Here’s another reason to get the discussion off of price
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Here’s another reason to get the discussion off of price

No experienced salesperson needs to be told that you don’t want buyers dwelling on price if you can help it. Yes, most customers will be concerned with price, and that’s understandable. But your job as a sales professional is to get the prospect in front of you thinking about something else, like the value of your offering, as soon and as often as possible.

Letting price dominate the discussion does a disservice to both parties. It ignores the unique benefits of your products or services, lumping them in with all the others. At the same time, it allows buyers to delude themselves into thinking that if they just get the lowest price possible, they’ve gotten the best deal. This isn’t always the case; in fact, it rarely is.

So, it’s clear why you want to talk about value rather than price. But is there another reason to get away from purely monetary considerations?

Behavioral research suggests that there is such a reason, and it’s a psychologically deep one.

Money-priming

Kathleen Vohs is a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota who has researched the psychology of money. In one landmark study, Vohs and her collaborators performed a series of experiments in which participants were primed in various ways to think about money. They were directed to:

  • unscramble phrases that contained money-related terms, such as “high-paying” and “salary”
  • stare at a money-related screensaver, and
  • play Monopoly

During or after these exercises, the participants were asked to perform a variety of social tasks: assisting someone who was struggling with the word-scramble puzzle, helping a person who had dropped her pencils (this person was a secret confederate of the researchers) and conversing with a partner.

Across the board, the participants who had been primed with thoughts about money were less sociable and more egocentric than a control group that wasn’t primed in this way. The former were less likely to help others, or seat themselves farther away from those they’d been asked to converse with.

Stifling emotion

In another study, this one by university academics in Hong Kong, people were shown pictures of furniture, seashells, leaves and money. Then they were asked to perform expressive tasks such as writing a negative online review or describing a funny scene from a movie.

The researchers found that those who had viewed pictures of money were less willing to express themselves openly than the others. They also were more likely to deem it inappropriate when other people expressed themselves openly. (This effect was measured in a separate experiment.)

The researchers concluded that thinking about money created a “business-like mindset” that stimulated impersonal and self-focused behaviors, “showing little concern for the needs of others.” People in this mindset consider it prudent to hide their feelings.

In the arena

Think about what these human behaviors might mean in a sales situation.

Your buyer is going on about how he can’t pay more than X amount for a solution, no matter how acute his problem may be. Is he thinking about money? You bet he is, and according to the research findings, he’s in a frame of mind where he’s not inclined to help you out by moderating his demands or trying to find a compromise solution.

Or, your buyer isn’t talking about money, and you bring it up. You’re trying to show her how much cash she’ll save with your product, and that seems like an unequivocally good thing. But is it? Maybe not. Maybe you don’t want to get her thinking about money, with the attendant behavioral consequences. Maybe it would be better to talk about the greater productivity or reliability your product offers.

Not only are these buyers getting into a self-centered frame of mind, they’re also likely to hide what they’re thinking from you. And that can’t help with discovery, where you want them to open up about their current situation and how they might change it.

Steering the conversation

If we’re to be realistic, we have to acknowledge that you can’t keep the idea of money completely out of the sales process. After all, a purchase is essentially a monetary transaction. You’re providing a product or service, and they’re coughing up cash to obtain it.

But the research points out that as you go through the process with buyers, you’d be well advised to take every opportunity to steer the conversation away from pure price and into other areas — where your buyer’s unconscious mind won’t be picking up signals that tell him to be really selfish and uncommunicative.


This blog entry is based on the following studies:
– Vohs, K. et al. (2006). The Psychological Consequences of Money. Science, 314, 1154
– Jiang, Y. et al. (2014). Impact of Money on Emotional Expression. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 228-233

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