There’s a lot about sales that can keep you up at night: finding prospects, fighting off competitors, getting buyers to actually send you a check, keeping them happy after they’ve bought.

But few things are more anxiety-producing than an anxious customer.

You’ve addressed every objection, outlasted every competitor, explored every need. Yet when you ask for the sale, the buyer becomes intensely interested in that little pile of paper clips on the edge of her desk. She clears her throat, taps her feet, shifts in her chair, and says,

“Gee, I just don’t know whether I want to do this right now.”

Emotional contagion
Conventional sales wisdom suggests that this anxiety comes from the buyer’s side – they’re stressed about making an expensive and potentially risky decision.

But it could be that the buyer has become “infected” with your anxiety.

Psychologists first proposed this “emotional contagion” theory a couple of decades ago, and since then many studies have documented its power with customers.

Basically, it means that emotions spread like viruses. If you’re feeling anxious about a sale, your buyer will “catch” your anxiety.

Emotional contagion can quickly create a negative feedback loop: The buyer’s rising anxiety makes you more worried about closing the deal, which makes the buyer feel even more anxious.

Breaking the cycle
The good news is that positive as well as negative emotions are catchy. What’s more, research shows that actions have a big impact on feelings. In other words, if you act calm, you and your buyer will start to feel calm.

One study, for example, found that when bank tellers made a conscious effort to smile, make eye contact and say “hello” and “thank you,” their customers’ moods improved significantly.

No big deal
So to manage your buyer’s anxiety, start by managing your own. Project a sense of calm and your anxious buyer will begin to relax. Don’t probe or ask for reasons why. Just nod to show you’re processing what the buyer is saying and give her some breathing room.

Also, try to normalize the buyer’s anxiety. For example, you might say something like this:

“I understand. Of course this is a big decision. It’s perfectly normal that you’d feel some anxiety. In fact, I’d be a little concerned if you didn’t have some butterflies…”

Relaxed selling
The larger takeaway from these studies is that sales are more likely to happen in a low-stress environment.

If you can create situations where you and the buyer both feel more relaxed, you’ll be successful. That’s a contrast from the classic idea of the hard-charging, driven salesperson.

It takes skill and practice to remain calm when anxiety is all around you. But it’s worth the effort, because it will create a positive feedback loop for you, too.

As you gain more success with this approach, your confidence grows. And that confidence will spread to your buyers as well.

Source: Service with a smile: “Emotional contagion in the service encounter,” S.D. Pugh, Academy of Management Journal, 2001.

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