As products, organizational needs and customer buying cycles become more complex, so do the skills needed in order to be a successful salesperson. Just think about the intricacies involved in selling Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) software to a Fortune 500 company in today’s landscape, versus selling typewriters to a secretary pool in the 1950’s. Sales professionals are constantly having to learn detailed information about massively complex systems and effectively sell them to customers who have varied and far-reaching needs to address. However, there is one aspect to the act of selling that has remained largely the same throughout the centuries: psychology.

While it would be much easier if all buying decisions were reduced to budgets and features, psychology does play an important role both for customers and sales representatives. A poor understanding of your target customer’s psychological motivations can leave you with a sales strategy that can’t stand on its own in the face of intense competition, but you can use psychological practices to your advantage in order to better engage your prospects and your employees, encourage trust and openness, and open the buyer’s eyes to new possibilities.

Combine psychology with math

Psychological studies have detailed the existence of the so-called observer effect, wherein people change their behavior when they are aware that they are being watched. Most of the time this takes the form of wanting to prove you excel at something when you know that special attention is being paid to a particular behavior; sales managers can use this to inspire their sales team to operate at peak productivity levels.

Once you have developed metrics for tracking the performance of sales reps, share detailed information with them involving what specifically is being monitored and how this information will be used. When it comes to performance metrics, openness is always the best policy. Not only will the observer effect encourage them to do their best, but they will perform with more confidence knowing exactly what is expected of them.

Emphasize storytelling

The drive to tell stories and develop patterns is instinctively human, dating back to the oral histories that were passed along well before the advent of writing. Every sales journey tells a layered and complex story, and the clarity and nuance with which you convey the story can have a real impact on your customer’s ultimate decision. Just as people are more than willing to abandon a novel or abruptly quit binge watching a show with unclear character motivations and nonsensical plots, customers will quickly walk away from a deal if they can’t grasp where they fit in the story.

Encourage your sales professionals to ask, “why?”

The concept of empathy is largely undervalued in business transactions, and it lies at the very heart of most questions that begin with, “why.” The very act of asking “why” involves attempting to understand something that had not occurred to you earlier, often by putting yourself in someone else’s unique situation.

When faced with a setback in a conversation with a potential customer, any decent sales professional should ask themselves why the customer reacted the way they did. Perhaps you haven’t thoroughly explained a crucial component of the value proposition, or maybe they believe that discussing price at this stage in the process is distasteful. In certain circumstances, the answer to why you can’t close a sale is because your product is not equipped to address the customer’s specific pain points as they stand now, and avoiding pushing too hard could help preserve the relationship for the future. Your customers are far more likely to value a relationship with someone who wants to actually help them solve their problems, rather than one who approaches them only as potential revenue.

Nurture, and never abuse trust

Trust is one of the most fragile bonds in any human relationship; it is notoriously difficult to earn and simple to demolish. Abusing someone’s trust is an easy way to damage both personal and business relationships, but at least personal connections are likely to give you another chance based on familial obligations or time invested together. Sales reps do not have this luxury with their customers, simply because a spurned customer usually has so many other options at their disposal. And just as salespeople shouldn’t take advantage of a client’s trust, neither should you do the same with your team members.

Understand the role of emotion in the buying and selling process

The idea of a potential sale hinging on a customer’s emotional journey may sound frightening to sales professionals, since we are taught to believe that emotions can be unpredictable and entrenched. In reality, most customers go through a fairly standard emotional arc when they are faced with an important buying decision, and you can use this fact to engage them appropriately as they reach each stage.

For instance, it would be unproductive to keep referencing your customer’s competitors once they have moved past they envy stage, as it will only serve to make them feel like less of a priority and dilute the strength of your relationship with them. Similarly, you probably can’t do a very good job of generating excitement until you understand what they are likely to get excited about.

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