Every small business owner knows the pain of spending a fortune on marketing materials that lure in a prospect or three; then spending an hour, a day, or even a week communicating with that prospect, educating them on the benefit of the product or service, moving closer and closer to the sale; and then watching the customer decide “not today” out of the blue and walk out the (sometimes virtual) door. Everything seemed to go right, yet no sale. No decision to purchase.
So How Do I Influence Purchasing Decisions?
The psychology of purchasing decisions is complex and fascinating, but business owners are often happy to forego some of the intricacy and nuance in favor of some hard and fast rules for getting people to decide to sign on the dotted line.
Unfortunately, things just aren’t that simple. This is a world where casinos and liquor stores sometimes go out of business. There just aren’t any absolutes that businesses can rely on when it comes to sales. That said, there are some things that you can do to improve your chances.
Believe in Your Business
One key fundamental with influencing purchasing decisions is that you have to believe in your product or service. If you are attempting to trick people into buying something that you know isn’t worth what you’re charging for it, forget it. Your lack of enthusiasm, and authenticity, enthusaism Go on home and find another way to make a living.
To be able to understand your customer and their needs, and to want to help them meet that need by connecting them with something of real value, is absolutely foundational to the sales process. The goal should always be the same – to make the customer happy so that they will keep coming back for more.
Balance Thinking and Doing
Behavioral economists have long understood that there are two sometimes conflicting cognitive modes in the minds of people who are trying to buy something.
There is a planning mode, what might be called a “thinker”, in which the mind is trying to solve a problem in the most effective way possible, and there is a gratification of desire mode, or a “doer”, in which the mind wants to satisfy an immediate need. This is why we’re always advised not to grocery shop when we’re hungry.
This does not mean you should create hungry grocery shoppers out of your customers. What it means is, if you want to influence their purchasing decision, you should appeal to both their thinking and doing mindsets. Your offers, marketing content, and messaging should provide some form of instant gratification (something of value to the customer) to engage them, but as a part of a greater or more solution that you provide. With that proper balance, your customers will be happy to make the decision to purchase.
Use Consistent Messaging for Consistent Results
Some of the factors that go into a purchasing decision (which includes a decision not to purchase) are very subtle—often so subtle that not even the customers know about them or can articulate them. In one study, wine retailers found that playing French music encouraged the purchase of French wine, while playing German music boosted sales of German wine—yet when asked, most of the customers were certain that music had made no impact on their purchasing choices. Researchers believe that presenting consistent cueing encourages a smoother mental process in purchasing.
Use Social Proof
People generally want to do the right thing. This works positively—people want to do what they think they are supposed to do, which is why “9 out of 10 dentists recommend” was and is such a powerful slogan—and negatively, which is why people generally follow social norms of behavior even in the absence of explicit sanctions for breaking those norms. Getting your products and services to be represented as socially positive through online reviews, and sharing stories about purchasers who have been happy with their decision is an honest way to influence future purchasers toward a beneficial decision.
Take Away Some Choices
Cognitive overload is another consideration to keep in mind when you’re thinking about your customers’ thought process. Deciding between too many options depletes mental energy and often leads a person to abandon the decision altogether and take no action. Consider the various points of decision a customer makes in their engagement with your business and see if you can make those “checkpoints” simpler. By limiting the number of options, you can more thoroughly describe the benefits (and increase the appeal) of each option without information overload. By respecting your customer’s headspace, you free them up to give your business its due consideration and come to the conclusion on their own, that your business meets their needs.
Experiment with Positive and Negative Contexts
People respond more strongly to a perceived risk of loss than they do to a perceived opportunity for gain of equal magnitude—it’s the way we’re wired. That is, “You could be losing $100 if you do X” is likely to interpreted as being more important than “You could win $100 if you do Y”. Try presenting the benefits of your product or service in terms of prevention of loss and see if it influences your customers any more or less than in terms of pursuing a gain.
There’s unfortunately no “magic bullet” that will resolve every purchasing decision in your favor. But by taking the psychology of your customers into consideration and using these well-understood concepts to their full advantage, you can set up an environment where it’s easier for your customers to make the right decision, and to buy your product or service.