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Psychological Selling

By Amy B. Garvey National Association of Payment Professionals (NAOPP)

Most of us think of psychological selling as using tricks or schemes to convince others to buy from us. Some even think of it as using prospects' psychological triggers against them. What if you truly understood the unconscious mind and helped prospects set in motion their own willingness to buy, based on a decision that would ultimately help their business grow and prosper?

Although reading a few short paragraphs will not make you an expert (many people study psychology for years and still don't fully grasp what makes the human mind work), perhaps a little better understanding of the unconscious and conscious parts of the mind and how they work together to make decisions will help in your quest to earn more customers.

The conscious mind, or cerebral cortex, is often referred to as the "new brain," which is the part of your brain that makes decisions and plans, organizes information and generates original thought. The unconscious mind, or "old brain," consists of the brain stem and the limbic system, and controls physical action and base-level emotions.

Put simply, the old brain doesn't reason or think; it merely responds with feelings of good or bad, fight or flight, and pleasure or pain, and these reactions are based on gut-level instincts.

"A desire to buy something often involves a subconscious decision," copywriter and author Joseph Sugarman wrote about psychological triggers. "In fact, I claim that 95% of buying decisions are indeed subconscious."

Most of us out pounding the pavement each day would agree that this statement is true, at least to an extent. How many times have you experienced this situation: You had exactly the offering for which your merchant was looking and at the right price, yet they decided to work with someone else.

Generally, people have a harder time saying "No" in person than they do over the phone. It's also psychologically easier for someone to say "No" to you if they've already said "Yes" to someone else.

Essentially, they feel a need to have what they hope you will believe is a legitimate reason for not doing business with you. They have a perfectly valid reason for not wanting to work with you, but because the reason is probably buried in the deep recesses of their unconscious mind, even they are not aware of it.

After decades of research into the human mind and motivational forces, numerous theories have been developed to explain why people behave the way they do. Yet no single theory could possibly cover it all: The conscious mind uses logic, reason, past experiences, research and opinions. The unconscious mind leads us to make decisions based on emotion: fear of loss or failure, excitement, survival and joy. Will and imagination determine each decision to buy or not buy.

You know your products and services well and believe that you've done a good job of proving this to prospects. They can will themselves to make the decision to purchase from you, but if they cannot imagine, or see themselves doing business with you, they will turn you down every time.

This is where those psychological triggers I mentioned earlier come in. Using what we know of motivational psychology, we can prepare ourselves with tools to help our prospects overcome objections they might not even realize they have. Part of our job as salespeople is to help our prospects align their conscious and unconscious thoughts so that they make decisions to help their business grow.

To use triggers effectively and ethically, you must employ many other sales techniques simultaneously. Ask leading and open-ended questions to get prospects talking to learn what is important to them. Use this information to tailor your presentation to their imagination.

Conversation provides the link between the conscious and unconscious parts of the brain. Have you ever seen someone's face light up when they began talking about something? Help prospects find the one thing about which they are passionate, and then help them see how doing business with you will help them achieve this state on a regular basis.

NAOPP posted the following question on GS Online's MLS Forum: "What motivates your customers to buy from you?"

Each of the responses we received marks an important point in motivational theory. Without delving too deeply into the various theories, I'll try to encapsulate a few of the experts' opinions as they relate to the comments posted.

MLS Forum member "gevorg" wrote, "When your customer believes and trusts you then they'll buy it from you," and "destin5440" added, "...plus they like you."

Belief and trust are similar concepts. It's difficult, if not impossible, to define one without using the other. A few definitions of trust are to believe; to have confidence in; to rely or depend on; and to expect with assurance. The "American Heritage Dictionary" defines belief as "trust or confidence." How do we inspire trust? How do we get our prospects to believe us? One recent study, the results of which appeared in the March 2005 issue of "Nature Neuroscience," notes that there are two distinct brain regions that can cor- respond to the old brain/new brain concept that I introduced earlier. The old brain region largely determines who and what we deem trustworthy.

To further their understanding of what helps us rate trustworthiness, a British research team led by Bryan A. Strange, a researcher at University College London's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and the Institute of Neurology in London, used brain imaging to decipher how the mind responds to different faces.

The participants in the study were shown images of 120 white male faces and asked to note whether each person appeared happy, sad, neutral, etc. They were asked to judge each face as being trustworthy or not, and not surprisingly, the faces judged as happy were also most likely to be judged as trustworthy.

This established an opinion based on perception, but their research went a step further. They also analyzed brain scans of the amygdala, the "old brain," and found that this part of the brain was significantly more active when shown untrustworthy faces than when shown trustworthy ones. In other words, a happy, trustworthy face did not activate the flight or fight part of the brain as much as a sad, untrustworthy face did.

Other similar studies have found that our ability to "hear" happiness in someone's tone during a phone conversation is equally in tune with our judgment of facial expressions. All the old sales advice is true: Wear a smile on your face and in your voice when initiating an interaction with a potential customer. Although other things certainly play a role in whether prospects decide to trust you, your chances are certainly better if their fight or flight instinct isn't excited.

MLS Forum member "johnmckee" wrote, "Most customers buy from me because I'm local, and they admire my persistent follow up."

Most everyone has heard of our old buddy Sigmund Freud, particularly as his name relates to "Freudian slips." That term evolved from Freud's research of the unconscious mind. One major development from Freud's research: Acceptance of the knowledge that conflicts between conscious and unconscious impulses gives rise to anxiety and defense mechanisms. This is what leads prospects to offer objections and eventually turn you down, despite the perfect fit of your products and services. Prospects' objections are simply defense mechanisms against what they perceive as a threatening or anxiety-causing situation. They experience anxiety because their old brain and new brain are in conflict with each other.

Your unconscious mind stores images and emotions based on gut reactions rather than factual information. Let's say you were two years old when your baby brother was born. As you grew into an adult, you better understood why your parents took you to stay with Aunt Misty in the middle of the night when your mother went into labor.

You have spent time with Aunt Misty in the years since this incident, and although you know she is a delightful person, you always cringe when you first see her. It's nothing that your aunt has done to you; it's simply your unconscious mind reminding you of the way you felt when you were two and yanked out of your crib in the middle of the night to be taken to a stranger's house where Mom and Dad were unavailable.

As you grew up, numerous experiences taught you that your aunt is a lovely woman who cared for you during your parents' time of need. Despite your initial gut reaction when seeing your aunt each time she visits, eventually you can relax and enjoy her company. You can bring a similar feeling of relief to prospects by being persistent.

The more persistent (and consistent) you are with them, the less anxious they will be when you call or walk in the door. They will likely relax their defenses and actually listen to what you have to offer.

Approach all prospects with a sincerely happy expression, both on your face and in your voice. Help prospects buy into your products and services by leading them to talk about what doing business with you will be like. Help them feel the positive emotions in their old brain while thinking about you and your services with their new brain.

Be consistent and persistent in your conversations and actions. Help prospects form this connection between their will and imagination, and they will become your customers.

Amy B. Garvey is Secretary of NAOPP. She works in the Upstate of South Carolina as a sales agent for New York-based Business Payment Systems. Call her at 864-901-8722, or e-mail her at agarvey@bpsmerchant.net .

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