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The Psychology of Sales

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

An overview of buyer behavior in the sales process.

  • Psychology in selling involves zeroing in on customers' emotional needs instead of highlighting a product's value.
  • There are seven typical emotional responses to a sale, and understanding these psychological attitudes relates directly to your marketing efforts.
  • Putting yourself in a customer's shoes helps manage your sales pitch. Most individuals buy due to emotion over logic.

How psychology is used in selling

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 needs and wants. There are different ways that individuals buy products. Some customers buy impulsively and rationalize the purchase later. In other cases, the person uses logic and reason over emotion when purchasing new products.

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, strategies can be used to show how the product (or service) stays in line with those values.

Examples of how psychology is used in selling

The psychology of selling was outlined by Robert Cialdini in his book Influence, with seven key principles he highlighted. These principles include reciprocity, commitment, liking, authority, social, scarcity and unity. Each of these principles delves into a person's psychological responses during a sales setting.

For reciprocity, the focus is on the emotional need to give something back after receiving something. As an example, if you're given a free sample of a product, you're more inclined to buy it to reciprocate.   

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 his or her goals.

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.

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

Unity marketing campaigns focus on fulfilling the need for community. For instance, an ad may target fans of a particular sports team.

Social 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.

With scarcity, the key motivator for the buyer is the fear he or she will miss out on a unique opportunity. This is the reason sales copies will often use phrases like "limited time offer."

Why do people buy?

Understanding and relating to your customer's needs is the cornerstone of good marketing. People want to be understood, and being able to relate on a social level can increase your chance of making the sale. 

People you know, like, and trust

According to this principle, we are more likely to say yes if we like the person who is selling it. This is why many celebrities are used to endorse brands. Think of all the fans that will buy a product because they adore the person endorsing a product. If you cannot afford a celebrity, try telling a personal story on your About us section of your website.

Principle of giving

According to this principle, if you receive a gift, you feel compelled to give back. Often, the consumer buys something because they were given a free sample. Giving a gift to someone when they purchase has a two-fold effect. They are pleased with getting it, and they often feel compelled to buy more as a result of receiving it.


People are quite involved in their lives and very rarely take the time to compliment someone else. Try complimenting your buyer. 

Staying relevant

Stay in front of your buyer through e-mail, voice mail, newsletters and any other means you can. Do not spam them; nobody likes a ton of junk mail. They will send you to spam land if you are not careful. Be measured about the time, content, and value of the messaging. How do I define value? If I receive information I can use in my world this is value.

Social proof

We are all social creatures. We often look to what others are saying and doing before we decide on buying. This is why client testimonials are so powerful. In today's sales climate, video testimonials have become very popular. A satisfied customer has 10 times the impact of selling your product or service. Try these techniques to increase your awareness, likability and originality in today's sales landscape.

Image Credit: Wavebreakmedia / Getty Images
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