9 Reasons Why Sales Success is All in the Mind

16th January 2017Business Development

Sales success is all in the mind. Have you ever considered:

  • What motivates us to buy things that we don’t need?
  • Why we chose to become loyal to some brands and not others?
  • How successful companies make money out of giving away their products and services?

The answers lie not with sales or marketing but with psychology.

Understanding the way that people think and feel, allows you to trigger positive responses to your sales messages.

Here are 9 reasons why certain types of calls to action resonate with your buyers.

1. You confirm what we already believe

An in-built confirmation bias leads us to interpret information in a way that reinforces our existing beliefs and keeps us brand loyal.

Does Apple or Samsung make the best smartphone?

Objectively, it is hard to say.

However, if you’ve been using an iPhone for years, you’ll barely notice the new Galaxy S7 as you rush to check out the latest iPhone 7.

Even if you do, you’ll be seduced by Apple’s “This is 7” campaign. It only compares the iPhone 7 to the iPhone 6 that you will upgrade from.

After all, you’ve already convinced yourself that there is nothing quite like an iPhone!

2. You make your offers appear valuable

Is a £1749 TV good value or not?

It all depends on the contrast effect. 

Contrasting prices with a competitor or featuring a steep discount is one of many ways this can be applied to your marketing.

But don’t be too extreme as you might fall foul of belief bias. 

This is our tendency to reject something because it sounds too good to be true, even when supported by clear evidence or sound arguments.

Compare and contrast can be used for early bird discounts, introductory offers, “piggy backing” on larger competitors’ campaigns but is most often seen at sale time as this listing from PC World demonstrates.

Screen shot to show how PC World uses the contrast effect in its TV sale

3. You make your products seem more affordable

Have you got £22,845 available to buy a new Toyota Auris Hybrid outright?

Unlikely, I would have thought.

But you may well have that brand-new car sitting on your driveway right now. How?

You paid just £116 as a deposit to the dealer and you can afford £329 per month for the next 3 and half years and perhaps even the £7740 at the end of contract period.

A prohibitively expensive purchase has now become affordable thanks to the total expenditure effect.

You use this tactic to spread the cost of purchases making them much lower relative to our total income.

This is why gym memberships, extended warranties and software are increasingly sold on a monthly subscription basis.

Not only does the cost seem lower than paying the full amount upfront, we link the benefit received to the regular payments made.

As a result, we use the service more, value it more highly and keep our subscriptions active.

Screen shot of Toyota Auris PCP plan which hooks us with the total expenditure effect

4. You play on our fear of missing out

People tend to act fast when offers expire quickly or supplies are limited.

This scarcity principle compels us to buy products that we don’t need now for fear that they may not be available in future or if they are, the price will rise.

E-commerce sites display messages such as “only 3 left”, car manufacturers bring out limited editions and clearance sales implore us to take advantage of “unbeatable prices” but to hurry because “when they are gone they are gone”.

Clever reinforcement of the message often appears in the guise of countdown timers on websites (beloved of sites such as Groupon and eBay) or reminder emails with additional incentives to buy as in this example from Moss Bros.

Screen shot of Moss Bros Sale banner using the scarcity principle to get sales

5. You make us feel that “if everyone has one, I want one too”

Many businesses dream of their latest ad going viral, whilst others are busy launching what they hope to be a “trend-setting” product.

In both instances, they are looking to harness the bandwagon effect. 

As far back as the 1950s and the famous Asch experiment it has been known that we tend to conform to the opinion of others, even when we think they are mistaken.

As consumers, we want to be part of the in-crowd, buying in to the latest trends and showing that we are on the bandwagon.

In the digital age, this insight is worth its weight in gold. It’s what lies behind the concept of social proof, is a key driver of celebrity endorsements (see 6. below) and it explains why 90% of online purchasing decisions are influenced by reviews on sites such as Trip Advisor.

Screenshot of Trip Advisor's recommended hotel in Turks and Caicos which illustrates how reviews use the bandwagon effect

6. You position yourself as our expert or use 3rd party endorsements

Don’t know what to buy or who to buy from?

Then ask an expert.

Authority bias kicks in when we read those product reviews by Which?

Or listen to dentists singing the praises of a new toothpaste formula in TV commercials.

Or when we see Cristiano Ronaldo sporting the latest Nike football boots as he kicks off the big game on our big screens.

To grab our attention you make sure that your sales messages contain recommendations from public figures (“because you’re worth it”), consumer survey data (“in tests 8 out of 10 cats preferred Whiskas”) or industry Awards (“Vauxhall Astra – European Car of the Year 2016”). 

In December 2014, British tennis player Andy Murray signed to the challenger brand Under Armour rather than Nike or Adidas.

The fit was perfect as the brand and its celebrity endorser looked on themselves as “aggressive, young and fearless”.

Murray has gone on to become World Number One and Under Armour saw its market share leap by over 20%.

Image of Andy Murray endorsing the Under Armour sportswear brand

7. You appeal to our innate desire to return favours

Why do companies give away their goods and services for free?

Because they know how to leverage the rule of reciprocation. 

A 2005 study by Dr Randy Garner at Sam Houston State University concluded that feeling obligated to return a favour “can occur despite the fact that we may never have requested the favour in the first place.”

This explains why giving “freebies” such as product samples, coupons or no obligation trial periods leads to ongoing full price purchases and powerful word of mouth marketing.

Coca Cola knew this way back in 1887 when they started giving out coupons to entice recipients to try a free glass of “delicious, refreshing Coca Cola” at their local dispensary.

Amazon uses the exact same principle today through its free trial of Amazon Prime.

According to US website Internet Retailer 73% of consumers who sign up for Amazon Prime, go on to become paying members giving the company a huge competitive advantage over other online stores. 

Image of sign-up form for Amazon trial which is highlights how the rule of reciprocation turns free offers into paying customers

8. You reassure us that we have nothing to lose….

So long as we keep using your product or service.

This is because we hate losing even more than we love winning.

Loss aversion drives us to hold on to what we already have rather than give it up for something potentially even better.

What is more, the longer we possess something, the less likely it is that we will let it go.

This ownership effect is used extensively with free trials (see 7 above), subscription businesses – particularly those that offer future upgrades such as mobile phone plans – and product support packages.

Do you want to lose your protection against cyber criminals? Norton thinks not.

Image of Norton renewal alert which uses loss aversion to prompt action

9. You make us feel good about ourselves even when things go wrong

When we make mistakes or when things don’t turn out the way we planned, we tend to blame other people or forces outside of our control.

This self-serving bias is what causes us to overestimate our own abilities relative to others and to cover up our own personal faults.

Effective marketing messages never suggest that you are to blame for a problem.

Instead, they portray you as the victim of circumstances and provide the support that you need to solve the issue and keep your positive self-esteem intact.

Examples include slimming products that help you lose those extra pounds because of Christmas or car insurance companies that offer to protect your no claims bonus should an accident happen.

A few years ago, UK insurer Axa ran a highly successful campaign called “Experienced drivers wanted”. Watch it here to see how they cleverly exploit our self-serving bias.

Image of Axa banner ad appealing for "experienced drivers" and appealing to our self serving bias

So, there you have it: 9 reasons why sales success is all in the mind.

Of course, you don’t have to be a psychologist or a mind reader to be a successful salesperson or marketer.

You do however need to tap into the underlying emotions that drive our purchasing behaviour.

Our rational façade hides a tangled web of personal beliefs and fallacies that shape the way we respond to your calls to action.

In this short article I’ve outlined some of these cognitive biases. There are many others.  

If you are interested in how psychology could help you to develop your all round approach to people in business you might like to read these blogs:

For advice on how to win customers and profitably grow your business please contact Chris Dunn.