Treasure Valley salespeople explain how they get you to buy

Salesmanship begins with understanding how customers think. Here are the strategies some use to win over customers - and others use to manipulate them.

zkyle@idahostatesman.comMay 6, 2014 

  • Understanding customers

    Keller Williams, the parent agency for real estate agent Jill Giese's business, trains its agents to identify where clients fall on a spectrum of four personality types. Each archetype has its own description and list of motivations and fears. Giese said understanding the archetypes helps agents relate to customers and sidestep pitfalls resulting from incompatible personalities.

    Giese said the archetypes also help her negotiate differences between couples. She said she winds up playing marriage counselor, explaining to each partner why the other partner can't make decisions as quickly or why emotional components of the home are important.

    "Often, opposites attract, which is great until people become more of who they are when (the) stress level goes up, when they're buying a house," Giese said. "Then all of a sudden there's conflict, because partners see each other in a way they've never seen before."

    Engineers tend to fit in the compliant archetype, which values accuracy, fears risk and is willing to take as much time as needed to check all details, Giese said. Here are the other three:

    • The gregarious archetype, which is often bubbly, optimistic and flamboyant. People in this class are motivated by flattery and recognition, and they fear rejection.

    • The steady archetype, which is often embodied by stable people who are good listeners. Steady personalities hide emotions, fear change and ask a lot of questions.

    • The dominant archetype. Dominant people are often quick to anger. They fear wasting time and being taken advantage of.

    Giese said only 3 percent of people are dominant types, a group that often includes lawyers.

    Another common profession for dominant personalities? Real estate agents, including Giese. She said half the value of the personality-archetype training for her was learning to dial back aspects of her personality that don't mesh with that of clients.

    "Only 3 percent of people are (dominant), but I swear, 75 percent of Realtors are," Giese said. "So, you have all these hard-driving agents trying to deal with a public that wants to move more slowly, who wants more information, who wants to understand the process and feeling like they are being pushed around. It's no wonder why Realtors have a bad reputation."

  • Buyers Beware

    There's a dark side to sales psychology. Here are a few manipulative sales tactics that Konya Weber, marketing professor at Northwest Nazarene University, said consumers should watch for:

    • The bait-and-switch. A salesperson persuades the customer to buy one product, then switches in a more expensive product, sometimes without acknowledging the change or under the guise that the desired product is out of stock.

    • The reciprocity tactic. Salespeople take advantage of people's desire to repay favors by offering a small concession at the start of negotiations, then asking for a larger concession from the customer later.

    • The foot-in-the-door. Some customers feel guilty if they keep saying no to requests for concessions. Knowing this, salespeople may keep asking for concessions hoping the worn-down customer will yield.

    • The door-in-the-face. The salesperson asks for a large concession at the outset of price negotiations expecting the customer to say no. Later, the salesperson asks for a smaller concession to appear to have given some ground to the customer.

Boise real estate agent Jill Giese says it's a struggle for agents to show houses to engineers, programmers and other number crunchers. Analytical people seem to speak in numbers and graphs and can be hard to read.

But Giese said she's learned to speak their language. She arrives at showings for engineers armed with enough data to lull most shoppers to sleep. She avoids a standard question - how do you feel about this house? - because it doesn't compute with the left-brained buyer.

"When most of us have a gut feeling about something, it's a good thing," Giese said. "When an engineer or analytical person gets that gut feeling, alarm bells go off: 'Warning! About to make an emotional decision! Must have data to back up decision!' "

Of course, Giese isn't the first salesperson to try to get inside a customer's head. Sales pros have doubled as amateur shrinks since the dawn of time. But modern salesmanship has more research at its disposal than ever before, said Konya Weber, a marketing professor at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa. Research indicates successful salesmanship today requires adjusting to customers and not the other way around.

"In the old days, you had one way to sell," Weber said. "Now, a good salesperson wants to know what's important to you in your decision-making process. Is it feelings? Is it facts?"


Virtually all salespeople know the concept of "mirroring," or matching your behavior with the customer's, said Tim Crowley, regional sales consultant at Edmark Superstore in Nampa. Crowley, who averages 16 auto sales a month, said much of the practice comes naturally, such as not talking too fast to a slow-speaking customer or too formally to someone more laid-back. He responds differently to a jaunty customer excited to take a car for a spin (Yeah! Let's do it!) than to a more formal customer asking to inspect the vehicle (Yes, sir. Right this way).

Creating rapport makes customers comfortable, Crowley said. Customers don't buy cars if they feel the salesperson is pushy or trying to upsell them on a more expensive car.

"All of sales is psychological," Crowley said. "Applying it is emotional."

A customer's emotional response should matter more to a salesperson than whether he or she closed the short-term sale, Weber said. The rise of Internet reviews and an increased intolerance among consumers hold businesses more accountable than in the past for aggressive sales tactics. Weber said happy customers are likely to return, even if they don't buy. She said research indicates happy customers tell between three and six people about a positive sales experience. Unhappy customers tell between 10 and 13.

"You may even have to direct them to your competitor," Weber said. "It sounds counterintuitive. But if they feel you are honest, they'll still recommend you to friends. ... "

Good salespeople keep the long sale in mind, Crowley said. Many of his customers return to trade in or lease new cars every two or three years. Pushing them on a single sale won't bring them back, he said.

"They'll see somebody doesn't have their best interests in mind," Crowley said. "Henceforth, you won't get a lot of repeat business. That's the last time you'll see them."

Kevin Love sells Apple Inc. computers and products at the two Boise MacLife stores he manages and co-owns. Unlike Weber, he thinks there's as much opportunity for shady salesmanship today as ever.

He said longtime salespeople know how to manipulate customers. Love said the reason they don't - and the reason they often talk customers down from buying computers more expensive than they need - is because his salespeople need to sleep at night.

"Good salespeople are totally capable of bullying," Love said. "Set loose without any ethics, I could be a monster. So could other folks who have done this for years."

Love said customers are also annoyed by irrelevant product demonstrations, a practice he said is common in some stores but rare in his shops: "We don't want to give the impression they have to hurry up and learn everything they can possibly do with a computer."

Ultimately, power lies with the customer to call out pushy salespeople or demand to negotiate with someone else, Crowley said. Dealing with salespeople in his personal life reminds him to exercise that power himself.

"I know I don't like it," he said. "When I feel pushed, I push right back."

Zach Kyle: 377-6464,Twitter: @IDS_zachkyle

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