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Persuasion: Three Keys to Effective Response Statements

In a recent post, I wrote about three ways to acknowledge another person’s viewpoint. Another critical step in persuasive communication is acknowledging your target’s opposition and responding in an honest, substantive and compelling manner.

Meaningful responses are at the heart of your persuasion effectiveness. Your responses should illuminate, inform and educate. So how can you create more compelling responses? Here are three ideas:

1. Use Examples

Examples present a similar case that establishes a precedent. In other words, it shows how others benefitted from — or would have benefitted from — taking the path you are suggesting. You might say to colleagues: “Kodak pioneered digital camera technology and built the first consumer-friendly digital camera, but still missed the huge market transition to digital photography. I don’t think we want look back years from now and realize that we, too, missed a huge and — in retrospect — obvious opportunity.”

The best examples pull from well known stories (like the one above), your own industry and your own company.

2. Loss Language

Another reason the Kodak example is so compelling is because it leverages “loss language.” One of the fundamental tenets of persuasion is that we are more strongly driven to action by what we stand to lose than what we stand to gain. And in the above example, loss language — “I don’t think we want look back years from now and realize that we, too, missed a huge opportunity” — is used to draw parallels between an existing situation and a blown chance.

3. Use intriguing metaphors, similes and analogies

Metaphors are a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison: “This series of meetings will be the marketing group’s Olympic Games” or “This project will be his Everest.”

A simile is a type of metaphor and is the comparison of two unlike things: “Using that marketing strategy in this situation is like trying to store tomato soup in a sealable plastic bag; you can do it, but it’s going to be messy and difficult to manage.”

Analogies are more logical and draw comparisons between things that have both similarities and differences: “Hitting second gear on a Harley-Davidson FXDR 114 motorcycle is like launching an F-18 Super Hornet off the USS Nimitz.

Metaphors and similes rely more on imagery and may elicit more emotion. Analogies are a bit more logical. Don’t get hung up trying to categorize your language; simply try to say things in a distinct and memorable manner that will help capture your target’s attention and help them better understand what you are saying.

Remember, a little goes a long way. Cinnamon is great, but too much spoils the dish.

Practice Describing Things in Three Different Ways

Language skills are crucial for persuasion success. And the language you use depends on the situation in which you find yourself.

Here is my suggestion: Practice describing common business situations on three different levels: straightforward, descriptive and sophisticated.

For example, your past clients were: “happy” (straightforward), “delighted” (descriptive) or “elated” (sophisticated). The business conditions were “tough,” “formidable” or “onerous.” Your results were “great,” “extraordinary” or “astonishing.”

Adjust Accordingly

As you can see, language isn’t an exact science — and you may choose different descriptors than me — but the key is to build your vocabulary so that you can match your target in whatever situation you find yourself.

Whether your targets are customer service people, marketing professionals or finance experts — and whether they are front-line buyers, mid-level managers or C-suite executives — you’ll have more options in your repertoire. When applied correctly, they can dramatically improve your effectiveness and enable you to communicate on any level.

Practice this idea, and you’ll hear “yes” more often.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

How to Escape the ‘Either/Or’ Dilemma

“Either/or.”

That’s a turn of phrase passed down from generation to generation of people trying — unsuccessfully — to persuade others. And it brings to mind such negative stereotypes as white shoes and plaid pants. But if you look at the phrase intelligently — and apply the psychology of persuasion — it can be transformed into a powerful tool.

Consider this: “Well, Corey, I’ve got time to see you either this afternoon at 2:00 or tomorrow morning at 10:00. Which of those times works for you?”

The thinking here is that you have cleverly crafted your language in such a way that your would-be client will have to pick one of those times, and voilà — you have advanced in the persuasion progression. The problem? That isn’t really what happens.

In fact, a statement like the one above actually makes some potential clients want to resist. Their first instinct is to say, “No.”

Why? Some psychologists call this reactance. They resent the fact that you are forcing their hand, and they want to resist.

Sure, they still may pick one of your options. But they will resent you for it.

So how can you change this approach?

Easy: “Corey, I’ve got time to see you either this afternoon at 2:00 or tomorrow morning at 10:00. Do either of those times work for you?”

I changed one key word. I replaced “which” with “do either,” and it completely altered the complexion of the ask. It’s assertive, not aggressive. It’s subtle and sophisticated, and it in no way creates pushback.

What if neither of those times are convenient for the customer? Simply find another time on which you both can agree.

Your use of language is one of the keys to persuasion success. The words you use and the phrases you choose have a huge bearing on what a client thinks, says and does.

Get smarter, and become more persuasive.

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.”

A-ha.

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.

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!
fancy rotary telephone

How to Make a Compelling Phone Call

Just because you use something often doesn’t mean you use it well, or even correctly. That’s right: I’m talking about the telephone. Don’t hide behind technology; take advantage of it by placing a call wherever and whenever you want to whoever your persuasion target may be — from anywhere in the world.

Skip email. Skip Skype. And skip texting. Instead, actually use the phone!

Here’s how to make an effective and persuasive phone call:

1. Remember that it’s imperative to communicate your professionalism and start a conversation. Business relationships — all good relationships, really — start with a conversation. Which means you must comport yourself in a manner that makes you accessible to the largest number of targets. That is why early phone conversations need to be polite, upbeat and neutral in tone.

For example, when I call old friends, especially friends from back home in Philly, I may respond to their “Hello?” with a casual “Yo! Tommy! What’s goin’ on?” I use the regional language (in the Philadelphia area, “yo” has the poly-utility of being a greeting, a question or an affront), I call Tommy by name, and I’m colloquial in my speech (“goin’ ”).

I would never use that kind of greeting in a business situation with someone I’ve never met or don’t know very well. Doing so is too risky. Instead, identify yourself by first and last name, the organization you represent and the reason you’re calling. Then inquire if your target has a few minutes to talk, and restate the purpose of your call — perhaps reminding the person on the other end when and where you met or about previous conversations.

2. Make your objective neither underhanded nor manipulative. Rather, you want to persuade the person your calling to meet you face-to-face, so you’ll be able to prove your point — which can be anything from winning that individual’s business to gaining support for an idea or looking for an ally. The best way to accomplish all of those things is in person.

3. The best way to broach an in-person meeting is by wrapping up your conversation with these six words: “Here’s what I’m going to recommend.” And then explain your recommendation. When you use the word “recommend,” you leverage the principle of authority. You’re the expert here, and when experts give advice, people are inclined to take it. Terms such as “recommend,” “suggest” and “advise” work particularly well for reinforcing this point. Be sure your recommendation includes at least two options, thus avoiding the clichéd “either/or” close, which often creates something called “reactance” — meaning that your target feels a choice is being forced upon him, so his immediate reaction would be to say “no” to both options. Concluding your recommendation by asking, “Do either of those times work for you?” can make a world of difference.

If a face-to-face session is not possible, ask your target for a date and time that works for him, and sign off by requesting permission to call him back in the meantime if you have additional questions or would like to bounce other ideas off him. Your target will feel appreciated and respected, and will most likely respond with a resounding, “Sure — not a problem!”

You’ll be amazed by how one properly executed phone call will open new doors to persuasion success.

What Role Does Memory Play in Effective Persuasion?

We all have biases — regardless of whether we admit them.

Perhaps the root of all bias is availability. What this means is that we have a tendency to give the most credence to what we can most easily recall. If we remember an occurrence quickly, without much effort, we find it perfectly suited for whatever the question is before us.

For perfect examples of this, look no further than your relationship with your spouse or significant other. People in relationships often share the burden of household responsibilities. One of the main areas of contention between couples is “fair share” — as in, “Is the other person doing his or her fair share of the chores around here?”

The conflict occurs when one person believes he is doing more than the other. What might be happening, though, is that both individuals are falling prey to the bias of availability. What you remember, and therefore exaggerate, is the last time you did the dishes, or you took out the trash, or you made the bed. So in your mind, you think you always do something, and the other person never does it. See any potential problems?

Availability bias also can cause problems at the office, as your brain actually substitutes one question for another. Let’s say your vice president of engineering asks you to recommend the best-qualified supplier to provide exhaust systems for your company’s new engine. And in our conversation about this topic, you say, “We should go with Wilson’s Exhausts.”

What may actually have taken place in your mind is not a careful analysis based on price, reliability, quality and suitability for this particular engine. Rather, you might just recommend any exhaust system provider you can remember. Your brain may have substituted the question, “Who’s the best?” with “Who can you name?”

Availability also most impacts us when we are trying to gauge the relative size of a category or the frequency of an occurrence. How large is the market for red laser wall levels? (Huge! I used one this weekend!) How often are Wall Street traders arrested for illegal activity? (All the time, I just read an article about another one yesterday.)

The insufficiency of the reasoning in these examples is obvious, but it is the rare individual who would submit to the more difficult task of learning the actual statistics that would answer either of the above questions more accurately. Many people simply don’t want to work that hard. We take the path of least intellectual effort. We’re human.

How Should You Positively Leverage Availability Bias? 

How can you leverage this concept of availability bias to ethically win the heart and mind of your target? It’s imperative to keep the value of your “ask” in front of your target. Time dims people’s positive memories, so you must find ways to maintain your expertise, your value and your shared experiences. A reminder email, revisiting a key point casually through conversation, or a communiqué augmenting or amplifying your position with a new piece of information all work beautifully.

Frequency certainly impacts one’s ability for recall, but other factors leading to availability bias include dramatic events (winning an important award or surviving a tragedy), intense personal experiences (receiving accolades or suffering public embarrassment), vivid descriptions (created by using language or graphics) and a related notion called the “recency effect” (in which people remember the last thing they heard on a topic).

When you can summon dramatic public events, do so. If your company is generating positive press regarding a purchase or other strategic move, that is the time to reach out to new prospects. If someone undergoes an intense and negative experience related to your “ask” (“The trade show was terrible! I had to set up the booth until midnight and then I had to work the show for nine hours the next day! I was exhausted when speaking with prospects.”), that is the time to push for agreement on your objective (“See? This is exactly why I’m recommending we ask the board for budget dollars for either more headcount or expanded outsourcing!”)

Use vivid descriptions instead of just numbers: “The new retail space we’re recommending could house AT&T Stadium,” instead of “The space we’re recommending is one million square feet.”

And, of course, before someone makes a key decision, keep the recency effect in mind. Literally, the last thing you want the decision-maker to hear is your input. People remember — and give added weight — to the final comment they’ve heard on the topic. You want to be the last person whispering in their ear.

How to Subtly Persuade People at Parties

Let’s say you’re at a cocktail event with prospective customers or clients — it is the holiday season, after all! Social etiquette dictates that you introduce yourself. When doing so, find an appropriate time during the conversation to reveal an “amazing fact” about your company or your product: “Well, we have a bit of news. Our company just received the Stevie Award for customer service; it’s like the Oscar of the sales business.”

To which most people will say things like, “Congratulations!” or “Very cool.” Or “Tell me more.” If someone says that, tell them more. Of course, prospective clients or customers will probably respond with more affirmative comments, and you might say: “We’re quite proud of this achievement. Customers tell us it is just one more reason why they choose to do business with us. But enough about us, what’s going on with your company?”

At this point, what have you accomplished? You’ve shared specific good news about your company, you’ve used language that differentiates yourself from the competition, and you’ve used your process skills to deftly turn the conversation toward a prospect — encouraging that individual to talk about himself and his business. Congratulations!

Is there risk involved with this approach? Sure. So, my suggestion is to be confident, not cocky; be assertive, stopping just shy of aggressive. (When people tell me they’re uncomfortable talking about what’s going on with them or their company, I can’t help but think that they must not be very proud of what they are doing.)

Your effective use of language and a self-assured demeanor will reveal you to be the natural choice should these people ever need your services.

Just remember to be cognizant of your target audience, a given prospect’s personality and the culture in which you are operating. Also be aware of regional and cultural differences. What’s friendly conversation in Philly could be perceived as overly aggressive in Fargo. What’s considered a typical sales presentation in New Jersey might offend in Nebraska.

Here’s to a terrific new year! Cheers…

When Persuasion Hits a Bump, Follow These Five Emergency Actions

In a previous post, I discussed “assent turbulence” — that feeling you get when your persuasion efforts encounter some bumps. I suggested five emergency procedures to follow when that happens.

Below are five more that continue with our airplane pilot analogy.

Here’s what to do when you hit a rough patch of persuasion-related turbulence:

1. Correct the pitch.

Allow yourself to understand your target’s hesitation and work to erase invalid preconceptions. Find areas of potential agreement and collaboration, while unearthing resistance that may be unrelated to what you’re actually suggesting: “Your concern is related to the project’s budget, and I understand that. How about we take a closer look at my proposal and find a middle ground by identifying expenses we could initially forego?”

2. Call a co-pilot for help.

You may need to ask others to have a conversation, offer an opinion or otherwise help you get the job done. An executive, an expert or a strategic ally can assist you in thinking through issues. Don’t feel you’re all alone.

3. Circle the airport.

I don’t like to call this tactic stalling; let’s think of it as “circling the airport.” Sometimes to be successful, you need to keep an idea alive long enough — like a batter fouling off pitches until the perfect one comes along.

4. Choose a different runway.

Provide other options to get your pitch back on track: “We can either choose three of these ideas and determine how best to move forward with them, focus on your favorite idea and make that happen, or come up with a new set of ideas.”

5. Abort the destination.

Land somewhere else. Nothing is ever worth “or else.” The Greeks preferred to die in battle when they couldn’t win, establishing the ultimate example of “or else.” The Romans, on the other hand, believed in retreating in the face of overwhelming strength to fight another day. Be a Roman and not a Greek by leaving doors open and bridges unburned.