How the emotional impact of money can ruin a sale – and what to do about it
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  • Blog post

How the emotional impact of money can ruin a sale – and what to do about it

Human beings have long been conflicted about money. It’s been called “the root of all evil.” And when it comes to our relationships, it’s just something we’d rather not talk about a lot.

But in sales, we have to think and talk about money, right? After all, a sale is all about money: You’re proposing a solution to a customer problem, for which the customer will pay you.

Well, yes. But salespeople need to understand that money can mess up your sales experiences, too, simply because of a set of psychological phenomena that take place when human beings — including your prospects and customers — think about money.

Psychological priming

These psychological effects are described in a number of research studies.

In one experiment, out of the University of Minnesota, researchers recruited two groups of volunteers and primed one group to think about money. The priming took the form of playing Monopoly, staring at a money-themed screen-saver and unscrambling phrases that contained terms like “high-paying” and “salary.” The other group was given no priming at all.

Afterward both groups were asked to perform certain social tasks: conversing with a partner, collaborating on a puzzle or helping a person who’d spilled something. Those in the group that had been primed to think about money seated themselves farther away from their conversation partners, were less likely to collaborate on the puzzle, and tended not to help clean up the spill. Thinking about money made them more antisocial, uncooperative and self-centered than they’d otherwise be.

Another study, from university researchers in Hong Kong, found that thinking about money makes us more guarded. The researchers showed participants pictures in one of four categories: furniture, seashells, leaves, and money. Then they asked them to perform expressive tasks such as writing an online review or describing a funny scene from a movie.

Those who had viewed the money-related pictures were less expressive. They tended to think it inappropriate when other people expressed themselves openly. And they were more likely to hide their own feelings.

Self-centered and guarded

These findings have enormous implications for salespeople. They suggest that when our buyers think about money, as is inevitable in a sales situation, they become more egotistical and less open. This, in turn, means that they’re less likely to engage in the healthy collaboration that’s essential to a successful sale.

So what can you do? After all, you can’t stop your prospect from feeling these negative human emotions when money is at issue. But you can minimize the chances of these emotions derailing your sale.

Here are three techniques that will help:

  1. Relegate price to where it belongs – low on the importance scale in a consultative sale. Tell yourself that discussing price is low priority, believe it, and act on it.
  2. Don’t let anxiety or unconscious feelings about price cause you to bring it up early in the sales process. Keep the focus on bonding and collaboration for as long as you can. Buyers will bring up price when they’re ready. Let them make the first move.
  3. When the price discussion comes up, keep it as clean, streamlined and emotion-free as possible. Other research has shown that it’s best to state your price simply and dispassionately. Don’t explain, apologize for, or justify your price. Just state it once and stop talking.

This blog entry is adapted from the Rapid Learning module “The Emotional Impact of Price Discussion: How to Minimize the Damage.” If you’re a Rapid Learning customer, you can watch the video here. If you’re not, but would like to see this video (or any of our other programs), request a demo and we’ll get you access.

The blog post and Rapid Learning video module are based on the following research studies:

Vohs, K., et al. (2006) The Psychological Consequences of Money. Science, 314 (5802), 1154-1156.

Jiang, Y., et al. (2014) Impact of Money on Emotional Expression. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 229-233.

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