The 4 Most Powerful Words for Closing Sales

We’ve seen the lists. All those words that grab attention and spark those triggers deep in our psyche that get us to buy sooner than later. You know what I’m talking about: free, limited time, guaranteed, exclusive, discount … the list goes on. But do you know the words that are most likely to close sales that have nothing to do with price?

Retail Sales UpWe’ve seen the lists. All those words that grab attention and spark those triggers deep in our psyche that get us to buy sooner than later. You know what I’m talking about: free, limited time, guaranteed, exclusive, discount … the list goes on. But do you know the words that are most likely to close sales that have nothing to do with price?

In 2000, social psychology researchers, Nicolas Gueguen and Alexandre Pascual, conducted a study to see what words resulted in the greatest compliance for doing a simple task. They asked subjects on a city street to give money to a cause and were only able to get 10 percent of those asked to comply. When they added the phrase, “but you are free to accept or refuse,” nearly 48 percent complied, and in many cases, the amount of the gift donated was greater than before. Subsequently, they found that by using these same words to get people to take a survey, the compliance rate was also substantially higher.

Why do the simple words, “But you are free” have such a strong persuasive impact on compliance? From a psychological perspective, we humans want to always feel in control, and when someone asks for something that is ours — our time, our money — we feel they are asking us to give up control of some of our most valuable necessities. From a marketing perspective, I believe the impact goes even deeper.

A mentor of mine, Charles Graves, a brilliant public relations thought leader, told me years ago to focus marketing initiatives on the notion that consumers want to be told, not sold. And while that does relate to our need to be in control, it also goes to our instinctive need to be involved, informed and valued for our own intelligence and ability to make wise choices.

A researcher for the University of Illinois, Christopher Carpenter, conducted similar studies on the But You are Free Compliance-Gaining technique. His work involved 42 studies and 22,000 participants and also showed that using this approach at least doubled the success rate in various scenarios.

While the implications of the BYAF concept may be more clear for sales, some of the ways this impacts marketing may not be. Think about how much research consumers do before buying just about anything. GE Capital Retail Bank’s second annual “Major Purchase Shopper Study” shows that more and more consumers research extensively to compare products, prices and financing options before making major purchases. The most recently study conducted in 2013 indicates that 81 percent of consumers go online before going to stores, and that number is up 20 percent from the previous year. On average, consumers spend 79 days gathering information before making their choices. This particular study focused on shopping patterns for purchases of $500 or more, covering a broad spectrum of categories including appliances, electronics, flooring, home furnishings and bedding, jewelry, power sports products and more.

Even with all this research, we still need validation that we made the right decision. We go on Facebook to see if our friends agree with our choice. We read consumer reviews on Amazon, Yelp and many more websites and so on. Even with all the decision support systems available for any purchase we make, we still need a lot of reinforcement. It’s just human nature.

When we feel we made wise choices, we transfer those good feelings to those who helped us make those decisions and to those who reinforce our choices. This is where BYAF works brilliantly for marketing. When you provide objective information and encourage customers to make their own choices, you become a partner. You’re that trusted advisor who makes them feel good about themselves and just as good about you! In fact, when you make others feel intelligent, wise and accomplished, you can trigger those hormonal releases of oxytocin and dopamine, and when that happens, you create bonds.

Author: Jeanette McMurtry

Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at

14 thoughts on “The 4 Most Powerful Words for Closing Sales”

  1. Nice stuff Jeanette! Not only is it the control factor but it avoids a subject near and dear to my heart and that is change management. Change is a difficult thing for most. You may or may not know that every sale results in change. The method you describe makes change a free choice and the prospects do not realize it.

    1. Great point Wally. Change is the premise of all the psychology based marketing strategies I create as we humans settle into comfort zones so easily…its part of our survival. Those that can take risks change the world while the rest just simply exist in it.

      1. hi

        Please list the words rather 3 I ‘s in…..i cannot believe people read such articles. Stronly recommend three words my experience goes like this … Go for it, We are different, Gain a lot..

        So use these and see the difference in your sales.. !!!

  2. Very, very interesting article (already Evernoted it!). One often forgets that beneath the multiple messaging layers, sits the one –and decisive– key factor: the ego.

    1. Thank you email. Flattered and honored. Love your comment that beneath us all is our EGO. As Freud explains it, our ID and EGO drive all our behavior, even as much as we don’t want to accept or admit it.

  3. Hi Flavia, thanks for your input. Psychologically, we humans need a lot of reinforcement in ways we are not aware. To me, the research I pointed out validates that we respond when people tap into our unconscious drivers to feel in charge of our lives, intellectual enough to make wise choices, and respected by others. Some interesting reads on how we unconsciously are seeking approval of others regardless of our success and social status are books by Robert Cialdini, Dan Pink, and Jonathan Haidt. Again, thanks for your perspective.

  4. Flavia, I teach this technique in sales prospecting emails. And I can tell you that it works. BUT your point is spot-on. HOW (exactly) and WHEN you signal to the buyer is critical. Signaling “you have the right to choose” can be very powerful — in a world where most sellers are busy pushing, pushing, pushing (for the meeting, the close, etc.). Coming right out and saying it may not be the best way to achieve this. But signaling at the right time does work… “frees” the buyer to make the next step on their own.

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