Expert Advice: The Psychology of Sales

Selling a product or an idea depends on the same basic principles, says marketing prof Dean Manna.

Expert Advice: The Psychology of Sales

Selling is about persuasion. Convincing someone to make a commitment — to choose one product, one service, or one person over another — depends on the same basic principles. First you establish a relationship, then you effectively communicate the benefits of that choice.
The benefits can include one or several of the following: peace of mind, savings of time or money, pleasure, variety, convenience, and self-esteem.

Personality styles affect communication. For a dominant person who doesn’t have a lot of time to deal with individuals, someone who is task-oriented rather than people-oriented, the goal is not to establish a relationship but to solve the task. For a reserved and steady person who needs to be encouraged to make decisions, be patient and show a sense of relationship.

Different customers have different motives. For people who want to be recognized and seen as important, the goal is to show them how they are going to look when they make this decision or buy this product. Those who are detail-oriented and want to operate on a factual basis, provide the details and facts so they can get the work done.

Empathy is key. Whether dealing with a customer or with a boss, try to see where they are coming from. Show them that their welfare is also your concern. Heavy stress tends to reduce a person’s self-esteem. Empathy means doing your best to improve their level of self-esteem and make them feel better.

Look for emotional content. People tend to listen to content but never listen to feelings and emotions. When someone’s emotional, that’s most of the message — they are saying, “Please listen to my emotions.” Recognize that first, then deal with the content after.

Steer carefully around objections. Above all, avoid “I understand how you feel.” No you don’t! You’re not me. “It’s understandable” is a safe zone, or paraphrase their objection without repeating it. Or say “It seems like you want to go in a different direction,” and try an alternative proposal. Also, don’t say “yes, but…” Look instead to acknowledge their suggestion or request, and say “Let’s talk about that.” 

Solve their problem. A salesperson who wakes up wondering how much money they can make today from their customers will not become very successful. Think instead of how you can make your customers benefit. “Let me help you, and once you become successful, you’re going to do business with me because I made you better. Or, my job is to help my boss get promoted, because then they’re going to take me along with them.”

Dean Manna is a marketing professor and director of the new Center for Sales Excellence at RMU. He is a consultant with a background in advertising and real estate and has taught sales psychology for 45 years. Last month he presented a research paper on the topic at the annual meeting in Myrtle Beach of the southeastern chapter of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.