I don't like it when salespeople try to manipulate me into buying something I don't want or paying extra for something that I do want.

That doesn't happen much any more. Because I've studied and written about sales methods for the past decade, I can usually spot a manipulative sales technique coming a mile away.

Most people, however, can't, and as a result, they constantly run the risk of making dumb buying decisions. Here are three examples of manipulative sales techniques that frequently fool the unwary:

  1. False positioning. You're in a consumer electronics store in the airport and want to buy noise cancelling headphones. The salesperson shows you an expensive set. When you balk at the price, he shows you a cheap, flimsy model that's priced just a little lower. Then he shows you a ridiculously high-priced set with features nobody would ever want. You then buy the first set he showed you because you think it's a good deal.
  2. False scarcity. You're in an upscale eyeglass frame store and decide you like a particular pair but it seems too expensive. It's so expensive that you want to wait a day or two to think it over. The salesperson tells you that the frame has been discontinued and the display model is the only one left in the store. You buy the frame because you don't want somebody else to buy it first.
  3. False rapport. You're renting a car at an airport. When you show your driver's license, the salesperson says that she's originally from the same area where you now live. As part of the chit-chat, she expresses how shocked she was at the "aggressive drivers" in the area when compared to the way people drive "back home." At her advice, you buy unnecessary rental car insurance.

Those are only three out of dozens of manipulative sales techniques. Unless you've never bought much, you've been manipulated in similar ways multiple times in your life and it has probably cost you more than you'd like to think.

That's where the hack comes in.

Rather than trying to learn and identify every manipulative sales technique in the world (which would take years), simply listen to your gut. You might not know exactly why, but if you feel pressured to buy, you are almost undoubtedly being manipulated.

So here's what you do. The moment you feel uneasy in any buying situation, say something like this to the salesperson:

"I'm feeling pressured to buy. I don't know whether you're doing it intentionally, but if that feeling doesn't disappear immediately, I'm not going to buy anything from you."

This statement is not out of line because you're not accusing the salesperson of being unethical or evil. You're just communicating your own feelings and stating how those feelings will influence your buying behavior.

Upon hearing that statement, the salesperson will do one of two things: 1) back off, stop the bullsh*t, act like a real person, and honestly try to help you, or 2) double down with another manipulative technique.

Once again, continue to follow your instincts. If you still feel pressured, end the conversation. Don't buy from that salesperson because, if you do, you will end up buying something that you don't want or paying extra for something that you do.

Here's how that hack saved me $20,000.

A while back (this was before I knew anything about selling), I made an offer on a house at 80% of the asking price.

The salesperson was all "oh, gosh, I couldn't possibly insult the seller with an offer like that, if you make that offer they'll never sell to you even if you offer more, it would ruin my reputation as a real estate agent..."

I realize now that she was using social norms to manipulate me into raising my offer so that she'd get a higher commission. At the time, though, I just felt very uncomfortable, so even though I really wanted that house, I said: "This feels weird so maybe we should forget the whole thing."

In other words, I accidentally stumbled upon the hack.

As soon as I said that, the salesperson backed off. "OK, I'll make the offer." Sure enough, the seller agreed, saving me $20,000 on the purchase price.

Published on: Apr 3, 2015
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