Why is Scarcity such a Motivator?

We’ve just come through the holiday season and retail sales were up about 8% from a year ago according to MasterCard. It’s probably not a stretch for me to assume that all of you reading this took part in holiday shopping if for no other reason than to take advantage of the great sales that were so prevalent.

There is something about a sale that grabs our attention and there are two primary reasons we love to take advantage of the opportunities retailers present. Contrary to what you might think, it’s more than just saving a little cash.

First, we hate the thought of losing. That’s the principle of scarcity at work on us. We’ve become so conditioned by sales that we know when we don’t buy something on sale we’ve most likely overpaid; i.e., lost money. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman’s research shows people feel the pain of loss more than they do the joy of gain. In fact, most people experience the pain of loss anywhere from 2.0-2.5 times more than the joy of gaining the same thing. In other words, as much as we like saving $100 we hate the thought of losing $100 much more. Again, not taking advantage of a sale equates to losing.

However, as much as we like a sale we do know there are plenty throughout the year so what’s a retailer to do to get us to take action immediately? When you throw in some kind of limit our desire for the sale item is greatly heightened. Think about it; if there were not a time limit (“Sale ends Sunday”) or limited supplies (“While supplies last”) we wouldn’t be as quick to take advantage of the bargains. After all, it’s also quite natural for many people to procrastinate.

But why is scarcity such a motivator?
According to Robert Cialdini’s best selling book Influence Science and Practice, it has to do with how we’re wired, i.e., our evolution as a species.

“One prominent theory accounts for the primacy of loss over gain in evolutionary terms. If one has enough to survive, an increase in resources will be helpful but a decrease in those same resources could be fatal. Consequently, it would be adaptive to be especially sensitive to the possibility of loss.” (Haselton & Nettle, 2006)

While some things may be changing rapidly (human knowledge is doubling every 12 months), human beings evolve slowly, very slowly. Most people probably don’t live in life and death situations like humans did thousands of years ago but our brain wiring is essentially the same. So that wiring that was designed to help us survive still exists today, only it’s tapped into in many ways that are not related to survival.

How does this impact you? In two primary ways:

If you’re a consumer make sure you don’t reflexively act on things. While the sale may look too good to pass up do you really think it’s the best sale there has ever been? Do you think it will never come back around again? The answer is most likely no in both cases. So take your time on major purchases and don’t be so quick to jump just because you see something is 30% or 40% off. It’s very likely there will be President’s Day, Memorial Weekend, Fourth of July, and Labor Day sales that are every bit as good if you can be patient.

When you’re a persuader look for legitimate scarcity in your product, service or offer. There may not be one thing that is totally unique but perhaps there is some combination of features or benefits that can’t be gotten elsewhere. Tout the combination to alert people to the uniqueness. And if there happens to be a limit on time or quantity make sure you mention it because it will increase the odds that someone will say yes to you.

In order to be a master when it comes to persuasion always look for the principles of influence that are naturally available. Then use those principles of honesty highlight what you’re talking about. Doing so will significantly increase your odds of getting to yes.

Don’t be so Quick to Restock that Shelf

My daughter Abigail’s good friend, Maxie, used to work at a bakery in our hometown of Westerville.  One Saturday morning Abigail and I stopped by to say hello and get a sugary treat after having coffee. I noticed Maxie was busy replacing donuts and making sure the pastry trays were completely full. Unfortunately, it was a bad persuasion move on her part.

I asked Maxie why she was so quick to restock the trays after a few donuts or pastries were purchased. She said the bakery owner liked the trays to be full and he believed they looked better that way. I told her that approach is actually working against the bakery making more sales. Let me explain.

Two principles of influence were potentially at work in the bakery if the situation was handled correctly. The first was consensus – we look to others to see how we should behave in certain situations. The second principle was scarcity – we value things more when they’re rare or diminishing.

When people walk into a bakery and see a tray with very few donuts left, consensus kicks in as the first thought is – those must be good donuts because everyone seems to be buying them. Next comes scarcity – with so few donuts left, if I don’t get one soon I might not be able to get one. Both principles become a huge draw do make a purchase!

I’m pretty confident the owner of that bakery has many things for employees to do other than constantly restocking the shelves. One big thing would be having them engage customers and sharing what items are “selling like hotcakes.”

Have you ever been to a store where you obviously needed help but an employee or employees seem more concerned with stocking the shelves? That’s frustrating. Some of that may be due to their hesitancy to interact with people but I’m sure some of the pressure comes from a manager who feels fully stocked shelves is a high priority for the store. Not smart if you want to sell more goods.

Think about where you work. Are there things you have that people actually see? If so, don’t be so quick to “restock the shelves” because doing so reduces the impact of consensus and scarcity. Rather, manage the process so you convey what other people are buying and get your customer to “act now” so they don’t lose an opportunity. If you’re worried about employees standing around, teach them how positively engage customers in such a way that customers enjoy the buying experience and keep coming back.

Why Thankfulness Matters

This week people across America will be celebrating Thanksgiving. While this holiday has its origins going back to the 1600s with the Pilgrims it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln that we formally acknowledged the last Thursday in November as the day of celebration. Franklin D. Roosevelt altered that in 1939 when there were five Thursdays in November. FDR declared the fourth Thursday to be the official day and the Senate ratified his decision in 1942, officially making the fourth Thursday Thanksgiving in the United States.

The truth is we should be thankful every day and multiple times each day because there’s so much to be grateful for. If

Viktor Frankl could find reason to give thanks while held prisoner in Nazi concentration camps then we can all find reasons to be thankful each day. Unfortunately it’s human nature to take things for granted so it’s not until something is missing that we appreciate it more. That’s the principle of scarcity in action.

Speaking of being thankful, here’s an example of the wrong way to go about it. Many years ago a colleague needed help with something. What was asked not only required my time but the time of several others as well. It forced us to put things on hold for other people but nonetheless we “stopped the presses” and accommodated the request. This person got what they needed and went about their business the next day. What stood out to me was this – never did they thank us in person, by phone, or in writing. I remember thinking, “I don’t work for thanks. I get paid well to do my job,” but I also knew in my heart I wouldn’t extend myself for that person again and I certainly wouldn’t ask others to do so.

I don’t think I’m different than the average person in this regard. When I go out of my way to help someone – even when paid – if I don’t get some acknowledgment of appreciation I know I won’t try as hard the next time. Contrast that with people who offer genuine thanks and appreciation. I bet most of you would go above and beyond for such people.

Giving thanks is a form of reciprocity. This principle of influence tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. According to the French social psychologist Marcel Mauss, every human society teaches its people the way of reciprocity. We see this as we raise our children because one of the first things we teach them to say is, “Thank you,” when someone has done something for them.

Because we’re all brought up in the way of reciprocity most people are somewhat offended when the person they helped cannot take a moment to say thanks. Beyond offense, people are less willing to help thankless people as time goes by. It’s a natural human response.

Here’s why thankfulness matters. When you do express sincere appreciation people are more likely to help you – and others – in the future. Think about it; you help someone, they express gratitude, and you feel good about the action you took. You’re naturally more likely to repeat behaviors in the future that made you feel good about yourself. And the person you helped is more likely to help others too. That’s called “paying it forward.”

As we approach the day that commemorates giving thanks pause to reflect and see if you’re someone who regularly gives thanks when someone does something for you. If you don’t, or don’t as regularly as you should, make a commitment to start. I think you’ll be amazed at how people respond to you and you’ll be thankful you changed your ways.


V = WIG/P … What?

Don’t worry; this post isn’t about algebra or calculus. This week we’re going to look into the value proposition and how salespeople can use the principles of influence to make sure their product or service offering shines.

First, let me say my introduction to the value proposition came nearly 20 years ago when John Petrucci joined State Auto. I learned more about sales from John in his first year with the company than I had in my previous 10 years in the industry. One concept he shared with me, and others throughout the company, was the following formula for the value proposition:


Value equals What I Get divided by Price

Let me illustrate. Let’s say currently you can buy 12 widgets for $6. That means the value of each widget is 2. At some point in the future, if you can get 18 widgets for $6 then the value of each widget is 3. Or, maybe you can get still get 12 widgets but now they’re only $3, which makes the value of each widget 4. In each case the value of the widget has gone up which is a better deal for you!

Conversely, if you can only get 12 widgets but the price has gone up to $8, then the value of each widget is only 1.50. Perhaps the price stayed at $6 but now you can only get six widgets. The value you get from widgets has dropped to 1. In both cases, not as good a deal as it once was.

Bottom line; if you can get more and pay the same OR if you get the same but pay less, you’ve received more value. On the flip side, if you get the same and pay more OR get less but pay the same as you always have, then you’ve received less value.

Oh if life were only so easy as a formula! If it were, we would just plug in the numbers and always make the best choice. But here’s the problem – rarely do things play out in real life like they do in the classroom or on paper. Most of the time what we’re offering, be it a product or service, has many components that become hard to value in a formula. Here’s an example from the insurance industry. Many people assume one automobile insurance policy is like another. To some degree that’s true but here are factors that may account for much of the price difference:

  • Coverages – Not all policies have the same coverages and not all have the same coverage limits. More coverage or higher limits means paying more.
  • Bells and whistles – Many policies have extra coverages that are intended to make the policy more valuable. While these may be free (you can’t remove them and save money) they add value to the policy.
  • Claims – Not all companies handle claims the same. Those with better claims service usually charge more because they have more and better staff.

As you can see, it becomes hard to measure value when there are so many factors involved. However, if you’re in sales you’d better know how your product or service is different from your competitors. Your offering may not appeal to everyone but you may have a niche market you go after. That usually makes highlighting value easier.

So how you do use some of the principles of influence to highlight value? Here are three easy-to-incorporate examples.

Authority – People look to experts for guidance when they’re not sure what to do. Can you point to unbiased sources that show the superiority of your product or service in certain areas? Can you fall back on your expertise (years in the business, training, breadth of experience) to make a potential customer feel more comfortable?

Consensus – Humans are essentially pack animals. The vast majority of people feel better knowing what others have said about a product. Can you incorporate information about what the masses think about your product? Is there an opportunity to narrow the focus to people just like the person you’re trying to sell to?

Scarcity – People are much more motivated by what they may lose versus what they might gain. Talking about saving $100 (if your product is less expensive) will not be as effective as telling the prospective customer what they’ll will lose out on by overpaying.

Most people only have a vague idea about the value of what they’re getting even when they do a little research. For more on that just go back and reread my article on buying something as simple as an iron. Do we really know the value of the work done on our car? How about buying a lawnmower? Hiring a personal trainer? The list could go on and on with products or services where we can only “ballpark” to get an estimate of value.

A good salesperson will ask lots of questions to identify someone’s needs. From there they’ll begin to point people to products or services that best meet those needs. While doing so they will look for ways to ethically incorporate authority, consensus and scarcity to the degree that each is available. Doing so will help highlight the value of their offer and lead to a better buying experience for the customer.

So remember, even if you’re not a math whiz, V= WIG/P is a formula you want to know cold if you hope to succeed in sales.

Will the Price of Cubans Rise or Fall?

There’s a Seinfeld episode in which Kramer orders some Cubans. Jerry thinks he’s ordering cigars but Kramer actually brought three Cuban men over so they could roll cigars for him. He didn’t get cigars because they were illegal.

When America cut ties with Cuba after Fidel Castro took over, it became illegal to do business with Cuba. Whenever something is banned or difficult to get all of a sudden people want the banned or difficult to get things even more. That’s the principle of scarcity at work on the human psyche.

Here are just a few examples.

There was a point in time when you could only get Coors beer west of the Rockies. As a kid I remember my dad and his brothers talking about how good Coors was when they could get it. None of them drinks Coors now.

Yuengling is another example of a beer that was hard to come by, at least in Ohio, until recent years. I recall traveling with a friend who made it a point to stop at a conveience store in West Virginia just to buy a case of Yuengling.

Twinkies started flying off the shelf when it was announced Hostess was discontinuing the cake-filled treat.

Back in 2001, Oldsmobile exceeded it sales goal by a higher percentage than better-known brands such as BMW, Kia, Porsche, and many others, when it was announced the car line was being discontinued.

I’m a Scotch lover and asked an expert at a tasting event his thoughts on aged Scotch (25 years and older). He said he tries a glass but doesn’t buy a bottle because age doesn’t necessarily mean better taste. He said the reason the price is so much higher for aged Scotch is just because there’s less of it.

Why do we naturally feel compelled to take advantage of scarce resources or opportunities? From Influence Science and Practice:

“One prominent theory accounts for the primacy of loss over gain in evolutionary terms. If one has enough to survive, an increase in resources will be helpful but a decrease in those same resources could be fatal. Consequently, it would be adaptive to be especially sensitive to the possibility of loss.” (Haselton & Nettle, 2006)

Now here’s the interesting thing – once something is no longer scarce we don’t want it as much. There’s a good chance we’ll see this play out with Cuban cigars. Now that relations between the U.S. and Cuba have been normalized it’s a sure bet Cuban cigars will be easier to get. In all likelihood there will be a rush to get them when they initially hit the store shelves. However, as they become more commonplace it’s likely people won’t value them as much.

Humans are not always predictable so there’s no guarantee I’m correct in my assessment of what will happen with Cuban cigar prices. Only time will tell. However, given how scarcity works on the human mind and surveying similar scenarios from the past, if I were a betting man I’d bet on a price fall shortly after Cubans – cigars that is – hit the U.S. market.

A Funny thing Happened to me on the Airplane…

I travel a good bit and it seems to pick up
each year. For example, last year I was away from the office half of the weeks
during the year. Quite often my travel entails flying to and fro around the
When it comes to air travel, I’m a Southwest
guy through and through. Rarely am I late and I can’t recall a time when I
didn’t make it to my destination the same day I was supposed to. Combine that
with the best fares in the industry and people who seem to genuinely enjoy what
they do and it’s a no brainer for me to choose Southwest each and every time.
If you’ve flown Southwest then you know you
have to check in 24 hours in advance. They have me trained better than Pavlov’s
dog because I’m on their web site 24 hours ahead of my scheduled flight and
check in the moment the clocks tells me it’s exactly 24 hours till take off.
That usually gets me an A30 or better assignment which translates into sitting
almost anywhere I want to.
When I fly I typically have my iPad out to
read or get my MacBook out once we’re airborne so I can work. And I’m not
someone who throws their seat back so the person behind me has their legs up in
their belly or their tray in their chest.
Not long ago I went through my usual routine as
I got on a flight and almost as soon as I sat down the flight attendant said,
“Excuse me sir. You’re sitting in the row right in front of the exit row and
that means you can’t recline your seat.” I replied, “That’s not a problem
because I never recline my seat.”
As soon as we started down the runway I began
to think about not being able to recline my seat. The more I thought about it
the more I was mentally kicking myself for not changing seats when I had the
chance. Once in the air all I thought about was that I wanted to recline my
seat. In fact, my mind obsessed over it!
What was going on? After all, I almost never
put my seat back so why was I so obsessed with wanting to do it on that flight?
In a word – scarcity. The principle of scarcity alerts us to the reality that
human beings want things more when they believe those things are rare or going
away. To put it more succinctly; if we can’t have it, we want it.
In the book Scarcity: Why Having so Little
Means so Much
the authors wrote, “Scarcity captures the mind. The mind orients
automatically, powerfully, toward unfulfilled needs.” I didn’t “need” to put my
seat back but as soon as I realized I couldn’t I wanted to.
If you’ve raised kids you’ve no doubt seen
this. As soon as you tell a child they can’t:
  • Watch a particular movie it’s the only one
    they want to see.
  • Listen to a certain song or artist and that’s
    all they want to listen to.
  • Play with a toy and it’s the only one they
    want to play with.
  • Eat or drink something and they want it all
    the more.


Bottom line; deny something to someone and
it’s natural that they’ll want it even more. It doesn’t matter if they need it,
want it, or possibly have ever considered it before because scarcity changes
how their brain views it.
An effective persuader understands this and
one other important factor. It’s not enough that something is rare, difficult
to obtain or going away. The real key is that the other person becomes aware
that what you’re offering is rare, difficult to get, or might go away soon.
Disney is a master of this when it comes to
marketing. For example, Snow White has been around since 1937 so how do you
make people want a product that’s been around so long and is so easy to obtain?
Change it ever so slightly, offer it for a limited time then throw it into the
Disney vault. No one knows the combination and no one knows when the vault will
open again. When it does open up you can bet your bottom dollar the whole cycle
will repeat itself making people want Snow White once again.
Sometimes scarcity causes us to buy things we
don’t need or want because its pull on our mind is so strong. Having said that,
scarcity was at play in my decision to marry Jane. After 10 months of on again,
off again dating, I was talking to her in the break room (we worked together)
during an “off” period and she told me how happy she was and told me even if I
asked her out again she wouldn’t go out with me. Two weeks later we were
engaged! Was I played? Maybe so because I didn’t need her but I sure wanted her
and the thought of not having her was too much to bear!
Hopefully this gives you a vivid picture of
how scarcity works on the mind and causes people to take action. I’ll end with
this; since that earlier Southwest flight I’ve flown a lot and not once have I
put my seat back. Truthfully, it rarely enters my mind…until someone else
brings it up.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Closing

I remember when I was young and single I would
go out with friends and see pretty girls, but rarely had the gumption to go up
and talk to them. The reason was fear of rejection. Nobody likes that feeling
so we do what we can to avoid that possible self-inflicted wound.

In the same way I was afraid to talk to a
pretty girl, salespeople are reluctant to ask for the sale for fear of
rejection. It’s safer for the ego to let the prospect “think it over and get
back to you.” In their uncertainty, prospects do one of two things: 1) take the
safe route and don’t change anything, or 2) go with the salesperson who fearlessly
asked them if they could start on the paperwork.
The number one question salespeople ask during
The Principles of Persuasion Workshop® is, “What’s the best way to close?” My standard response is, “The
best way to close starts the moment you meet prospects for the first time, look
them in the eye and shake their hand.” From that point forward how easy or
difficult closing is depends on what you do. I believe closing the sale should
just be a natural part of the ongoing conversation with a prospect. The best
compliment a salesperson can hear from a client is, “I never felt like I was
being sold.”
Early on in this series I quoted Jeffrey
Gitomer, “All things being equal, people want to do business with their
friends. All things being not so equal, people still want to do business with
their friends.” Tapping into liking early and often will make a big difference
by the time you ask for the business. Always start your contact with a prospect
on a social level bonding over things you have in common and looking for
opportunities to offer genuine compliments.
The more you’ve done for the prospect and the
more you’ve gone out of your way on their behalf, the more likely they are to
look for some way to give back to you. If you’re unable to close the deal for
some reason you might still leverage all you’ve done as a way to get some
referrals because of reciprocity.
People want to know they’re doing business
with an expert because it gives them more confidence in their decision. As you
make your way through the sales process, show yourself to be professional and
someone your prospects can rely on for answers when they need them. In short, tap
into authority.
I believe consistency is the most important
principle to tap into during the closing. Reminding people of what they said is
a powerful motivator of behavior! This is where the upfront close comes in
handy early in the sales cycle. At some point during the initial meeting or
qualification stage you need to find out exactly what it will take for you to
earn the right to do business with the prospect. If you know you can’t meet
their requirements, cut your losses and move on. But, if you believe you can
meet the requirements you might want to say something like this:
“Shirley, from what you’ve shared it sounds
like if we can meet your specifications at the agreed upon price by the
delivery date you mentioned, we’ll be doing business, correct?”
You want the prospect to come back with:
“Correct. Meet those specs at that price by
the delivery date we discussed and you have a deal.”
This is also the time to confirm there are no
other hidden reasons that might crop up to kill the deal:
“Just to be very clear Shirley, are there any
other reasons I’m unaware of that could get in the way of us doing business?”
Again, you want her to confirm what you’re
asking. When it comes time to close you only need to refer back to what you’ve
already agreed on:
“Shirley, great news. We can meet the specs at
the price we discussed and can even deliver a little earlier than you
requested. Can we go ahead and start the paperwork so we can get everything in
It would be very hard for Shirley to come back
and say no at this point after you’ve done everything she asked for. Will there
be times when someone backs out? Sure. But, using consistency in an approach
like this will have more people saying yes and will make it much easier and
natural for you to seal the deal.
Last, but not least, is scarcity. Pointing out
what someone might save or gain by going with your proposal will not be as
persuasive as honestly sharing what they stand to lose by not taking the step
you recommend. For example, if you are in financial services, talking about how
much more someone might be able to save for retirement by setting aside an
extra percent of their income will not be as motivating as sharing what they
will lose if they don’t save a little extra.
Ineffective – “Ed, if we can find a way to set
aside just 1% more you’re going to have more than $100,000 extra in the bank by
the time you retire.”
Effective – “Ed, if we can’t find a way to set
aside just 1% more you’re going to lose out on more than $100,000 by the time
you retire.”
Hopefully these examples of weaving the
principles of influence into the sales process will take some of the fear out
of closing. There’s one more post in this series – asking for referrals. Next
week we’ll look at ways to make that happen as naturally as the close, by
effectively working the principles of influence into your sales cycle.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Negotiations

If you’re like the vast majority of people,
when you make a purchase you want to believe you got a good, or great, deal. What’s
your definition of a good deal? The deal is really the value you get from the
transaction and when I talk about value I use the following equation:

Value equals What
I Get divided by Price.
There are two simple ways to look at it. If I
can get more of something for the same price, that’s a better value. If I can
get the same amount but pay less, again, that’s a better value.
When it comes to value, getting a good deal,
everyone would like to get more for less. We might not get as much as we want,
or pay as little as we’d like, but believing the old adage – everything is negotiable
– we’ll try our best to get more and/or pay less. And so will your prospects.
Negotiating isn’t simply about lowering your
price or giving away more stuff to make someone happy and close the sale. It’s about
knowing when to deviate from traditional pricing or when to make concessions that
will make both parties better off in the long run. It’s fair to say all the
principles of influence and the contrast phenomenon might come into play as you
negotiate but a few will stand out a little more. 

Liking remains very important because the more
the prospect likes you and really wants to do business with you, the better
your chance of getting to yes as you go through negotiation points. Continue to
remain friendly, bond over things you have in common and offer compliments when
warranted because those simple acts will grease the wheel. One study I
regularly share in my influence workshops clearly shows people put in a
negotiation scenario had a much better chance of avoiding a deadlock if they take
the time to get to know each other on a personal level.

The principle of reciprocity describes the
reality that when you give, quite often people feel they should give in return.
This is very important in negotiations because your act of conceding on some
point might cause the other person to make a concession too and you’re now
closer to agreement. A concession might be sweetening the deal with something
that may not mean much to you but might mean a lot to the prospect. Again, your
act of giving is met with something in return. That’s the basis for bartering.
The key here is to be the first to take the step to the middle.

Consistency allows you to fall back on what
the prospect said earlier in the sales process. If they wanted certain features
and those features have a price tag then the reason for the price being what it
is might be due to their choices. Reminding them of what they said they wanted
is powerful because most people won’t come back with, “I know what I said but
I’ve changed my mind.”
Scarcity is closely aligned with consistency
because you can always offer to remove certain features to get the price more
in line with customers’ expectations or budget. If you recall in the post I
wrote on qualifying the prospect, I shared a conversation between an insurance
agent and prospective customer. The agent shared a little about business income
coverage and the prospect asked to have the price included in the insurance quote.
The new coverage will cause the premium to be higher but could be modified in
some way or removed as a concession if the prospect feels the price is too
high. With a new understanding about the coverage and their exposure, prospects
might just find a way to keep it because no one wants to think about an
exposure they clearly know is not covered.
Contrast is used to help the prospect see what
is being offered is in fact a good deal. If they believe your price is too high
you need to figure out what their comparison point is. Whatever they have
currently might not be a valid comparison point because the features may have
changed. If that’s the case you need to move away from the old price and get
them to see the value in what you’re offering.
For example, how does being $1,000 higher than
a competitor breakdown over the life of a product with a five-year lifespan?
Over five years, there are 260 weeks so your product will cost the prospect
less than $4 a week. Can you show the prospect how your product is worth much
more than the extra $4 a week you’re asking them to pay?
Bottom line – Don’t be offended that the
prospect wants more for less. We’d all love to have a Cadillac but it’s not
reasonable to think we can get it for the price of a Volkswagen, is it? And so
it is quite often in your negotiations during a sale. You need to work with the
prospect to come up with a solution that makes them feel their needs were met
and they got a good deal.


Next time we’ll look at the part of the sales
cycle I’ve seen salespeople struggle with the most – closing the sale, i.e., asking
for the business. This doesn’t have to be difficult if you’ve set the
expectations early on. Using the principles of influence effectively can make
closing a natural part of the sales conversation.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Objections

“Let me think about it” and “Your price is too
high” are two phrases salespeople dread. They’re perhaps the most often cited
objections put out by prospects during the sales cycle. As I noted in closing
last week, it’s not often a sale is made without resistance. Objections might
come after your presentation or they could be peppered throughout. This week
we’ll look at some principles of influence that can be very helpful in overcoming

Two principles that are particularly useful
are consensus and authority. They’re the ones to focus on because more than any
other principles they help people overcome uncertainty and that’s the root of
most objections. We’ll also touch on the contrast phenomenon because it’s
particularly useful to demonstrate your offering is actually a better deal than
the prospect might believe.
You may have heard the old saying, “The devil
you know is better than the devil you don’t.” What that means is, as bad as
things may be sometimes, there’s always the chance they could be worse with
change. That fear of change is always in the back of the prospect’s mind,
especially with big-ticket purchases. Below are a few thoughts prospects may have
as you present. In fact, you may have held some of these very thoughts last
time you bought something expensive.
  • Will it last?
  • Will it perform as advertised?
  • Will it be worth the extra money?
  • Will I regret this decision down the road?
  • Can I really believe the salesperson’s claims?


The challenge for the salesperson is to
uncover the real objection. For example, when it comes to, “Let me think about
it,” there may be something underneath that statement. Perhaps the prospect met
with another salesperson and kept their appointment with you only because they
said they would. It’s okay to ask, “What specifically will you be mulling over?
I ask because I might be able to answer some questions for you right now to
make the decision easier for you.” People generally don’t like confrontation so
it’s easier to avoid it by saying, “Let me think it over.”
Let’s start with price. When it comes to price
I tell people, “There’s nothing high or low but comparing makes it so.” If
someone says your price is too high it’s because they are comparing it to
something else. Your challenge is to find out what they’re comparing your price
to and then to reset the comparison point so they’ll see your offer
is actually a better value. The contrast phenomenon comes into play because
what you present first will make the difference in how they perceive the next
item presented.
The principle of consensus, that desire we
have to move with the crowd, can help deal with objections. You never want to
tell someone they’re wrong because that will only produce resistance. A better
approach would be to incorporate consensus through the “feel, felt, found”
approach. An example might go like this:
“I understand how you feel because other
customers have felt the same way initially. However, here’s what they found…”
Then you go on to show them what others discovered. It might be the realization
that a higher price, say 10%, is worth it because the product life is 20%
longer. Getting 20% more product for only 10% more money makes for a better
When we’re in a state of uncertainty making a
decision is a lot easier when an expert tells us what to do. Establishing your
expertise early on in the prospecting phase makes this much easier. That’s
using the principle of authority. You can defer to this casually:
“Ann, as I told you when we first met, I’ve
been doing this for 25 years and I can tell you…”
Maybe you don’t have that much experience or
the credentials just yet in order to be viewed as an expert. You can still
refer to others who are experts and you can share various facts to support your
“Bill, there’s a reason Consumer Reports has
rated this product #1 for the past three years.”
“Sarah, several independent studies show…”
Dealing with objections isn’t something most
salespeople look forward to but there’s good news. First, most of the time
people who throw up objections are engaged in the sales process and that means
you still have a shot at making the sale.
Second, if you’ve been in your role for any
length of time you probably know 80% or more of the objections you’ll face.
That being the case, you should be ready to answer those objections each and
every time. Give thought to the proper responses, utilize the psychology or
persuasion, then drill on the proper responses until they roll off your tongue
in a very natural way.
Even if you successfully handle all the objections
and the prospect clearly wants to do business with you the sale might not be a
foregone conclusion. It’s very likely you’ll find yourself negotiating over
price, terms, conditions or other items related to your product or service. The
next post will look into which principles of influence will help you negotiate
most effectively.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Presentation

You’ve made it through your first meeting and
perhaps subsequent meetings with the prospect. These meetings were designed for
you to build rapport, learn what the prospect needs and what it will take to
land his/her business. Now comes the big day; your opportunity to present.

Just for clarification; I use the term “present”
when you’re sharing intangibles such as insurance, accounting and other
services. When you have a tangible product where you show how it works or
involve the prospect, I call that a demonstration. Either way, it’s your chance
to build compelling reasons why the prospect should choose to do business with
you and your company. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
  1. Don’t talk yourself out of the sale – You
    might have 10 items to cover but if you sense prospects are satisfied after
    hearing their top three issues addressed, cut it short and ask if they’d like
    to get to the paperwork. Poor salespeople have a tendency to talk themselves
    out of the sale during this part of the sales cycle. Here’s a visual from the movie
    Jerry McGuire, when Tom Cruise made a
    long speech to Renee Zellweger asking her to marry him and she said, “You
    had me at hello.”
  2. Involve the prospect – If possible have the
    prospect handle your product as you demonstrate it. If not, make sure you ask
    plenty of questions to keep the prospect mentally involved. What you don’t want
    to do is drone on and on in a monologue because the prospect will tune you out.


The two principles of influence you want to
focus on during this phase are consistency and scarcity. Both of these
principles are great when it comes to motivating people to action. Let’s take a
look at why.
The principle of consistency alerts us to this
reality; we feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure
to be consistent in what we say and what we do. This is why it’s so important
to ask the right questions during your initial meetings. Perhaps the most
important question is something like this: Exactly what will it take for me to
earn your business?
This is not only important because of
consistency but also because you might learn some things that you know you can’t
come through on. If that’s the case, let the prospect know you won’t be able to
help them and move on to another prospect where you might be able to help.
Scarcity highlights the human tendency to want
things more when we believe they are rare, going away or can’t be gotten
elsewhere. Throughout your presentation you need to highlight aspects of your
product or service that are unique to you or your company. Maybe there’s not
one thing that’s unique but perhaps there are several features that, when
combined, make your product or service unlike any other.
This is important – it’s not enough to talk
about what you think is unique. You need to frame it in such a way that prospects
realizes that by not going with you they lose something; i.e., that uniqueness
that you offer. Six months to a year down the road why might prospects regret not
having gone with your recommendation? That’s what will give them pause to think
long and hard about what you’re offering.
It’s not often a sale is made without
resistance. Objections might come after your presentation or they could be
peppered throughout. Next week we’ll cover how to effectively use different
principles of influence to handle objections.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.