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Sales Techniques – How Commitment & Consistency Can Hurt Us

Psychologists have long understood the power of consistency in controlling human behavior. We have a deep desire to be consistent with what we’ve committed to.

In most cases, consistency is valued because it’s associated with personal strength. But there are some situations where it’s not wise to be this way.

This desire for consistency is strong enough to compel us to do what we ordinarily wouldn’t do. It can cause us to act in ways that are not in our best interests.

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Here are examples of how our need for consistency is used in sales techniques to make a profit from us.

How Toy Companies Keep Sales High After The Christmas Season

In Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion, the author shows us how toy companies use our need for consistency to boost sales. Following the peak sales period during the Christmas season, toy sales typically suffer from a slump in the following months. Customers have already used up the money in their budget. They’re hesitant to buy more.

This leaves the toy companies with a dilemma: how do they keep sales levels high both during the Christmas season, and the months that immediately follow?

Christmas presentThe answer is that they start before Christmas, by showing advertisements for a specific toy. The kids will naturally want the toy, and are able to get their parents to make a promise to buy it.

Now here’s where we see the genius of the toy companies. They purposely undersupply the stores with the toys the parents promised to buy. Without the original toy, this leaves the parents with no other choice but to purchase another toy of equal value. And of course, the toy companies have plenty of these substitutes.

So after the Christmas season is over, they’ve made a healthy profit from the substitute toys. Now they’ll start showing ads for the original toys again – the same toys that the parents promised to buy. The kids are happy to remind their parents of this promise, and the parents are practically forced to the store to stay true to their words.

This leads to consistently high sales not only in December, but also in January and February too.

How Car Salesmen Get The Better End Of The Deal

Since we often create new reasons to stay consistent with the commitments we’ve made, salespeople use this to their advantage.

Car dealers use the consistency principle in a sales technique called “throwing a lowball.” First, they’ll offer a very good price on the car, maybe as much as $400 off competitors’ prices. The deal, however, is not genuine. It’s only used to get the prospect to commit to buying.

Yet once this initial commitment is made, other activities further develop the customer’s commitment to the car – the person sits in the car and goes for a test drive, a pile of paperwork is filled out, and financing terms are negotiated.

After a stronger sense of commitment is created, something “happens.” Maybe the dealer “forgets” to add the cost of air conditioning, or the boss rejects the deal because they’d be losing money. But for only $400 more – not much in the context of a multi-thousand dollar car – the car can still be had. The prospect usually relents, and the dealer gets more money.

How To Defend Yourself From Being Used By The Consistency Principle

Fortunately, there’s a way to handle people who try to use the consistency principle against you. After all, Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded us about the danger of foolish consistency.

Just figure out what they’re doing, and tell them what they’re doing to you. Tell them you’d be a sucker to comply with a request, just because doing so would be consistent with a prior commitment you were tricked into.

Also, ask yourself the following question: Knowing what I know now, if I could go back in time, would I make the same choice?

In the example discovering how toy companies operate, would you still make the initial promise to buy that toy for your kids?

Knowing how car dealers can operate, would you still blindly agree to the negotiated price? Or would it make more sense to get the price down in writing, and only agree if that price would be honored as is?

How have you been affected by the consistency principle?

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