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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.

Five Emergency Actions to Take When Persuasion Goes Sideways

Fasten your seatbelt: Regardless of your attempts to reduce assent turbulence, sometimes you’ll get the feeling that your persuasion situation is inexorably heading the wrong way. Pilots rate flight turbulence from Level 1 (light, slight erratic changes that keep you from enjoying your glass of wine) to Level 4 (extreme, violent motions that’ll convince you to never fly again).

Your own turbulence on the way toward persuasion success will have degrees of intensity, as well.

Does someone simply not understand a facet of your request? That’s a Level 1 turbulence situation than can easily be overcome. Or has the CEO received misinformation and, in mafia-speak, put a contract out on your idea — which is definitely Level 4 turbulence?

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

1. Be calm.

It doesn’t help if you, the pilot, are freaked out. Remind yourself that — because this is your priority — you may be amplifying facets of the situation in your mind. Take a deep breath. More than likely, your physical safety isn’t in jeopardy, and the fate of the world doesn’t hang in the balance.

2. Switch on the seatbelt sign.

Let other passengers know there could be a few bumps. If you’re working on a new product training initiative, you might have any number of people aware of your effort and invested in its success. Let them know there figuratively could be some shifting of items in the overhead compartments. Help keep your team calm, too.

3. Use your radar.

You need to locate and understand turbulence. Is it thermal, mechanical, shear or aerodynamic? This is where your networks come into play. You need to have contacts in Sales, Finance, Legal and other departments — trusted colleagues who understand the importance of sharing information.

4. Subtly test your controls.

Ask for opinions, not comments, and certainly not commitments: “Given what you currently know, what are you thinking right now?” Ask about potential storms, and keep an eye out for someone who can help play the role of problem solver, intermediary or facilitator.

5. Level the aircraft.

Always be able to, at any time during the persuasion process, clearly explain what you are trying to initiate, how much it will realistically cost, and what the return will be and how you will quantify it: “We’ve covered a lot of territory here. Just so we’re clear: Today, we’re talking about a purchase order for $225,000 to help our call center talent increase customer satisfaction by a full point in next quarter’s satisfaction index report.”

Next time: Five more persuasion actions you might need to take to overcome turbulence.

aircraft taking off or landing

What Happens When Your Persuasion Efforts Encounter Turbulence?

I’ve flown well over a million airline miles, and I’ve never taken one flight on which there wasn’t at least some turbulence during the ascent. Likewise, rarely do persuasion attempts succeed without at least a few bumps. I call this “assent turbulence.”

This kind of persuasion turbulence occurs when new information appears, people are influenced by other opinions or X factors are in play. Be it a promotion, a firing or a merger, things happen that change a person’s perspective on your request. And the larger, more complex your request, the more important it is for you to buckle your seatbelt.

Just because things get a bit bumpy doesn’t mean your flight won’t end up at your intended destination, though. Here are seven factors that contribute to the inevitable bumps you persuasion efforts will take on your ascent to assent:

1. Lack of trust

You’ll know when trust is missing when your target fails to be forthcoming with information, asks for delays, acts guarded, or is curt and abrupt in responses — or worse, doesn’t ask any follow-up questions at all. The remedy is to be 100 percent candid with your target and address the elephant in the room: “Mike, I know we don’t seem to be on the same page with this issue, but it is important to both of us. So let’s be honest, see if we can forge a compromise and be allies rather than adversaries.” Or this: “Monica, you seem hesitant. Why don’t we talk frankly about your concerns so we can both be more comfortable?” Ask people for the “favor” of honesty, trust and patience, and they’ll return the favor and trust you more in the process.

2. Lack of compelling value in the request

This is indicated by no clear economic return on investment, no personal benefit for the target or no attempt to link qualitative returns to actual evidence. Value, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. And the other person’s eye is the one that needs to behold the benefits of your pitch. In this instance, have your target stipulate what an effective return would be, at least theoretically. What would he like to see happen? Start with ROI, and work backwards, being sure to turn qualitative benefits into quantitative metrics whenever possible.

3. The request is unclear

You’ll know your pitch isn’t working when you’re hit with a slew of questions, insistence on qualifiers, digressions or a lack of focus on what you believe to be the issue. One way to decrease the potential of making an unclear request is to practice your pitch on others first, including family members and friends. Ask for their help in terms of making you present your case with clarity and focus. Eschew jargon and focus on specifics.

4. An ill-timed request.

Sometimes, it’s not you; it’s the timing. Priorities may be elsewhere. Perhaps it’s your firm’s busy season. Or IT problems in the office are leaving employees distracted and ornery. Or your specific target might just be having a bad day and dealing with issues of which you’re completely unaware. You can do you best to anticipate the timing of your request by not asking for something that directly conflicts with ongoing demands. Don’t try to swim against the tide, especially a rip tide.

Practice reversal, too. As a high school wrestler, this was one of my specialties moves. Wresting control from my opponents earned me two points each time. In persuasion, it can get you much, much more. Try something like this: “You’ve got a ton on your plate, I know. That’s exactly why we should green-light this project. I can make sure it gets done right and involve you as much or as little as you want.”

5. Overwhelming opposing self-interest

This happens when the company, the department or the individual has a huge economic advantage to do exactly the opposite of what you are pursuing (or to do nothing at all). This is a tough one, but there are ways to combat it, by appealing to corporate values or long-term benefits. Suggest that your idea will not create a reversal of goals, and attempt to show your targets how a “yes” would support them in the longer term. You can provide them with a quid pro quo they’re not expecting.

6. X factors

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Suddenly, an unexpected “expert,” such as an outside consultant, weighs in on your pitch. Or an unanticipated development, such as an acquisition or company reorganization occurs. Or you learn of a personal relationship that could jeopardize your persuasion efficacy, such as the person you thought was in favor of an organizational shift is married to the cousin of the company’s general manager.

What should you do? Damn the torpedoes and keep your persuasion priority moving forward, irrespective of the new information. If that’s too bold of a move for you, make sure you have a Plan B. Adjust your “ask” in light of the new conditions, and try to co-opt new sources of expertise. If you can, change your timing to take advantage of the situation.

7. Machiavellian types

I’m referring to the people who tell you one thing (to keep you happy) and then do another (to make them happy) Then they explain their behavior as a misunderstanding (to try to make you happy again). They will take credit for others’ work, disassociate themselves from errors of their own and work behind the scenes to reach their goals — often entering and exiting alliances and friendships in revolving-door fashion.

Machiavellian types also hate the bright light that exposes their dark corners, so keep issues in the light. Contain them, because it’s pointless to fight them, and don’t attempt head-on (or head-first) assaults. Rather, give them the opportunity to eventually reveal that the only side they’re ever on is their own.

Next time: Five emergency persuasion actions you might need to take.

Next Time You Hear ‘No,’ Ask Different Questions

The next time a target says “no,” try asking different questions.

Now, these can be rhetorical or actual questions. Either way, they soften your response, give you time to think and usually are greeted in the affirmative. For example: “May I ask you a question … ?” “May I speak candidly … ?” “May I make a recommendation … ?” “May I offer another perspective … ?” “May I recommend another option … ?”

Compare “That’s exactly why you should do business with us!” with “If I may, that’s exactly why you should do business with us!”

Or “I’ll call you on the 12th …” with “Is it OK to call you on the 12th?”

The ‘Echoing’ Effect

One of my favorite techniques is called “echoing.” This is when you take the final words your target says and repeat them with an upward inflection to form a question. Then, the power of a pregnant pause elicits more information from the buyer. If your target says something like, “I want to make sure we’re making the right decision,” you respond with, “Right decision?”

Pause.

“Well, yeah, this is a big initiative for us, so we need to be smart.”

“Be smart?”

Pause.

“Sure. I know cheapest isn’t always the best; I just want to make sure we’re going with the right consulting firm. You’re a great company, and I trust you guys. But we need to succeed with this project; that’s what’s most important.”

See? You said four words, and this guy is talking himself into signing on the dotted line!

Ask the right questions at the right time, and hear yes more often.