The Psychology of Selling … What Marketers Should Know

We’ve all wished we could have a better influence in our marketing at one point or another. But getting people who visit your site or your store to buy from you is tough. Most of the advice out there you could quite easily call “stylistic.” It’s rarely about the psychology of selling, is it?.

Check out our thoughts on customer focus.

It’s vaguely psychological in the sense that it accepts that enticing people to buy your product are important. But it’s naive in its approach. It doesn’t seek to exploit the psychological triggers of influence.

psychological triggers of influence
Psychological triggers of influence.


Here, we’re going to discuss the various psychological forces that trigger the buying decision. How can you influence them? Let’s get started.


The psychology of selling … satisfaction

Human beings might have very different personalities, but they’re all wired on a basic level in a very similar way. This is particularly the case when it comes to pleasure and pain. People like fun and they avoid pain.

This basic fact is important for companies. Businesses that provide their customers with pleasure are in a better position to do business than those that don’t. Why? Because firms that provide pleasure will become associated with pleasure in the consumer’s mind.

The theory seems straightforward, but how to make it actionable? Today, many of the world’s top companies are using the A to Z process. The idea here is to take customers from their first interaction – point A – and get them as close to point Z as possible, before asking for money.

You see this sort of thing all the time from businesses. They won’t charge for their products upfront. Instead, they’ll offer customers a free trial that lasts perhaps a couple of weeks. And they rarely ask for credit cards either.

In that time, customers will use the product and learn all the many ways that it can help them. And, ultimately, they’ll begin to associate pleasure with that product. When that happens, businesses will look to close the sale. It’s an effective strategy and one that exploits a key human drive.


Use asymmetry to draw attention

Most people don’t like disorder. So, you perceive all objects with a symmetry around their center.

So, how you can you leverage this trigger principle?

Your audience will quickly comprehend information when you convey it in a symmetrical and orderly manner. On the other hand, when your composition provides a sense of imbalance, then the user might find it difficult to concentrate.

But, you can leverage asymmetry to draw attention towards important elements on your website – like the call to action buttons.




The media has known for a while that people actively respond to both precedence and novelty. In the consumer world, the same is true. Take novelty, for instance. Neuroscience has shown that our brains react to novelty in a fascinating way.

When we see something new, our brains immediately release dopamine, making us feel right. We then start to associate new stuff with feeling good and become, in a sense, hooked.

Take the iPhone, for instance. Everybody knows that the difference between the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 6 is small. And yet people were quite happy to throw away their iPhone 5 and blow money on the new version, just because it was new.

So what can marketers do with this information? The key here is to continuously tweak your product. Add a couple of new features, change the styling, or even do a simple rebrand. These can all be effective in driving new sales and giving customers what they want.

Customers will call your bluff if you don’t add essential new features or change your business model.



The famous psychologist Daniel Kahneman said that the law of least effort applies to cognitive as well as physical energy. His theory says that if people have some options to achieve the same goal, they will choose the easiest.

His argument, therefore, is that people like stuff that is easy and dislike stuff that is hard. We are lazy. It was a survival benefit for us to expend as little energy as possible because we never quite knew when our next meal would arrive.

Because laziness is so deeply built into our psychology, it’s something that is paramount for businesses. Firms need to make the customer experiences as painless and as comfortable as they possibly can.

Take making payments, for instance. Customers want to be able to make payments as quickly and as easily as possible. But often businesses don’t offer solutions that cater to their needs. Nobody wants to spend ages filling out a direct debit order form every time they make a big purchase.

Recently, however, we’ve seen the rise of consumer financing companies. These companies make it easier for businesses to offer customers financing options. Crucially, they’re quicker and smarter than the finance options of the past. And many of them can be handled by a single POS terminal.


Evoke a visceral reaction

Occasionally, you can win over people and get them to love you by directly triggering their central nervous systems. People just feel that your website is great and can’t get enough of it.

What am I talking about? It is a visceral reaction.

We all react, subconsciously, to certain things. 

How we are subconsciously affected is relatively consistent, across genders and demographics, because these reactions are rooted in our old brain.

So, how can you evoke a visceral reaction on your website and make people want to experience it again?

One simple way is by leveraging colorful pictures. Airbnb uses beautiful images to please its visitors and make a great first impression.



Steve Jobs wasn’t the best manager or the best engineer. But what he could do better than anybody else in the world was to market. He understood that they way to sell to people was to create an alliance with them to solve a problem.

Creating a common enemy helps to unite businesses and consumers in a fundamental way. It makes it seem as if they are on the same team and have to work together to face down a common foe.

In the 1980s, Apple saw that Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard were running away with the desktop market. Jobs immediately saw an opportunity to cast Apple and its consumers as the underdog, and the PC firms as the corporate giants.

It didn’t matter that Apple itself was a big company. All that mattered was that Apple was uniting its customers under one banner against the PC.

The advice for small businesses is simply to find a common enemy.


Psychological triggers of influence … apply Hick’s Law

Psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman conducted choice reaction experiments to assess cognitive information capacity. They found that increasing the number of options increased the time that it took to make a decision exponentially.


A typical application of this law is the jam study that you might have read. When the number of choices at a grocery store was decreased by 18, the sales shot up from 3% to 30%.


So, how does this law apply to your website design?

Instead of providing ten choices to your visitors and overwhelming them….

You need to cut down the options that you provide to the absolute, bare minimum.


A consumer is bombarded with a lot of information, every day. So, when they visit your website, value their time and present them with your most compelling offer.


The psychology of selling … make a personal connection with readers

Ultimately, it’s all about connecting with your audience emotionally. If you can’t communicate a relevant offer for the user at the moment when he visits your website….then you’ve failed.

Here are a couple of ways to ensure that you take care of your readers.

psychology of retail sales
Psychology of retail sales.


Conduct interviews and user experience tests for qualitative insights

While data about your users from analytics is a good way to make decisions, it isn’t the best. Because it doesn’t tell people why.


Yelp leveraged a series of five tests, to analyze user behavior and derived valuable insights on the specific elements of their website.

For example, the search bar was one of their major features, and it was easy to use. They also found some features, like the ‘Events’ tab, which weren’t particularly noticeable.

Overall, Yelp found that although their site was usable and efficient for the visitors, there was room for improvement. They asked people for their inputs. And, this is how they ensure that people feel like they are a part of the design and that it’s easy to use.



A classic and powerful technique to make an emotional connection with people is by telling stories. Your design tells a story, but is it a compelling and memorable one?

I would recommend starting with my article on brand storytelling, to assess your visual story.

Don’t underestimate the power of storytelling. Check out the result of Ecommerce brand Raven + Lily. They were able to ramp up their sales by 150%, by incorporating product storytelling and doing a site redesign.



Need some help in capturing more customers from your marketing strategies? Creative ideas to help the differentiation with potential clients?


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Call Mike at 607-725-8240.


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Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+Twitter, and LinkedIn.  


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The Psychology of Selling … What Marketers Should Know