Sales Psychology: Why Manipulation is Out in Sales

Manipulation im Vertrieb
June 8, 2021|By David Wolf
B2B customers, in particular, are highly informed today. Salespeople should therefore think and act in a demand-oriented way.

The basis for this is customer and sales data. They show how customers currently feel about the company and what future sales opportunities there might be. Hard selling and manipulation in sales have no place here.

In principle, we have all experienced manipulation at some point. Manipulation occurs in everyday life in many ways and can refer to different things.

Our behaviour, for example, can be manipulated by language, i.e. by the way someone says something to us, the way he or she addresses us. Information can also be manipulated, for example, when facts and events are presented in a one-sided, tendentious or distorted form in the mass media.

Manipulation is also used painfully in interpersonal relationships, for example, when supposed weaknesses or sore points of the partner are deliberately exploited to exert pressure or create fear – out of one’s insecurity – to induce him or her to behave in a certain way.

And finally, manipulation also exists in the business world, when potential customers are to be pressured into a business deal when one wants to sell them products or services they do not need.

For example, an insurance agent sells an insurance policy to an elderly lady, knowing that she does not need it because of her advanced age. The insurance agent deliberately uses psychological sales tricks to manipulate the lady into signing the contract in the end. Here, the manipulator triggers the fears and worries and uses them as an (unconscious) argument for signing the contract.

What does manipulation mean?

Manipulation means “handling” in Latin. The word consists of the terms “manus” (hand) and “plere” (to fill). A person who manipulates another person does so skillfully that his or her actual motive remains impenetrable.

Whoever manipulates, therefore, consciously exerts influence on another person. In psychological terms, this applies to all processes that aim to control the experience and behaviour of individuals and groups and – this is the decisive factor in manipulation – are intended to remain hidden from them. The fact that manipulation is taking place is therefore not apparent to the “victims”. They are not aware of it.

The difference between manipulation and influence

The Austrian expert for selling and negotiation psychology, Ulrike Knauer, said: We are influenced each day, and we also influence each day.

That is, in principle, nothing terrible. After all, in a fast and complex world, we need specific reaction mechanisms that make it easier for us to make decisions that are most likely advantageous for us.

“We lack the time and energy to analyze everything”, Knauer writes in an article in “Kompetenznetz Mittelstand”. She qualifies, however: “This influence should correspond to ethical values.”

Knauer distinguishes between manipulation and influence.

Manipulation is most effective, she says, when it does not look like manipulation and happens subconsciously, based on one’s values.

Only then would one no longer speak of manipulation but influence.

The line between manipulation and (well-intentioned, honest) influence thus seems to be narrow. It is not always clear whether salespeople are simply opening up their sales psychology bag of tricks and (come what may) trying to close a deal, or whether they are honestly and fairly orienting themselves to the actual needs of the (potential) customer.

Manipulation is, therefore, constantly also influencing, but not every influencing must be a manipulation.

Manipulation is always geared to self-interest, to one’s advantage. Even if this is “bought” to the disadvantage of another. The sales situation with the elderly lady and the insurance contract above is a suitable example for this.

Thus, manipulative action in sales begins when someone persuades customers to buy something they do not need. The focus is on the salesperson’s intentions and goals, not on the customer’s actual needs. But: The boundary is, as already indicated, fluid. Sometimes you must look closely to see whether it is still legitimate influence or already manipulation.

Why the time of manipulation in sales is over

Imagine you have a friend who refuses any sporting activity. So, you are certainly not going to ask them to join you on a long hike this weekend. They know they will run into a wall with that suggestion, so they do not.

However, many companies behave the exact opposite way. They make their customers offers that they do not even need and that bypass their actual needs. In principle, these companies are not interested in the customers, but only to their advantage, i.e., more sales and more profit.

Now some decision-makers may ask themselves what is wrong with this. After all, you must see where you stand in the competition, and if the customer buys, he has done so of his own free will. The main thing is that the figures are correct in the end.

In the long term, however, this is not the way to build loyal customer relationships. Increasing sales and profits at the expense of false customer needs are bound to go wrong at some point.

Why? Because today, more than ever before, customers are already informed about products and services before deciding on a particular provider. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly challenging to sell deceptive packaging. What is needed are offers relevant to the customer, oriented to his or her needs, and empathetic.

Machine learning helps with offers tailored to customers.

If you want to understand which may satisfy the customer’s needs, it is necessary to look at what current situation they are currently in vis-à-vis the provider company. Specifically, this can mean:

– Which customers are buying which products and which are not?
– For which customers are the churn risk exceptionally high?
– Which customers have the opportunity to buy additional products (cross-selling)?
Which customers buy which products at which price?

Answering these questions based on real-time data helps put oneself in the current position of customers and suggest suitable products or services.

In this way, companies can, for example, prevent a customer from being offered a product again that he has long since purchased. It is also possible to make the customer an offer that will help them in their current situation. Or companies should also consider the possibility of simply leaving the customer alone for a certain period.


Predicting customers’ future needs with predictive analytics

Just as it is now easy to use artificial intelligence to map the current customer situation, you can also use predictive analytics software to create forecasts for future new sales opportunities from a vast amount of customer and sales data.

From this data, correlations can be read, which provide information about which sales activities are worthwhile with which customers.

This sales activity can then consist, for example, of offering specific customers a different product that optimally complements their needs or an additional product (cross-selling and up-selling). If you proceed in this way, you will ultimately be making the best possible use of your sales resources.

You will not waste them on offers for customers whom you have been chasing for a long time in vain because they have no real need for your offering. In the end, it’s all about setting the right priorities in sales and concentrating on the most promising projects.

If you proceed in this way, you can leave the bag of tricks of sales psychology in the basement for the time being. Emancipated customers – especially in B2B business – don’t want to be forced into a passive role and “sold” something. These customers buy themselves. Sales need to recognize what motivates these customers to give the final little push to buy. Reliable customer and sales data are the basis for this.