5 Ways to Hack Sales Psychology and Sell Better

Hacking your psyche to sell better

Are you outgoing, projecting an air of confidence?  Or shy and introspective?  Either way, you have an equal chance of doing a great job in sales.

That’s right. The conventional wisdom that only more extroverted types can win over customers has been disproved by data and scientific research.  

No matter what your personality type, you can get leads all the way through your pipeline.  These are key steps to help you maximize your mental strengths, minimize weaknesses and become a leader in your sales force.

Get over the need for approval

It’s not about you.

For many people, this is the toughest mental hurdle.  A “need to be liked” is one of the biggest impediments to selling, according to Dave Kurlan, founder of Objective Management Group, which helps companies maximize sales.  The company even offers a 2-CD set of affirmations and self-hypnosis techniques.  “It can take eight months or more to overcome the need for approval,” Kurlan said.

Insecurity draws your attention away from the customer and onto yourself.  Big mistake.  Successful salespeople learn all they can about the potential buyer and tailor their pitches to the individual.

The need for personal affirmation can also lead to desperation in sales negotiations, a big turnoff for buyers.  Research has found that sales reps who feel helpless just try to pitch “the most popular or most expensive product,” said Jeff Boichuk, marketing expert at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce.

Having too much confidence can also be a big turnoff, and can lead you to ignore customers’ needs.  Successful salespeople check their egos at the door.  “That makes you more customer-oriented,” Boichuk said.  

Genuinely believe in what you’re selling

You can’t fake this.

“What gets people to buy is a salesperson’s belief in the product,” said Sherrie Campbell, a psychologist who studies her field’s intersection with sales. “When a salesperson genuinely believes the product will make a huge difference in the customer’s life, it inspires hope.  What gets people to buy is belief in the product.  A good salesperson thrives on hope.”

Genuine belief also offers another big benefit: It triggers emotions.

Be an emotional chameleon

“Selling isn’t about the product. It’s about the emotional environment,” Campbell said.

The key is to take the buyer on an emotional journey — but subtly. That means starting off where the customer is emotionally. “A salesperson needs to have a strategy of leaning back and letting the customer take the floor,” Campbell said.  

Don’t get lost in your head. When potential buyers tell you their concerns, don’t just strategize what words you might use to make a sale. Try to feel what the customer is feeling.  Then guide them toward the product as a solution.

Oprah is the ultimate master of this, Campbell said.  Even now with her magazine, she understands her audiences so well on an emotional level that she can get them to buy whatever she deems to be her “favorite” things. The message to buyers is: If it makes Oprah happy, it’ll make you happy.

Use rejection as fuel

Even when you try to do everything right, in sales you’re often going to face rejection. The conventional wisdom is that you should remain “optimistic.”  But research shows it’s more complicated than that. “It’s about attribution — explanatory styles,” Boichuk said.  

When an effort fails, especially one that looked promising, it stings. People have different ways of explaining it to themselves. Some reflexively believe it was something they did wrong; others are apt to believe it was about the customer.

People who blame themselves are more likely to fall into “learned helplessness,” and make mistakes out of desperation. People who blame the customer are more likely to keep going, but might not correct their own mistakes. In reality, when a sale falls apart there’s usually enough blame to go around.

“Transformational leaders” of sales divisions can use these times to enact “error management,” Boichuk said. It’s about helping sales reps get better, rather than getting despondent.

Great leaders show their staffs how to keep tweaking their approaches. And they help their employees see that. “If you’re out there trying your best and not getting a good response, you’re actually growing because of that,” said Boichuk.

Always see the bigger picture

Sometimes, believe it or not, a great salesperson has the confidence and psychological fortitude to tell a customer: “You know what? I don’t think this is the right product for you. Let me recommend another company.”

How can that be?  Simple, Campbell said. “The big picture should always be: What is my reputation? Am I honest and trustworthy?”

When you do that, you’re showing customers that you really do have their best interests in mind.  They then see you as someone they can trust. They come recommend you and come back to you to buy later on. Giving up short-term rewards for later successes has proven to lead to bigger sales, Campbell said.

Learn from George Clooney

What, you don’t consider yourself as charming and easy on the eyes as Amal Clooney’s husband?  You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from him. Yes, about sales.

He may look like the epitome of financial success, but Clooney spent years facing constant rejection at auditions.  On an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio, he explained that actors “are all salesmen.”

“But the product you’re selling is extremely and completely personal — it’s you,” he said,  which makes rejection particularly tough to face at first.  It “costs you something every time,” he said.  The key is to “get a thick skin and go, ‘I still think I’m on the right track.’”

One mental trick transformed Clooney’s mindset.  He decided to think of it as “gambling with house money.”

“From the minute you walk in, you don’t have the job, to the minute you walk out you don’t have the job. Nothing is different. The only thing that could be different is you get the job, period.  And if you think of it that way, you will take up all the pressure.”

The same can be said for you.  If you don’t make a sale, you’re not losing anything.

With a mindset like that, and with all these strategies in mind, you’ll be able to keep going.  And you just might end up at the top of your game.

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Josh Levs

Josh Levs is an award-winning multi-platform journalist and author of the highly acclaimed book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses -- And How We Can Fix It Together. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and three children.