MOST people like to think that when they buy something — be it a product or service — it is the outcome of a rational decision. They believe that they have made that buying decision all by themselves, with no influence from the outside world. 

Yet, in reality, our senses are constantly taking in signals from the outside and feeding them into the brain. As it turns out, there exists a brain mechanism that can, in fact, be persuaded by certain signals that entice us into making purchases.

It would be a major advantage for marketers and sales people to understand such brain persuaders and put them to use in their selling efforts.

In fact, various sales industries (including retail, online marketing, advertising and face-to-face sales) have begun paying more attention to this “neuro” side of selling.

Apparently, small tweaks to the sales environment can bring about buying behavioural changes in customers, leading to a significant impact on sales.

Take a supermarket setting, for instance. Research shows that a little tweak — such as adding background music with a slow tempo — can influence shoppers to stay in the store 18 per cent longer. This added shopping time brings about a 17 per cent increase in purchases.

That is just one tweak out of hundreds, and savvy marketers understand that all the tweaks add up to synergistically skyrocketing sales.

Let us look at some other types of human behaviour and how we can alter them in the real world to stealthily persuade.


The subtle agreement

In most cultures, the action of nodding indicates agreement — a liking or acceptance of something — whereas the opposite action of shaking one’s head indicates disagreement or objection.

While it is widely understood that if you like or agree with something, you nod, the reverse is interestingly true. If you nod first, liking or agreement will follow.

Different research projects have studied this effect, one of which involved asking participants to inspect a pen. One group was told to nod their heads during inspection while the other was told to shake their heads. The group that nodded liked the pen more and rated it more favourably.

Similarly, when participants were told to listen to a piece of music or an argument, they were told to either nod or shake their heads. Once again, those who nodded liked the music or agreed with the argument more.

This behavioural tweak uses a subtle act of affirmation to pave the way towards an ultimate agreement.

In face-to-face selling situations, experienced salespeople utilise this principle to obtain subtle affirmations from the prospect.

One way they do this is to ask the prospect nod-inducing questions that can only be answered in the affirmative. Example: “Would I be correct to say you want to be happier?”; “Do you want the best for your children?” and “Would you like to have more time with your family?”

With a few of these affirmatives stacked up by the prospect, it paves the way for fewer objections and less resistance from him further into the sales process.


Endowment effect

You probably have one of those loyalty cards, don’t you? Those cards that contain 10 empty spaces where you get a stamp each time you patronise the shop, and once all 10 are filled, you get a freebie?

Field experiments were carried out by researchers in a coffeehouse, where a group of customers got the standard “collect 10 stamps” loyalty card. Another group was given a different card with a slight tweak — this one with 12 spaces but with two stamps already “given”.

In actual fact, both groups had to get 10 stamps to get a freebie. Yet, the researchers discovered that the group with the already stamped card were twice more likely to patronise the coffeehouse again.

The science behind it explains that these “pre-given” stamps made the holders of that card feel that “they already owned something”. Plus, people tend to assign more value to the things they have than the things they don’t have.

So the loyalty card with no “free” stamps was considered less valuable, since the holders did not have a stake in it.

Researchers call this the “endowment effect”. In sales and marketing, this concept is applied to product bundles.

Using the example of car showrooms, more sales are made when consumers are presented with a fully-loaded car model bundled with options that they can remove, as compared to being offered a model with no extra frills and the option of adding on what they want.

In your next sale blitz, make your customers feel they already own something, as it is one invisible persuader that propels them further into buying.



Article by Tylus Lim, a neuro-marketing strategist with Breakthrough Academy Asia, and an entrepreneur. He has advised on marketing campaigns/materials in over 20 different industries. For more information, e-mail or visit