A Psychological Approach to Effective Selling

It all started in the middle 70s. I would give a speech in Los Angeles and have people come up to me afterwards and say that they flew all the way from Nashville or someplace out east just to hear me speak for 45 minutes.

It was then that I thought of holding a seminar. If these people were willing to fly miles to hear me speak for less than an hour, would they spend a few thousand dollars and attend a five-day seminar where I would share all the things I’ve learned as a direct marketer?

I announced the seminar and within days it was filled (my limit was 20 participants) and I charged them $2,000, which at the time was an unheard of high price to pay for any seminar.

In teaching the seminar, I talked about my psychological triggers and after giving several seminars, I noticed that it was one of the favorite parts of the seminar.

In the year 2000 I stopped giving seminars. I had taught some of the top companies in the country and helped enterprising entrepreneurs build their business beyond their dreams and had a whole series of success stories to back that up.

Two years prior to holding my last seminar, I decided to write a book encompassing what I taught at the seminars. One book soon turned into two books and then three books. One was on copywriting, the second on print marketing and the third was on TV marketing. All the principles in my books applied to the Internet even though I did not cover that directly.

In the years that followed, my books would get reviewed. The review seemed to focus on my Psychological Triggers—those triggers that caused your prospect to purchase your product or service. In fact, so much attention was focused on that chapter in my copywriting book that I decided to expand the chapter and write an entire book on the subject.

There are 30 triggers in all. And they do three things: 1) They build trust with your prospect, 2) They set the perfect environment for the selling process, and finally 3) they trigger a sale.

I wish to share with you today just one very effective trigger and a few ads that used this trigger to effectively sell a product or service. The Trigger is called “Story Telling.”

We were born and raised hearing stories when we were very young. It was how we often related to the outside world and the world of fantasy. It was our entertainment growing up so it’s not surprising that even to this day a story will grab our attention and hold it.

I observed boring speakers speaking to an audience but when they start telling a story, the audience starts to pay close attention. Story telling does a number of things. In a print ad, a good story starts the reading process and holds the reader’s attention. Scientific studies have shown that once you read the first few paragraphs of an ad, the chances of you reading the entire ad are magnified. And that should be your goal—to get your prospect to read the entire ad. Within that story you build curiosity, you relate to your prospect and you introduce those elements that help you present the benefits of your product or service.

The other day, I received a call from somebody who wanted to do an hour teleseminar on my Psychological Triggers. With 30 triggers to talk about, an hour is plenty of time until the sponsor of this event asked that the hour we were to spend cover only “story telling.” Quite frankly, I didn’t think I could spend an hour talking about this one trigger so I decided to do a little research.

I looked back at my many mail order ads from the 70s and 80s only to realize that story telling played a much bigger role in my successful advertising concepts than I at first realized. I can site three examples that caught my attention. The first was an ad I ran selling a remote control car starter.

The headline of the ad stated, “Mafia Auto Gadget.” And the ad told the story about the Mafia back in the 20s and how when one group of mobsters wanted to eliminate another mobster, they would plant a bomb in the car of the mobster and when that poor soul would turn the ignition key, his car would blow up killing him in the process. Then I talked about how mobsters wised up and had their chauffeurs start the car for them but too many chauffeurs bit the dust in the process.

Then I introduced the product we were selling. It was a remote control device that started your car from a distance so if it is a hot day, you can turn on your car remotely, cool it off—all before you stepped inside. It was a product that every gangster should own and of course I made the argument that it was something every car owner would find a valuable luxury to add to their car.

That story captivated my readers, they read each word of the ad and although many never bought the product, our research showed that they read almost the entire ad.

Another example was for a thermostat we sold. We started the ad with a story about how a product was presented to me and my negative reaction to the product in general, the name of the product, the old technology it used and even how ugly it looked. But as you read the story, a good point emerged about the product that caused me to install one in my home and I talk about how I fell in love with the thermostat after installing it. I’d say 60% of the ad was devoted to telling a story—the story of how I discovered the product. And I sold thousands of them.

But the most effective story I’ve ever told was how I discovered BluBlocker sunglasses. This story started out with me driving down the 405 highway in Los Angeles and squinting. My friend, who was driving, saw me squinting and handed me a pair of sunglasses. I put them on and immediately stopped squinting and noticed how clear and sharp everything appeared. And it was then that I learned about this product that was originally designed for NASA (our space agency) and the Astronauts. That story launched a multi-million dollar company, was responsible for selling over 20 million pairs of sunglasses throughout the world and this year we celebrate our 25th year in business—all from a story about how my squinting led to the building of an extremely successful company.

Story telling is but just one of the psychological techniques I’ve used and taught. It grabs the reader to keep reading until you trigger that sale. It entertains, informs and helps sell your product or service.

Use it and prosper.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: May 30, 2011

3 Responses to “A Psychological Approach to Effective Selling”

  1. Great article, Joe. I have vivid memories of my grandmother ordering a pair of BluBlockers the first year they came out (she was an astute critic of advertising, and not easily impressed.) Yes, good stories sell! Look forward to hearing more at Bootcamp in October.

    Steve RollerMay 30, 2011 at 5:18 pm

  2. It seems to write a good story, you need to indulge yourself more into everyday life...observe things more carefully and be able to express it even more artfully. Anyway, nice examples. Loved the writeup!

    Guest (RonC)June 2, 2011 at 1:05 am

  3. Great story! Thanks for the smiles this morning. I know my Dad would love this. He was a master salesman. I can't hold a near second, but your words are helping me move closer!

    Guest (Nancy L)July 7, 2011 at 11:18 am


Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)


This name will appear next to your comment.


Your email is required but will not be displayed.


Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters


Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)