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Maximizing every sales opportunity is critical for anyone selling online. After all, it’s sales and bringing in revenue that pays the bills.

Can we use the science of selling to increase sales?

The answer is yes, we can use some simple psychology to improve our sales conversion success.

Which do you think had the highest conversion in this A/B test by Highrise?

Read more about the results of the Highrise A/B tests here

The long form had a 37.5% increase in net signups compared to the original. Amazing right. After reading this post see if you can identify some of psychology used increased conversion.

We can use some simple lessons from the science of psychology to help us increase our sales conversions when selling online.

You might have heard the saying that “People buy based on emotion then justify after the fact with logic”.

So what are these emotions that influence our decision making process so much. Advertising research reveals that an emotional response to an ad has a greater influence on a consumer’s intention to buy than does the ad content by a factor of 3-1 for tv ads and 2-1 for print ads.

Emotions are not feelings
Emotions push us towards an action e.g. Fear: is an emotion.
Feelings are products of emotions. But unlike short term, intense emotions, feelings are: low-key, stable and sustained over time e.g. Worry: is a feeling
So how does this increase my conversions if selling online?

Well a blogger Brian Ahearn, did an experiment to see if emotion drives sales. He asked participants in workshop 3 questions:

Which do you prefer; buying or owning?
Which appeals to you more; spending or investing?
Would you rather buy a cheap car or an inexpensive car?

Which did you choose? Test it out on family and friends and see what they choose.

Brian found most participants chose the words owning, investing and inexpensive. Simple words that triggered the action of need/want/desire in the participants to purchase whatever was being offered. The products labelled buying, spending and cheap were considered negative statements, and the product purchased with these words was considered as poor value.

Everyone likes receiving the most bang for their buck so ‘owning”, “investing” and “inexpensive” suggest to the buyer that not only will this product be completely theirs, it will stand the test of time at minimal cost.

Selling online isn’t rocket science, but if you understand some of the simple psychology behind your customers emotions you can use it to your advantage.

Selling online – Increase conversions using psychology
Tip 1. Ask for a small action

We want a person to do something; in this case to purchase what we’re selling. People are more likely to take action when minimal parameters are set. An everyday example might be when ask a friend “for a small favour that will only take a minute”.

We know that small changes in copywriting can make an enormous difference in outcome.

Dr. Robert Cialdini analysed the door-to-door donation process for the American Cancer Society. The researchers looked at the phrase used to collect the donations. They tested two versions.

Phrase A “Would you be willing to help by giving a donation?”
Phrase B “Would you be willing to help by giving a donation? Every penny will help.”

A tiny difference in wording, but the results were dramatic.

People who were asked phrase B were almost twice as likely to donate and gave the same amount of donation as the donors responding to phrase A despite being told they could give a penny. A small action can overcome “action paralysis”. Makes you think right?

Tip 2. Understand your buyers pain

Everyone can be split into 3 groups defined by the “pain” they experience when purchasing.

The three types of buyers, let’s call them:

The Thrifty (61% of spenders) – people are able to increase their spending before hitting their maximum “buying pain”
The Nonchalant (15% of spenders) – are average spenders
The Saver (24% of spenders) – people that spend less than average before hitting their maximum “buying pain”

Which group is the most difficult group to sell to?

You guessed it, The Saver. However, by using some small changes in copy or by re-framing the cost you can increase your chances of The Saver buying from you.

3 ways to help convert The Saver

Change the copy – Describing it as “for the saver price” or “inexpensive” can help the buyer justify the purchase as being within their maximum buying pain.
Re-frame the price – The re-framing of the cost is often used especially by insurance companies. For example how affordable life insurance can be when “from as little as $3” sounds much more inexpensive than saying $91.25 per month. They both add up to $1095 per year, but which would you choose?
Bundle it – George Lowestein observed that customers, especially The Saver, prefer to complete all their purchases in one go rather than do lots of smaller purchases. That is why car company package a bunch of features together in different models, or why SAAS company create bundles.

Peep Laja has a good post about effective website copywriting. In it he talks about its the old brain that makes the decisions. He explains it with an interesting formula

Selling probability= Pain x Claim x Old Brain2

Pain: Identify the buyer’s strongest pain.

Claim: The strongest claim is the one that solves the strongest pain

Old Brain: start with a “grabber” to get the buyer’s old brain attention, visuals work much faster than words. The best visuals show before/after or beginning/end or then/now

Tip 3. Instant Gratification is always a winner

Customers should feel instant gratification when rewarded after doing business with you. That is why mail order companies have for many years inserted catalogues in product deliveries.

You should reinforce this to a potential customer with your copy at each stage as they are heavily influenced by how quickly they can receive gratification for giving you their money. Words like “instant”, “fast” or “immediately” can work as we find solving our dilemma instantly very appealing. Science again shows why this is the case. In MRI studies the frontal cortex part of our brain is highly active when we think about “waiting” for something. But it is our mid-brain that lights up like Christmas Eve when we think about receiving something right away.

When customers know they will be rewarded instantly they will be more prone to buy from you. This is great for anyone selling digital downloads which can be automatically delivered after their purchased.

This has got to be one of the most famous selling online case studies. It’s about how removing one tiny step of registering your email from checking out had an enormous impact worth $300 million dollars; all because it made the instant gratification from purchasing quicker and easier.

Tip 4. Stand for Something

The Harvard Business Review did some research into brand loyalty. Of those consumers that said that they have a brand relationship, 64% said their shared values were the primary reason. According to the same HBR survey 77% your customers don’t want a relationship with you. So why not focus attention on those customers that already appreciate your products and who do care more deeply about the things you stand for.

These customers will want to see that you share the same beliefs as them. Social identity theory suggests groups others identity (tells us who we are) and self-esteem (they make us feel good about ourselves).

An effective way to do this is to have a common enemy, or common cause to unite people. Here are two examples of this:

Copyblogger believes that quality useful content is king and the process of writing great effective copy is a real skill. It’ this belief that they have built their business around, providing solutions to training to help people write more effective copy.

A good example is Apple vs Windows, especially the 1984 Apple ad campaign. Apple was cool, very visually appealing, ideal for creative people. Windows and PCs were portrayed as dull and mundane.

Tip 5. Be your own devil’s advocate: Address your shortcomings

Should you talk about any perceived shortcomings to prospective customers? It’s a constant source of debate. You can help dismiss your customers nagging doubts by being your own devil’s advocate and addressing typical objections with solutions.

The guys at Conversion Rate Experts highlight that one of the ways to increase conversion is to list the objections why visitors won’t buy for each step of your sales funnel. List the most common or most dramatic and turn the negatives into a positive if possible.

The Conversion Rate Experts have a case study which has a great example of doing this. In this case study the Conversion Rate Experts they helped their travel company client double their conversion rate and earn an extra £14 million in a year. One of the many things they did to maximise conversion was to turn a negative into a positive.

Visitors and usability testers commented about the lack of a phone number being displayed on the site and how this made it difficult to contact the travel company. This was deliberate by the client as it wanted to keep costs down by taking only online bookings.

So instead of brushing over the fact or rationalising it and ignoring it, the Conversion Experts promoted the fact that it didn’t have one.

At the top of every page where you’d normally expect to see the phone number, it now says, “Where’s our phone number?” clicking on this text opens a pop-up with the following text.’s missing phone number was turned into a benefit

The negative became a positive that regularly receives positive comments.

If you’re interested to you can more about this case study here.

And if you want to know more about the science of conversion I recommend downloading the ebook 10 ways to convert more customers using psychology by Help Scout as it’s been a source for a lot of the tips in this post and its more like a slideshow so very easy to read.

Another recommended post is by Ritika Puri on Crazy Egg blog called 5 Conversion Experts Weigh in on User Psychology which has some very practical suggestions on how you can improve your website conversion.

Do you know of any other interesting posts or articles on the science of conversion? Let me know: I’d love to read them.

Photo Credit: trindade.joao via Compfight cc

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About the author

Geoff Austin

I talk and write a lot. Some of it about ecommerce, selling online, startups, SEO, digital marketing.

Currently, head of analytics for an automotive business in Sydney, facilitating a culture of data-driven decisions. Delivering data-based insights and intelligence.

Chauffeur to twin daughters and a pizza chef master.

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