The psychology of selling: Is it science or is it art?

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By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report

I ran across an interesting story the other day regarding the psychology of selling, and what motivates people to buy what they buy.

Is it true that selling is a science in that it is predictable. All it takes is to move from step one to step 12 in order to ensure a successful sale? Or is sales more of an art in that some techniques appeal to some people, but not at all to others? In fact, some techniques could work to offend others.

In writing for The Startup, Cole Schafer noted, “When it comes to your customers, the cold hard truth is that as soon as you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll surprise you and keep surprising you until you’ve dwindled your marketing budget down to nothing — leaving you standing with a heavy box of unsold products and an empty pocket.

When it comes to marketing and advertising, that is certainly the case. Any business owner knows there is no end to the line of people who have a better way to develop a website, create a marketing campaign, or advertise products.

I agree with Schafer in that there are two reasons why people buy a product. They either want to reduce or eliminate pain, or increase pleasure. That means when they buy a product, they are expecting to move closer to pleasure or further away from pain.

In the RV industry, I still sense we are doing more to sell a kitchen and bathroom surrounded by four walls over four tires than we are in trying to ease our customer’s pain or increase their pleasure.

Does it pain a buy mom or dad that they don’t seem to have enough time with their kids? Then buying an RV would force them to seek more quality family time.

Does dad really like camping, and so do the kids, but mom can’t stand sleeping on the ground and no air mattress is making it comfortable for her? In that case, an RV with a nice queen bed and bunks for the kids might be a big selling point.

Do people love getting far, far away from civilization? Then surely an RV would allow them to go out farther, more often and stay out for longer periods of time.

Shaefer notes that people do make emotional buying decisions, not necessarily logical decisions. An example he gives is that people don’t buy a cherry red Maserati because it makes sense. After all, any car with four wheels could be used for transportation.

No, they buy the cherry red Maserati because it makes they feel something, be it successful, wealthy, sporty, younger, older, whatever.

He referred to an earlier article that he had written about the 100 most powerful marketing words. As a wordsmith, that caught my attention, and it impressed me how quickly some of the words conjured up a specific image in my mind.

Words mean things when it comes to marketing, but can they also be used to move people toward making a sale? That’s where I see psychology making a difference.

Marketing got the customer in the door, does that mean the same techniques can keep them engaged and inching toward a sale?

Schafer also references several other psychological traits to explain why people buy a particular product. Then he connects the dots to bring marketing and sales together.

He closes his article with a series of questions that sales professionals should ask themselves about the customers they are trying to serve.

For example, ask yourself what emotions can you evoke in your customers to get them to take interest in your product or service?

By imagining what their triggers might be, a good salesperson will be able to move them closer to the sale. That does require more science than art.

Others who are involved in sales or marketing may find Cole Schafer’s article intriguing. It can be found at Medium.com.

Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber

A journalist who has covered the recreation vehicle industry since January 2000, Greg Gerber founded RV Daily Report on April Fool's Day in 2009. He also serves as the editor of the publication and website. As an Eagle Scout, he has enjoyed camping for decades and has visited every state except Hawaii. A DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three young women, he has two grandchildren as well. He currently splits his time between Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona. Greg can be reached at editor@rvdailyreport.com.

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  • Mike Martinkus says:

    There is nothing in the article that even attempts to answer the question posed at its beginning. “Is it true that selling is a science in that it is predictable. All it takes is to move from step one to step 12 in order to ensure a successful sale? Or is sales more of an art in that some techniques appeal to some people, but not at all to others? ” The author appears to be trying to sell marketing.

    • Greg Gerber says:

      That question was mine, Mike. I read the article and wondered if science was more of a science than an art. Psychology, being a science is what got me thinking that. Sorry for the confusion. You’ve done sales for a number of years. Is the process predictable or are there too many variables to make it an exact science?

      GREG GERBER
      Editor, RV Daily Report

  • Richard Charron says:

    No offense to the author (not you Greg) but the fundamental issue is that every customer is unique with different wants and needs and a professional will always determine what these are before even attempting to sell something. In my sales training career I always taught sales people to march the customer into a separate area to calmly discuss these issues before showing the first unit. It’s called controlling the sale and if you can’t do that you have lost the battle.

    • Greg Gerber says:

      More than controlling the sale, how can you begin to know what the customer really needs unless you talk to them. Many times customers don’t really know what they want let alone what they need. They just want to go camping and do so in style with as little inconvenience as possible.

      GREG GERBER
      Editor, RV Daily Report

      • Richard Charron says:

        That’s where a true sales professional comes into the picture. I would never recommend a purchase to a customer without first doing my homework with the customer to determine: budget, how they will use it, capabilities, tow vehicle etc. If you don’t spend a minimum of a half hour with each customer before even showing them the first unit you are doing them a great disservice. The most successful sales people don’t rush through each sale in anticipation of closing and moving on to the next. A bit complicated to cover in a paragraph but although the product has changed through the years, the basics have not. The only difference is, as a result of the internet, we are dealing with a better educated customer and our job is to help them sort through the facts and inaccuracies. Most salespeople go directly to pricing which while important, is hardly fair to the customer.

        • RVMAN says:

          Everybody in this industry could learn something from Mr Charron, I know I did. Dick is/was the best rep that I ever had the pleasure to work with.
          Absolutely the finest of gentlemen.

          • Greg Gerber says:

            Maybe we could entice Dick to write a few guest columns for us?

            GREG GERBER
            Editor, RV Daily Report

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