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How to Make the Two Primary Roles of Persuasion Work for You

To understand what persuasion can do for you and your career, you must understand the two fundamental roles of persuasion. 

The first involves getting someone to say “yes” to your offer or request — to buy your product, agree to your idea or take you up on your suggestion. Persuasion helps you get someone to willingly do something. You may want that person to:

  • Approve a higher headcount: “Will you sign off on my four new field sales positions?”
  • Enter into a business relationship: “Do we have a deal?”
  • Support your initiative: Will you back my proposal at the board meeting?”

The second role of persuasion — and one that many people overlook — is getting someone to not
do something, to dissuade them from taking action you feel might be harmful, such as using a particular supplier or launching a particular product. For example:   

  • Do not go ahead with a new business partnership: “That firm is just bouncing back from bankruptcy; do you think we should partner with it?”
  • Discontinue, or at least rethink, an existing initiative: “Our East Coast teams aren’t seeing much client interest.”
  • Change a decision, or at least continue due diligence: “Do you truly think he is the right person for the job? If we keep looking, we might be able to find a better fit.”

Law enforcement officers in some cities use the power of dissuasion very effectively. When bicycle thefts are widespread, for example, they employ a special task force to use GPS-tagged bait bikes to catch would-be thieves, which forces small-time criminals to ask themselves one significant question before they steal: Is this a bait bike? 

If you’re going to thrive in the eat-or-be-eaten contemporary workplace, you must be able to effectively use both roles. Doing so will provide you with a competitive advantage, because your competitors are more than likely not focusing on their own persuasion skills.

But you are.

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.

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.

Revisiting Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion: Reciprocity

It’s been almost 35 years since Robert Cialdini, now regents’ professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, wrote Influence: The Psychology of Persuasionin 1984. (It later was published as a textbook under the title Influence: Science and Practice.) The original book stemmed from Cialdini’s literature review of almost 50 years of scientific research regarding persuasion, plus his own ethnographic studies.

Today, Influence is regarded as one of the most, ahem, influential books on the topic.

Cialdini is so highly respected in the field that he was a part of a “dream team” of behavioral scientists who helped create persuasive approaches for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Regardless of your political leanings, you’ve got to admit that Cialdini’s additions were subtle and brilliant.

“We know you’ve voted in the past … ” was a subtle prompt known as “consistency” that convinced voters in 2008 to vote for Obama again in 2012. Cialdini also helped teach campaign volunteers to address rumors that Obama was a Muslim by reframing them: “Obama is not a Muslim” actually repeated the claim and reinforced it in the electorates’ collective mind. “Obama is a Christian,” on the other hand, reframed and refocused the discussion.

Cialdini created something akin to a “Unified Field Theory of Persuasion” by categorizing almost every persuasion approach into one of six primary principles: reciprocity, scarcity, consistency, liking, authority, and social proof.

In this post, I’ll focus on the first of those principles: reciprocity.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity involves the give and take of human exchange. People repay others in kind. Every culture in the world teaches this principle in one way or another. When you do something for someone else, it’s almost embedded in human DNA to want to return that favor in kind.

Reciprocity can range from the simple and instantaneous to something much more involved and complex. Examples can be found in day-to-day life on an individual level, such as helping a co-worker prepare for a presentation after he helped you prepare for yours.

On a departmental level, the sales team might assist the marketing staff with some unusual but critical market data, and then marketing reciprocates by providing extraordinary support for sales.

Reciprocity can even occur between companies, such as when two companies share resources, knowledge and sometimes people.

If you stop to think about it, reciprocity helps societies evolve. People inherently realize that when they do something for somebody else, they are not simply giving of their time, energy, and financial resources; they eventually will receive something in return. The best way to leverage reciprocity is to enter every situation by asking yourself, “Who here can I genuinely help?”

Next time, we’ll explore scarcity.

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 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…

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.