5 Strange Factors That Make You Say “Yes” to Salesmen

Ryan Ong



When it comes to sales tactics, we think we’ve seen it all. The salesman’s nice? Then he’s just worming his way into our confidence. His product’s affordable? Then it’s probably made in a toxic waste dump in China. He can make our life easier? Then he can start by walking away. Yup, we know all the tricks alright. So why is it that we’re still fooled by things like these:


The Little Things That Control Your Brain…

According to science, each human brain is a thing of immense intellect. If we were to unlock its full potential, we would finish degree courses in a day, never forget a thing, and stop listening to Nicki Minaj.

The only thing that stops all this is us. You can read Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, for more on that. Suffice it to say that we’ve taught our brains to respond to countless meaningless cues, which salesmen figured out long ago.

For example, we can be driven to buy stuff just because:

  • The Salesman Repeats What We Say
  • The Salesman Says There’s a Minor Product Fault
  • We Drank Coffee
  • The Salesman Curses
  • Of Something We Said a Few Minutes Ago


1. The Salesman Repeats What We Say


“Ha ha, our salesgirl! You’re funny! You know Polly’s only our tech support.” – Your Telco


We like people who are like ourselves; that alone isn’t a big revelation. What’s surprising is just how much we like it.

Salesmen have long known about mirroring, a technique that involves subtly matching your movements and posture when they talk to you. So if you lean back in your chair and relax, the salesman will do the same. If you tap your foot, he’ll tap his and match the beat. If you lean over and smack him, he might realize he’s caught and stop that crap.

(For more on the science of this, peek at a paper called The Chameleon Effect, by researchers Chartrand and Bargh).

Mimicking your body language is difficult. So some salesmen resort to an easier form of it: They parrot you verbally.

Going with your first reaction,which of the two exchanges strikes you as more pleasant:

Exchange 1

You: I had a bad experience with my last insurance guy, that’s why I’m not buying.

Salesman: But I’m different. I have a stellar record, testimonials, etc.

Exchange 2

You: I had a bad experience with my last insurance guy, that’s why I’m not buying.

Salesman: I understand, you had a bad experience with your last insurance guy and that’s why you’re not buying. But I have a stellar record, testimonials, etc.

If you preferred the second one, you’re in a vast majority. This doesn’t happen just because we feel we’re being heard (although that’s a partial reason). It’s mostly because our brains are so narcissistic, we’re predisposed to like people if they imitate us. So when salesmen do this, you’re more likely to close the deal with them.


2. The Salesman Says There’s a Minor Product Fault


Wedding rings
“That’s what I said, a minor product fault. Minors tend to come with it.”


Wait, that makes no sense. Why would we buy something with an admitted fault?

Because the real barrier to sales, you see, isn’t usually the product. The real barrier is the lack of trust. Salesmen know we’re instinctively on guard when we spot them, like sharks near Chinese fishing boats.

They know they have to build credibility, and the best way to do that is to seem transparent. So they’ll “confess” to minor faults, which they know aren’t deal breakers.

A used car salesman might tell you: “This car’s almost unused, and the handling’s smoother than a baby’s ass. Mind you, the air-con leaked once.”

And for some people, that’s enough to make them believe they’re dealing with Mr. Honest. Trust issues solved.

This tactic can also be used in more nefarious ways. In some cases, the salesman’s revealing minor flaws to distract you from unmentioned major ones. In the above example, you could end up paying attention to the air conditioner instead of the (more serious) sticky gearbox.


3. We Drank Coffee


coffee machines
In time, our office realized the vibrations weren’t caused by earthquakes.


Caffeine may be a mental stimulant, but it has an unfortunate side-effect: It makes you suggestible.

This issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology offers a good demonstration. A bunch of researchers spiked some orange juice with two cups of espresso (at MoneySmart, we call that “breakfast”). This was given to a group of people who had certain views on euthanasia.

Another group of people, with the same views, were given plain orange juice.

Both groups then read a series of messages, which argued against their beliefs. You already know where this is going: The people who had the coffee-spiked juice were 35% more likely to change their position.

So it’s not a coincidence that a lot of sales stands offer free coffee. The salesmen themselves may be unaware of this tactic, which evolves from the den of Sithlords we call “marketing”.


4. The Salesman Curses


Business school was right. A wide vocabulary does help!


Maybe not to the extent of a Garth Ennis comic, but you could hear a “goddamn” or a “bloody” from the salesman.

This lowers the register of the language; now you and the salesmen are closer to the speech level of actual buddies. Your brain picks up on this, and subsequently lowers its cognitive defences. “Listen to the way we’re speaking“, it thinks, “this must be an old pal.”

In this study from Northern Illinois University, researchers discovered we equate swearing with (1) real passion, and (2) honesty.

Think about the kinds of language we consider “fake”: The corporate speak used in boardrooms, the taglines in bad advertising, etc. Notice how undeniably polite it always is?

Contrast that to the goddamned, son of a b***h Secondary school pal of yours when he opens his mouth (trying to refrain from Hokkien examples here. So tempting). That’s the level some salesmen want to engage you on, because that sort of familiarity breeds trust.


5. Of Something We Said a Few Minutes Ago


Judge's gavel
“Now explain again. Earlier you said you care about the environment. Then I show you Prius, you don’t want…”

Are you worried about saving enough money? Would you like to have more money at the end of each month? If we offer to help you do that for free, wouldn’t you want to take advantage of it?

Would you like to follow us on Facebook so we can do that, then?

Heh, that was me copying a sales tactic (although seriously, I do want to help you save more). I trust you see how the method works.

By getting you to say yes to the earlier questions, you’ll feel pressured to say yes to the later ones as well. It’s about consistency: Most of us don’t want to appear flaky. We’re afraid that, if we make a statement which contradicts our previous one, we’ll look like flip-flopping airheads.

This is why so many salesmen ask questions with predictably positive replies. How many people would say no to a question like “Do you think your health is important?” or “Do you think it’s important not to pollute the air for our children?

But the moment you give a positive reply, you’ll be challenged to back it up by buying something.

(If a salesman gets pushy like this, remember: you’re free to walk away. He’s not your juror, and you don’t have to justify anything to him).


Image Credits:
Pixel Addict, longhorndave, firemedic58, Lotzman Katzman, Horia Varlan, steakpinball

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.