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8 minute read

The Psychology of Successful Selling

By Conor Kenny

If you behave like a salesperson, you’ll look like a salesperson. If you think like a customer, you’ll make the sale. But, be warned, pretending to think like a customer is not thinking like a customer.

It would be wonderful if the sales conversation was like a predictable and reliable German machine. It’s not, because selling is an art form delivered by people and people are often conflicted by their own perception, thoughts and imagination. This means that different people, selling the same product or service, will interpret an identical situation in different ways. That will forever challenge consistency of delivery and inconsistency is the death of a brand.

What’s Your Brand? A brand is an illusion in many ways. Many evolve, many are invented but a brand stands for something and especially in the customers mind.

The selling style, the promises the brand makes, the integrity of those promises, the language, the delivery and the behaviour, all matter and all must tie together. So the question to think about first is ‘What impact is your sales person having on your customer and therefore, your brand?’ Do you know or do you think you know?

Stop Pretending False humility is not humility. Pretending to be anything will quickly sink your sale. Everyone likes to be liked but think on those awful over sincere “I really do understand” superficial empathetic remarks and the plastic smile? No. Both will fail, both will be seen through and the opposite, true humility, real empathy and genuine sincerity, will always build trust. If you can’t build trust, you can’t go anywhere.

Trust Me Many years ago, The Sunday Times had a wonderful article. You didn’t even need to read it to understand it, the story was in the headline. It said “Beware the man who says trust me”.

Many of our instincts evolved in the jungle. The art of survival meant the need to quickly assess if some other being was a threat or an ally. In an instant, we look, process and judge. But, we are not always right. Without realising it, warning signs trigger something deep inside us. Ultimately, that instinct or intuition comes down to one word – trust. It’s never bestowed, it’s always earned and the latter emerges from a complex series of signals, behaviours, words and actions. The sales person who, with the best will in the world, says “trust me” is probably doing the very opposite.

Emotional Creatures Our emotions separate us from the animal kingdom, especially the power of our imagination. Some selling is tangible, like a product. Some conceptual, like a service or idea. What you sell only ever falls into one of two categories – an emotional sale, a practical sale.

For example, buying fuel for your car is practical. Booking a wedding venue is emotional. If you mismatch a practical response to an emotional need or vice versa, you’ll fail. You need to know which elements of your business marry with which approach and, your marketing needs to match your message and then my need.

What Are You Trying to Say? When you ask business leaders a very simple question such as ‘What’s your message?’ many will drown into a confused response. In their confusion stress builds. Stress leads to panic and panic to one common outcome and that is to keep going and all that does is confuse even more.

From a customer’s point of view, it is not about discovering the next WB Yeats, it’s about one word only – that is that they ‘understand’. They simply have to understand what you are trying to get across. Many times I have quoted this but it is a great reminder for you and what you’re trying to convey. It should be pinned to the wall of every marketing lead’s desk:

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw

Communicating effectively, and the clear goal of customers understanding what you’re saying, can easily misguide and can easily be corrected. The mistake is to plough on regardless in the false belief that ‘it will do’. It won’t.

You’re All the Same! When someone is angry, it’s a common outburst “You’re all the same”. It’s so common that we probably don’t pause enough to reflect on the hidden meaning behind an overused, common cliché. If we are all the same or, worse still, more of the same, why should I bother shifting to you?

Customers aren’t interested in ‘your competitors’. Customers are interested in what your alternative proposition is.

Imagine if every garage sold exactly the same car, in the same colour and at the same price. The only difference was that they had different brand names. What would this do for a customer? 2 things. First, give them every reason not to change. Secondly, waste their time. Your goal, to appeal to any customer, is to be an ‘alternative’, that means, a distinct, viable option. Now look at the automobile market once more. Their cars all do the same job but they have focused their message and marketing – always – on being an alternative or, if you like, ‘a different option’. Which are you? Isn’t it worth seeing what way the compass is pointed?

We Won I have yet to meet someone who enjoys losing anything. Losing a football match. Losing their job. Losing an engagement ring. Losing does not rock and roll.

When sales people run into the office proclaiming “We won” by its very nature, the implication is that somebody lost. Worse still, it was a game, a competition or simply a contest. Even the language is gladiatorial. A good deal has to be a good deal for both parties equally. Winning suggests defeat and the goal should never be to win or lose but simply to draw.

Objections The very nature of sales people is that they like cheerful, dynamic, positive environments and, if asked, they’ll often say “I like to help people”. However, there’s a danger that helping really means ‘pleasing’. In itself that’s noble but the flip side can mean – avoiding confrontation. Or, in a sales context, chasing down the hidden and overt objections. Sometimes, denial is easier and we can avoid our intuition telling us that there is an unsatisfied objection.

This is far more common than many admit. Why? Because it’s back to our own calibration, our own conditioning, inner conflicts and outlook. But, great sales people are the role, not themselves. Theatre calls this ‘going into character’.

The answer is never to say “Get on with it and stop shirking your responsibility to chase the objection”. That simply creates more fear. Instead, teach them how to go into character.

Follow Up Sales people like the chase, the hunt. That’s great but every skill has a flip side. Commonly, they are as unexcited about follow up compared to the adrenalin of nearing their sale.

As a customer, what do we do if we are clearly expressing interest? The answer, of course, is we expect the sales person to follow up. But let me finish back where we started.

If your follow up really translates into “I’m calling to see if you’re giving me the business” then you’ll be seen as an annoying mercenary. On the other hand, if your follow up does 3 things then you’ll rapidly increase your conversion rate.

First, do it, most don’t bother. You’re already ahead of the curve. Second, your follow up should be built around a clear short summary and understanding of what my need or problem is and, how you intend fixing it.

Third, don’t waste my time or yours, follow up is expected but you will only be a trusted source if every time you get in touch, you add information. That’s what we mean by adding value. Do you?

Emotionally Speaking Below is how we talk. It proves just how emotional our decision making really is and how much we make decisions based on all the nonmeasurable thoughts. The psychological, if you like.

“I didn’t like him” “She didn’t listen” “He never did follow up” “She was winging it” “I didn’t trust him”

“He was so nice” “I liked her” “He was cheerful from start to finish” “She really knows her stuff” “I’d definitely trust him”

This is how we relay an experience. This is word of mouth. And what do they all have in common? Of course, these comments, in many ways, are irrelevant to the transaction. But we are humans dealing with humans and that’s why we must understand people, psychology, emotions and motives a little bit more if you are to have more successful sales.

Decisions, Decisions The fine art of selling is a series of fast flowing decisions. The dynamic is constant and our responses need to adjust.

And what are these things we call decisions?

“Decision making and problem solving are not the same. To solve a problem, one needs to find a solution. To make a decision, one needs to make a choice.” - Michael J. Marx,

Great selling is a huckle buck between the too.

Conor Kenny is the Principal of Conor Kenny & Associates, a professional development, training and direct consultancy company, (Best Professional development Consultancy 2018 – Irish Enterprise Awards) specialising in developing your people, performance and business.

His own expertise is writing and delivering high sales skills workshops and his first book, acclaimed by The Irish Times. His first book ‘How to Sell’ has since been followed by 2 further books; It’s Who I Am (2017) – Irish Times Best Business Books of the Year. Dancing at the Fountain (2016) – Irish Examiner Best Business Books of the Year.