5 Insights Into Human Behavior That Will Boost Your Sales and Marketing

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First published in Entrepreneur.com

People are not rational. You can have the most logical and compelling proposal but still fail to elicit any response. If you are working hard but seeing little to no increase in sales, this could be attributed to a lack of understanding about human behaviors. A DNA survey involving 1,056 people from 52 populations revealed that people are 99.9 percent the same. In every human brain, you find the same makeup that gives rise to our thoughts and emotions.

Successful salespeople and marketers understand universal human behaviors well enough to use the right trigger words to get them to take action, each and every time. Here, we explore five common human tendencies and what you can do about them.

1. People will do more to avoid loss than to gain pleasure.

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman asserts that we typically fear loss twice as much as we relish success. This means price decrease has a bigger impact than price increase. For example, from July 1981 to July 1983, a 10 percent increase in the price of eggs led to a 7.8 percent decrease in demand, whereas a 10 percent decrease in the price led to only a 3.3 percent increase in demand. (Putler, 1992)

As a result of this loss-aversion tendency, people are also more likely to stick to existing solutions rather than to risk losing what they have. That doesn’t bode well for new businesses. So what can you do?

Consider offering free trials to lower the risk of going into business with you. Once they start incorporating your solution in their lives, loss aversion will work in your favor. It becomes hard for them to stop using your solution, so they will pay to continue using it. Money-back guarantees work in the same way. Legendary business consultant Jay Abraham calls it “risk reversal.”

2. People are naturally inquisitive.

Curiosity is something that distinguishes us from other species. Psychologists have theorized it’s something evolution has endowed us with to propel the human race forward and to ensure its survival.

From a marketing standpoint, this is also why clickbaits work so well. According to Professor George Loewenstein from Carnegie Mellon, curiosity creates an information gap. Whenever we perceive a gap between what we know and what we want to know, we can’t help but seek to close the gap. While I am not encouraging you to create clickbaits, you can apply this tip in the attention-scarce social media space. Great companies across time have made use of stories to draw people’s attention and bring their point across. Stories work so well because, unlike blatant sales messages, it provides the impetus to continue reading/watching. The ups and downs experienced by the protagonist in the story create an information gap that we can’t help but followThink about Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign and Subway’s story about Jared. The stories have literally turned these companies into household brands.

3. People are interested in themselves.

In his timeless classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Ancient philosophers concur, with Plato and Socrates arguing for psychological egoism, the idea that humans are always motivated by self-interest.

In marketing, one of the most prevalent advertising clichés is, unfortunately, “We are the best xx in town.” Businesses can’t seem to stop talking about themselves and how good they are.

As a web content auditor,  the most common problem I have seen in clients’ website copy is the excessive use of the word “we” instead of “you.” Businesses boast about their achievements and life stories, forgetting that people are primarily interested only in themselves. Seek to understand the needs of your audience and convince them based on their need, not yours. Even if you are running an online business, you should get on the phone with your customer to survey them on their needs.

4. People believe what they want to believe.

In psychology, it is known as confirmation bias. People search for, interpret, favor and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. The closer these beliefs are to their identity, the more deeply rooted it will be. Unsurprisingly, debates surrounding religion, race and politics typically end up in quarrels.

In a Pew internet research study, it is found that people who identify themselves as liberal are twice as likely to block or unfriend someone on social network who posts something that they disagree with.

If you are trying to sell someone on something, the last thing you should do is go against their beliefs. Once, I helped a client selling tuition services to parents. Their original sales message was saying something to the effect of “Your child is stupid; he needs private tuition.” We revamped the sales message, saying, “Your child has a lot of potential, but the school is not unleashing it. We can help.” Sales took off. All parents believe that their child has the potential to succeed. We went along with the belief, and let it flow to our offer.

5. People are naturally lazy.

In his book The Wizard of Ads, Roy H. Williams wrote, “Ask your physician how to feel good, and he’ll look you squarely in the eye and say, ‘Eat right and exercise.’ Yet for every dollar spent in fitness centers, Americans spend 19 dollars on cocaine.”

Instant gratification always sells. Get-rich-quick schemes play on this nature of human beings to make them buy into the promise of becoming a millionaire in one month with zero effort. Being aware of this principle, however, you can use it for greater good and to build a long-lasting business. For example, we can design our sales process to make it insanely easy for people to make purchases. Take the case of Amazon. Their one-click purchase button allows you to skip through the usually tedious checkout process. Apple’s iPod lets you play any song within three touches.

On top of that, we can limit the choices we offer to customers to increase sales. Barry Schwartz’s theory of “paradox of choice” explains this. In an experiment, 24 different varieties of a particular jam were on display. On the other table, only six varieties of jam were on display. Ten times as many people bought the latter.

Whether you sell jams, music players or insurance policies, you can simplify decision-making for your prospects. Instead of dumping 100 choices on people, narrow it down to three options for them. Better yet, do the thinking for them by recommending a customized solution based on their unique situation. It will be so much easier for them to make a purchase. As a by-product, your cash register will ring more often.

Let your business soar.

Conventional tactics tend to tell you to do a set of things without providing the rationale. Once you understand people at their core, you can do away with tactics and start to appeal to them in a non-sleazy and natural way. Leadership expert Simon Sinek said, “if you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.” Investing time in gaining real understanding about people will yield infinite returns for your business.

Ted Chong

Ted is the director of Ice Cube Marketing. His insights on marketing has been featured in AsiaOne Business, Singapore Business Review , e27 and TechinAsia. He graduated with a 1st class honors degree in Business IT from NTU. While not planning campaigns for clients, he enjoys a good read on books related to psychology.



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