Sales Psychology: Techniques to Use and Why They Work

Top salespeople do a LOT of listening - so much, in fact, that sometimes sales psychology can start to feel like a therapy session.

We pored over the American Psychological Association’s 14 qualities of an effective therapist and found something interesting. Each trait that defined a great therapist also described the makings of an effective salesperson.

How is psychology used in sales?

Every salesperson knows that human beings aren’t rational economic creatures. Sure, sales is partly about need, but it’s also about how you feel. It’s about the emotions created by the circumstances, the customers’ relationship with the product and the salesperson, and how they view themselves. All of those are open to change, depending on how the situation is presented to that customer by you, the salesperson.

(And of course, we’re talking about the psychology of the customer here. The truth is that how the salesperson views themselves is also important. How are you motivating yourself? Do you have personality traits that help you sell?

We’re going to start by looking at some of the fundamental principles of how psychology is used in selling. But then we’ll get a little deeper, and see how selling like a psycho(therapist) can help you counsel opportunities to close.

Seven psychological triggers that build rapport & close deals

The psychology of selling has been studied for a long time. There are some fundamental traits that make someone more likely to buy. Let’s look at them, and how to help create them.

The desire to give back

If people give us something for free, we tend to want to reciprocate. It’s human nature to want to make things an even trade. For this reason, it’s good business to reach out and offer something first – a free gift, free content, or free advice and support. If you’re supportive and helpful for a long enough time, your customer will feel the desire to do something for you.


People like to do what they’ve always done. Once we’ve identified that we drink a particular brand of beer or we eat in a particular restaurant, it starts to become part of our identity. So the more you can get the customer to commit to you, the easier it will be for them to stay committed. Hand out time-limited free offers. Get them to sign up to your newsletter. That’s why we offer no-commitment, quit-at-any-time services, and that’s why they work.

Human connection

We buy stuff from people we like. It couldn’t be simpler. And we like people we have a bond with. That’s why it’s easier to sell to people we actually like, and why it’s useful to try as hard as possible to like all your customers. We’re far more likely to make a purchase from people when we have a human relationship, based on trust.

But it’s not just about getting them to like you. It’s about getting them to like your company and product, too. That’s where the power of branding comes in.


One of the key elements in persuading people to buy is showing authority. If you appear to be an expert – or better still, if you actually are – then it’s far easier to trust your recommendations and believe in your pitch.

But don’t just talk about your own expertise. Get endorsement from the experts out there, and highlight the expertise of those who built your product.

Social proof

We tend to like things that others like. For this reason, it’s vital to demonstrate that your product is admired and liked by peers, competitors and leaders in the customer’s field. It might be that their neighbour bought this product. Or maybe it was someone at their old company is using it. So long as we can demonstrate that it’s acceptable to someone’s peer group, it’s far more likely to be acceptable to them


We are all more likely to consume a scarce resource – one which might disappear if we’re not quick. This is the psychology behind the well-worn “limited time offer” and “sale ends soon” signs we see everywhere. But there are also other ways of creating the impression of scarcity. The whole idea of FOMO – fear of missing out – is based on the idea of scarce experiences and social capital.


This is about sharing principles and beliefs – the concept that we like to stand with those who represent the same things we do. It’s partly for this reason that Nike have stopped mentioning shoes in their adverts, and instead started to push their beliefs and moral positions.

Seller vs. therapist

So far, so good. All of the above psychological tools are vital in making a sale. Most of them are relatively well known and well understood among professional salespeople – although no less important for all that. But what if we go a bit deeper? What if we look at the tools of the psychotherapist?

Psychotherapists are professional listeners, and so are the best salespeople.

PandaDoc sales trainer, Patrickrecently posted on LinkedIn about how one top-selling rep has an average talk-to-listen ratio of 30:70.

how is psychology used in sales

Salespeople and therapists have a lot in common. They both require:

Pretty surprising, right?

Let’s look at one of the qualities of an effective therapist — according to the American Psychological Association — and see how well it fits with how top salespeople operate.

“The effective therapist salesperson is flexible and will adjust therapy the pitch if resistance to the treatment offer is apparent or the client is not making adequate progress.”

So, in the spirit of helping others succeed in life and in business, we are throwing on our proverbial sweater vests and kicking back in our comfy armchairs to give you the top psychotherapy qualities you can integrate into your sales cycle.

You’ve heard of relational selling. This takes that idea to another level. Let’s get into it.

3 more advanced sales psychology techniques

If you want to get a bit deeper into psychology, and how it can help you to sell, here are three more detailed and advanced techniques that can help make sales.

Unconditional positive regard

Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR) creates a climate where the client can express his or her true emotions without fear of rejection.

According to the American Psychology Association’s dictionary, it is an attitude of complete acceptance that many therapists use when building a relationship with a client.

How it translates to sales

Approaching sales with Unconditional Positive Regard is essential for building rapport quickly.

In sales, we often talk about having a thick skin and not taking things personally. Well, the same goes for psychotherapy. UPR allows salespeople to create a space where the prospect can comfortably express their emotions and feelings about the deal, or anything else, without fear of judgement or damaging the relationship.

This non-judgemental acceptance builds trust and will keep prospects coming back time and time again.

It can help to remember that prospects are doing the best they can with the skills/knowledge they currently have.

This isn’t to say that we become a doormat for the prospect.

On the contrary, UPR encourages healthy boundaries such as the call length, topic of discussion, and any limitations in what you’re offering.

Set boundaries early, but then make sure your client knows that anything said within those boundaries is completely safe. You are offering a judgement-free ear to listen, not promising to make any special concessions.

RELATED: The Rule of Three: A Super Simple Way to Balance Time and Effort in Sales

How we can implement it

UPR is the foundation of the Client-Centered Therapy approach. We can utilize it in sales to implement a Customer-Centered Selling approach with these three techniques:

  1. Unstructured interviewing — asking flexible, open-ended questions to reveal more info on the client
  2. Active listening — listening closely and asking questions to understand the content, not just listening to respond or manipulate
  3. Restating — repeating verbatim or rephrasing a statement back to the prospect to prove that you’re listening

With UPR, your presence will generate warmth and trust you haven’t seen before. Your clients will be excited to talk to you.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) suggests that the way people think about a situation determines their reaction more than the actual reality of it does. Cognitive Restructuring uses that idea to change the way someone thinks about themselves and their issues.

Cognitive Restructuring is a technique used to identify, confront, and then modify beliefs by interrupting maladaptive thoughts and disputing them to create good thoughts.

By approaching issues this way, the therapist puts the client in the driver’s seat, which allows them to reduce the impact of challenges moving forward.

How it translates to sales

Cognitive restructuring sounds fancier than it really is. Many top salespeople already implement a form of cognitive restructuring without realizing it when they talk about “pain points” with a prospect.

You can use this sales psychology technique more intentionally by outlining the flow of a typical painful situation.

First, examine the thoughts that are and aren’t true in your customer’s situation. Develop a more balanced thought pattern and outcome that they can adopt to keep the deal moving forward. Help them realize this, so they can adopt these new thought patterns.

Focus on the thoughts that will change their feelings and behaviors.

How we can implement it

Most sales teams are already doing the first few steps of this technique. They just need to round out the process by experimenting with approaches that get at the root of maladaptive — or damaging — thinking.

We recommend trying out cognitive restructuring with prospects that are not the decision maker at their organization. Build relationships with your internal champion by helping them identify, confront, and modify any harmful beliefs they’re holding onto.

Here’s a quick diagram example of how the process could work:

the psychology of selling

At the end of the day, your champion’s success is your success. Nurture their growth as much as you would your own growth by getting them to think, feel, and behave more favorably and more productively.

Relationship & Conflict Resolution Skills

The Sound Relationship House Theory (SRHT) is one of the most popular frameworks that marriage and family therapists use to nurture and resolve conflict for couples and families. SRHT explains the seven components that determine if a relationships will function or fail.

These principles predict stability and satisfaction for relationships, and the theory translates pretty well when we’re discussing business partners and corporate team dynamics.

How It Translates To Sales

When was the last time you closed a deal that had only one singular person involved in the entire sales process?

Likely never.

Most business transactions are completed with multiple team members across several different departments. Often, we need all these coworkers to play nice so we can get a signature and process payments.

By using SRHT, you can strengthen these relationships through friendship, conflict management, and creation of shared meaning.

How We Can Implement It

Don’t worry. We’re not going to sit down with prospective accounts and bubble-in questionnaires with them. What we can do is build a sound relationship house with our prospect’s teams.

*Cue the eye-rolls.

But seriously, take a quick look at this diagram and pretend for a second that instead of working with a married couple, we’re looking at this from a business perspective.

the psychology of sales

The principles of a sound relationship are the same, regardless of the type of relationship. It’s built on a foundation of trust and commitment and involves many of the same principles.

You’re going to make your life WAY easier with inner-account conflict if you target just a few of the SRHT components.

For example, turning towards instead of away will help team members state their needs, bring new awareness to small, often overlooked moments that can increase productivity, and create operational harmony.

Making life dreams come true creates an atmosphere that encourages each team member to talk honestly about his or her hopes, values, convictions, and aspirations towards the company and the deal.

We’re not going to look at all seven components of the house, but if you want to learn more, click here.

This sales psychology technique builds trust and commitment from the teams that you’ll need to close a deal and promote future upselling.

Call me crazy, but…

The modern salesperson is more than just a quota-crushing machine. We’re in the business of helping and healing too. Sales is more humanistic than the trade gets credit for.

Adopting and adapting some of these sales psychology techniques used for healing humans in therapy will make us more effective salespeople, and it might even make us better people overall.

Michael is the Head of Sales at PandaDoc. When he is not coaching eager new pandas or scaling sales processes, he is searching through crates of vinyl to find new additions to his collection.

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