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Episode #097: Psychological Ownership in Sales with Colleen Kirk

In This Episode of The Buyer’s Mind with Jeff Shore:

Colleen Kirk and Jeff get into the topic of psychological ownership.  When does your customer own something? Is it when you close the sale?  Is it when they walk away with what they’ve bought? Would you believe that they might own it before they talk with you? Often times people fall in love with a product and just the act of touching it gives them a feeling of ownership.  Be careful, a salesperson can actually become an obstacle to psychological ownership. Learn how to keep your customer engaged in this episode of The Buyer’s Mind.

Topics we’re going to cover on today’s podcast:

[1:04] Psychological ownership – what is it?

[3:41] Why are the bagels so good in New York?

[4:18] Colleen Kirk’s interest in consumer behavior

[9:13] Can you own something long before you actually own it?

[13:30] How much of psychological ownership is based in emotion?

[20:38] Conflicts between consumer’s psychological ownership and the salesperson’s product

[24:38] Psychological ownership of a brand

More about our guest Colleen Kirk:

Colleen P. Kirk’s research centers around consumer behavior, especially in the areas of psychological ownership, emotions, and decision-making. Specific areas of interest include: exploring how and when consumers’ feelings of ownership lead to territorial responses; understanding how consumers come to feel a sense of ownership of intangible digital technologies and its implications for marketers; narcissism in consumer behavior; and nonconscious processing and investor behavior. Focusing her research on experimental design, Dr. Kirk is also interested in diverse methodologies and analytical techniques. Her work is published in top journals such as Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Advertising Research, Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, Journal of Brand Management, Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, and Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. An award-winning researcher and reviewer, she presents at leading national and international conferences, and is a regular reviewer for top journals.

In addition to her research, Dr. Kirk has an extensive professional background in product management, marketing, and sales in the computer industry. Prior to joining the faculty at NYIT as assistant professor of marketing, she taught for five years as assistant professor of marketing at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y., and previously as an adjunct professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. in Math, Computer Science, and Business. Dr. Kirk enjoys engaging her students in live projects for industry and nonprofit organizations, which gives students hands-on experience in applying marketing theory while providing value to clients.

Dr. Kirk holds a Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University, a Master of Business Administration from Southern Methodist University, a Master of International Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and a Doctor of Professional Studies in Marketing and International Economics from Pace University.

Links from today’s podcast:

HomeStreet Bank

Colleen Kirk

Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping

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Educated: A Memoir

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Read Full Transcript

Jeff: So let me ask you, when do you own something? When you’ve purchased it? No. It actually happens a lot sooner than that. We’ll talk about it on today’s episode of “The Buyer’s Mind.”

Announcer: Welcome to “The Buyer’s Mind,” where we take a closer look deep inside your customer’s decision-making mechanism to reverse engineer the perfect sales presentation. Now, please welcome your host, Jeff Shore.

Jeff: Greetings, everyone. Jeff Shore here, your host of “The Buyer’s Mind,” where we investigate the way that our customers think, the way that they make purchase decisions, because, at the end of the day, we wanna make it easy for them to do just that. And today we’re gonna talk about a really interesting concept called psychological ownership. And we’re gonna think about it both from the perspective of our customers, but it might be helpful for you to think about it as what this means to you. What does psychological ownership look like to you?

So to get us started, let’s talk to our show producer, Paul Murphy. Murph, we’re gonna talk today about psychological ownership. Think of the last time that you test-drove a car. At what point did you know you were going to buy it?

Paul: That is a great question. When did I think I was actually gonna buy it? You know, the minute that the engine turned over and that thing purred, you fell in love with it. And it was pretty hard to not say, “I want this.”

Jeff: Right. Yeah, absolutely. And it is the way it works. There’s an emotional connection to it. There’s an “oh yeah” moment about that. And this is what happens. The fact is that we know in our gut before we acknowledge in our head. Paco Underhill, when he wrote “Why We Buy” many years ago, he said, “We own something when we try it on, or hold it in our hand, or drive it, or put it in our mouth. Paying for it is a mere formality.” It’s a great quote. So here’s the question. How do you get your customer to own something sooner and to be conscious of that? That’s what we’re gonna get into on today’s episode of “The Buyer’s Mind” as we talk to Dr. Colleen Kirk about psychological ownership.

Well, as you know here on “The Buyer’s Mind,” we’re always thrilled to bring on the people who are doing the hard part behind the scenes, trying to figure out, “How do customers think? How do our consumers make decisions?” And then we bring them onto the podcast to be able to bring clarity and applicability to that. And so I’m thrilled today to have Dr. Colleen Kirk from the New York Institute of Technology. Her research centers around consumer behavior, especially in the areas of psychological ownership, emotions, decision-making, all the things we love to talk about here on “The Buyer’s Mind.” She is an accomplished researcher written up in journal after journal after journal, just an extensive background in product management, marketing, sales. She knows it all, and I think you’re gonna love this conversation. Dr. Kirk, welcome to “The Buyer’s Mind.”

Dr. Kirk: Thank you very much, Jeff. I really appreciate it. Although beyond that introduction, I don’t know what I’m gonna be able to…

Jeff: No. No, no, we’ll have some fun. We’ll have fun. And you’re joining us from New York today?

Dr. Kirk: Yes, I am.

Jeff: Whereabouts in New York?

Dr. Kirk: So our headquarters are…we have a campus in New York City, in Manhattan, and we have a campus on Long Island, and I’m based in Manhattan.

Jeff: Love it. Okay. So before we get into the core topic, we have to settle a conversation that Murph and I were having offline. Why are the bagels so good in New York? What is that? Somebody once told me that it’s because New York has really, really good water. Is that the secret?

Dr. Kirk: Well, the interesting thing, you know, that is our…in my family, that’s our general consensus because I live in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. It’s a little town on the Hudson River, about 30 miles north of New York, and we supply the water for New York City, and we make bagels here in Croton. So that’s our conclusion. We would agree that it’s the water.

Jeff: Let’s go with that. Let’s go with that. All right, boy, now I’ve got a hanker and I’m gonna have to hop on a plane and head to Manhattan here. Tell us about your interest in consumer behavior. How did that start? It’s such a fascinating business, and once you start to unpeel it just a little bit, it’s really easy to dive, you know, a couple of miles deep into it. Where did your interest originate when it comes to consumer behavior?

Dr. Kirk: Well, it is kind of a roundabout way. My professional background is in marketing and sales in the computer industry. I won’t tell you how long ago. But I worked for many, many years in product management and in sales and in the computer business. So it was mostly B2B marketing and sales. And when my kids went off to high school, I went back to school and got my doctorate in marketing, and I took my first consumer behavior class and just absolutely fell in love with it. I just thought it was fascinating that something as simple as a product sitting on a shelf next to a package, a sealed package of toilet paper could somehow make the consumer feel like there was some potential for contagion there. That was a crazy example, but just fascinated with the notion of consumer behavior and how funny we all are.

Jeff: Your initial experience was in sales and marketing. When you were taking that class, can you remember back to thinking, “Oh man, how much did I not understand about the way that people make decisions and how much would this have helped me if I knew this stuff when I was a practitioner in the field?”

Dr. Kirk: Absolutely. Absolutely. There’s so much more to understand about the way people think and even establishing relationships with people. Absolutely.

Jeff: Yeah. But it’s such a fascinating, fascinating field, and you can dive so deep. So from that point, you looked and you said, “Okay, now I know what I wanna do with my career.” Because, listen, you had a whole career in frontline marketing and sales in the computer business before you started to do what you’ve done. But when I look at the body of work that you’ve done in the meantime, you’ve had a very, very successful career, a very prolific career, was it at that point where you just looked and you said, “I know what I wanna do, now I know where I wanna make my mark.”?

Dr. Kirk: Well, yeah. Most of my research started off in the technology area. And I do a lot of my research in that area because I still love technology to this day. So I study a lot. I’ve studied a lot about how consumers interact with technology. And I came to this…to come across this field, this theory of psychological ownership, really Jon Pierce from the University of Minnesota and Joann Peck was really the…Joann was really the instigator and kind of wrote the seminal paper on psychological ownership and consumer behavior back in 2009. And I read that and nobody had applied that to digital consumption yet. And I looked at that and I thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s what’s going on there. I’m starting to feel a sense of ownership of these technologies.” So that’s kind of what I’d been studying. And then from there I’ve explored the whole area of psychological ownership and just had great, great fun with it.

Jeff: Give us some definition. When you’re talking about psychological ownership I think typically when we think about ownership, we think about more of a transactional ownership, more of a positional ownership. How do you define psychological ownership?

Dr. Kirk: Oh, that’s certainly a great question. So the way I like to explain it is, if you think about, it’s very easy if you’re a professor to understand psychological ownership, but anybody who’s ever sat in a classroom can understand it. So if you imagine, you know, you walk into a classroom on your first day of class and you pick a seat and you sit down, and then, you know, you walk into class the second day of class, where do you sit?

Jeff: Same seat?

Dr. Kirk: The same seat. And what do you do when you walk in and you see Jane sitting in the seat that you had the day before?

Jeff: Right, I’m all verklempt. Yeah.

Dr. Kirk: You know, you’re probably just…you’re probably way too polite to say anything. And most students are too polite, but they are thinking, “No, Jane, what are you doing in my seat?” So that’s a feeling of what we call psychological ownership. You feel like even though the school legally owns that seat, you feel a sense of ownership of that seat.

Jeff: Does it transfer? And by the way, I think there are a lot of salespeople who go to their sales meetings every week and every week the same salespeople are sitting in exactly the same chair. And if somebody moves, oh my goodness, it’s just like the world stops spinning. That’s a, “How could you do this heinous act?”

Dr. Kirk: Absolutely.

Jeff: How does psychological ownership affect the way that consumers think about a product? Because is it just inherent that if I own something transactionally then I also own it psychologically or is there a sense of and can I take an ownership in something, even a brand, long before I own it?

Dr. Kirk: Oh yeah, definitely. So the two ideas can be related, but they don’t have to be related. So there are many, many things. So if you think of, look around your house and you think…you know, you look at somebody’s, you know, gifts maybe that your great aunt Susie gave you that is really meaningless to you but you accepted, being a nice person, you may not have a great feeling of ownership of that gift, for example. There’s probably a lot of other things in your house and that you legally own but you do not have much psychological ownership for.

Contrast that with some purchase where you really spent a long time making decisions. You did a lot of research on it and you really developed a real feeling like you know this product better than anyone else. Or you might have customized it, for example, or you went into the store and you really picked it up and really looked at it and you touched it and you felt it with your hands, all of these things elicit these feelings of ownership. So even before you legally buy something, you can have this feeling of ownership or psychological ownership.

Jeff: You know, it’s interesting, I remember reading, I believe it was Paco Underhill “Why We Buy” many, many years ago. And I think he made that point. He said, “When do we own something?” We tend to think when we pay for it, right? But we own it when we try it on or hold it in our hands or test it or whatever it is. Paying for it actually becomes something of a formality. So the way that you’ve described it then, that psychological ownership is an incredibly powerful motivator. If I own something psychologically before I actually buy it, pay for it, commit to a salesperson I’m going to buy it, if I’ve got that sense of deep-rooted psychological ownership, the transactional part is actually quite simple. That last step is not that difficult.

Dr. Kirk: Even more fascinating to me, when I first started researching this idea, fascinating to me was that people are willing to pay more for products that they psychologically own. And my colleague Joann Peck who I mentioned before, she and Suzanne Shu showed with some research that if a consumer picks up or touches or moves a product, simply touching it is enough to elicit this feeling of ownership, and then they’re willing to pay more for the product. So research has shown this time and again, that if we can elicit feelings of ownership in our customers, they value the product more highly and they’re willing to pay more for it because it kind of becomes part of their self. It becomes part of their extended self, as Russell Belk calls it. And that’s why we’re willing to pay more for it. And of course, at the same time, we’re also more likely to buy it.

Jeff: You know, I’m thinking of an incident recently where…I play ice hockey, or as they say in Canada, hockey, and I was at a hockey supply store, and I was looking at a new stick, right? Well, you can’t actually take it out on the ice. There’s no way. You can’t shoot, but they’ve got a little pad there, a little hard plastic pad, and you can take a puck and just sort of move it around a little bit. And I’ll tell you, in my mind, as I was getting… just trying to get the feel of what it was like to maneuver this puck around this little plastic mat, and in my mind I was on the ice, right? I was skating down the ice and I was digging and guys were like coming out of their shoes.

They couldn’t keep up with… For some reason I was skating better when I was holding this stick. And the psychological ownership was so profound. What was interesting about that is I had no idea what the price of this stick was as I was doing it. But by the time I had had that sense of how good I was going to be once I own this stick, I didn’t care. It didn’t matter to me. You could have told me, “Yeah, that stick is $12,000,” and I would have said yes. So it’s fascinating how that works.

Dr. Kirk: It was already part of you.

Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now, how much of what we’re talking about when we look at psychological ownership is just based on the emotion, the core emotion that a customer feels? Because I know you’ve dealt with a lot of this, those aspects of how emotion affects a consumer purchase decision.

Dr. Kirk: Yeah. Yeah. So, psychological ownership is really interesting because it kind of has two aspects to it. There’s an emotional aspect as well as, we call a cognitive aspect. You know, something you believe or think about. So the emotional aspect is related to this feeling that something becomes part of your extended self. And you often don’t even realize that you have psychological ownership until somebody comes along and tries to claim ownership from you. Now all of a sudden you’re very aware of your possession.

Jeff: Yeah. So that emotion, when I’m a consumer and I’m in that process, you know, this is one of the things that I think Daniel Kahneman points out so well. Just so you know, on “The Buyer’s Mind,” we have to have one Daniel Kahneman reference in every episode. But Daniel Kahneman points out so well the idea that we’re under this illusion that we really understand our decision-making process. And because so much of this is based out of the emotion and the emotion doesn’t really have a mind to it, it’s something that we experience more than think through. But do you think that consumers are…I mean, delusional sounds like a pejorative, but they think that they’re making a logical choice, when in reality it’s far more emotional than most people give themselves credit for.

Dr. Kirk: Yes, absolutely. And in some ways to me, it’s part of the joy of being human, that we’re much more complicated than a simple mechanical decision-making tool might purport to, you know, conceive us as.

Jeff: I love that take, though, that it’s part of the joy of being human, right? People do love to buy. They do love that acquisition of something, you know, new and bright and shiny, and it’s gonna improve my life in some way. And you’re right, the person who would make an entirely logical decision probably won’t make a great decision in the first place, but surely, they won’t enjoy it as much.

Dr. Kirk: Yes.

Jeff: As you look at how that emotion affects the consumer purchase decision, are there anything that you’ve run across that say, “Well, this is something that was very interesting to me?” Maybe something you’ve learned about yourself in your own studies or about other consumers to say, “Here’s a way that the emotion moves the needle in ways that we probably did not understand.”

Dr. Kirk: Well, oh, most fascinating to me recently has been the work that I’ve done with Joann Peck, who I mentioned, and my other colleague, Scott Swain. We’ve done some research on consumer’s territorial responses. And I can tell you a personal story. And I don’t know if this will be of interest to your listeners, but I’ll tell you a personal story because this is exactly how this research started. And I was shopping for a floor tile for my bathroom. We were redoing our bathroom and I was in a tile store shopping in Briarcliff near where I live. And I’d spent an hour in this store shopping for the perfect tile and trying to match colors and compare colors and sizes and shapes. And finally I found the perfect tile, and I picked up the sample piece of tile. I picked it up. It was this big, huge heavy thing. I carried it up to the counter. And I was waiting in line to check it out and bring it home. I’m longing to see if it would work in my house.

And so it’s sitting there on the counter in front of me and I was imagining it in my house, and all of a sudden, the lady in line behind me reached out and put her hand on the tile. And honestly, I won’t even admit how strong of a physiological reaction I had. I didn’t say anything. Of course, I tried to be more polite, but I was shocked and I was shocked at my own response, honestly. I felt a very strong emotional response. And I thought for the next three days, driving to and from work, I thought about this response and why I had this kind of gut…really, a gut response to her action of putting her hand on the tile. It made no sense. I knew there were more samples in the back. I knew she wasn’t gonna steal my tile. It made no sense from a mental standpoint, a cognitive standpoint, but it certainly was an emotional response.

And so that really is how my research all started on territoriality. It just was, I just spent a lot of time diagnosing this and then talking to my colleagues, Joann and Scott, and we did a whole bunch of experiments to kind of, you know, take this apart and understand why it happened and when it will happen and what the outcomes are.

Jeff: Just to clarify, you know, is the territorial response an extension of psychological ownership?

Dr. Kirk: Yes, it is. Because if I had been in this tile store picking up the tile for my husband, if this had been his project and I had just been stopping by, or a friend, and stopping by and picking up this tile for them, I would have had the title in front of me and I am quite sure I would not have had much of a response at all if the lady behind me had put her hand on the tile. But this was my tile. I felt high psychological ownership of this tile. And that’s what triggered this emotional response.

So we have shown in many, many experiments that if you elicit feelings of psychological ownership, feelings of ownership, that if somebody else comes along, and we’ve shown how this happens, and somebody else comes along and they try to communicate ownership using the same mechanisms that trigger psychological ownership or elicit, and those are control, investment of self, or intimate knowledge. And I’d be happy to explain that. But if someone else signals that they feel ownership of this product, like, you know, touching the tile, moving a cup of coffee, telling you how much…how well they know something, how intimately they know a particular product, the consumer is likely to feel infringed.

And this feeling of infringement comes from the psychological ownership that they have and has all kinds of not so good outcomes actually. From a marketing standpoint, many of the outcomes are not really so positive. So from a sales standpoint, it’s kind of important to understand this actually from the standpoint of a salesperson. Because it’s very easy for a salesperson, we’ve shown in several of our studies, we’ve shown that salespeople can actually infringe on consumers without realizing it.

Jeff: You know, it’s interesting, my background is in real estate, the real estate world, and especially in the new construction area. And it’s a constant conflict between home builders and home buyers because home builders, while they’re building the home, they’re looking at it and they’re saying, “You know, this is our home, right? We are building it, you know, we’re building it the way you asked us to, but it’s still our home, and therefore you can’t go on the property. And please don’t tell us there was a broken window. We know there’s a broken window. Don’t tell us that there’s a crooked board. We know there’s…” Right? And there’s this battle.

Meanwhile, you’ve got the home buyer who’s looking at it and then saying, “Hey, you know what? Why did the contractor leave the Doritos wrapper and the empty soda can in there? And by the way, that board is crooked.” And I had never really connected these dots, but it sounds like that’s an example of a customer who truly does not own this product yet as a transaction but owns it psychologically and is now quite upset that their product… We used to think about it and say, “Well, it’s all about what the customer is gonna feel about the home in the future,” but it’s not in the future. It’s what they’re feeling right now.

Dr. Kirk: Oh, that is the…it’s a wonderful example. I just love it. Yes, it’s a battle of ownership. You’ve given a really, really great example. And actually homes, of course, given, you know, the integral role they play in our lives and the huge investment they are for a consumer. Yeah, they would be kind of targets of a great deal of psychological ownership. So I love that example. Yeah.

Jeff: This is really interesting because for you, you go through these experience in your life and then you say, “All right, I’m gonna open up a research project on that.” I go through this experience and go, “Wow, what was that all about?” So that’s great. One other thing here, you use a really interesting term here, that you talk about narcissism in consumer behavior. That’s interesting maybe because that’s a term that’s normally attributed to salespeople being narcissists, but you’re suggesting that there is a degree of narcissism in consumer behavior.

Dr. Kirk: Oh yes. That’s actually been really interesting also because narcissists actually, their possessions are really important to them because they…people who are high in narcissism use their possessions to signal superiority to other people. So, consumption and narcissism is a really fascinating area that we’re just kind of really starting to explore. It hasn’t really been well explored yet in consumer behavior. So one of the things that we found is that people who are high in narcissism believe, they believe innately they believe that they’re superior to others. Okay, that’s kind of fundamental to the definition of a narcissist. But at the same time, they believe that others think that they are superior: more intelligent, more attractive, but also that they’re more likely to own or feel psychological ownership for an attractive target. And so as a result, they get infringed more easily.

For example, we did an experiment where we had customers or consumers who were at a pizza stand, okay? And this was a very special pizza and they felt a great deal of ownership for this very special pizza. And a stranger came up and said to them, “Oh, I know this pizza really well. I call it Antonio.” And so, you know, consumers that are low in narcissism were like, “Okay, this person’s a little odd, eccentric, you know, but he was just telling me how much he likes the pizza.” The people who were highly in narcissism absolutely were off the scale in infringement and thought this person was out of his mind and hallucinating and, “How could he feel ownership for my pizza?”

Jeff: Yeah. But part of that, though, is like, it’s like brand ownership, right? There’s a psychological ownership to a brand that I might take. So if I tell you when I’m in New York, there is a falafel stand on 46th and 6th, just a few blocks up from the Bryant Park, and you’re gonna get the best falafel in town from Moshe’s Falafel. Now you’re gonna come back and say, “Are you kidding me? No, no, no, no, that’s pedestrian. You wanna go to this place over here.” You and I are gonna have a little battle. I assume that that battle is over our sense of psychological ownership even over a brand.

Dr. Kirk: Oh yeah, definitely. Definitely. And yeah, we’re looking at some new things, too, some new ideas regarding those kind of signals that you’re sending. Because, you know, So, like, here you are, you’re trying to claim ownership of something that I feel like I own. I’m a New Yorker. So that’s what makes it even worse.

Jeff: I’m sure it does. Here is the California guy who’s trying to tell you what a good falafel sandwich is gonna be like. But I’m just telling you right now, Moshe’s is a food truck on the corner of 46th and 6th, they’ve never let me down. So there you go. There you go. So fascinating.

Jeff: Yeah. There you go. So fascinating. Hey, before we let you go, we always do this. We’re gonna put you on the hot seat real quick. Rapid-fire questions, rapid-fire answers coming at you out of right field. Are you ready?

Dr. Kirk: Very.

Jeff: Here we go. Your very first job was what?

Dr. Kirk: With Texas Instruments. I was an international product manager.

Jeff: Cool. When you were 10, you thought you would be what?

Dr. Kirk: I thought I would be an astronaut. I thought I would be the world’s first female astronaut.

Jeff: Love it. Love it. The most beautiful place you’ve ever stood.

Dr. Kirk: Maybe I would say the top of the Beekman Tower on, this is really right off the bat, but at 51st and 1st Avenue, where my now-husband took me for our first date…

Jeff: That’s great.

Dr. Kirk: …on my first visit to him in New York City.

Jeff: I have to tell you, that’s only eight blocks away from a really good falafel stand. Never mind. All right, any book that you’ve read that’s made a profound impact on your life?

Dr. Kirk: Well, you know, yeah, there’s so many. Wow.

Jeff: I know, I know. It’s a tough one.

Dr. Kirk: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the one that just comes right to mind immediately is, I just read it, is the book “Educated” by Tara Westover I think is her last name. But it’s a fascinating story of a young woman who really had no education at all, ended up getting her Ph.D. from Cambridge. So, a very inspiring book.

Jeff: Love it. Last question, the name of your first celebrity crush?

Dr. Kirk: First celebrity crush, I’m gonna be dating myself.

Jeff: I could do it too. Most people don’t even remember Elizabeth Montgomery on “Bewitched” when I answer this question. So, yeah, yeah.

Dr. Kirk: You know, I’m gonna risk sounding totally nerdy, but I’m gonna say…I’m a violinist and I’m gonna say, Itzhak Perlman.

Jeff: That’s awesome. That’s one of the best answers I’ve ever heard of that question. All right, you’re off the hot seat. Great job.

Dr. Colleen Kirk, that was really, really fantastic, and part of it because it is such a fascinating, fascinating topic that you brought to us today. But I think the other part of it is you can hear the passion in your voice. And I resonate with that. I think we gravitate towards people who are doing what they love and making a huge difference. That sounds to me like the definition of success. So thank you so much for what you brought to us today. Really appreciate it.

Dr. Kirk: Oh, it’s been really a pleasure, Jeff. Thank you.

Jeff: All right. Well Murph, boy, Colleen Kirk, boy, she’s right up our alley, right? That’s the type of guest we’d love to have on “The Buyer’s Mind.”

Paul: Well, and to take something that is so heavy, you know, things that we talk about as being written in white papers that how do you even begin to understand it, that she brought it down to earth and made it understandable was fantastic.

Jeff: Absolutely. You know, I’m looking at it from the perspective of how do we get our customers to own something sooner and then to be conscious of that, right? That’s really what we’re looking at. If it’s about psychological ownership, it’s not about the moment that they say yes or sign a contract or hand us our credit card, it’s really about when they in their mind look at it and go, “Want, want, want. I want this. I want to own this.”

And then when they do that, there’s that little jump that says, “You know what? I think I already do.” Now, it’s interesting because it may not be a conscious decision, but it’s a nonconscious decision. And at that point, everything else is a formality. Oftentimes the sale is made, or more specifically the purchase is made long before the salesperson knows it. So a customer has already made an emotional commitment to a product, and everything that happens thereafter is something of a formality.

So here’s the question. How do you get your customer to own something sooner and to be conscious of that? And I think the way that you do that is that you ask questions about their life more than about their product but that directly relate to the product. So for example, if you’re selling cars, you might consider this question. And fair disclaimer, I’ve never sold cars before, but car sellers, if you don’t like it then tweak it, but stay with the theme of where we’re going here. What if I said, “Tell me about your favorite weekend getaway spot, where do you like to drive to on the weekends?”

Now, when I asked the question, I’m asking about their favorite weekend spot, but what am I doing? I am placing the customer into their own future. And even while I’m on a test drive, I’m getting them to imagine driving this very car to that spot. So I’m connecting a strong emotion in the car with a strong emotion in my life. That’s the idea. Now, look, if they don’t have a strong emotion in the car, well, you’re probably not getting the sale anyway. But if they do, I’m connecting it into something. And then what do I get? Psychological ownership. In my mind, I am seeing myself driving this car to my favorite place.

Or if you’re selling homes, a question like, “Where does the dog sleep? Where does the dog sleep?” Now, what’s happening? I’m thinking about my dog, and let’s face it, everybody loves their dog. I’m thinking about my dog, but now I’m thinking about my dog in this home. What happens? Psychological ownership. If I’m selling jewelry, I can ask the question, “Tell me your favorite upscale restaurant.” And now what’s happening? You go to an upscale restaurant, you’re gonna dress up, right? So what am I gonna do when I dress up? I’m gonna wear this jewelry to my favorite upscale restaurant. So the technique here is to take the best of the joy of your product and combine it with the best of their life. And you put those things together and it leads you to a sense of psychological ownership. Why? Because these are transporting questions. They take the customer into her future, into his future.

So I’m gonna suggest that you brainstorm this, that you spend a little time trying to figure out, “How do I get the right question about my customers’ life that will help them to take the product that I’m selling and move it into that realm of psychological ownership?” And then once you’ve thought about the right question, now ask, “When’s the right time to ask that? When is the perfect time in the presentation to ask that question?” If we can combine these two things together, we increase the psychological ownership. We get that customer owning it even before they buy it. It’s fun, it’s enjoyable, it’s connecting, it’s relational. And at the end of the day, you know what I get to do, I get to change their world.


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About the Author: Jeff Shore

Jeff Shore

Jeff Shore is the Founder and President of Shore Consulting, Inc. a company specializing in field-tested and proven consumer psychology-based sales training programs.

Jeff is a top-selling author, host of the popular sales podcast, The Buyer’s Mind, and an award-winning keynote speaker. He holds the prestigious Certified Speaking Professional designation from the National Speakers Association and is a member of the NSA’s exclusive Million Dollar Speaker’s Group.

With over 30 years of real-world, frontline experience, Jeff’s advanced sales strategies spring from extensive research into the psychology of buying and selling. He teaches salespeople how to climb inside the mind of their customers to sell the way their buyers want to buy. Using these modern, game-changing techniques, Jeff Shore’s clients generated over $30 billion in sales last year.