We have all seen the lists. All those lists of words that will grab someone’s attention and spark the triggers in their psyche to help close a deal sooner rather than later. You know what I mean: words such as free, limited time, discount, exclusive and guaranteed.. and there are plenty more. But did you know that the words you use to close sales have very little to do with price? In 2000, two psychology researchers, Alexandre Pascual and Nicholas Gueguen created a study to try and see what words were going to have the most impact on customers who were thinking about buying something.

They asked questions on a city street about giving money to charity, and they only managed to get 10 percent of people to listen to them. However, they found that adding the phrase, “you are welcome to accept or refuse,” they found that their acceptance rate shot up to nearly 48 percent. They were using the same words in the rest of their argument, but they were having much more success. Even when they used those words to ask people to take a survey, they were getting far more positive responses than they had anticipated.

So why are these simple words, “you are free,” or “you are welcome to,” having such a positive impact on compliance? From psychology, we know that humans want to feel as if they are in control. When someone wants something from us – whether it is time, money or our skillset – we want to feel as though we are in control of these necessities. From a marketing standpoint, the impact may go even deeper than that.

A man I consider a mentor, Charles Graves, is a wonderful thought leader regarding public relations. He told me that it is important to focus marketing initiatives on the idea that customers want to be told something, not sold on it. The concept relates to our need to feel in control, but it also goes beyond that. It goes towards our inclination to feel valued and informed about our intelligence and our ability to make the right choices.

The implications of such a concept are far-reaching for sales, but they also have an impact on marketing. We already know that customers go through a lot of research before they buy something. A Shopper Study from GE Capital Retail Bank shows us that more consumers are extensively researching and comparing products before they make a purchasing decision. A study from 2013 showed that around 80 percent of customers go online and do research before going to a store, and we can only assume the number has gone higher in the past three years. A customer will spend an average of 79 days gathering details about various products and companies before they make a final purchasing decision. And these patterns are most relevant for purchases that are $500 or more, involving industries like electronics, home appliances, home furnishings, jewelry, bedding and sports products.

But even after we have gone through the trouble of doing all of this research, we need a little bit of validation about the decision we have made. We will go on Facebook to see if our friends agree, or we will read reviews on Amazon for some confirmation. We need reinforcement because it is a part of our human nature.

When we think that we have made a wise choice, we want to transfer the good feelings towards the people that helped us get to the specific decision. That is where the method of marketing, BYAF, we mention can really work. When you are giving the customer objective information and encouraging them to make a choice independently, you are playing into their feelings regarding the matter. You are becoming their partner, not the person trying to sell them something. You are an advisor who makes them feel good about the decision they are going to make. You are helping people feel wise and accomplished and intelligent, which results in the release of hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine. This creates a bond between you and the customer.

For instance, look at the advertising from Progressive Insurance. Instead of giving you quotes for their coverage, they show you quotes from their competitors as well. They will tell you that you can make any choice you want, but the intent of their advertising is clear. And it helps form a bond with customers, who may even choose Progressive when its prices are slightly higher than the competition. Here are some more actionables that play on this “you are free” principle:

Inform: Tweak your sales pitch into something that is more informative and objective. Talk about the facts and help customers as they make a decision about the type of product you are selling.

Involve: It is always a good idea to engage your customers with your business before you try and get a commitment out of them. Set up a free consultation or a live chat or an email help session where you are giving them meaningful information, not platitudes about your company and its products. If they feel as though they are part of the process, instead of being targeted by a salesperson, they are more likely to have positive feelings for your company.

Ignite: As you continue to validate a customer’s ability to make the right choice about what they want to buy, you are making them feel as though they are a valuable part of your family. You are acting like a trusted advisor and you are forming proper bonds based on mutual respect and success. And the moment you become a partner with someone, instead of a company trying to sell them something, you are in a much better position to form a sustainable relationship with the customer. Not only will they want to give you their business for the long-term, but they are also more likely to refer you to their friends and family members.

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