5 Psychology strategies used to increase sales

5 Psychology strategies used to increase sales

Success in sales is not just about getting the other person to like you, and trust you, although that helps.

It is about how you employ human psychology.

Robert Cialdini articulated 6 rules in his seminal work ‘Influence‘ in 1993, Reciprocity, Social proof, Commitment and Consistency, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity.

Imagine you gave someone $30 for completing a task, and then because it was completed satisfactorily, you gave them another $20. Compare that to someone to whom you offered $70 to complete a task with an impossible deadline, and then took $20 away because they missed the deadline, although completing the task satisfactorily in all other aspects.

Which of the two would be happier? In this case, you have framed the situation to ensure that one saw the outcome in a positive light, rather than a negative one.

This sort of basic psychology is at work every time you negotiate in any way, it just happens. Thinking about the process with a little sensitivity the basic psychology can make you considerably more successful.

Some simple examples.

Part of a group.

Humans are herd animals. We tend to do what those around us do, to follow the lead of the group. Suggesting that others with whom they relate are doing ‘A’ will increase the likelihood that they will do the same, as demonstrated in Cialdini’s research in 2008 articulating his 7th principal of influence, the Unity principal. This leads us to be influenced by others the more we relate to them. This was the subject of his famous towels in a hotel project, where he demonstrated that guests could be significantly influenced simply by the persuasive power of telling them what others were doing.

Foot in the door.

This is not the old fashioned door to door technique of not stopping until you call the police, it is far less intimidating, and is a widely used tactic in digital marketing. The offer to try a product free for a month before paying for it is a foot in the door, as is the one that offers a free book, you just pay for the freight, or the one-time .97 cent offer, to get to the first level of a normally more expensive course, or club. The psychology is that once your hand has gone in your pocket once, you have made the purchase decision the first time, the second time is way easier.

Create a decoy

Potential customers seek value, defined in all sorts of ways, but when making a choice, they always look at the options available and ascribe a value to each, then make the choice. By making your preferred item look great compared to the alternatives you offer, you can significantly influence the outcome, Again this is used extensively in digital sales. On almost every sales page for a software product, there will be lists of comparative tools you are given for different amounts per month. Usually it will be three options, as option overload leads to confusion, and potential customers walking away, choosing to buy none, but when there are three, there will be the first with a few tools available, for free, or a small price, then there will be the $29/month with an extensive list of options, and a third with the same extensive list and a few more that might be important to a few, for $59/month. The vast majority will look at the value delivered by the $29 option, and opt there, as it offers the best value, the few who opt for the expensive one, well, they are the cream, and those that take the freebie or very cheap version are ripe to be upsold at a later time.

Sell time.

We all understand the old adage, ‘Time is money’ so saving time with a purchase, time that can be used in other ways that will benefit the purchaser, is a powerful motivator. This technique is used extensively when selling services. Most of the so called ‘Business coaches’ out there use this technique, weaving pictures of how great it would be for small business owners to have the time to play golf every day, or run their businesses from the beach between diving expeditions on the reef.

It is also used in reverse, putting a time limit on the availability of a product. ‘Available only at this price until 5 pm tomorrow’ often accompanied by a clock running in reverse is similarly a strong motivator.

Quality = Price

In a market where the knowledge of many buyers is limited, like wine, consumers have over time recognised that price is a fair indicator of quality. When you understand the perception levels of a category in a consumers mind, they can be significantly influenced in a purchase decision by the ticket price.

The foundation of all this is of course that you have a very clear picture of your ideal customer, so can anticipate which of the techniques, and they are often used in tandem, will work, in your set of circumstances.

It also remains true that people love to buy, but hate to be sold to, so selling is really the wrong word, it is more about persuasion, and we all understand that psychology plays a huge role in persuasion.

PS this post was put up yesterday with a different headline, and redefined the dead cat bounce. I thought it was better than that, so polished it up a bit, to see what happens.



Decision time for manufacturers of ‘disposable’ items.

Decision time for manufacturers of ‘disposable’ items.

I have used the term ‘disposable’ to mean that the consumers investment is low, so purchase risk is limited. Buy one and find it does not deliver, and little is lost.

Over the weekend I had a casual conversation with an acquaintance who runs a small business selling such a line of disposable consumer products into a niche via specialist chain retailers, many branches being franchised, so are somewhat independent.

His problem is that he is being overrun by the scale of the retailers who take his ideas and have them fabricated in China under another brand at prices he is having increasing trouble matching.  In any event, they also control shelf space, so he is at their mercy.

Not an uncommon problem.

My rather glib response was that he was trying to sell to the wrong people. His current customers, the retailers, were not actually his customers, in fact they were more like adversaries. His real customers were the ones who had a need that his products fulfilled, and the retailers were just a logistical barrier to be managed and overcome.

The retailers see the only value in his products as a range they should carry as an occasional addition to the customer basket  at the cheapest price that meet their margin requirements. For them there is no investment in the success of the product, and little downside.

To the real consumers however,  the question of whether they outlay $8 or $11 for the items is largely irrelevant once the buying decision, often impulse, has been made. There is little brand awareness or preference involved, there has been only modest marketing investments made, the sales come from demonstrating the utility of  the product.

My advice: Set up an online shop, and actively market to the identifiable groups of customers who would benefit from using his products.

As he has a limited budget, and little brand recognition, this is potentially a make or break decision, not to be taken lightly.

Retailers will be even more disinclined to stock his products when they see him actively competing with them on line, but on the other hand, his sales volumes have been dropping steadily for some time, and the costs of doing business are increasing, so the end game is in sight.

The flip side is that the product is ideally suited to selling on line, the value is demonstrable, it is easily sent via the post, and the margin freed up by selling direct would be considerable.

A change of this nature would be uncomfortable, but I suggest the only way the business will continue to prosper, and have any value when the current owner decides it is time to retire.

Does yours fit the consumer definition of ‘Disposable?”

If so, what are you doing about it?


Why the accepted notion of ‘Brand Loyalty’ is rubbish

Why the accepted notion of ‘Brand Loyalty’ is rubbish

Brand loyalty, and one step further, finding those few  users of the brand who will use no other, and demand their networks do the same, is the holy grail of most marketing. It comes up in almost every marketing brief ever written.

However, there is almost always a flaw in the logic I see used.

Heavy and exclusive use of a brand is interpreted as brand loyalty, and occasional users are disregarded except as a possible opportunity to increase usage, if they are even picked up in the data. Consumers usually have a small pool of acceptable brands, and expect to be satisfied by the product they buy, whatever the usage, or they do not return. The brand is just one of the the filtering mechanisms of varying strength they use to make the choice easier.

While loyalty and heavy usage may be in a very few cases generated by the brand, it may also be that the heavy usage is just habit, availability, convenience, the shape of the package, or many other factors other than a behaviour changing loyalty to the brand.

Heavy usage and brand loyalty do not always have a cause and effect relationship. There is certainly a strong correlation, not necessarily causation.

My father would only use one brand of mustard powder, a blindingly hot concoction he used sparingly on an occasional sandwich. The stuff was only purchased once every blue moon, as he was the only one in the household who would go near it. Far from heavy use, but very loyal.

Conversely, if you look in my sisters fridge, there is only ever one brand of natural yogurt, and she consumes a kilo or more a week, in a number of ways. However, the choice is driven not by  the brand, although it is entirely satisfactory, but by the fact that the small supermarket she stops at every couple of days on the way home because  of the easy parking and friendly environment, to buy her milk, and a few other staples, only carries that one brand. Convenience drives the purchase, not loyalty.

Anyway, the nonsense that gets touted around by snake-oil sellers about consumers wanting to have a relationship with their brand is just so much crap it makes me sick. Brand loyalty is a rare thing, and is always, always given as a part of a whole package of value that is delivered consistently by the product to the consumer.

Consumers want a lot of things from  their favoured brands, but only a very few with some sort of emotional incapacity see a brand as a substitute for a human relationship, so lets stop talking about it as if it were.

My thanks again to Tom Fishburne.https://marketoonist.com/ When I went looking for a visual for this post, this cartoon says it perfectly.


How to send a great brand down the crapper.

How to send a great brand down the crapper.

When you change your business  model, make sure you take your customers with you. Just assuming loyalty and the power of incumbency can be terminal. The evidence to this is long: Kodak, Blockbuster, and more recently, Blackberry, amongst a very long list.

A few customers will hang around, even to the death, but most will walk just as soon as a viable alternative emerges, and in the meantime probably think you have overindulged in happy-juice, and think way less of you for it.

Not many would see this as a good outcome in the challenge to build and leverage a brand.

LinkedIn has been a great success, making its founders billionaires, early investors multi millionaires, and enabling business connection and networking in ways unimaginable just half my working life ago.

The freemium model they used worked well, it gave significant levels of usage for free, which hooked in a huge, professional user base.

You did get a lot for no financial cost, but in exchange, you did give them a lot of information.

Your personal details, work history, interests, location, affiliations and networks, and a lot more, all of which should have been an advertising bonanza, and if I asked for it when interviewing face to face in Australia, I would be breaking the law.

This information is  the quid pro quo for the use of the platform, and unless you are really stupid, you know that it will be used to sell access to that information to anyone with the money, who wants to reach you.

Nobody would seriously argue that this was not the case.

Facebook has made a huge success of advertising to finely defined audiences based on the personal information given in return for access to the platform. That LinkedIn failed to do the same, with the significant added value that could be accessed via the subscription versions, is their marketing failure, not evidence that  there was not an opportunity waiting to be grabbed.

Anyway, at some point, some of the users of the free version needed to go a bit deeper, to be able to search in a more targeted manner, so they happily upgraded to one of the premium packages. While the subscription revenue may have been under what it could have been, LinkedIn seemed never to really set out to market the benefits aggressively to their user base, all they did was offer a months free access to the premium version.

As LinkedIn seeks to generate revenue by annoying its users, Facebook jumps into the markets to date dominated by LinkedIn and offers similar services to its huge user base. Serious competition? Not too the differentiated Linkedin, but perhaps now it is.

I was a constant advocate of LinkedIn, and strongly encouraged and coached all those I worked with started to use it, some migrating to the subscription services. That advocacy is now gone, and I am sure that I am not the only one.

How long before the first cat photo turns up? Perhaps it already has, further blurring the differentiation LinkedIn used to have to Facebook and other social platforms.

I get that Microsoft needed to create a return on their $26 billion investment, but ignoring your market is a pretty stupid way to go about it.

Perhaps the new bloke who has admittedly made some pretty smart moves since he took over from Steve Ballmer, should have rung Jeff Bezos at Amazon who may have reminded him that Amazon keeps an empty chair at every meeting as a constant reminder that they are there to serve customers, not the  other way around. Do that successfully, and you will make money, fail to do it, and the bell will eventually ring.

The upside for the few really effective marketers out there is that a really effective automated toolbox has been removed from the wannebe’s, so creative, differentiated, focused and truly customer-centric  marketers will have more oxygen.


Case study: The pros and cons of PR in a B2B market.

Case study: The pros and cons of PR in a B2B market.

PR can be a remarkably effective tool in the marketing arsenal, but most of it is just wasted, simply because it is not delivering any message of value to anyone who cares.

What can you expect when you have a combination of PR agencies who get paid by the word, various supposedly credentialed dills with a barrow to push who like to see their names in print, and politicians who will respond to the smallest of pressure groups who make a big noise?

The latest target of the word churners is sugar, specifically sugar in soft drinks,  but more broadly, sugar in everything.

Tax it and the problem will go away.


While it is true that in economics 101 I learned that when you increase the price of anything, you sell less of it, this is a logical outcome based on an assumption of rational behaviour.

If I have learnt anything about consumer behaviour in the 45 years I have been in the marketing game, it is that it is rarely just rational, and unlikely to be altered by well meaning press releases, full of adjectives and promises of better days, written by those with a dog in the fight.

I was recently asked by a former client who supplies high value but very low usage ingredients that have the  potential to replace some of the functionality of sugar in food products for an opinion on a couple of different PR approaches they were considering in response to the discussion about a sugar tax.

Following is the reasoning I offered on PR as a marketing tool in this situation, sanitised for more general consumption.

  • There is a political problem, we are all too fat, therefore there is pressure on governments to regulate. Some of this regulation is warranted, such as the disclosure of the calorific value of products, in this case soft drinks, some is just nonsense.
  • We all (should by now) know that soft drinks are full of sugar, and drinking them to excess makes you fat, as well as having other health impacts. Therefore ensuring that label regulations are clear and understandable to laymen is a good thing, resisted by the beverage companies, as they do not want to scare the horses.
  • We cannot expect (in my view) governments to regulate for our behaviour, to be the gate keepers on our fridges. However, the tendency seems to be to seek to regulate to protect people from themselves. This is the guts of the move to have a tax on sugar, but underneath, there is a revenue measure for government that they will not talk about, but remains.

For a business to successfully leverage the public discussion for their commercial purposes requires some sort of strategy, and what I often see is a strategic vacuum, into which a PR release is sent. Some thoughts on the value of PR in these circumstances to a business that has some sort of vested interest in product formulation in the beverage market :

  • The target market for information is the marketing and technical people in beverage manufacturers, and they require different messages entirely. If it was me, I would have a plan with a few simple elements, and execute on the plan.
  • Create a list of the beverage manufacturers in each market, along with the relevant information about their ownership, location of factories, brands, strategies, etc, all you can reasonably glean from the combination of public documents and what your sales force knows. This is part of what marketing departments in businesses  with these sorts of interests should be doing.
  • As part of the above, ensure there was a list of the personnel in each business, their role in an organisation chart, and more importantly their role in the marketing, procurement, and product formulation decision making.
  • Develop ‘content’ with credibility to support all sides of the debate, and make all the data available, not just the bits that may support your commercial objectives. Research by the likes of Tate and Lyal, and CSR will be viewed with suspicion, irrespective of the science of it, because they have a vested interest, unless they discuss all the data and both sides of the debate.
  • Use the lists developed above to target selectively the people you need to speak to with the commercially agnostic data (content) you have developed. Do this digitally to create MQL’s (marketing qualified Leads) which are then passed to Sales and Technical services to follow up in person to make your formulation and commercial arguments.
  • Pick a small number of real target companies and devote resources specifically to the task of selling to them.  I would pick the challenger brands in each market, the ones you can sell to without the regional head office being involved, those who do not  have the big marketing budgets and brands, so they have less to risk. Once you convert a small number, and they have success in the market, the rest will follow.

This is pretty basic marketing 101.

Recognise that your target market is specific, and sales intensive, not marketing intensive. You are not selling toothpaste to a consumer with a low transaction value and regular small transactions, where marketing is vital. You are selling high value ingredient to customers where there is a high degree of specification, complication, and a long term relationship at stake. The challenge is different. Wasting time and effort, as well as money on consumer PR is useless in this context except as a strategy for keeping the wallies who do not understand the basics of the sales and marketing of their businesses quiet.


To cut through the digital clutter:  Tell stories.

To cut through the digital clutter:  Tell stories.

Stories are personal, they resonate, you see the real people behind the business, not some nameless corporation, the people who do the work, and are accountable for  the decisions and outcomes.

Facts never change anything, but stories can.

Martin Luther King did not recite a list of the facts surrounding the deprivations and discrimination of the American negro in his 1963 speech, he told us of his dreams, and changed the world.

Facts are boring, stores are listened to, part of our DNA, we listen to stories and relate to them into old age.

 As a kid Dad read to us from what became known as ‘The weekend book’. A book he had been given as a kid, of the Greek legends. I saw that book again for the first time in probably 40 years last weekend. My sister had it carefully stored, as it is now falling apart from almost 100 years of love and use. She has kept the family tradition alive by reading the stories to my niece, who is as familiar and engaged with them as I was at her age. As I turned the pages, every page, story and picture was as familiar as if 55 years had not passed and I was 10 again, listening to my dad reading them.

Stories allow you to differentiate in an emotive and highly engaging way. Your story is yours, not your competitions, yours. They can be used to give potential customers a reason to go nowhere else, they give you a personality that cannot be erased with a cheaper price, or a hyperbolic sales pitch.

Tell stories

I am currently working with a medium sized printer, a 60 year old business founded by the current MD’s father in the mid 50’s. In a recent move of premises, sitting in the corner was the original little printing press that he had used to start the business,  about to be sent to the tip. Aloud, I wondered at the stories it could tell if it could talk. That press now holds pride of place in the foyer of the new premises.

We trust those we know, and we get to know people by hearing, understanding and relating to their stories. Facts simply do not  build trust, they bring enlightenment, and understanding, but not trust.

Tell your stories, you may be surprised at who is interested.