The Psychology of Selling: 13 Steps to Sales that Actually Work

The Psychology of Selling:You know that moment when you realize you’ve finally won over a tough prospect? There’s no better feeling in sales.

But on the flip side, we’ve all experienced that moment when you realize you’ve just lost a prospect you thought you had.

Both of these moments are deeply rooted in the psychology of selling.

In fact, there truly is a psychology to selling effectively. Yet most salespeople have no idea what they’re doing correctly to attract prospects—or what they’re doing incorrectly to repel them.

In this video, I’m going to teach you the psychology of selling through 13 steps to selling that actually works.

Check it out:

The Psychology of Selling Video Summary:

1. Drop the enthusiasm.

1. Drop the enthusiasm

This is my biggest passion in the sales training space today. Salespeople need to drop the enthusiasm. It’s time to get rid of the excitement when you’re in front of prospects.

Your prospects hate enthusiasm because it doesn’t seem real. What if I came up to you at a networking event and introduced myself with a huge grin on my face, cheerfully yelling, “Hey there! Marc Wayshak here! How are you doing today?!”

You would immediately want to run the other way. You don’t need to be an expert in the psychology of selling to understand why.

But there’s actually a psychological reason that you would want to run the other way. The psychological phenomenon of reactance says that anytime we clearly try to forcefully push someone in one direction, they will naturally resist and try to go in the other direction. They’ll push back, or pull back—or just drop everything and run.

So stop the enthusiasm, and just be real and genuine instead.

2. Stop pitching.

2. Stop pitching.

Recent sales data shows that one of the biggest reasons that prospects and buyers don’t ultimately choose to do business with a salesperson is that they felt the salesperson didn’t really understand their needs.

This is purely the psychology of selling: prospects are feeling like you don’t understand them due to the way you are speaking and behaving around them. And you don’t even realize it!

This isn’t surprising, since most salespeople jump right into a pitch when they first meet a prospect. They haven’t even done the proper discovery to understand what’s really going on in the prospect’s world.

At the end of the day, what your prospects really want is to be engaged in a conversation about what’s important to them. What do their challenges look like? What disruptive changes are they facing in their industry?

Once you talk to prospects about the issues they’re currently facing, then you can decide if they’re a fit for what you sell—but not before that.

Once you decide the prospect is a fit, it’s presentation time—not time to pitch your solution.

Instead, think of it as a doctor-patient conversation. Dig into the psychology of selling in every situation. Diagnose what’s wrong with the prospect and then, once you have a full understanding of their challenges and needs, present only the solution that will solve their problems.

3. Pressure is a no-no.

3. Pressure is a no-no.

Grown-ups are always telling kids that bad behavior is a “no-no”—and this is exactly how I feel about pressure in sales. Never, ever apply pressure to your prospects in a selling situation. This is Psychology of Selling 101. It’s a huge no-no and here’s why: Not only is it supremely unhelpful in gaining a prospect’s trust, but it’s also likely to kill the sale completely.

We want to remove all pressure from the selling situation. Instead of trying to persuade the prospect to tell us yes, we want to take a step back. Like I said earlier, the concept of reactance means that when we push someone to do something, they’ll immediately pull back. So don’t push.

This is key to the psychology of selling. Think about trying to get your kids to do something they don’t really want to do. If they feel like you’re putting too much pressure on them, there’s a good chance that they’re going to pull back.                    

4. It’s about them, not you.

4. It’s about them, not you.I once had a boss that used to say, “Prospects listen to one radio station, and that one radio station is WIIFM.” Now, do you know what WIIFM stands for? What’s in it for me.

All prospects care about is themselves. They don’t care about you. They don’t care about your offering. And they certainly don’t care about how great you think your service is. They only care about themselves. This idea is central to the psychology of selling in any industry.

Prospects ask themselves the same two questions in every situation with a salesperson:

  1. Is this conversation going to be worth my time?
  2. Is this salesperson’s solution going to actually help me solve a problem that I care about?

If they can’t answer affirmatively to either or both of those questions, then you’re in trouble. We’ve got to make the conversation about them, understanding their concerns, asking questions about their challenges, and addressing the things they care about.

And then, once they see that it’s about them, they’re going to get engaged in the conversation, because people like to talk about themselves. This is central to the psychology of selling. People like to talk about their own concerns or goals, or whatever it is that they’re looking to accomplish.

By making it about them, and not your offering, you’re now taking control of the psychology of selling and you’re in a much more powerful position to sell effectively.         

5. Step into their shoes.

5. Step into their shoes.Some really powerful data has shown that top performers are much more effective at taking the perspectives of their buyers. When’s the last time you really thought about the experience your buyers go through when talking to you? What about when they talk to your competitors?

I’m not talking about your value proposition or even your product experience. I’m talking about the psychology of selling from the buyer’s experience. What’s the buyer’s actual experience of buying from you? What does it feel like? What’s good about it? What’s not good? Step into their shoes. Start to think more like your buyers. What do they care about? What are the challenges that they’re facing? What are the reasons that they do business with you? What are the reasons that they do business with your competitors

When we talk about the psychology of selling, we’re really talking about starting to think like our prospects. How can we truly understand what they care about, and craft our conversations around those top concerns? 

6. Create value through questions.

6. Create value through questions.If you’ve ever watched the show “The Sopranos” then you remember those conversations between Tony Soprano and his psychologist. Did you ever notice how the psychologist never proposes a solution to his problems? When Tony talks about a concern he has, the psychologist only ever asks questions such as, “Can you help me understand why you say that?” or “How does that make you feel?”

These types of questions aren’t just critical in therapy, but also in the psychology of selling. When a prospect comes to you and says, “I’ve got this problem…” you want to respond with thoughtful questions. Most salespeople out there respond with some form of, “Well, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve got an awesome new suite of products that can help solve your problem.” You want to do the exact opposite

Take a step back and create value through the questions you ask. Here are several powerful questions to add to your repertoire:

“What would you say this challenge is costing you today?”
“Can you help me understand how this problem affects you?”

“What have you done to try to solve this problem in the past?”

“What issues or obstacles are being caused by this problem?”

By asking questions like these, you’ll master the psychology of selling to create more value and start to close more sales.

7. “No” isn’t bad.

7. “No” isn’t bad.Let me repeat that: “No” isn’t bad. This is such an important part of the psychology of selling. Most salespeople spend their entire careers trying to avoid any type of rejection. But in reality, hearing “no” isn’t a bad thing at all. You see, our data shows that at least 50% of your prospects are not a good fit for what you sell.                   

With that said, you want to know as quickly as possible who isn’t a good fit. If you can get “no” from an unqualified prospect early on in the sales cycle, then you should consider it a victory.  Top performers are spending the majority of their time in front of qualified prospects, prospects that want to do business with them. The only way to do that is to first disqualify the rest.           

This approach also takes off all that pressure from the prospect. You’re basically saying, “Look, I’m not sure if this is going to be a fit. Help me understand what’s going on.” And now, the prospect feels so much more comfortable. From a psychology of selling perspective, you’ve taken all that pressure off, and now they feel good about this interaction. At the same time, you can feel good about it too, because you can move on if it’s not a fit.

8. If you feel it, say it.

8. If you feel it, say it.One of my mentors always used to say this, and it stuck with me because it’s great advice. In today’s selling environment, there’s just no time to waste with tire-kickers or people who aren’t a good fit. If your prospect is talking in a way that’s making your gut say, “You know what, there’s something not right here,” rather than just push through, say what you’re feeling. Get it all out on the table and inspect the psychology of selling at play.          

Now, this doesn’t have to be confrontational. But let’s say your prospect seems like he’s not that into your conversation. He’s distracted. Or maybe the timing doesn’t feel right. Say, “George, I really appreciate your meeting with me today, but it seems like you’re pretty distracted right now. Is this maybe not a good time to be talking about this?” And watch him suddenly respond, “Oh, no, no, no. I’m sorry. I was distracted, but no, no. I do want to have this conversation.”

Or, if your prospect seems like she’s just not interested in what you’re talking about, say, “Susan, I get the sense that this doesn’t seem to be of a lot of interest to you. Is that fair to say?” And now, she may say, “Yeah. You know what, no. I’m not interested.” And then you can say, “OK. Well, can you tell me why you say that?” From there, you can determine whether the prospect is qualified or not.                   

9. Get deep into their challenges.

9. Get deep into their challenges.This is something I’ve been saying for years. Salespeople need to start thinking like doctors, and stop thinking like typical salespeople. This is imperative if you’re going to leverage the psychology of selling to close more deals.

The key is to get deep into prospects’ challenges. Most salespeople just identify a surface-level challenge and then immediately offer a solution.

Let me give you an example of a doctor’s mindset at work in sales. Let’s say your prospect says, “We’ve got these operational issues. Do you think you can help us?” You should say, “Well, tell me more about those challenges. Help me understand what’s really going on.” Dig deeply. Think of it as the tip of the iceberg. Most prospects are willing to discuss what’s at the very top of the iceberg to anyone. But you want to dig deeper to discuss what’s going on below the surface.    

10. Tie their challenges to value.

10. Tie their challenges to value.We’ve talked about going deeper to really understand what’s going on in your prospects’ world. Now you want to make sure you’re tying their challenges to a specific value. If your prospects could solve their challenges, what would it mean to them in upside, revenue, profitability, or savings? These are the key questions to answer here.

Here’s an example. Your prospect is talking about his marketing challenges, saying, “Yeah, our marketing is just not as effective as we’d like. We just feel like we’re not getting the number of leads that we’d like.” First you dig deeper into what his key challenges are. And then you say something along the lines of, “If you were able to solve these challenges that you’re facing, what would it mean in additional revenue to the organization?”

What you’re doing is giving prospects the opportunity to come back with a number. They might say, “Oh, yeah. Well, geez. We could easily increase revenue by a couple million dollars if we were able to solve these challenges.” Now you’ve tied the challenges to some kind of specific tangible value. And it’s their number. They said it, not you.

Even if you’re on the consumer side, this is key to the psychology of selling. After all, there’s still a value in solving consumers’ challenges. What is that value in solving their challenges, or what is that challenge really costing them right now?      

11. Make it a two-way dialogue.

11. Make it a two-way dialogue.

The psychology of selling shows us that when people are actually speaking, they’re the most engaged. When they’re listening, they may still be engaged in the conversation, but it’s less likely. So you want to make sure that you’re constantly having a two-way dialogue with your prospects, even when you’re presenting. There should always be a back-and-forth dynamic.

There should never be a period where you’re going on and on about your service or product. You only ever want to talk for a little bit, and then re-engage the prospect back into the conversation.

Think about how you feel when you’re being talked at, versus being engaged in a dynamic conversation, and it’s easy to see why this is central to the psychology of selling.

If it truly is a two-way conversation, you’re going to close a lot more of your sales, because it means that your prospects are more engaged. Keep that back-and-forth going.       

12. Budget comes later.

12. Budget comes later.

This is one of the most important elements in the psychology of selling. You never want to begin your sales conversations talking about price or money. This budget discussion should come at the end of the discovery process.          

Once you’ve gone through the prospect’s challenges and determined the upside value, it’s time to talk about budget. You might ask a question like, “Based on what I’m hearing about your challenges, a typical solution for what we’ve discussed could range anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000. Where could you see yourself fitting on that spectrum?”

This uses the psychology of selling to establish a broad range of potential budgets on purpose. It allows prospects to come back and say, “I feel like I could potentially do $200,000,” or whatever that number is for them.                    

13. Use feedback loops.

13. Use feedback loops.I said earlier that it’s important to make your presentation a two-way dialogue in order to leverage the psychology of selling. Feedback loops are the most effective way to do this. These are little questions to ask when you’re talking to prospects that will pull them back into the conversation.

Feedback loops are something I use all the time with every single person in my life, because they’re so effective. If you ever find yourself going on and on, or talking for more than 60 seconds, stop and just say, “So, before I go any further, does this all make sense?” or “Do you see what I’m saying?” or “Does that work for you?”

The data shows that these little questions not only re-engage people in conversation, but they also create little moments of buy-in. Think of them as mini-closes in the conversation. By the end of the presentation, assuming they’ve been on the same page with you and they like what you’re saying, the only question to close is, “What would you like to do next?”

There is no hard close, because you’re using these feedback loops all throughout the process. And now, all you have to do is simply establish the next step.

Bonus Tip #1: Different is better.

Bonus Tip #1: Different is better.

Many salespeople today take the misguided approach of trying to blend in and not make too many waves around prospects. In effect, they do what every other salesperson is doing, and they don’t stand out at all.

Blending in might make you feel safe, but when it comes to the psychology of selling, it’s actually a plus to be distinct. Different is better in sales—especially within the first few moments of a sales interaction.

A recent study from NYU determined that people make 11 decisions about someone within the first 7 seconds of meeting. So, when your prospects meet you, are they thinking, “This is just like every other salesperson out there” or are they thinking, “Wow, there’s something different about this person. I want to learn more”?

If you master the psychology of selling, you’ll be a pro at being different in sales. For example, you’ll know that you should drop the enthusiasm, stop pitching, and do everything possible to be totally distinct from the competition.

These seemingly simple rules will take you from “just another salesperson” to “someone worth talking to” in a matter of seconds.

Bonus Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to push back.

Bonus Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to push back.

On the surface, it seems like the job of the salesperson is to make the prospect feel comfortable and never rock the boat. But just as it’s better to be different in sales, it’s also better to push back when prospects are wrong or misguided. Don’t just sit back and let them walk all over you. Speak up and prevent them from making bad decisions.

This can be difficult for many salespeople. But pushing back is part of the ultimate psychology of selling. Prospects will respect you more, and listen to you as an expert, if you share your opinion and disagree thoughtfully.

Pushing back is also key to closing tough customers in sales. Often, these people are just waiting to see if you’ll respond—and when you shy away from engaging them, they move on. Strengthen your backbone and speak your mind (respectfully, of course) to become a master of the psychology of selling.

Bonus Tip #3: Talk to them like a peer.

Bonus Tip #3: Talk to them like a peer.

Many salespeople take a deferential approach to prospects, especially when dealing with C-level prospects. The psychology of selling tells us that this is the wrong way to go.

Prospects pick up on the way you feel about yourself, and they’ll use that information to inform their opinion of you. If you feel like you’re inferior to an executive prospect, that executive will think you’re underqualified or less knowledgeable—because you’re coming across that way.

Master this aspect of the psychology of selling by being assertive, confident, and talking to prospects like a peer even if their titles are way above your own. It’s all about how you carry yourself.

Bonus Tip #4: Never discount.

Bonus Tip #4: Never discount.

This is one of the most important aspects of the psychology of selling, yet so many salespeople get it wrong. Discounting is one of the most common, harmful mistakes a salesperson can make. Never discount again.

Not only does discounting your product or service cut into the margin of the sale and lead to a smaller commission, but it also makes your value plummet in the eyes of the customer.

Instead of discounting, focus on the key challenges your prospects are facing and demonstrate the value your offering can provide them. Never drop price just to make a sale.

Bonus Tip #5: Give them options.

Bonus Tip #5: Give them options.

Giving prospects multiple options in your sales proposals is key to the psychology of selling. While the majority of sales proposals only give one option, this is a huge lost opportunity.

First, give a basic option as a less expensive choice that provides the bare essentials to solve the problem at hand, but is still profitable for you. Next, give a middle option that’s your core offering for the majority of your prospects. And finally, offer a third, premium option that’s more expensive and has more deliverables.

The psychology of selling

The psychology of selling tells us that your prospects will 1) no longer feel the need to shop around since you’re already giving them multiple choices, 2) see great value in the basic and middle options in the context of the three-option setup, and 3) potentially go with the high, premium option because they simply want the best, and your proposal has built up the value in a compelling way.

So, there you have it. That’s the psychology of selling in 13 steps (plus 5 bonus tips) to selling that actually works. I want to hear from you. Which of these ideas did you find most useful? Be sure to share below in the comments section to get involved in the conversation.

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About the Author Marc Wayshak

Marc is is the best-selling author of three books on sales and leadership, including the highly acclaimed titles Game Plan Selling, The High-Velocity Sales Organization and his forthcoming book, Sales Conversations, Mastered.

Marc is a contributor to Inc, HubSpot, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Huffington Post Business. He also hosts a popular YouTube channel on sales strategy with over 103,000 subscribers.

Marc helps thousands of people his data-driven, science-based approach to selling that utilizes all the best tools available to sales organizations today.

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