The Science of Touch in Sales

Patty DuChene

When it comes to sales methodologies and practices, we can all agree they're fairly similar -Whether you're Selling Through Curiosity, using the Challenger Method, SPIN Selling, SNAP Selling, or Solution Selling, the similarities and emphasis of certain steps overlap. It goes something like this: find the need of the customer and present a solution whether they knew they needed it or not.

Putting methodology aside, the concept of sales has nonetheless created the ever-so-present assumption of a lack of trust and ethics.

Such methods highlight a part of the sales process that should drive an organization's productivity. While they entail effective yet differentiating steps, consumers have evolved in a way to circumnavigate these tactics.

The once negative view of a salesperson, as shifty and money-driven for the sake of bewildering the consumer into purchasing has changed. This is true, not just for how sales reps are perceived, but how buyers now quietly see through their strategies.

What Does it Take for Someone to Trust You?

establishing trust in sales

Establishing trust with potential customers is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome in sales. If you are in sales how many times have you heard the following --- "Can I just try it out for a while?" or "I'd like some more time to play around with it before we make a decision.

"We're all familiarized with this response correlating to the potential buyer saying they aren't 100% sold. This can be many reasons, such as, maybe they don't trust you or have a preconceived notion from something they've heard...or maybe they're simply confused.

So how exactly is trust established?

Christoper Bergland, of Psychology Today, talks about this in his article The Neuroscience of Trust. He discusses a study which participants were under the illusion that they were playing an investment game with three players: a close friend, a stranger, or a computer. Realistically, in every instance the participants were actually playing against a computer with a simple algorithm that systematically enacted trustworthy actions 50% of the time.

They found participants reported positive interactions with the "close friend" as more rewarding than interactions with the stranger or computer; and  they were more likely to invest with this player. Bergland concludes by stating how this "...illustrates our innate human desire to connect with others and create close-knit bonds even if these ties are based on blind trust".

This response, typically means that trust is something people naturally want to experience even if it's just based on a gut feeling. Yet, the unfortunate reality sales has created is a distorted bias which hinders the desire of trust for many buyers.

As a salesperson, ask yourself, "How can I break the mold and earn trust from the start of the cycle to hear that 'yes' sooner?" In many cases when a deal goes silent, it's because the trust of a potential customer was unintentionally lost from the get-go.

How our Brain Respond to Certain Channels

brain response to sales

For starters, analyzing how the brain responds to certain channels of communication is a good place to start reconsidering your approach. Phone calls, emails, LinkedIn messages, and paid advertisements may be the full extent of what some organizations use to sell. Communicating with these tools carry your tone and message. Additionally there are visual elements that can enhance the experience for potential customers; everyone loves a good design.

What many don't talk about or simply disregard is the effectiveness of physical advertisements. One may think, "If I can just send an email, then why mail it?" The fact of the matter is that something happens in our brain when we hold an object that facilitates a deeper, more meaningful connection than anything in the digital world could provide.

A neuroscience study conducted by Millward Brown back in 2009 found that physical materials produce more brain responses connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater “internalization” of the ads. Providing something that triggers such internal feelings has a better chance of creating a lasting impact, softening the approach to form a more  trustworthy relationship.

There've been many studies that talk about how a sensory response can generate greater emotional connections and brand association. Though email and online ads evoke brain activity to an extent, there's something to be said about putting a physical asset in a person's hand.

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Where touch comes into play

In 2015, the USPS Office of Inspector General released a report that analyzed a neuromarketing study focusing on the differing response to physical and digital media in the consumer buying process.

The study linked consumers’ subconscious responses to three buying process phases: exposure, memory, and action. The results of the study showed that participants processed digital ad content quicker, yet they spent more time with the physical ads. Not only did they show a stronger emotional connection to the physical ads, but their brand recall was better as well.

Although physical advertisements at first exposure took longer to interpret, they turned on an area of the brain (ventral striatum) that is responsible for value and desirability. This is what creates intent to purchase, or prompts the action phase. While digital is able to capture attention quicker, a physical piece of mail does a much better job of leaving a longer-lasting impression with your potential buyer.

A Harvard Business Review article from 2011, Please Touch the Merchandise, states that "Physically holding products can create a sense of psychological ownership, driving must-have purchase decisions." This is another instance of touch playing a significant role in the buying process.

They examine multiple studies that came out with findings such as the feeling of warmth making people more generous, heavier items increasing perceived value, and soft products making people to be more susceptible to persuasive influences.

The role touch plays in the world of sales is essentially a building block in the structure of consumer behavior. Leveraging it effectively takes thoughtful creativity, yet offline engagement platforms can act as a bridge that will reposition you way ahead of the competition. Check out our blog post, 10 Facts about Sensory Marketing to read up more on sensory concepts.

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Offline engagement

When digital sales strategies are integrated with an offline approach, you'll start to see a more trustworthy change in consumer behavior. Sending a postcard or letter to introduce yourself before making the first call might become the new normal; neuroscience studies point towards physical ads as the most meaningful way to connect with someone.

Contrary to what many call a best practice, communicating the value you deliver shouldn't be sought as first priority. It all goes back to the concept of establishing that authentic first impression with your potential buyer.

The most effective way to start employing this methodology is by adding an offline element to your omnichannel approach. By omnichannel, we mean reaching consumers in as many ways as possible. Digital workflows shouldn't change: they should be supplemented by leveraging offline engagement at key points in the sales cycle.

Touch is a trigger sense. With an overload of digital clutter, establishing trust as a salesperson is more difficult than ever. Whatever process, workflow, or methodology your organization practices, consider the effect a physical advertisement has on our brain before going any further.

Corporate Gifting Best Practices
Patty DuChene

Patricia DuChene (also known as Pat, Patti, Patty, Tricia, and PD) is the Vice President of Sales at Postal, an Experience Marketing platform that generates leads, increases sales, and improves customer retention. Prior to joining Postal, Patricia was the Vice President of Int'l Sales & Managing Director for a work management software company called Wrike, where she built out client facing teams in Dublin IRE, Melbourne AU Tokyo JP, and Kyiv UA. A native of the 805, she was thrilled to join the Postal team with the promise of delivering an authentic, scalable engagement platform in San Luis Obispo. She is a passionate advocate for women in technology and takes an active approach when encouraging women to consider careers in technology. When she isn't in the office, Patricia can be found hiking with her husband and princess pug, Hammond von Schnitzel.