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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.

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.

How Using Facts and Figures the Right Way Can Make You More Persuasive

Some sales professionals believe that buyers no longer care about facts and figures, so they suggest sellers avoid using them.

This is nonsense.

That said, some buyers will be more interested in such details than others. Some motorcycle buyers, for example, want to know every last detail — down to how the paint is applied and what materials are contained within the seat cushion; others just want results. The information they want and how they want it delivered is often referred to as “idiosyncratic information and communication style.”

Do they want an overview of the facts, or do they want all the details? Do they prefer email or a phone call? As a general rule, statistics, facts and figures — when used judiciously — are excellent nuggets to include in your persuasive efforts.

While participating in a consulting workshop, a colleague named Bill Corbett introduced himself to the group. He stated that he was a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation mentor from Loveland, Colo., who works with individuals and organizations across the world to help improve recovery success. He revealed that in the world of drug-and-alcohol abuse intervention, a single-digit success rate is not uncommon. His clients, however, enjoy an 85 percent recovery-success rate. I still can hear the gasps that filled the room when he said that – in part because of this incredible substantiation and validation of Corbett’s approaches, and partly because the rest of us no doubt wished we had such a compelling value proposition.

This is a perfect example of how the confident and well-placed use of numbers can make a mighty impact on your audience. Statistics, figures, and other types of numerical representations are typically used one of two ways:

  1. To prove a result, as in the Bill Corbett example above
  2. To merely describe a fact, such as how paint is applied to a Harley-Davidson Road King

In either application, numbers prove to be extremely valuable – dramatically (and almost instantly) increasing the credibility of both you and whatever you’re offering. You certainly don’t want to overwhelm people with facts and stats. But like the subtle accent in a painting or the perfect flatted-third note in a thick blues song, when used sensibly, facts and stats add that special touch to create something memorable.

They might even help you hear “yes” faster.

Photo by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pexels

How to Set Your Persuasion Priority

Let’s consider your career. If, in your professional endeavors, you could flick a switch and convince one person to do just one thing, what would that be?

Do you want to get the cool assignment? Bring a new product to market? Overhaul the customer service department? Win the promotion? Land a big-name client? Secure a budget increase? Each of these is what I call a “persuasion priority.”

Once you’ve determined the answer to that question, ask yourself this question: Who is the one person you want to say yes to what?

(When setting persuasion priorities, it’s often more effective to state them in the affirmative, even if you’re attempting to dissuade someone. For example, if you want your target to not choose a particular vendor, phrase your priority in the affirmative: “I would like Steve to weigh other options before choosing his vendor.”)

Before you answer the above persuasion priority question, consider the four persuasion priority criteria. Your persuasion priority must be:

  • Meaningful: Important to you and your organization
  • Significant: Large enough to make a difference in your life and workplace
  • Realistic: But not so large that it’s unattainable
  • “Others” Oriented: Because you get ahead by improving the condition of others

Be specific, too. You don’t want to generalize with a statement such as, “I’d like my boss to give me more responsibility.” That’s too imprecise. To increase your chances of persuasion success, specificity is crucial: “I want my boss to give me responsibility for the Latin American project.” 

Don’t say this: “I want my senior vice president to add some people to my staff.” Instead, say this: “I want my senior vice president to approve five key new hires for my department next quarter.” 

Stop reading right now and write down your persuasion priority. Who is the one person you want to do what?

Of course, at any given time, you’ll have multiple issues and objectives for which you seek agreement. But keeping your persuasion priority top of mind will significantly increase your chances of getting to “yes.” And if you’ve chosen your objective carefully, achieving it will have a dramatic and overwhelmingly positive impact on your career — and perhaps your life.

Boost Your Self-Confidence to Improve Your Persuasive Powers

In the past several posts, I’ve covered the dangers of negative self-talk, the value of self-esteem and the damage caused by cognitive distortions.

Now, it’s time to focus on one last point: The importance of self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their capabilities to perform a particular task, or in their abilities to acquire the necessary skills to perform that task.

Or, as I like to define the term, having the grit, spit and determination to get things done.

Can you make a compelling presentation? Can you calculate internal rate of return and discuss its relevance? Can you demonstrate the perseverance to study for a master’s degree while working full time?

The central figure in the realm of self-efficacy is a psychologist by the name of Albert Bandura, who has contributed to the world of psychology for more than six decades and had this to say about self-efficacy in his seminal paper on the subject, published in 1977:

 We find that people’s beliefs about their efficacy affect the sorts of choices they make in very significant ways. In particular, it affects their levels of motivation and perseverance in the face of obstacles. Most success requires persistent effort, so low self-efficacy becomes a self-limiting process. In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, strung together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.

How can you boost self-efficacy? Here are three ways:

1. Mastery

Do you remember the last time you had to work hard to master a skill? I mean, work really hard? Perhaps it was learning the ins and outs of a complicated computer graphics program or video editing. Maybe you were trying to understand how to create and use spreadsheet formulas or program a database? If you’ve had to really work at something by spending an inordinate amount of time and focused cognitive energy, you’ve undergone a mastery experience. And when you’ve experienced success at doing so by acquiring the necessary skills, you’ve strengthened your self-efficacy.

2. Social Modeling

This is also known as “If he can do it, so can I!” You see someone in your organization (or somebody else’s) that possesses a skill you would like to possess. The fact that you perceive similarities between yourself and that person gives you the belief that you can acquire this ability, too.

3. Social Persuasion

Bandura referred to the fact that individuals can perform up to (or, in some cases, down to) certain expectations. High expectations contribute to high levels of self-efficacy. Think of someone in your organization who is considered by professional peers to be a top performer. Now think of someone who might be perceived as a bit of a slacker. Notice how those people seem to perform like their labels? That’s social persuasion.

Use these tips to boost your own self-efficacy over the next several weeks or months. You’ll be amazed at your newfound persuasive effectiveness.

How Do You Know When People Trust You?

Some people say you can’t see trust. I disagree.

How can you tell whether you’re making progress in your persuasion attempts with a particular person — especially in such critical areas as trust and credibility? Try consistently observing a particular person’s actions (or inactions).

Here are seven pieces of evidence of things unseen:

1. Your target volunteers information that is not requested.

He might say this: “You’ll also need this, which is a study done a year ago. Not many people are familiar with it, but it’s exactly what you’ll need.”

 If your target didn’t trust you, you’d never see that report.

2. Your target shares humor.

He might say this: “Just to show you how my day is going: I had a lunch meeting and went to the wrong restaurant. And I was the guy who made the reservation!”

A comment like that shows the target is willing to let down his guard with you.

3. Your target accepts pushback and contrary views.

She might say this: “I see your point. I hadn’t thought of the impact on our European operations. I’ll have to reconsider that.

This means your target is willing to consider different perspectives. On the other hand, when someone says, “I’ll keep that in mind,” he’s blowing you off.

4. Your targets requests your advice.

She might say this: “What’s your take on the new sales promotion?”

If the target didn’t trust you or find you credible, she wouldn’t ask for your opinion.

5. Your target shares confidential details.

He might say this: “The news hasn’t been released yet, but the head of R&D has been selected.

This target knows you can be trusted. Don’t prove him wrong.

6. Your target meets deadlines and respects financial limitations.

When someone comes in on time and under budget, that means he respects you. Remember, once is an event, twice might be coincidence but three times is a trend.

7. Your target engages in friendly follow up and continuous contact.

Trusted colleagues stay in touch. It’s as simple as that.

Look for these subtly-disguised hints, and you’ll know when you’re making persuasion progress and when you need to step up your game.

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…

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.

You Have More In Common With KISS Than You Think

How do you define success? And what will you do — within reason, of course — to achieve it?

In the Aug. 31, 1972, East Coast edition of Rolling Stone magazine, an unknown musician named Peter Crisscoula ran an ad that read: “Drummer: Willing to do anything to make it.” Two guys looking to create a band, Stanley Eisen and Gene Klein, called Peter to explore his seriousness. “Would you wear a dress on stage?” they asked. “Would you wear high heels on stage?” “Would you wear … makeup?”

And the rest, as they say, is KISS-story.

Peter Crisscoula became Peter Criss, Stanley Eisen became Paul Stanley, and Gene KIein became Gene Simmons. The trio quickly added guitarist Ace Frehley, and the rock band KISS eventually wound up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Perhaps that story of the band’s origins is apocryphal — but if it didn’t happen, it should have.

I’m not suggesting you dress like your favorite member of KISS on Casual Fridays, but those guys were willing to go beyond the norm and define new parameters for rock music and performance in the face of early ridicule.

But this week, ask yourself a critical question: What am I willing to do to make it?

(Flickr photo by Village9991)

Defuse Deceit With These Three Easy Strategies

Give others the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise: That’s the business world’s version of “innocent until proven guilty.”

And that’s why you should make sure your suspicions about others are not just the result of you being envious. Don’t be paranoid, either. People who don’t always agree with your pitch early on aren’t necessarily opposed to it; they just may not yet appreciate what you’re bringing to the table.

Occasionally, some people do only think of themselves and may attempt to thwart your persuasion efforts for self-aggrandizing reasons. They take credit for what’s not theirs, manipulate others and seem concerned only with personal advancement. They might act passive-aggressively by seemingly taking your side but then constantly undermine you through faint praise and nuanced critiques.

When that type of deceit happens, control your emotions. Deceitful people can offend your sense of judgment to such a degree that you’re motivated to go head-to-head with them on an issue in a public setting. Don’t. That’s what they want you to do. A public — or at least an office — feud, whether you win or lose, will delay and often derail your persuasion plans. Most of them meander on interminably, with no resolution and with others rapidly losing interest or at least feeling uncomfortable in group settings.

Additionally, your opponent is likely skilled in the art of deception and will turn public conversations around as if to question your intentions.

Here are three strategies to counteract a deceitful target:

1. Contain the deceit.

Keep other options in your pocket to accomplish tasks without your opponent’s input. Isolating opposition or foot-dragging to minor issues, while gaining momentum on the major elements of your persuasion effort, will allow you to make necessary headway — much like the army that maneuvers around a single island of resistance on the way toward its ultimate goal.

2. Shine a spotlight.

In meetings with others, ask your opponent to discuss his or her concerns. While it’s easy to be deceitful, presenting the facts and figures to defend the deception is much more difficult. This is why group meetings play an important role in honest persuasion exploration.

3. Pay attention to meeting agendas.

The deceitful will place their agenda items at the end of meetings, because they know that’s when the rubber stamp comes out and people are eager to move on. So make sure that those items are higher on the agenda; you will then control the conversation.