The Psychological Sales Principles Behind Effective Online Selling (with examples)

Sometimes the world of online sales can seem like a bit of a mystery.

When really, all it boils down to is understanding the basic psychological principles behind why people buy things.

Now before you get put off by the psychology of it all, it really is not that difficult to understand the simple principles laid out in this blog post.

Once you do, you can easily implement them into your marketing and sales process.

The results... your sales will skyrocket!

So, jump into The Mystery Machine and we will see if we can solve this mystery together, Scooby Doo style.

The Psychological Sales Principles Behind Online Selling

Solving the mystery

When it comes to online sales, it is really no different to any other type of sales. It is just packaged differently.

This is because the online shoppers journey is different to that of other shoppers.

Where people visiting brick and mortar stores are likely to frequent some of their favourite brands. The online world is entirely different.

Shoppers can visit any number of online stores in a tenth of the time it takes them to visit one brick and mortar store.

Even moving away from the retail example and looking at service based businesses or even software businesses, the same principles apply.

People are empowered by the internet to research extensively before they make a purchasing decision.

This is why it is imperative that we know why people buy from us and how to use this to our advantage to make sure they do.

The six psychological sales principles that everyone needs to know

If you really boil these sales principles down to their core mission, all but one aim to do the one thing that business is all about...

This is something that is fundamental to business success.

And is what any great business guru will tell you to focus all your efforts on.

It's all about building great relationships!

The ability to build great relationships will turn a cold website visitor into a customer and a raving fan.

By using these six psychological sales principles effectively, you will have no shortage of new customers singing your praise.

Here they are...

  • Reciprocity

  • Liking

  • Authority

  • Social Proof

  • Unity

  • Scarcity

And here is how you can use each one of them along with an example from how leading businesses are using them to sell more online...


The simple rule of reciprocity is that if you do something for someone with no expectations of getting anything in return, they are more likely to do something for you.

Think about when someone has done you a favour.

How grateful were you for that favour?

Even if they don't ask for anything in return, you find yourself forcing money or a return favour upon them.

You feel so grateful for them helping you in that situation that you can't help but reciprocate the favour.

This same principle can, and should, be used in your business.

Especially if your business is competing with the thousands of other businesses offering similar products or services online.

If you can do them a favour before they become a customer, this will greatly increase the likelihood of them becoming a customer.

There are two ways that you can do this.

The first way is through epic content like blogs, whitepapers, webinars, training mini-series, etc.

If you create this content with the thought of helping your potential customers solve one of their challenges then they will see huge value in this.

This will in turn give them a greater sense of reciprocating the favour and wanting to buy from you.

Here is an example of reciprocity in action with some epic content from Digital Marketer.

Reciprocity epic content example

They are offering a copy and paste swipe file to help you with your social media marketing.

If you have been struggling with your social media marketing, this will be incredibly valuable.

As soon as you start using it and see better results from your social media marketing, you are more likely to reciprocate the favour to Digital Marketer and purchase one of their paid products.

Since you already know the information they provide is good, imagine how great the paid information they provide will be.

The second example of reciprocity, that you can use in your business right now, is discounts.

This simple tactic, that I am sure you already know works, has the underlying psychological principle of reciprocity as its driving force.

To use this effectively, you should offer the discount after someone has already seen the original price.

If you offer all of your products at a discounted rate straightaway, this is all the potential customer has seen and the only price they know.

If you offer the product at full price to start with and then offer a discount, the potential customer makes a direct comparison between the two prices.

They also perceive it as you doing them that all important favour and are more likely to reciprocate the favour.

A simple way to do this is to offer a discount on your website using an exit intent popup.

This is essentially a popup that displays when it looks like a visitor is leaving your site.

You can find out more about them in this article I wrote on how to optimise your website for lead generation.

By doing this, the shopper will make the direct comparison between the cost before and the new cost they can now get your product for, and will view this offer as a favour.

Here is a great example of this from Win in Health.

Exit intent reciprocity popup

This is an exit intent popup that is shown to visitors who are about to leave the site. Notice the wording they use to tell the viewer that this is a gift.

Reciprocity is a very powerful sales principle that should be used throughout your online marketing.

The next sales principle is...


Liking is the idea that people are more inclined to buy from someone they like.

The question is... how do you get someone to like you with an online business? After all, it is difficult for your winning personality to shine through online.

There are a couple tactics that you can use for this. First off, reciprocity will help a lot.

If you are giving something valuable to someone with no expectation of them returning the favour, this will automatically establish a relationship.

A great way to make someone like you is by giving them a sense of importance.

Everyone wants to feel important. No matter who they are or what they do. We all strive for this feeling.

One of the ways to do this is to pay someone a compliment. This is actually something that I think people don't do enough of.

I'm just going through my emails now to find an example of this and I am really struggling.

When realistically it is incredibly simple to do. And, as mentioned, a great way to do this is through email.

If you have done your research and know your target audience then paying them a compliment targeting what makes them feel important is easy.

Here is a great email example from one of the top marketers out there, Todd Brown.

Compliment sales principle example

Todd has done an excellent job of treading the line between a compliment and flattery.

Everyone likes a compliment but flattery often comes across as insincere, like you are just trying to suck up to someone.

With these few sentences Todd has placed his audience within the exceptional business owner category.

He knows that this is what is truly important to his audience, to be among the very best business owners out there,.

By making the comparison between his audience and other (lesser) business owners, he has paid them a great compliment that has given them a great feeling of importance.

Another way to get people to like you is to care about their opinion. This comes back to that feeling of importance.

If you are doing your job right you will have already established yourself as an authority in your field. (We will get onto authority in just a moment.)

Now imagine being asked for your opinion from someone who you deem to be an authority in the field?

You will feel pretty good about that, right?

Like they really care what you think and your opinion matters.

Here is a great example of that from another top marketer, Ramit Sethi of Growth Lab and I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

Ramit sells millions worth of online courses. By asking for his followers help in designing his new course, he is giving them a greater sense of importance.

A simple email like this can really help to build your relationship with your potential customers.

Moving on to the next sales principle of...


The psychological sales principle of authority is essential in building trust and confidence in your business and its products or services.

Before we get stuck into how to do this, it is important to understand that you are the leading authority in your business.

There is no one that knows how your business can help your customers better than you.

A lot of people will say that you need a best selling book or to be featured on some top list or win an award.

All these are great but sometimes not realistic, especially if you are in the early stages of building your business.

So, here are some ways that will help you build authority without having a book deal...

You need to be consistent.

Seems pretty simple, right?

Consistency actually has this magic power that we don't truly understand until we see it working.

It works throughout everything you do in marketing; social media, emails, content.

By showing up consistently across these channels or creating consistent valuable content, you will build an authority with people that consume it.

Using the reciprocity principle effectively, will also increase your authority. You will see that many of these sales principles intertwine.

By providing upfront value in the form of helpful content, you will build authority with people who consume this content.

Think about this for a second. When was the last time, you read a blog post or listened to a podcast and used the information your learnt?

If you noticed results from this then the person you learnt the information from will become an authority figure.

What they said worked, you received a benefit.

Now you are likely to consume more of the content they produce as you know they know what their talking about and it is likely to help you.

Now combine these two tips. You produce a consistent stream of content that helps your audience.

You consistently push this helpful content out across social media and email.

Your following grows and your content is benefitting each new follower and establishing you as an authority in your field.

Another way to get a quick win on the authority front is to associate your business with an authority figure.

Think sports brands using sports stars or perfumes using celebrities.

This is one of reasons why Influence Marketing is so hot right now. It allows businesses to quickly establish an authority within their industry.

Here is a great example of this done well from Diageo.

Authority sales principle

Diageo is the owner of the whisky brands Lagavulin and Oban.

They have used actor Nick Offerman who is famed for playing roles of your typical mans man.

Using this image they instantly place their whisky as the authoritative mans man whisky.

As a whisky drinker myself I can tell you that this is the target market for these two smokey whiskys.

However, I have to say that I don't fall into this category and tend to go for the least smokey whiskys.

Anyway, I digress...

You don't need to use a celebrity for this type of marketing.

An easier and cheaper way to do this is to approach one of the many social media influencers that will be in your niche and partner with them for a campaign.

They have already built up an authority with their followers. By showing support for your business, their followers will see you as an authority figure in the field as well.

For more information on how to do this, check out this blog post by Mention.

Next up on the psychological sales principles is...

Social Proof

This is probably one of the more well known psychology sales principles. Maybe even one of the most important for online sales.

If you're in a bike store shopping for a new bike, you can see the physical product in front of you.

You can touch it, sit on it, and even test it out.

You know it is good quality because you can see it for yourself.

Online shoppers don't have this same luxury. Sure they can see pictures but people are naturally skeptical.

The easiest way to ease their skepticism is to use social proof in the form of testimonials.

This will show that other people have used the product and vouch for it's quality.

The same principle goes for digital products and services.

People obvious can't see a physical version of these but can see that people had a good experience when using them.

You can take this a step further and instead of having testimonials featured just on your website, you can use a third party review website to host the social proof for you.

Social proof testimonial sales psychology

This example from G2Crowd shows all the reviews of the CRM system Sharp Spring.

Sharp Spring can now promote that they have a high score on G2Crowd.

This will help to increase the validity of the testimonials as they are collected by an unbiased independent reviewer.

Other review website you can use include Yell, TrustPilot and even your Facebook fan page.

Another type of social proof is trust in numbers. The more people who use a product, the more likely it is to be good.

This example from OptinMonster uses this form of social proof to encourage people to sign up for their newsletter.

trust in numbers social proof

If 60,000 people are subscribed, there must be a pretty big benefit to this.

Then there is the 'featured in' social proof like this example from Ramit Sethi's I Will Teach You To Be Rich website.

Featured in social proof

If you're in the market for advice on growing your wealth and find yourself on this website, you will likely take his advice seriously.

Since he has been featured on some of the biggest news websites in the world, he likely knows what he's talking about.

There are many different ways you can use social proof to increase the trust with your audience.

I will show you just one more example and then we will move onto the next principle.

The 'who you've worked with' social proof. This can be done incredibly easily and in a very small space on your website.

It has the power to gain instant trust in your business, especially if you've worked with some pretty big named clients.

This example from Pure360 is featured on their homepage above the fold.

It shows some of the big brand names who use their email marketing software. If big brands like this are using the software then it must be really good.

Social proof has the power to gain that instant trust in your business that is needed to make the sale.

Next up is...


The sales principle of unity is that people are more likely to buy from a business that shares their same identity.

It goes beyond the psychological principle of liking and looks at people's need to be a part of a group.

Family is the most powerful example of the unity principle. People are most likely to do anything for their family.

Another example is teams.

If you're wearing your favourite football teams shirt and see someone else wearing it too, you have an instant connection with that person.

You have a commonality that you can talk about for ages. An almost instant relationship is formed.

A business can use this same principle to form an instant connection with its audience.

If you are a local business, a great way to do this is to use your location as that connection.

How many slogans have you seen saying something along the lines of "Proudly serving the XXXX community for 20 years"?

Brands also use exclusivity to build this sense of unity. Rolex is a great example of how luxury brands do this.

unity sales principle

Notice the wording they use. It feels like by owning a Rolex you are part of a prestigious group.

You can also use this technique by targeting the interests of your audience.

If you sell fitness products, use wording that targets groups like CrossFitters or yoga enthusiasts.

Or, you might sell nautical wear and can target boating enthusiasts.

By creating a sense of a group around your products or services, you will be creating a unity between your business and its audience.

Now on to the final sales principle of...


The psychological sales principle of scarcity states that people are motivated to purchase something if they think that they might miss out on the opportunity.

This can be seen in the FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out phenomenon.

It goes beyond just wanting to buy something. Items that are scarce are also seen to be more valuable. uses this sales principle incredibly well when users are searching for a hotel.

scarcity sales  principle

They use scarcity in multiple instance to demonstrate that quick action should be taken to not miss out on these great deals.

Another company who uses scarcity in a very clever way is Amazon.

Urgency sales principle Amazon

To get you to make a quicker purchase decision they use delivery time to their advantage.

If you want the product quicker then you have to order within a certain time period.

Scarcity tactics like this will get customers making their purchase decision quicker and increase your sales.

Implementing these principles into your business

Try implementing some of the principles discussed in this blog post into your business.

It will often just be necessary to make simple tweaks to some of the wording used throughout your website and marketing materials.

By doing so, you will see your sales increase.

If you want to take a deep dive into the psychology of selling then I recommend these two books by masters of the trade.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post.

#increasesales #marketing #psychologicalsalesprinciples

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