Don’t Be a Fool When Seeking Persuasion Success

The best way to minimize the likelihood of taking a foolish persuasion risk is to ask questions first and seek agreement later.

Like this:

“What’s your view on the new ad campaign?”

“In your opinion, are new research protocols available that can accelerate the time to market?”

“What’s your take on my performance?”

“What’s your position on the new project?”

You’ll notice that these questions all share a common theme: They ask the target for their opinion, but they don’t ask for a commitment. Commitments are threatening; they require a line to be drawn and force a decision.

People are reluctant to make commitments quickly. On the other hand, opinions are easy to make and quickly shared. If you ask others for their opinions first, you will receive important clarifying information about your target’s thinking processes and be able to minimize the odds of hearing “no.”

Everybody has an opinion, and most people are willing to share them. If you ask me for my opinion, I can’t help but like you more. It’s as immutable as the law of gravity.

Provide an ‘A-ha’ Moment for Greater Persuasion Success

One of the surest ways to remain in control of a persuasion situation is to provide your target with a moment in which he scratches his head and says, “That’s an intriguing idea. I’ve never thought of it like that.”


All of a sudden, you’re adding value to the conversation. You’re enabling someone to learn something he didn’t know before speaking with you. This is a major component of persuasion success. So practice engineering those “a-ha” moments with a series of “what if” questions. This type of inquiry allows you and your target to suspend reality and consider the possibilities.

B2B questions might include:

  • What if you expanded internationally?
  • What if you had lower volume, but higher profitability?
  • What if your salespeople were relieved of their administrative duties?
  • What if you reduced your advertising budget and increased your sales force?

B2C questions might include:

  • What if you could have the new model, and not see any increase in your monthly payment?
  • What if we came to you, and you never had to leave your home or office to do business with us?
  • What if we could assure you that you would always have someone to call if you need assistance?

It’s easy to come up with “what if” questions, based on the circumstances surrounding your target. Such thought-provoking inquiries challenge a buyer’s conventional wisdom. If you can identify sacred cows and change the way someone thinks about them, both of you may be leading those cows to the slaughter. (And that’s a good thing.) There’s no need to be rude or unreasonably abrupt, but don’t be afraid to take a risk and challenge convention.

After the “what if” questions, the next-best way to challenge convention is to simply ask, “Why?” Why does your target distribute products the way it does? Why is customer feedback considered so important – or, conversely, not at all? Why are sales efforts concentrated only in certain areas?

Help provide moments of clarity — and then watch your persuasion success factor increase.

Losing Control of Your Persuasion Case? Find Something Positive to Take Away

Staring straight ahead, firmly gripping the wheel, the driver fixated on the snowy road in front of him. His jaw clenched, he steadily — subconsciously, perhaps — pressed harder on the gas pedal as he and his vehicle pushed onward through the driving snow. But he wasn’t thinking about the road; instead, the driver’s mind was on everything else: his job, his finances, tomorrow’s schedule.

Then, as a toy car is at the mercy of a child’s hands, his vehicle began to hydroplane, sending it into three terrifying 360-degree spins before finally smashing into the snow-covered median. Heart pounding, eyes wide open and still gripping the steering wheel, the driver quickly and repeatedly thanked his Creator, and vowed from that moment forward to be more in control behind the wheel.

That driver was me.

If you’ve ever lost control while driving, as I did that frightful winter night, you know how harrowing the experience can be. Losing control can happen so fast, and for so many reasons: driver inattention, road conditions, other motorists’ actions. But to arrive safely at a given destination, you must either be able to retain focus or be skilled enough to drive through any type of conditions.

And so it goes with so many other aspects our lives: relationships, sales and, yes, persuasion. Hopefully your persuasion situations don’t involve live-or-die scenarios (even though at times they may feel that way). Remember, each persuasion attempt can be valuable, even if you ultimately don’t hear “yes.”

Find something positive to take away from each one, and I bet you’ll wind up hearing “no” less frequently.

Persuasion Power: Building a Strong Business Case

Building your business case can achieve skyrocketing persuasion results.

It all begins with such quantitative actions as doing due diligence, then measuring return on investment and knowing how much you need to sell. Then, you must create positive emotional links.

Finally, put everything together to create both real and hypothetical case studies to make your point. To best convince others that your business case is relevant and powerful, consider these six techniques:

1. Draw from other industries.

Demonstrate how and when your idea has worked elsewhere and why it’s likely to work in this situation. In other words, show precedence.

2. Provide relevant examples.

They should that either support why quick action is necessary or why a more measured approach is appropriate.

3. Create “positional critical mass.”

This means that you’ve focused your early arguments on the movers and shakers — people who can champion your cause and best rally support. It also helps when formal (hierarchical) and informal (popular colleagues) individuals support the position you espouse.

4. Cite and utilize experts (living and deceased).

They can be leveraged to help cut through uncertainty. If I were attempting to persuade about technology, I’d likely cite Walt Mossberg, former Wall Street Journal columnist and co-founder of the AllThingsD, Recode, D & Code Conferences. But if my persuasion priority involved organizational strategy, I’d reference the late management consultant Peter Drucker.

5. Provide validation and verification.

Citing the right metrics (quantitative help) will justify and validate your persuasion priority. For example, if you have 20 percent more clients six months from now than you do today, you’ll know your organization’s referral initiative will have been successful.

6. Argue against yourself.

People routinely write books on both sides of an issue. Academic debating requires the ability to take either side of an issue and prove or disprove it. Make the anticipated arguments against your own case and rebut them, so that you’re prepared for the crucible.

Remember: There are quantitative and qualitative aspects to any persuasive argument. Not only can’t you afford to omit either dynamic, but you must appreciate the supporting role they play for each other.

Mastering that synthesis is the key to becoming a powerful persuader.

My Holiday Selling Advice: Keep It Clean

As the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear, retail professionals will be busier than ever. Whether you sell motorcycles, jewelry or consumer electronics, your job is to persuade holiday shoppers to buy what you’re selling.

My advice during this critically important but potentially lucrative and exciting time? Don’t be one of those brands, companies or individuals that skate the fine line between ethical and manipulative persuasion.

Whenever I talk about persuasion — on my website, at speaking engagements and even when out with friends (hey, it’s what I do!) — I define “persuasion” as “ethically winning the heart and mind of your customer.”

“Ethically” means simply doing something honestly and without trickery or deceit. “Winning” means making the sale. “Heart” refers to gaining emotional buy-in, “mind” refers to logical buy-in and “customer” is the specific person you are attempting to persuade.

Turning to manipulative methods is tempting — especially when there are sales quota to meet, and consumers have many other purchasing options.

To keep sales professionals from engaging in questionable tactics when they hear “no,” I suggest following my “ART of Persuasion” model. Even though you may be familiar with this, it’s worth a reminder during the holiday shopping season.

1. ACKNOWLEDGE the objection.

Doing so psychologically prepares the buyer to hear what you have to say: “I understand and can see what you’re saying, but may I share with you some information that might change your mind?”

2. RESPOND in a substantive and compelling manner.

Do so by using three key pieces of information: “If you’re looking for a lower price, you’ll find it somewhere else. But if you’re looking for great buying experience, you’re in the right place.”

And then give three reasons why the customer should buy from you and your store — not from someone else and not online.

3. TRANSITION to the next step.

Remember to remain respectful of the buyer’s objections:

“What else would you like to know?”

“Another thing to consider is …”

“Do you have other questions I can answer?”

“What do you think?”

If the response is still negative, you have more work to do. Communication and objection handling are true art forms, and you’ll be like Picasso when you master the ART of this form of rebuttal.

Like any useful model, the ART of persuasive communication can be applied to just about any situation.

You won’t hear “yes” every time, but you’ll be shocked at how often you do.

Enjoy the holiday selling season!

Black Friday Tip: Take Your Buyer’s Photo and Then Close the Sale

Black Friday is next week (Thanksgiving is early this year), so if you’re in the retail business, make sure your digital camera is fully charged. You’ll want to take lots of photos that day.

You can literally put your buyer in the picture. In the Harley-Davidson world, I tell retailers to take a digital photograph of their prospective buyers when they are considering which model to purchase. This is a fantastic opportunity for the customer to see themselves on the motorcycle of their dreams — without having to invest in gigantic mirrors for the sales floor.

A photo positively differentiates that salesperson and that dealership from the competition, makes the prospect feel like he’s part of a fun family and gives the salesperson a wholly legitimate reason to capture contact information and follow up.

Photo Magic

This idea works in practically any face-to-face B2C experience. Working at Guitar Center and you’ve got a hot prospect eyeing up a new Les Paul Custom? Shoot a photo of him with that piece of musical art in his hands with that small digital camera in your pocket. Selling furniture? Take a photo of a customer kicking back in his recliner of choice. Employed by an art gallery? Snap an image of the prospective buyer standing next to the piece under consideration. Make sure you use your own (or the store’s) camera; this won’t work with the customer’s smartphone camera. The idea is for you to have possession of the photo, obtain the contact information, and then follow up.

I’ve also seen the picture method used with some degree of success in B2B situations. One company, for example, was considering buying a well-known author’s business books and training materials for its employees. While the corporate buyer was having dinner with the author’s representatives, the celebrity author surprised the buyer by joining them at the table. Naturally, the author’s rep snapped photos of the buyer and the author together, and the corporate buyer wound up giving the writer his company’s business. Was that solely because of the pictures? Of course not. But they didn’t hurt.

‘Ownership Transference’

Think about how you might incorporate a famous employee, cool logo or unconventional office building into photo opportunities for your customers. I can’t tell you how many Harley-Davidson enthusiasts pose next to the Motor Company’s iconic bar-and-shield logo each year at the corporate offices in Milwaukee – regardless of how much snow is on the ground.

These kinds of photographs aid the psychological phenomenon I call “ownership transference.” When someone sits on a motorcycle (or slips on a jacket or sits in a chair or slings a Les Paul over his or her shoulder), that person really is taking mental ownership. And having a digital photo to look at and share with friends enables people to relive and reinforce those positive feelings of ownership.

Putting your prospective buyer into the picture, both figuratively and literally, is a crucial step in your sales process.

Persuasion Power: Creating Emotional Links

There are quantitative and qualitative aspects to any persuasive argument, and you can’t afford to omit either dynamic.

In previous posts, I wrote about the importance of building your business case. It all begins with such quantitative actions as doing due diligence, then measuring return on investment and knowing how much you need to sell.

Mastering that synthesis of both quantitative and qualitative reasoning will place you far ahead of the other persuaders at the table and down the block.

In this post, I’ll focus on the importance of qualitative reasoning. As a result of your persuasive efforts, will your  organization establish higher morale, for example? Or will communication be enhanced and problems more easily solved? Will silos disappear or at least be altered? And might the organization’s image or brand also be enhanced?

Get In Touch With Emotions

Qualitative reasoning is much harder to measure and report than quantitative reasoning, but it’s worth the effort. With a bit of cognitive effort, practically any element of qualitative reasoning can be constructed to present meaningful numeric data. Two of the most common types of such data are customer and employee satisfaction indices.

Every organization — public and private, large and small, product or service — seeks the following if it is of sound business mental health:

  • Sustained high morale
  • Efficient and effective teamwork
  • Rapid and accurate problem-solving
  • Positive repute and community “citizenship”
  • Decreased distraction and disruption
  • Accurate and unbiased communication

These “emotional” factors (sometimes referred to as “soft factors”) are usually the most important when it comes to presenting your case and persuading your target. Because, as you already know, logic makes you think and emotion makes you act. All the new plant cost calculations in the world are useless unless current customers are providing the repeat business and referral business to drive the expansion.

Thus, your emotional appeals should deliberately and fastidiously involve soft factors, without exception. (Steve Jobs adamantly mandated that Apple’s engineers and software experts accommodate matters of style and design. I’ve seen million-dollar construction vehicles, capable of traveling at speeds up to 1.5 miles per hour, with rounded and streamlined sides! Why? Aesthetic appeal, of course!)

Determine which emotional factors best appeal to the other person. Don’t attempt to please yourself or choose to fulfill yourself and your needs, quantitatively and qualitatively. Rather, ensure that you address the other person’s emotional needs and push the appropriate visceral hot buttons.

This is not manipulative; it is the essence of sales and persuasion.

Persuasion Power: Know How Much You Need to Sell

In previous posts, I began explaining how to build your business case to achieve skyrocketing persuasion results. It all begins with doing due diligence and then measuring return on investment.

Another step with which you should be familiar when building a persuasive business case is the break-even calculation, which answers the question: “How many units do we need to sell to recoup our investment?” It is primarily used for product sales and can be determined in two easy steps.

Step 1:

Calculate the gross profit margin for selling one unit by taking the revenue derived from selling one unit at full retail price and subtracting the cost of goods sold for one unit. That equals the gross margin per unit.

Step 2:

Calculate the break-even number by dividing the net initiative by the gross margin.

For example, let’s say you’re a manufacturer partnering with a software design company to develop a point-of-sale software program for your retail distribution channel. The software company is charging you $15,000 per copy for the software, and you’re going to sell it to your retailers for $20,000. Your gross profit here is $5,000 per copy. The software company requires a minimum purchase of 100 copies in order to complete the customization required. Your initial investment is $15,000 x 100 = $1.5 million

Now, divide that $1.5 million by the $5,000 gross profit, and your break-even for this product is 300 units.

Break-even calculations are valuable because they help keep an organization headed toward a recognizable goal. The problem here (at least in terms of making a financial decision) is that break-even calculations don’t take into consideration time dedicated to the project. For that, you’ll need to do more calculations.

Master the break-even calculation and other fundamental business measures and calculations that often arise in meetings and discussions, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a professional persuader.

Persuasion Power: The Role Return on Investment Plays

In a previous post, I began explaining how to build your business case to achieve skyrocketing persuasion results. It all begins with doing due diligence.

The most fundamental financial measure is return on investment. Companies use this measure to determine if they should take action — or if the action they took was worth it.

The classic ROI Calculation is this: ROI = Net Benefit/Total Cost.

You want a positive number here, which is why some companies even have ROI minimums before they take on a project. If your ROI number is negative, your persuasion priority is no good for your organization, and you should reconsider — even if your persuasion priority works to your own advantage.

ROI can be expressed in dollars, as a percentage or as a ratio.

How much did you invest, and how much did you receive in return? Let’s say you invested $100,000 in a marketing campaign, which in turn reaped $1 million dollars in sales.

ROI in Dollars

To find your ROI in dollars, use this calculation:

  1. Begin with the total dollars garnered from your initiative: $1 million
  2. Subtract the cost of your initiative: $100,000
  3. That leaves you with the dollars returned: $1,000,000 – $100,000 = $900,000

Not including the cost of the initiative would be a gross overstatement. Some financial experts might even consider this entire example a gross overstatement, because it doesn’t account for the cost of goods sold.

Let’s say the cost of goods sold in our example is $500,000. Now you have sold $1 million in product, but that product cost you $500,000 to produce and get to market. Our ROI dollars calculation now looks like this: $1,000,000 Gross Revenue – $500,000 COGS – $100,000 Marketing Investment = $400,000 ROI. If you want to appear reasonable, conservative, and responsible to senior management, use the gross profit number in your persuasive efforts.

ROI as a Percentage

Expressing ROI as a percentage is even more common than expressing it as dollars. Again, let’s use the same example of investing $100,000 and garnering $1 million in gross revenue — which, by the way, would be a fantastic investment! To find this:

  1. Calculate gross profit:
    Revenue – COGS = Gross Profit —> $1 million – $500,000 = $500,000 Gross Profit
  2. Subtract your investment from the gross profit:
    Gross Profit – Investment —> $500,000 – $100,000 = $400,000
  3. Divide that by your investment amount to determine a factor:
    $400,000 / $100,000 = 4
  4. Then multiple that factor by 100 to give you a percentage:
    4 x 100 = 400% ROI

ROI Ratios

A ratio demonstrates the quantitative relationship between two numbers, showing how many times one number contains the other. The most elegant way to write this is with a colon. In our example above, our initiative has a 4:1 ROI ratio.

Typically when using ROI ratios, whatever you invest is always 1. So if the marketing campaign example above cost $150,000 (instead of $100,000), you would simply divide $400,000 by $150,000 and find the product to be 2.666; now your ROI ratio (rounded up) would be to 2.7. That makes your ROI ratio 2.7:1. Not as compelling but still not bad!

The challenge with return on investment calculations is what’s included and what isn’t, on both sides of the equation. Do you include the total cost for salaried employees to work on your initiative as a cost? Do you attempt to quantify improved morale as a benefit? With ROI, like all measures, it’s valuable to consider those inclusions and exemptions. Every company has different ways of looking at the numbers.

One final note about ROI calculations: If you are using these calculations to forecast anticipated ROI, you may want to run a few different scenarios. What if sales are off by a particular percentage? What if your cost of goods sold is higher than anticipated?

As I’ve mentioned in the past: Know this kind of stuff, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a professional persuader — because you’re proving the viability of your ideas and initiatives to your targets.

Up next: The Breakeven Calculation

Persuasion Power: Creating the Logical Foundations of Your Argument

Over the next several posts, I will explain how to build your business case to achieve skyrocketing persuasion results.

Building your business case is a great way of doing due diligence and ensuring that your persuasion priority makes good sense for both you and others.

This requires two primary building blocks: logic and emotion. Have you ever heard this line before: “Logic makes you think, and emotion makes you act”? It’s true.

Let’s Be Logical

Logic has many components: deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, abductive reasoning — just to mention a few. But this isn’t a philosophical exploration. In business, if you want to appeal to logic, you should do so with quantifiable measurements. That’s right, numbers.

Evaluation of numerical data is crucial when building a compelling business case. To be successful in business today, financial literacy is a must. You’ll never reach your persuasive potential if you are terrified of your calculator. You need to know how to read and understand the basics of an income statement, a cash flow statement and a balance sheet. You also should understand that, like the act of persuading, working with financial figures is an art form.

Breaking It Down

Let’s say you invested $100,000 in a marketing initiative that generated $1,000,000 in sales. Was your return a million dollars, or was it $900,000? Or maybe it was yet another number? The answer depends on who’s doing the math!

Non-financial types often have trouble grasping disciplines like accounting because — even though it’s an exact science — there exist so many gray areas. Financial options are open to interpretation, judgment and approximation.  (Incidentally, in the example above, sales and marketing people will claim an ROI of $1 million, while the chief financial officer will argue the ROI is $900,000.)

Seemingly simple ideas such as revenue (which in some organizations is called “sales revenue” or “gross revenue”) aren’t etched in stone. For example, when is that revenue “recognized” (an accounting term for “counted”)? Is it when the purchase order is signed, when the goods are delivered, when you invoice or when the money hits your company’s bank account? See? Vagaries open up multiple interpretations and different terms. Are we talking about gross profit or gross margin — both terms that describe the same idea?

Much like social and corporate culture norms, you must determine the accepted financial norms and adhere to them. More than likely, you won’t have sole responsibility to actually perform the calculations for your company (that’s what financial analysts are for), but you should have the financial literacy to know how numbers are generated and what they mean. When you do, you’ll be able to speak the language of finance, ask more insightful questions and use that information to create more compelling quantitative cases for your priorities.

As you build your quantitative case, consider as many positive aspects as you can: If your initiative could boost product market share in the Northeast by 8 percent, what might it do in other regions? Are there international implications you could include? And don’t forget multiplicity. If your idea would increase employee efficiency, thereby saving the company dollars, make sure you apply that savings to as many applicable people as appropriate. Are there tangential benefits? If you sell more of product A, will increased sales of product B follow?

Know this kind of stuff, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a professional persuader.

Up next: Measuring return on investment.