Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

The psychology of sales

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

In a world where first impressions take just milliseconds to form, we look at the psychology of selling and spill the secrets to sale success.

Owning a business is no small feat and being able to sell your product takes particular skill. Selling in itself is an art form that takes practice to make perfect.

While long-standing companies may rely on their lengthy track records; the lavish products of high end retailers may adorn magazine spreads; and huge marketing teams work tirelessly for multinational corporations; time, money and an army of staff are luxuries not everyone can afford. However, by understanding how your customer thinks (and shops), you can help grow your bottom line and expand your business through psychology.

A man in a cafe places jar of biscuits on table

1. Gift giving

Everybody loves free.

And who doesn’t love a surprise? In fact, we react well to the new and unexpected. When there’s a surprise incentive like free postage, the gift of giving has been known to influence sales (worth considering if your budget allows for it).

The ‘gift of content’ – that is, an added extra in the form of a personalised recommendation or a unique opportunity – can be a good way for small businesses to provide value to new customers and increase loyalty in high value existing customers. StyleSeek presents new users to their site with ‘StyleGame’ – a free, fun quiz recommending clothes and accessories based on the photographs they like.

Likewise, Louis Vuitton offers free personalisation in the form of adding your initials with the purchase of certain products.

The power of paying nothing is very influential. According to psychologist and author Dan Ariely, “FREE! gives us such an emotional charge that we perceive what is being offered as immensely more valuable than it really is”. 

2. Create a connection

People make decisions emotionally.

Regardless of your product, purchases are made based on feelings. How we feel about something we want is the impulse that drives the purchase and this is as much influenced by the product itself as the look of the store or the person behind the counter.

In his book “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Error and the Human Brain”, Antonio Damasio argues that human emotion plays a huge role in how human beings make decisions. Essentially, we put the emotions from previous experiences onto our decision, which in turn informs how we think.

Whilst most small businesses don’t have the budgets for high-profile endorsements that take advantage of existing sentiment, there are other and less costly ways of achieving the same effect:

  • Develop your personal brand to appeal to your target audience, this creates a natural comfort from the onset
  • Be a social brand and engage with your customers to discuss and share conversation on the things they’re interested in. This helps to build the relationship between you and current and prospective customers
  • Be genuine. A brand that is honest and transparent builds the trust of its audience

3. Social proof

Consumers trust other consumers.

In a survey undertaken by Search Engine Land in 2014, nearly 9 in 10 consumers admitted to reading online reviews to determine the quality of a local business.

Humans are social creatures by nature and we tend to like things just because other people do. Today, the internet is a haven for customer-led product review sites and anything that showcases the popularity of your product can trigger a response.

So, have you had good press? Mention it. Received thank-you emails from customers? Quote them (but ask first). Found yourself on the Instagram newsfeed? Re-gram it.

Whether online or offline, small accumulated product experiences become crucial as they shape customers’ initial consideration. 

4. Scarcity

Fear Of Missing Out.

There are endless justifications for not buying something, but fear of losing out can be a powerful motivator.

In his seminal 1984 book, “Influence: Science and Practice”, Robert Cialdini identified six principles of influence. As a professor of psychology and marketing, he identified ‘scarcity’ as an effective marketing tactic. Should marketers apply a sense of limited availability to their product, it can impact on purchases as consumers feel urgency in making a decision ‘in case the offer ended or the last product sold’.  

An example of a brand whose business model is based on the fear of missing out is Lune Croissanterie in Elwood, Victoria. They bake and sell a limited amount of pastries, and once sold out, the shop is closed (usually by 9am). 

By setting deadlines for sales and quantifying a remaining amount, you humanise the extent to which the offer is still available, accentuating the imminent need to act. 

That’s a wrap

Using psychology in your marketing or bias tactics can be powerful tools of persuasion. How we communicate our product and our offers can have a direct influence on sales. Therefore, how we train our teams and prepare our merchandise are crucial to nailing sales success.

The way consumers buy products is changing

Learn how mobile devices are changing bricks and mortar stores here.

Find Out More

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