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Psychology in the Workplace: Why Psychology Matters in Sales

We explore how psychology can help Sales professionals achieve more.

The idea that ‘people buy from people’ is a core tenet behind sales. Understanding how people think and feel about a product or service and establishing an emotional connection with the client is integral to creating a memorable sales pitch or campaign, and business success.

The psychology of sales explores how businesses can, and should, target and market to the customer by considering their psyche and emotional needs. Below we explore some of the ways that psychological understanding, tools and techniques can be used in the sales process to better connect with customers, as well as how salespeople can embrace their own psychological advantages to achieve more.


Psychological archetypes of the salesperson and what this means

Before we explore how psychology can be used effectively in sales, it’s important to look at the typical personality of the salesperson and how they can use psychology to unlock their inherent potential.

Psychologist and anthropologist Clotaire Rapaille asserts that the sales industry has a lot to learn from focusing on personality archetypes, which are defined as innate categories of personality and behaviours that appear across cultures. According to Rapaille, companies do better when they embrace, and recognise, the underlying core of these archetypes; not only does it allow for a stronger emotional connection with the consumer to be nurtured, but it empowers individuals within their organisation to unlock the potential of their own archetype.

Rapaille defines salespeople as “Happy Losers,” explaining that “whether they know it or not, they are like addicted gamblers; they are after the thrill.” He argues that people who are successful in sales demonstrate an attraction to high-risk, high-reward environments and this has implications for management and career development. From a management perspective, according to Rapaille’s research, sales teams thrive when they face the possibility of losing and suggests business leaders can motivate their sales teams by giving them bigger, high-risk projects. This implication carries over into the career development of the salesperson, with Rapaille also encouraging sales professionals to proactively seek out job opportunities that offer a greater ‘thrill’ in order to derive more job satisfaction and fulfilment.

Secondly, the typical archetype of someone working in sales is an extrovert – a person characterised by sociability, assertiveness and a tendency to seek out social stimulation. Though, while extroverts are potentially drawn into sales because of its social side, studies have found that there is no direct correlation between extraversion and better performance. In fact, research suggests people who exhibit fluidity in shifting between introvert and extrovert personalities – defined as an ambivert – can achieve greater productivity. According to Adam Grant, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, ambiverts outperform extraverts and introverts because they "are more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident.” This suggests that, regardless of natural personality type, it is important for salespeople to show flexibility and adaptability in order to push their careers forward.

What salespeople can learn from psychology

Being able to successfully tap into the human emotions and cognitive biases that govern how people make decisions or spend, can be a key differentiator for sales professionals in day to day pitching or in their sales strategies.

Two concepts in psychology reinforce the ‘people buy from people’ idea and can be used by sales professionals to their advantage: namely, the dominance of emotions over logic and the power of first impressions.

  • Emotional connections matter more than logic: For the most part, according to findings in neuroscience, human decision making is largely governed by our emotions. According to a 2016 study by Zaltman, 95% of our decision making happens in the parts of our brain that govern our emotions. In fact, Damasio (2000) and Bechara (2004) found patients who suffer from damage to the orbitofrontal and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in the brain (which broadly speaking, regulate emotion) can demonstrate an inability to make even simple decisions, such as choosing a shirt or meal, despite having intact cognitive abilities and still being able to use logic and reason.
  • First impressions: Additionally, research has shown that first impressions of a product, service or person tend to dominate over subsequent interactions. In fact, first impressions can become rigidly embedded into the psyche, with researchers at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business finding that negative impressions generated early into a relationship are often insurmountable or need repeat exposure to mitigate.

Essentially, emotions play a huge role in our decision making and in assuring us a decision is justified. For sales professionals, this means that while putting forward a fact-based pitch towards a client is important, perhaps what’s more important is nurturing a connection.

But what does this mean for salespeople? It means they can achieve more by nurturing their soft skills and appealing to our emotions. For example, using anecdotal, human stories can have more impact when conveying a message to clients, as can making use of personalisation in sales and marketing strategies. Personalising experiences for consumers according to their own needs has several tangible benefits, including increasing sales and reducing sales costs by 10 to 20%.

Salespeople can also take a leaf out of marketing’s playbook and learn to take advantage of cognitive biases to drive sales. For example, as outlined in our previous blog, sales professionals can harness cognitive biases such as the ‘decoy effect’ to drive sales. One can subtly influence consumers by positioning a cheaper or generic product alongside more expensive options, as it creates a perception that the more expensive option is of a higher quality than the alternatives. When presented with two options, the brain is likely to behave rationally (eg we select more cost-efficient choices). However, when presented with three or more options, we’re more likely to make illogical decisions, which don’t account for relative quality, cost or efficiency.


Making sales work with psychology


We have touched on just a couple of ways that psychology can help sales – but there are many more examples of how it can be harnessed, such as using psychometrics to assemble a sales team finely-tuned to the client’s needs or using experts to build trust by appealing to the client’s sense of authority. Ultimately, having a stronger understanding of psychology will not only help your sales strategy but can also provide useful insights that aid in career development.

The common trait in successful salespeople is, perhaps, their ability to connect with clients and consumers on an emotional level. Empathy, personalisation and being able to tap into the biases that govern our decision making and can distinguish their brand or service from competitors.


Broaden Your Mind: Join Our Psychology Masters

If you’re interested in learning more about how the human mind works in order to improve your performance at work, taking our BPS accredited distance learning Psychology MSc (conversion) course could be the perfect next step. Open to graduates with a 2:2 in any subject, it will help you to build an understanding of the core psychology behind why we think, act and feel the way we do. Plus, you will have the freedom to study part time, whenever and wherever you want.

Discover more about the course here.


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