Businesswoman at office covering her eyes.Part of the “trick” of selling products and services online is being able to persuade your potential buyer that your item is exactly what they want. Indeed, without the ability to persuade a likely buyer you cannot really sell very much at all.

In traditional face-to-face selling there are plenty of training courses around about building empathy and using the right body language so that you increase the likelihood of someone buying from you. Part of these training courses often suggest the need for great eye contact. When you make eye contact with potential buyers they feel that you are better connected to them and that you are interested in them. In turn, this degree of interest in the buyer is associated with increased likelihood of them spending money with you.

However, new research into eye contact and persuasion shows that all is not as straightforward as we may like to think.

Whilst it is true that eye contact with customers makes them feel that they are being cared for and listened to by the sales person, this new study adds a twist. It found that people are LESS persuaded when there is a lot of eye contact. In other words, sales people need to use eye contact to establish rapport and make the customer feel they are being cared for and then reduce eye contact in order to persuade them that the product or service on offer is the right one for them.

Online this is a problem for website owners. Many websites include picture of people staring out of the page and making direct, apparent eye contact with the visitor. Similarly many websites include video clips with someone chatting about the benefits of what is being sold. Or there is a live “walk on” sales person down at the bottom of the screen having a chat with you. Many sales-based websites include someone making what seems like eye contact with the visitor.  The theory behind this is that by making a connection with the visitor it helps make them feel wanted and that the site is just for them. That may be the case, but the direct eye contact from these pictures could be reducing conversions because the eye contact is lowering the persuasion level.

In practice this means you need different images at different stages of the sales process.

  1. A good front-facing, eye-contact picture when the page is about making a connection and making the customer feel cared for
  2. An image without any direct eye contact when the sales process is in the final stages, where your need for persuasion is at its highest

In other words, once again producing a sales-based web page requires careful planning and selecting the right photographs.


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