Buying behaviors are largely driven by emotions and then justified by logic, so it’s important for entrepreneurs to tap into psychology to boost sales.
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LinkedIn’s “2019 Global Talent Trends” report revealed important truths about the future of work: Over 90 percent of talent seekers believe soft skills are critical to the future of recruiting, and 80 percent say those soft skills are growing more important to company success.
Soft skills, or personal skills that help people communicate with others, can be the difference between getting a startup soaring or keeping it on the ground. Entrepreneur and business philosopher Jim Rohn advised, “Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity and the emotions to affect other people.”
In college, I enjoyed coursework in psychology, which provided insights into human behavior and better ways to communicate in sales and business. The best insights I learned in the field are that buying behaviors are largely driven by emotions and then justified via logic. It’s a lesson every entrepreneur would benefit from learning.
Body language tells a story
One of my first studies in a professional environment focused on body language. While not a perfect predictor of internal thought, body language is an important source of data for salespeople to guide conversations. Early in my sales career, I was able to apply this knowledge to help close a deal that had stagnated.
In that particular situation, we were struggling to sell a large technology deal to an enterprise retail company. Our main champion for this account was a midlevel technical stakeholder who often helped push deals through, but this deal (which originally seemed like a slam dunk) had stalled for weeks despite his claims of being on board.
After a few unproductive meetings, I noticed that he would tense up and shift his stance so his feet pointed away from us, a typical sign of aversion or discomfort. Given that this posture only occurred when we discussed this particular initiative, it signaled to me that our champion had concerns that weren’t being addressed.
After a particularly frustrating meeting, I pulled him aside and asked whether he had concerns he wasn’t sharing. His reluctance turned out to be driven by bad experiences with the particular family of products tied to this deal. Once we addressed those concerns, he helped us close the $ 1 million deal a few weeks later.
Here are a few additional lessons I’ve learned from practical and theoretical experience with the psychology of sales:
1. Don’t let losses fester.
Ask what any professional remembers better: the last big win or the last big loss. As a former pro poker player, I can confirm that while a $ 5,000 win felt good for a few hours, a $ 5,000 loss stung for days. Similarly, I remember the big sales deals I’ve lost much more vividly than I remember my biggest wins.
As an entrepreneur, you can’t afford to let your last loss affect you for long. Persistent negative focus can make you more risk-averse and less likely to take smart chances that are required for success. Instead, evaluate the underlying reasons (using a “Five Why” or similar framework) for the loss, and move past it.
Quickly addressing your losses without letting them fester can often lead to wins down the road. Real estate mogul and “Shark Tank” judge Barbara Corcoran says that some of her biggest wins came after some of her biggest personal losses. In fact, she won and then lost her “Shark Tank” job, but she wrote to producers and got it back.
“I said that all the best things happened to me on the heels of rejection, and I considered his rejection a lucky charm,” Corcoran told Entrepreneur. “I cited half dozen similar situations throughout my career where obstacles turned into my greatest opportunities…”
2. Build feelings of trust and safety.
Safety is one of the most powerful human needs. If you can make your prospect feel like your solution provides security, whether from financial losses or general discomfort, that person will become much more receptive to your pitch.
Making prospects feel safe isn’t only about the product — it’s also about interactions with you. Remember, our logic mostly provides a rationalization for our emotional decision-making. In the book “How Customers Think: Essential Insights Into the Mind of the Market,” Harvard Business professor Gerald Zaltman says that 95 percent of choices, including purchases, are made by our subconscious minds, with emotion being one of the largest drivers.
It’s important to be transparent about the buying process, comfortable under objections and timely with communication. It’s also important to leverage in-person (or, at minimum, video) meetings whenever possible. Humans are evolved to engage visually, and visual cues provide important feedback that makes trust-building more effective. A recent study by sales technology company Gong.io found that sales reps who use video throughout the sales cycle close 41 percent more business than those who do not.
3. Show prospects how happy your clients are.
Social proof is one of the most powerful tools for any entrepreneur. When people see that other people are excited about purchased items, they are much more likely to follow the same path.
French philosopher René Girard developed a philosophy called “mimetic theory,” which proposes that people’s desires are largely influenced by what other people desire. This emotional trigger explains why influencer marketing has become so popular. According to a study from Klear, influencer marketing on Instagram nearly doubled in 2017. Companies are beginning to understand what the Kardashians have known for years: Social proof matters.
There are several effective ways for businesses to demonstrate social proof, including case studies, quotes, links to relevant news articles and more. When it makes sense, use video to put human faces to the stories you tell. Lastly, the more personalized the content is to the individual and company, the better. People are more easily influenced when they identify with the person they are being asked to mimic.
4. Learn and practice tactical empathy.
If you think your organization already practices empathy, you might be mistaken. According to Businessolver’s “2018 State of Workplace Empathy” study, 92 percent of CEOs believe their organizations are empathetic, but only 50 percent of employees say the same about the CEO.
At my company, I encourage executives and salespeople to practice tactical empathy, which teaches businesspeople to tap into the emotional decision-making center of the brain by creating an emotional bond with clients based on shared experience. This technique is useful in more than just sales, though. From personal relationships to team dynamics, I’ve seen tactical empathy smooth over plenty of conversations that could have gone south.
The idea comes from a book written by FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss called “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It,” which I encourage my colleagues to read. It’s especially helpful for entrepreneurs who are building their teams and establishing their company culture.
At its core, sales is a psychological exercise in negotiation. Can you get the person across the table to see things the same way you do and take the action you want? By understanding the underpinnings of buying behavior and practicing the tactics that tie into it, you can increase your odds of success across the board.