Behavioral Psychology

Psychology Of The High Pressure Sales Situation

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Why is the high pressure sales situation so effective in spite of the fact that people loathe being subjected to it? Actually through the lens of behavioral psychology it’s precisely because they loathe being subjected to it that it works so well. They are being negatively reinforced, and the way to escape the aversive stimuli embedded within these negative reinforcements is to buy the product!

In this sense we see that from the perspective of the high pressure salesperson the product is of secondary importance. What is of primary importance is eliciting a behavior though the use of reinforcements. The salesperson in a high pressure situation is the trainer and you are the witless organism coming under stimulus control.

A common negative reinforcement utilized is creating a sense of urgency. If you don’t buy the product now you might miss out on the special price. Or maybe you’re told there are a limited number of items in stock. Regardless, the strategy makes use of your inbuilt loss aversion. It’s not the intrinsic features of the product that compels you to buy it, it’s trying to escape from aversive stimuli that compels you to buy it.

Another common negative reinforcement utilized is instilling guilt or other unwanted emotions. It becomes clear that if you don’t buy the product you’re disrespecting the salesperson, or going back on an implicit agreement, or stealing valuable time without giving anything back in return. You might feel intimated or bullied.  Again, buying the product is not actually about wanting to buy the product but about eliminating these aversive feelings through the behavior of buying the product.

When you think in these behavioral terms you’ll never allow yourself to be taken advantage of in a high pressure sales situation again. These people are not your friends, they don’t have your best interests at heart, they don’t care about you, they only care about getting a commission. If they did care about you they wouldn’t use unpleasant aversive stimuli to try to elicit unthinking behavior. They’re basically turning you into a rat in a maze who gets shocked for going down any passageway except for the desired one. And by buying a product under such environmental contingencies you are actually positively reinforcing these people to continue using the same harmful tactics on others. A way to flip the script and become the trainer yourself in order to do your part in discouraging these tactics is to use extinction. Once you’ve established that you’re in a high pressure sales situation, that the conversation is about trying to elicit a behavior right now through the use of negative reinforcement, take up an inordinate amount of this person’s time without ever buying anything.