Sales psychology: how to use a more nuanced understanding of prospects to deliver more new business

Craig Mathewson

Posted on: October 4, 2021

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Category: From lead to sale

Sales psychology: how to use a more nuanced understanding of prospects to deliver more new business

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Don’t worry! 

Using sales psychology will not turn you into a Svengali who can control their prospect’s minds and behaviour.

Quite the opposite.

Sales psychology is all about understanding your buyer better, rather than obsessing over your own solution or targets.

As complex as buying behaviours may seem, they actually have several consistent motivators at their centre – and gaining an understanding of these will help you smooth the way through each buying journey.

In this overview we’ll help you to gain insight into some of the core motivators that, when understood, will enable you to apply sales psychology techniques to make the selling process easier.

The first rule of sales psychology

The starting point for any application of sales psychology is simple.

And it’s something you have always known.

All most of your leads want, is to be engaged in a productive conversation about what is most important to their role and organisation at the moment.

Nothing more, nothing less. 

So, the first principles of sales psychology are:

  • To ask relevant questions
  • To offer meaningful insight
  • To actively listen and respond

In other words, you need to make sure that this sales journey is going to be mutually beneficial and mutually rewarding.

Four more sales psychology rules

  1. The rule of first impressions

It’s important that every relationship gets off on the right foot – and that this foot is not simply you trying to get a ‘foot in the door’.

Those early conversations and exchanges are not about hard sell. They are about signalling your interest in your prospect’s perspective and situation, rather than forcing upon them your own sales agenda.

In fact, coming across as receptive actually makes what you do say so much more persuasive. When your prospect feels that you have listened and that your responses are intended just for them, then they will trust what you say and think of you as a good sounding board for their challenges.

Quick sales psychology tip: 

Always take the time to acknowledge enthusiastically what has just been said by a prospect. This clearly signals you have not only heard but are about to respond directly to this. 

Keep your response positive, even if it is to challenge, offer an alternative perspective or ‘move on’ the conversation. 

A healthy splash of PMA also works wonders in these early conversations.

Psychological studies have shown that breezy optimism can carry a salesperson a lot further than any application of sales skills.

In one famous study, sales candidates who flunked an aptitude test but scored well on assessments of optimistic outlook, went on to perform over half as well as those who did well at the test but were assessed to have a more pessimistic outlook on life.

Quick sales psychology tip: 

At all costs, avoid feeling the need to talk down competitors. 

You should remain upbeat about how you can help, or you risk falling prey to the tendency to attach the negative traits we describe in others to the person voicing them. 

Quick sales psychology tip: 

Try standing up when you make your sales calls. 

  • It frees you from a restricted seating posture and helps you achieve a more confident and approachable tone of voice
  • It also opens up your breathing, allowing you to sound more relaxed
  • And because you can now move, you will be able to place more expression in your voice
  1. The rule of cognitive bias

There are many cognitive biases that you can accommodate an understanding of throughout the sales process to ensure the journey runs smoother.

Here’s a quick overview of the main ones.

Confirmation bias 

What is it?

The confirmation bias is our tendency to trust and value information and opinions that support what we already believe. 

Quick tip:

Never try to ‘shock’ a prospect out of a belief. Instead, make your starting point what they believe and try to move their understanding and belief from here.


Anchoring bias

What is it:

The anchoring bias is our tendency to gauge value by making comparisons with either the first thing we see or the things that are immediately closest to it.

Quick tip:

This is often used for pricing – the classic benefits table and price is a good example of how you can demonstrate value through this psychological bias.

Social proof bias

What is it:

We tend to trust and believe things that other people – especially people we respect – express a love of.

Quick tip:

This is where interviews with customers, case studies, reviews and testimonials can really make an impact. 

Always have strong advocates ready who you can make available to chat to should customers wish to speak – it can be immensely powerful in moving a prospect on to the next stage in your sales funnel, especially if things seem to be stalling.

Quick tip:

By connecting with prospects over social media you gain an excellent opportunity to demonstrate social proof through the posts that you make, whether these be testimonials or evidence of your own thought leadership. 

Social proof is also enhanced every time someone likes or shares your posts. 

  1. The rule of many 

Sales talk is so often predicated on the idea of narrowing down choices, or getting the prospect through the funnel, that one very effective sales psychology technique can be easily overlooked.

And this is to simply widen choice rather than narrow it down.

Research has shown that even if your potential buyer likes a particular approach, they’ll be more willing to buy it when they have considered other potential options.

Known as single-option aversion, the concept comes from consumer research but is directly applicable to B2B buying behaviour. 

In the original research customers were shown a single DVD player – and only 10% said they may purchase it. But when different participants were shown two DVD players, a third said they’d make a purchase. 

Quick tip:

When presenting your solution, make sure it is tiered. When you give your prospect a basic solution that addresses their challenges, include with it your core solution and a premium option. 

The effect of this will be:

  • To make your prospect less likely to feel the need to look elsewhere for comparisons 
  • To see the basic and core options as having great value (see anchoring above) 
  • And there’s even the chance that they’ll plump for the premium option, meaning you’ve successfully upsold them!

Quick tip:

Another psychological effect is known as the paradox of choice

Anyone who has felt overwhelmed in a wine aisle as the thousands of bottles of reds loom above them will know what this is. Too much choice can leave us unable to decide and more likely to walk away from a deal.

  1. The rule of like-buys-from-like

Here’s a really easy way to use psychology to influence deals: basically, clients who think like you and your company are much more likely to buy into what you’re selling.

Robert Cialdini’s ‘principle of liking’ states that we are more willing to say ‘yes’ to people we like.

Quick tip:

Look for organisations that share your values and prospect here harder. Similarly, use customer profiles to ensure you are speaking with like-minded leads.

Sales Psychology – the bottom line

The bottom line of sales psychology is simple: 

Selling should never be about you, it should always be centred on your buyer.

And if you can keep that in mind, you won’t go far wrong!

Watch our explainer video to learn more about Sopro

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