How Behavioural Science can give you an edge in sales

The key to being successful in sales is being able to understand your prospects and see yourself in their shoes. It doesn’t matter if you want to sell sand in the Sahara or in the Arctic, understanding what makes your prospect tick on a human level is the key to understanding their pain points. That is where Behavioural Science can help you.

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What is Behavioural Science?

I understand Behavioural Science as how people behave, quite simply. And it incorporates a number of disciplines from experimental and behavioural economics to social and cognitive psychology, from judgement and decision-making to marketing and consumer behaviour, from health and biology to neuroscience, from philosophy to happiness and wellbeing research.

In my podcasts and writing, I’m trying to understand and explain why on earth we do the things that we do, why we behave as we do, why we constantly make flawed, emotional decisions and what’s going on in that jelly in our heads.

All in this world of impossible uncertainty, and certainly in contrast to traditional economic models and theories about optimisation and opportunity cost assessment which don’t explain how the real world works, how we behave and generally muddle through.

What is the difference between Behavioural Science and Behavioural Economics?

Simply speaking, Behavioural Science is used to describe all studies into human behaviour. It can refer to both social and biological studies. Human behaviour can be looked at from the viewpoints of sociology, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience and economics.

Behavioural Economics tries to explain human behaviour from the perspective of economic decision making.

Traditional economics presupposes human behaviour being rational from often a purely monetary perspective. Behavioural economics, on the other hand, looks at economic decision making from a wider perspective, acknowledging that people have different and even irrational values that guide their decisions.

How to use Behavioural Science in Sales?

I’ve worked in sales teams before and I know the challenges this brings. In the end, you want your prospect to buy as much as you want to sell. Tapping into a sense of urgency is key. I used to change my email subject line to ‘Is John still alive?’ after being ignored multiple times. No harm in irreverence now and again!

In sales, regardless of product, one needs to understand and empathise with the real motivations and anxieties of one’s counterpart. What is really bubbling under the surface? Does the outcome of your conversations influence someone’s promotion? How, if at all, is it linked to their personal incentives? What if taking on the newcomer business fails? Are they experiencing outside of work difficulties? You better know these things.

4 ways Behavioural Science can give you an advantage in sales

When it comes to sales tactics, understanding BS is a boon and can give you an edge over the competition. Here are a few.

Understanding price and preference

Price can be a great distraction and not always the principal predictor of B2B sales success.

Most of us are susceptible to price-quality bias. In other words, we tend to rate similar products more highly as the price rises.

Wine is an obvious example we can all grasp onto. In part because most of us have no idea how to judge wine. In part because we don’t trust our palettes. In part because wine is enigmatic. And the final part; there is some placebo effect going on.

If I spend £100 on a bottle, it will bloody well taste good and equally, if someone offers me a glass from that same bottle, it must also descend the gullet with élan. As Joe Fattorini and I discussed in the pod, there is endless BS in wine.

This Aldi France Christmas ad of 2020 is a BS dream and addresses this price-quality bias head-on and humorously. It is a delight. Particularly so because our judgements are so heavily affected by brand perception, and it’s punishingly hard to change preferences once we’re anchored.

Richard Shotton writes convincingly about strategies to release the anchors in The Choice Factory. Life-changing events are one of the best times to pounce, so nudge, nudge salespeople and advertisers if you’re reading. New year, new resolutions and all that.


Think about the language you use when you describe your product. Research tells us, and we know it intuitively, that language is hugely influential in how we experience things.

Food and drink is the great example. Sipping a wine that a sommelier has explained, recommended, prepared and poured for us tastes darn better than glugging it from a mug in front of the TV. So the language and the context creates anticipation, an expectation effect.

The Decoy Effect

The decoy effect is a simple bias and I credit my friend Phill Agnew for explaining this eloquently. Buying decisions change when consumers are presented with a third decoy choice.

Here’s an example. You go to the cinema and you see two choices for popcorn. Some people will pick Medium (£3.50), some will pick Large (£4).

What if I introduce a decoy XL size at a considerably higher price (£7)? Now, most will pick large. Why? Because the XL decoy makes the large price look like a better deal. Only 50p more than medium, yet £3 cheaper than XL. This isn’t hearsay. It’s proven in multiple studies by Dan Ariely.

It’s been used to boost Economist subscriptions and it’s why McDonald’s offers a Signature Range. Think about how you might adapt that thinking to your own sales strategies.

Don’t over-pressurise

When we’re desperate to make the sale, we tend to push too hard, perhaps re-emphasising the benefits again and again, hurrying the prospect into a commitment.

When you walk past a sign that says, “Don’t Touch, Wet Paint,” what do you want to do?

Instinctively, you want to touch the wet paint. Why does a sign that tells you not to do something, actually cause you to desire to do it?

This is called Reactance and you can see how it applies to Sales. It is the feeling people get when their freedom of choice is being restricted.

Research shows that using terms like ‘it’s completely up to you’ resonates far more greatly than ‘you must’ or ‘you can’t deny that’. It’s obvious when you think about it.

The Top 5 books to get into Behavioural Science

About the author

Daniel Ross is the man behind the podcast and newsletter A Load of BS: The Behavioural Science Podcast. Over the years, Daniel has worked and invested in numerous start-ups and you can follow his exploration into Behavioural Science by listening to his conversations with experts in the field in the podcast or dive into his thoughts in the newsletter.

So if you’re looking for entertainment and self-improvement, or are curious to know more, subscribe to A Load of BS. You can also reach Daniel on Twitter: @danielsjross