3 Science-Backed Strategies to Improve Sales Effectiveness

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David Hoffeld




There has never been a more exciting time to be in sales. Over the past few decades, there’s been an explosion of scientific research on how humans make choices and which factors influence what we say, how we act, and what we decide to buy. In the past, these scientific breakthroughs were buried in academic journals, so salespeople and business leaders did not have access to them. Luckily, this is no longer the case.

Science reveals that our brains follow certain predictable steps when making buying decisions. The more sales behaviors are aligned with how the brain is naturally influenced and creates buying decisions, the more successful and mutually beneficial they will be. Here’s a look at three science-backed strategies that have been proven to boost sales effectiveness and results.

1) When You Present Matters

When you are meeting with potential customers to deliver a formal presentation and you know the deal is competitive, should you go first or last? Two behavioral scientists conducted research that identified that presentation order heavily influences which vendor is chosen. Here’s what they found.

Whether you should go first or last depends on one primary factor: The time between the presentations. If you and a competitor are presenting back to back, you should go first because you will shape your potential customer’s perception and create biases that will put your competitor at a disadvantage. Researchers refer to this as the primacy effect, which describes the brain’s tendency to be more influenced by what is presented first than by what is presented later. This is why first impressions are so highly influential.

However, if there is some time between the presentations (more than a week), you should go last. This is because the memory of your competitor will fade with the passing of time, while your presentation will be fresh in the buyers’ minds. This increases the likelihood that you’ll be chosen.

2) Create Anchors

When your potential customers look at the price of your product or service, how will they know if it is a great deal or overpriced? Hundreds of scientific studies have identified that their brains will instinctively contrast your price with something else. Perhaps what they thought it would cost what they last paid for a similar product, what your competitor quoted them, or something else entirely. Studies analyzing this phenomenon -- the anchoring effect -- all arrive at the same conclusion: The reference point, or "anchor," your brain uses as the starting point is highly influential.

When your brain forms an anchor, it creates a bias that shapes how you perceive subsequent information. For instance, one study found that participants primed with high anchors were willing to pay 300% more than those who were given low anchors. Another study arrived at a similar conclusion when it analyzed how anchors impacted the size of donations. When potential donors were given high anchors, donations skyrocketed by more than 600%.

There are two ways you can effectively use anchors when selling. First, address price before you reveal it by creating an anchor. This will create a point of comparison that potential customers will contrast with your price. This can have a profound impact on buying behaviors -- one study found that sales grew by nearly 60% when a high anchor was conveyed, just before price was disclosed.

Second, use anchoring in your favor when negotiating. When entering into a negotiation, always be the one to create the anchor. If the other party begins with a low anchor, don’t take it lightly. People vastly underestimate the sway anchors have. If presented with a low anchor, adamantly reject it and then immediately introduce a new, more beneficial anchor.

3) Recognize Reactance

Why is it that when you walk by a sign that says “DON’T TOUCH, WET PAINT,” you want to touch it? Why have signs that say “DON’T LITTER” been shown to increase littering? It's because of reactance, the feeling of pressure that occurs when people believe that their ability to freely choose is being restricted by another. Reactance can be lethal to a sale: When it's triggered, people instinctively desire to rebel against the recommendation being made to them, even if it's for their own good.

Reactance is something that every salesperson must understand and actively attempt to neutralize because it is the primary psychological barrier to creating urgency. In fact, reactance is the silent killer of sales, because when salespeople attempt to create urgency they often unknowingly arouse feelings of reactance.

The good news is that just as behavioral scientists have studied what creates reactance, so too have they determined how to mitigate it. Research shows that when making a request, it’s vital that you frame the request in a way that allows others to feel that it is their decision and you are not pushing them to act.

Let buyers know they are free to accept or reject a choice with phrases such as “Of course, it is up to you,” or “This is a great offer you can participate in, if you choose.” Saying a similar phrase at the end of a request has been shown to both reduce reactance and increase compliance with requests, in some cases by as much as 400%. So make sure when you deploy strategies to speed up sales cycles and create urgency that you simultaneously minimize reactance.

The aforementioned strategies are just a few of the many revolutionary insights that have been uncovered by science. How the brain creates a buying decision is no longer a mystery; there’s a science to it. When you embrace this science, you’ll have a way of viewing and relating to buyers that is accurate, predictable, and reproducible. What’s more, you’ll find that buyers will respond more favorably to you because your way of approaching them will be aligned with how their brains are wired to be influenced and create buying decisions.

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