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Updated Feb 02, 2024

The Psychology of Sales

Learning the psychology of sales can help you understand and reach your customers.

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Max Freedman, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
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To succeed in selling, it is vital to understand who your customers are and what motivates them to spend their money. Psychology in selling involves zeroing in on customers’ emotional needs. Putting yourself in a customer’s shoes helps manage your sales pitch. Most individuals buy based on emotion rather than logic. There are six typical emotional responses to a sale, and understanding these psychological attitudes relates directly to your marketing efforts.

What is the psychology of sales?

Sales psychology is a type of process that involves considering the psyche of your target market to sell your products and services. Instead of convincing customers they need your product or service, you find a way to market to their current wants and needs. Individuals purchase in different ways. Some customers buy impulsively and rationalize the purchase later; others use logic and reason over emotion.

Sales professionals can tap into a customer’s emotions as a way to close a sale. A common mistake in sales pitches is focusing on costs. If a sales associate understands the values of their target audience, they can use strategies to show how the product or service aligns with those values.

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What are the principles behind the psychology of sales?

In his book Influence, psychologist Robert Cialdini outlined six fundamental principles behind the psychology of sales:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment and consistency
  3. Social proof
  4. Liking
  5. Scarcity
  6. Authority

Each of these principles delves into a person’s psychological responses in a sales setting. Here is more about each one.

Reciprocity 

For reciprocity, the focus is on the emotional need to give something back after receiving something. Think of it like returning a favor: If your company goes out of its way to do something nice for a customer, the customer may feel compelled to make a purchase in return. For example, if you’re given a free sample of a product, you’re more inclined to buy it to reciprocate.

Commitment and consistency 

Commitment refers to the need to make a change in your life. The person may want to quit smoking or lose weight. Marketing efforts would tap into the person’s need to prove that they can remain committed to their goals. This approach is effective because, for a person to stay committed, they might need to use your products consistently. Emphasize this consistency in your marketing to encourage repeat purchases.

Social proof 

Social proof is linked to our innate need to like the same things as our peers. A large percentage of buyers rely on recommendations from friends and family members before making a purchase. Influencer marketing taps into this psychological need. So too can the testimonials or reviews section of your company’s website. When customers see praise from people like themselves, they’ll know you fit their needs.

Liking 

Liking refers to purchasing a product due to a positive emotional response to the person selling it. This is the reason many marketing campaigns use celebrities in their ads. It’s also a good reason to ensure that your sales and customer service associates and reps are friendly.

Did You Know?Did you know
Celebrity endorsements are associated with a 20 to 40 percent increase in sales and trust, the Gitnux Market Data Report 2024 found.

Scarcity 

When it comes to the psychology of choice, less is more. With scarcity, the key motivator for the buyer is the fear that they will miss out on a unique opportunity. This is why ads often use phrases like “limited-time offer.” A person who misses out on this offer may regret having to pay a higher price later, so limited-time offers can lead to a spike in sales.

Authority 

For authority, the buyer is persuaded by individuals who are known as industry experts or authorities. For instance, many advertisements for toothpaste state that the product is endorsed by dental associations and is a brand “trusted by dentists.”

FYIDid you know
Influencer marketing is also an example of authority-based sales psychology, as an influencer's recommendations bear massive weight with their audience.

Other selling psychology principles

In addition to the six key sales psychology principles listed above, here are a few other principles that can help increase the likelihood of a consumer purchasing your products or services.

Compliments

Try complimenting your buyer. People rarely take the time to compliment someone else, and yet, everyone loves a compliment. Complimenting your buyer can surprise them and make their day in ways that can increase the likelihood of a sale. This can be seen as part of the reciprocity principle, and it can also make them like you more, which plays into the liking principle.

Steady communication

Stay in front of your buyer through email marketing campaigns, newsletters, text message marketing and any other means you can. Do not spam them; nobody likes a ton of junk mail, and it will send you to spam land if you are not careful. Be measured about the time, content and value of the messaging. If the user receives information that they can actually use, it is valuable.

Unity

Unity marketing campaigns focus on fulfilling the need for community. For instance, an ad may target fans of a particular sports team. Another example could be a gym advertising its group classes as not just exercise but also social gatherings.

author image
Max Freedman, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
For almost a decade, Max Freedman has been a trusted advisor for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing practical insights to kickstart and elevate their ventures. With hands-on experience in small business management, he offers authentic perspectives on crucial business areas that run the gamut from marketing strategies to employee health insurance. Freedman's guidance is grounded in the real world and based on his years working in and leading operations for small business workplaces. Whether advising on financial statements, retirement plans or e-commerce tactics, his expertise and genuine passion for empowering business owners make him an invaluable resource in the entrepreneurial landscape.
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