Monday, October 19, 2015

Beat Around the Bushwhack

In a Journal of Consumer Psychology article titled “Does It Pay to Beat Around the Bush? The Case of the Obfuscating Salesperson,” consumer researchers from Boston University, Temple University, and University of Missouri explored the effects of giving unclear answers to shoppers’ questions. The study’s conclusion was that muddled replies rarely help and could hurt.
     Most consumers expect some obfuscation from people trying to sell something. But that doesn’t mean consumers always attribute obfuscation to dishonesty. The salesperson could be struggling to give a useful answer to a difficult question or address an area in which the salesperson has limited expertise. The group of Boston/Temple/Missouri researchers found that when a sales prospect was expecting dishonesty, a muddled answer reduced purchase intentions much more than would an honest “I don’t know.” However, for those instances where the prospect trusted the intentions of the salesperson, a muddled answer produced no difference in purchase intentions from an "I don't know."
     So is there ever a place for obfuscation in retail selling? Should a salesperson ever babble for a while rather than just admit a lack of knowledge? Yes, says other research.
  • A fuzzy answer could begin a collaborative dialogue between the shopper and the retailer which culminates in a useful answer to the question. The shopper might know the answer, but needs to talk it out with the salesperson in order to realize that. 
  • The babbling can give the shopper time to develop other questions the salesperson is able to answer clearly, whereas the “I don’t know” could close the opportunity for the sale rather than close the sale. If you do say, “I don’t know,” be sure to add, “I’ll find out an answer, and here’s when I’ll get back to you.” 
  • Shoppers who consider themselves experts in a product category often will ask questions when shopping for items in that category mostly to show off to the salesperson or to people shopping with them. They are notoriously complacent about taking into account the information they’re given in replies. 
  • Unclear information about a topic of interest to the shopper can cause the shopper to process other information more sharply, resulting in better purchase decisions. 
     However, in beating around the bush, never psychologically bushwhack the shopper—assaulting their vulnerabilities. Know how what you’re doing benefits both the consumer and you. When you give an unclear answer, have clear objectives.

For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers

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