The Scam of Sales Psychology
“You just need this one trick to get people to buy from you. Use the power of language to make your copy impossible to resist. Create raving fans who buy from you on autopilot.”
These are just a few of the claims that we’ve heard that fall into the category of scammy sales psychology, and that’s what we’re diving into this episode of Duped. We’re talking about what you need to know right now about sales psych and what to stay the hell away from.
As humans, we’re hardwired to want to understand why we do what we do. And as a communications pro, and a copywriter, it’s literally our job to understand the psychology behind purchasing decisions and buyer behavior.
It’s why we’ve always been students of sales psychology and it’s something we consider in the work we do every single day.
Based on our backgrounds, you may be wondering why we’re doing an episode on the scam of sales psychology and how it’s positioned as a product and solution in online business.
Before we explain the ins and outs of what we all need to know around the hype of sales psychology, we want to point out that as a field sales psychology is real and valid. Many of the tactics we’re going to discuss today aren’t inherently bad, but instead, they’ve been exploited within the online ecosystem.
Now, let’s get into the current state of sales psychology in online business and what we all need to watch for.
The Promise of Sales Psych
As we shared off the top of this episode, we’re big believers in sales psychology because as business owners we need to understand how our community and clients react and behave.
When you’re focused on understanding why people do what they do and getting into their heads so you can serve them better, you’re doing it from a place of actual service.
Unfortunately, so much of what’s promised and hyped up about sales psychology in online business isn’t rooted in service, it’s about making the sale no matter what. It’s about hacks and shortcuts that are designed to mess with your head.
This is exactly why we started paying attention to anyone talking about teaching sales psychology over the past year. We’d look at what they were offering and think, “what’s really going on here?”.
When you look at how sales psych is being positioned, it’s always to sell you how to learn how to use it, how to hack your way to millions, or some equally eyeroll worthy claim.
The reality is that in so many of these cases “sales psychology” is actually used as a shorthand for learning how to run an effective scam.
Now, let’s get into some common practices that passed off as being about sales psych, but are really about stripping away the agency and self-trust of potential clients in order to make the sale no matter what.
Objection Handling: Overcoming Limiting Beliefs and Budget Concerns
One of the biggest promises of people teaching sales psychology in the online space is around handling objections.
If you’re selling anything, you absolutely want to be able to anticipate potential objections from your clients. That’s just a solid sales strategy as you want to ensure they’re able to make an informed choice and have all their questions answered.
That type of objection handling is not what we’re talking about.
We want to address money-related objections as part of this, as there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of people out there teaching how to “handle” people’s beliefs around money. This phenomenon is rooted in the idea it’s not really about the money, and there’s an underlying reason preventing someone from buying.
This is complete bullshit. Budgets are real, and the focus on people learning how to override people’s agency and disrespect them in order to make the sale is seriously messed up.
Persuasion as a Cover for Manipulation and Coercion
If you’ve been around anyone teaching sales psych, you’ve heard the word persuasion thrown around.
To be clear, persuasion isn’t the problem. We’ve both taken classes on persuasion as part of our communications training.
Persuasion in and of itself is neutral, and it’s a natural part of communications. Robert Cialdini didn’t write Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion as a guidebook for how to be a scammer.
Where sales psych goes off the rails is when they use persuasion as a way to manipulate you and coerce you into doing what they want. This commonly shows up in the form of “tricks” designed to get people to buy.
One trend we’ve noticed a lot is talk about science and brains. It’s a lot of big words thrown around, but it’s meaningless.
In looking at these sales pages, ads and social media posts, I got curious and started Googling these terms, and they’re made up. They sound good, but it’s some junk they’ve made up to assert their authority and convince you that you should trust them.
Remember last episode when we talked about word salad on sales pages as a way to confuse you? These big words and terms about sales psychology, your brain and “science”, definitely fall into this category.
The Deception of Neuro-Linguistic Programming
If the last few things we’ve discussed are scammy, this next one takes the cake.
For years, Neuro-linguistic Programming, or NLP, has been making the rounds of online business circles. The two places I’ve seen it show up the most are with copywriters getting trained how to use it for sales copy, and then coaches training so they can use it with their clients.
Within the industry, NLP is seen as an extension of sales and even more general psych of our clients. According to Wikipedia, “NLP’s creators claim there is a connection between neurological processes (neuro-), language (linguistic) and behavioral patterns learned through experience (programming), and that these can be changed to achieve specific goals in life.”
Oh, and this is probably a good time to mention it was created by one of Tony Robbins’ (yes, that Tony Robbins) mentors, and it’s something Robbins relies on heavily. I think if you’re listening to this show you probably are aware of problems with Robbins and his work.
We’ve had many debates with people in this industry about the use of NLP, and it’s not something we can personally get on board with. We’re not game for unlicensed professionals getting into our brains and messing with us after a weekend training at the Ramada.
These techniques and programs are not being taught by licensed mental health professionals, and putting them into the hands of someone who bought that $7 ebook Maggie saw in an ad on IG is terrifying.
There’s No Sales Psych Quick Fix for Your Business
As we wrap up, if there’s one thing we want you to take away from this episode, it’s that there’s no sales psych hack, shortcut or quick fix to skyrocket your business.
Here’s what to watch for:
- Think About Your Sales Process: When you think about how to improve your sales process, see sales psychology for what it’s really meant to do, to help you understand your potential clients. Not to trick them into buying from you.
- Watch for Red Flags: Keep an eye out for anyone talking about persuasion or sales psych, especially if they’re selling you a course or program that’s all about teaching you their tricks.
- Objections Are Real: We need to stop worrying about people saying no to what we have to offer and trying to overcome their objections. Objections are real and valid, and your clients deserve your respect.
- Limiting Beliefs are Bullshit: Anyone selling to you that’s immediately trying to coach you through your limiting beliefs should be treated as suspect. Watch for people trying to coach you through them in order to make the sale.
- Use Persuasion Responsibly: Persuasion is a tool, and it’s one that you need to use responsibly. It shouldn’t be used to coerce or manipulate people into doing business with you. And as a consumer, watch for people who talk about overriding consent as that’s the mother of all red flags.
- Steer Clear of NLP: NLP is the domain of cult leaders and charismatic celebrity entrepreneurs who are engaged in some shady shit. If you’re not sure, take the time to learn more about it and protect yourself from people using it without your permission, or more importantly, clinical training and oversight.
Links for This Episode
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- Seriously Shady Sales Practices Episode
- Neuro-linguistic Programming
- Leaked Records Reveal Tony Robbins Berated Abuse Victims, And Former Followers Accuse Him Of Sexual Advances
- Elaboration Likelihood Model
- Thinking Fast and Slow
- Bro Marketing Binary Episode
- Dynamics of Persuasion
- Amanda Montell
- Maintenance Phase
- Dr. Steven Hassan
- Dr. Janja Lalich
- NXIVM Episode on Maggie’s Podcast
- Seduced Docuseries
- The Vow Docuseries