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