Great sales people over the years have worked out techniques to get the prospective customer to comply and say yes before they leave the store.
This is a short list of the principle techniques and the psychology behind them. It describes these techniques and explain why they work. It is principally directed towards online sales but has equal application to offline sales. If properly applied, this knowledge can make a significant difference to the way you approach sales and your results.
The techniques fall into 7 different categories which are described individually below. Examples are given where appropriate as well as suggestions on how to use these techniques.
Triggers are cues which cause people to react in an unthinking automatic way when presented with the cue. They have evolved over time as a reaction to information overload in an increasingly complex world. They are shortcuts which remove the need to analyse every situation which requires thought and decision. Because we react mindlessly to these triggers they can be used to obtain compliance.
The preconception that “high price means quality” is a good example of a trigger. It evolved in a simpler time when higher prices were charged for products which cost more to make. It has survived as response to the huge variety of goods, services and brands we are offered today. It is no longer possible to research and inform ourselves on every new brand or product we are offered on a daily basis, so we use this default formula. Whilst the formula is true in many cases it is not always true. It is, however, true often enough to use as a rule of thumb. It is also easy to apply.
Here’s an example.
We have a range of products at low prices on display and, immediately adjacent, a product at a relatively high price. The high priced product sells out quickly. Why?
The low priced products established the perception that you are offering value. The customer then comes across the higher priced product and the “higher price equals quality” trigger is activated. The higher priced product is perceived as being of exceptional quality at a reasonable price and will be bought. The preconception is the trigger.
Here are some other examples of triggers:
If when you ask someone to do something and give them a reason why they should do it you stand a far greater chance of getting compliance. Strangely, it does not seem to depend on how good the reason is. The use of the word “because” is crucial.
– Discount coupons
Experiments have shown that mailed coupons offering no discount at all produce the same response as coupons with a discount printed on them.
If a customer is shown a few unsuitable or undesirable products first and then shown a high quality, attractive product at the same price a purchase will probably result.
– The cherry on the top
If a customer has made an expensive purchase and is then offered a low priced extra or accessory, it will become very attractive and probably be purchased.
As human beings we are pre-programmed to attempt to repay, in some form, what another person has given us or done for us. This reciprocity stems from a sense of obligation when we receive a gift or a favour. Until we reciprocate, the scales are out of balance and we instinctively try to restore the equilibrium as soon as we can. We are the only species where this characteristic is apparent and it is an important part of what defines us as human beings. It is also the base of the concept of transactions and ultimately, of commerce.
Reciprocation can thus be used to achieve compliance. By giving (or appearing to be giving) we create a sense of obligation in the recipient which can be used to alter their behaviour in some way, which is the essence of compliance. Its application in business is widespread.
The principle is simple. The alteration of behaviour consists of the salesman persuading a potential customer to buy something they would not ordinarily have bought by giving them a gift first. The customer, in many cases, does not even want the gift or the product they were “forced” to buy. Such is the power of reciprocity.
One of the most common examples of this principle is the “free sample” at the exit of the supermarket. The majority of people simply cannot eat the tasty sample, ignore the smiling attendant and walk on. They end up buying some of the product whether they liked it or not.
A common variation of the reciprocity approach known as the “concession” is where the salesman offers the potential customer an expensive product which they choose not buy. The salesman then offers the customer a cheaper product (subtlely implying he is making a concession to the customer) and the customer buys that to assuage the mysterious sense of guilt he feels for not buying the more expensive product.
This approach works particularly well where the salesman has a likeable personality or is representing some worthy cause.
Online sales customers are not as susceptible to this technique because of the lack of face to face contact and the essential anonymity of online engagement. The overall principle still applies.
This technique can be used ethically for online sales in several ways.
– Offer giveaways on your site but make this unconditional.
– Many sites offer free material in exchange for an email address. Instead, offer a download of the free material unconditionally, but politely suggest that you can email it to them if they wish. If they select that option a name/email popup appears.
– Build that subtle sense of obligation by giving without any overt sales pitch. It will pay off.
The desire to be (and appear to be) consistent with a position they have already taken is very strong in the overwhelming majority of people. Society values consistency and inconsistency is often seen as an undesirable personality trait. This desire to appear consistent will cause people to behave in ways that are consistent with and justify the positions they have taken.
It follows then, that if people can be encouraged to take a certain position, they can more easily be made to comply with actions that are consistent with that position.
– A charitable organization anonymously polls housewives in a suburban neighbourhood. The question is “if asked to give 2 hours a week to charity work, what would you say?” Not wanting to appear uncharitable, most respond that they would be prepared to help. A week later the same organisation sends representatives door to door in the same neighbourhood asking for canvassers and gets a high positive response rate.
To take advantage of the consistency principle try and get your potential customers to “take a position” on what they need or are looking for. The more you know about their needs and wants by getting them to disclose them to you, the more difficult it is for them to not buy from you if you are offering appropriate solutions.
This of course is part of the engagement process you should be doing anyway to establish a relationship with your customers. If you know your customers well they will feel an even greater need to remain consistent. If you are offering a product which is appropriate to the position they have taken you will probably make a sale.
Interestingly, making a commitment to do, or stop doing something (taking a position) and informing people you like and respect about that commitment hugely increases the likelihood of you fulfilling that commitment. If you inform them in writing the effect is even greater. In fact, the simple act of writing down your own goals and ambitions significantly increases your chances of achieving them because of the consistency effect.
Social proof is the ultimate “learn by example” tool. It is deeply integrated into the human psyche almost from birth.
Social proof is a method we use to find out what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct. It has particular application to behaviour which is observable and thus measurable without intrusion. The more we see other people behaving a certain way in a given situation the more correct it becomes in our own mind.
Correct can be interpreted here in several ways depending on the context. Correct might mean:
– Socially acceptable
– Of good quality
The tip jar at a local bar offers good insight into social proof. The bar owner “seeds” the jar before opening with a plentiful supply of one dollar notes. Customers at the bar notice the plentiful dollar notes in the jar and assume that it is expected to leave a tip and that a dollar is the appropriate amount.
Social proof has significant potential when it comes to influencing behavior and creating compliance. At its simplest large numbers of people talking about and purchasing a product is the best possible way of getting your customer to comply by buying your product.
Market your products and brands with emphasis on social media. That’s where new customers will get their social proof of how good you are.
If you have social proof make sure to exploit it to the full. Keep your social media marketing campaigns very active. Don’t rest on your laurels.
Excitement can fade quickly without new ideas, new products, fresh thinking.
Stay honest, never fabricate social proof which is not there. You will be caught out.
If you are making impressive sales, have a counter indicating sales on your web site in real time. Social proof turns traffic into sales.
Work hard to get positive testimonials, social proof at its best.
Liking and friendship
This one is very simple. If a customer likes you, the odds of them buying something from you are significantly increased. You have significant leverage to achieve compliance. Logically then we must make efforts to be likable. Don’t underestimate this. There are plenty of other good products out there for your audience to choose from. If they like you that one thing might just swing the decision your way.
What are the ingredients of being liked?
People are much more likely to like somebody who is like them. Treat your audience as equals. Don’t talk down or up to them. Share their problems and anxieties. Show weakness and strength.
Find out about your audience. Compliment small achievements.
Nobody likes the bearer of bad news. Try and create an association between yourself and good positive things.
(4) Don’t sell overtly
The amount of selling pressure we are subjected to in this age of television and the internet is overwhelming and mostly does not work anymore. Allow your website to do the selling. Remain detached from the selling process.
Respond to queries about your product, just don’t slip into hard sell mode.
People who are referred to you by people they like are also more likely to purchase. Encourage your audience to refer friends. Offer them an incentives to do this.
Lastly, I am not suggesting that you can deal with all prospective customers on a one to one basis. Give individuals as much time as you can, but establish the relationships I have described above in your blog, emails and social media presence.
Most people show a remarkable degree of compliance to other people that perceive to be in a position of authority. This deference to authority has evolved essentially as a preferable option to its opposite which is anarchy. Whilst some resent it, most of us are sufficiently conditioned by the consensus to automatically defer to authority without thinking. The takeaway from this is to be found in the impression you create in the minds of your audience. If you are not a well-known authority figure in your field you need to create an aura of confidence and self-belief which you successfully communicate to your audience. Answer questions in a confident and measured fashion. If you don’t know the answer, suggest an email response, then find out quickly and respond with authority. Never fabricate an answer and respond uncertainly. Believe in yourself and they will believe in you.
Strangely, the thought of missing out on something is often a stronger motive to comply with whatever will get it for us, than the anticipation of getting it. Scarcity plays a huge part in establishing the value of many things and artificially created scarcity can have the same effect. The takeaway here is to be honest and create an artificial scarcity without subterfuge. You might offer a product at a significant discount but limit the number available at that price. Count down publicly the sales that occur and the remaining availability. But be consistent, don’t be tempted to extend the offer. Those that committed will resent this, and you.
The psychology behind successful persuasion and compliance can be a valuable tool in your sales and marketing endeavours. Most of these techniques can also be used successfully in dishonest and deceitful ways to achieve sales objectives. I urge you not to cross this line and to use your own discretion as to where you place that line.
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Huge kudos to Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. from whom I have learned much.