The history of sales training has really strong roots in human psychology. Read on to learn more and how to apply 3 key psychological lessons today and improve your selling skills.

Let’s face it. Our sales careers are as frustrating as they are exciting. While we love meeting new people, learning, and forging alliances, we’re less enthusiastic about the pressure to close deals, meet aggressive quotas, and outrun our competitors.

The experience of selling is the business equivalent of walking a tightrope—with every interaction, we need the perfect balance of empathy and influence. We need to close deals without being salesy. We need to be efficient and deadline-driven without derailing our prospects’ learning processes. We need to be aggressive while staying patient.

The biggest lesson that we learn in sales is that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approach to what we do. We have to rely on our own instincts, mistakes, and experiences to grow in our careers. No matter how experienced we are, we need to keep learning—to draw inspiration from industries outside of our own. That’s where the following psychology concepts come in.

1 - We believe what we want to believe

‘Confirmation bias’ is the term used to describe the direct ‘influence of desire on beliefs.’  As Shaham Heshmat writes in Psychology Today:

“When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true.”

In other words—we’re not nearly as objective as we think we are.

Sales Takeaways

In our hearts as sales leaders, we want to position ourselves as unbiased sources of information—to do more than agree with what our customers want. We need to share feedback, provide data, and offer suggestions. Otherwise, we’ll potentially sabotage our relationships.

While the word ‘yes’ won’t make us better sales leaders, our ability to empathize will. Every sales conversation should be based on a process of listening—so that we truly understand our prospects’ perspectives and needs. We don’t need to agree with our customers, but we should be aligned around common goals, missions, and visions. Common ground will go a long way.

What’s especially important is that we’re self-aware of our own confirmation biases. Like our customers, we’re human and believe what we want to believe. We should set an example by challenging our own assumptions—and encourage our customers do the same.

2 - We struggle to notice what’s in front of us

In 1998, researchers from Harvard and Kent State University set up an experiment targeting pedestrians on a college campus to see how much people notice in their immediate environments. As Carolyn Gregorie explains in The Huffington Post:

In the experiment, an actor came up to a pedestrian and asked for directions. While the pedestrian was giving the directions, two men carrying a large wooden door walked between the actor and the pedestrian, completely blocking their view of each other for several seconds. During that time, the actor was replaced by another actor, one of a different height and build, and with a different outfit, haircut and voice.”

Half of the participants didn’t notice the substitution.

Sales Takeaways

When giving presentations—written or verbal—we need to make sure to keep things simple. Even more importantly, we need to help our prospects connect the between what we’re selling and what they need. ‘The obvious’ can be more complex than we realize, which means that we need to be thoughtful about our education and presentation styles. We need to keep the dialogue open, empower our prospects to ask questions, and never assume that they ‘get it.’

3 - We pay back what we receive from others

The ‘rule of reciprocity’ is one of the most powerful concepts in social psychology. The idea is that we’re more inclined to give something away—like our money or time—if we get something first.

The idea is built on goodwill—that when someone does something nice for us, we want to reciprocate. Bonds become stronger, and we feel good about investing our time and resources with partners who show us kindness.

Sales Takeaways

Give before you expect to get anything. Be a resource to your prospects, and find ways to be helpful. Offer up the opportunity to make a connection, blog about the person you’re trying to reach, offer to sign an NDA, and put in extra time to make your customer feel comfortable. Your efforts won’t go unnoticed.

Final thoughts

The bottom line is that we need to empathize with our customers and prospects, on a human level. People do business with other people, and the more we understand this trend, the more empowered we’ll be to walk that ‘sales tight role’ without feeling salesy or awkward.

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