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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ask the Builder: $9,000 gutter guards and other tales of high-pressure sales chicanery

How much would you pay for gutter guards like the ones you see here? It depends on how adept you are at resisting sales psychology. (Tim Carter)
By Tim Carter Tribune Content Agency

Most of you have experienced a high-pressure sales presentation at some point, perhaps unaware of the psychological triggers the salesman was pulling in your head that would transform you into soft putty in his smarmy hands.

The inspiration for this column came from a reader named Les. He recently wrote to me via my website, “After many years of going up on my roof to blow out 260 feet of gutters … I’m finally going to take your advice on gutter guards. I had (company name redacted) come out and give me their inclusive pitch, which ended with an $18,000 quote. … Very laughable.”

I knew what Les meant by “inclusive.” A light bulb went off in my head, and I decided to reach out to my newsletter subscribers to see if they’d share their gutter guard sales pitch stories, as well as the quotes they received. I have a spreadsheet of this data on my website. Just “gutter guard costs” in the search field there.

I was astonished at the tsunami of responses. As I suspected, there were tales of woe and borderline thievery. I don’t know what other word to use when a person is charged $90 per linear foot for a product that costs probably less than $2 to make, and 100 feet of it can be installed probably in an hour. Yes, you did the math right, $9,000 for 100 feet of gutter guard. The thought of that happening to you is hateful to me.

Very powerful psychology is used to influence your decisions on almost a daily basis. Fear is an important tool of persuasion, shutting down the part of your brain that does critical and clear thinking. This is why panic can be deadly.

The military, police and many businesses use this psychology to control behavior. In fact, you’ve probably used it yourself without even realizing it. It works because these psychological triggers are inside every human’s brain.

Let’s discuss another basic trigger: reciprocity. You fall victim to this if you accept a gift from someone. Think of those pieces of cheese on a toothpick in the grocery store. In the case of the high-pressure salesman, he offers you a discount on the price of the item. If your eyes light up and you accept the lower price, your brain whispers to you, “OK, now you must give him something back.” All the salesman wants is your signature on the contract.

Authority is a very clever psychological trigger. You see this in everyday life. It’s why the police wear uniforms and clergy wear special garments. The salesman sitting in your living room might squeeze this trigger in your head when he places the call to his manager to authorize another special price or discount. After all, how can you ignore this higher power? If the salesman starts to pull out his phone, be sure to ask him to put it on speakerphone so you can hear what the manager says.

One of the most powerful psychological ploys used in sales presentations is social proof. You see this all the time in TV commercials, where four or five strangers tell you how the product took away pain, how it cleans so well or how it allowed them to lose weight. After the last one, your brain screams at you, “Well, by gosh, if it’s good enough for them, I need it. Take my money!”

Social proof is as intoxicating as that delicious aroma of your favorite food you smell when you come in from the garage. You’re drawn to the kitchen like a lamb being led to slaughter.

The most powerful psychological trigger of all is scarcity. Only the strongest and battle-hardened consumers can resist this. Scarcity is used to make POWs sing like canaries.

You see scarcity in play each day when you see an ad or read an email that says, “The sale ends in hours.” The business is making the savings scarce. My guess is you’ve bought something you really didn’t need when you saw this message.

The salesmen in your home uses scarcity when he says the final lowest price is only good until such time as his taillights leave your driveway or some other short period of time. You’re forced to make a decision or else lose thousands of dollars. Scarcity is like crack cocaine to your tiny, defenseless gray cells.

How can you steel yourself to prevent being taken advantage of? I suggest getting a copy of the easy-to-read book I read where I discovered all of this powerful magic: “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini.

Once you read the numerous case studies in this book, you’ll train your brain to resist the Jedi mind tricks the salespeople are trying to use on you. In fact, you’ll be able to use the same psychology on the salesman to get him to do what you want. Now that’s a big win!