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?”


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

“Be smart?”


“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.

Why Test Drives Matter — Regardless of Your Industry

Regardless of whether your offering is a product or a service — and whether you sell B2C or B2B — you should encourage your prospective buyer to take your solution for a test drive.

Now, if you’re selling a tangible item like a motorcycle, a car, a computer or a guitar, that’s a pretty basic proposition: Let your prospect give the product a try, and then answer any questions or amplify any interests.

This gets a little trickier with an intangible, but it can still be done using language to achieve a similar “experience.” For example, describe to your prospect using vivid language how his or her situation will improve with your product or service.

Test drives should be an integral piece of your sales process. A test drive accomplishes three things:

1. It helps your buyer begin to “see” himself owning your offering.

2. It maximizes and amplifies such emotional states as surprise, happiness, excitement and pride.

3. It conveys the perceived value of your solution.

No matter your industry, start thinking in terms of test drives, the impact they can have and the outcome they can achieve.

How to Filter Feedback

Most people simply don’t receive feedback well, especially if it’s negative. We get defensive or don’t take any action at all. The key to receiving feedback is to filter feedback by determining and understanding what is meaningful and what isn’t. I make no claims at being an expert on this, but I can confidently state that I’ve gotten better at it over the years.

Consider creating the following feedback filters; the lower the number, the less credence you should give that feedback.

Feedback Filter 1: People you don’t know

I give feedback from this group little credence; many psychologists say the feedback people in this group provide really is meant for their benefit, not yours.

Feedback Filter 2: Coworkers

You work with them, and they may seem like friends. But, again, I rarely give much weight to feedback from co-workers. There are too many competitive pressures and workplace dynamics to create much value.

Feedback Filter 3: Family and friends

This is an important group. Although they don’t always see things through the same lens as you do, these people presumably (barring dysfunction) are the most important people in the world to you and have your best interests at heart.

Feedback Filter 4: Trusted advisors

Individuals you respect for their accomplishments, and who you truly believe have no agenda, are the ones who have your best interests at heart. This will be your most valuable group to cultivate and from which to seek feedback.

Regard feedback according to this scale, and you’ll have a better of idea what matters and what doesn’t.

How to Get Other People to Sing Your Praises

After receiving a referral, don’t overlook the importance of following up with the referring party. Always keep that person in the loop. That way, he or she can help if the third party isn’t immediately responsive. The referrer also will be motivated to provide you with more contacts and support. After all, the referring party will score some points with their sources, too.

Who knows? The person who gave you one referral could wind up giving you countless referrals — turning into what I like to call a “personal evangelist.” An evangelist, of course, is someone who promotes something enthusiastically. There already exist religious evangelists, technology evangelists and brand evangelists. Now I’m suggesting you create your own personal evangelists: people who sing your praises and attempt to convert others to, well, you.

How do you create personal evangelists? Here are five suggestions:

1. Be a rebel with a cause.

In a research paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Caleb Warren and Margaret C. Campbell define cool as: “… a subjective, positive trait perceived in people, brands, products and trends that are autonomous in an appropriate way.” The researchers cited a 1984 Apple advertisement as a prime  example. In essence it communicated the fact that “You have a choice” and then implored “Don’t buy IBM.” The ad didn’t’ say, “Burn IBM’s headquarters to the ground.” So be “out there,” but with boundaries.

2. Don’t try to appeal to everyone.

If you want true staying power, you can’t appeal to everyone. Yep — you read that right. The rock band KISS, an ongoing entity for almost 45 years, with some 80 million albums sold, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. One of the main reasons the band made it this far is because it created a rabid group of evangelists known as the KISS Army, which packs tremendous staying power. These people are devoted fans. Lead vocalist Paul Stanley said it best: “Either love us or hate us. If you’re in the middle, get out.”

3. Take care of those who support you.

Lessons also can be learned from another rock band, albeit one with a much different musical style than KISS. The Grateful Dead’s evangelists, known collectively as “Deadheads,” demonstrated the power of the people in almost everything they did. For example, while The Grateful Dead bucked convention in many ways, it’s still shocking to think that the band allowed Deadheads to record their shows for free and actively encouraged bootlegging of their music for decades. Why? Because it endeared the band to the fans. Reciprocity, anyone?

4. Be elegant.

Steve Jobs was so fanatical about design that he added costs and increased development time by railing about the importance of the aesthetic design of the circuitry found inside Apple products. Harley-Davidson motorcycles are often referred to as rolling sculptures, with each component shining like a perfectly cut jewel. Have everything you do be just as elegant. Dress sharp and keep a clean office or desk — both of which can do big things for your persuasion powers. Now apply that approach to emails you send, documents you create and PowerPoint presentations you deliver. Make sure your stuff not only is good, but that it looks good, too.

5. Be like Billy

Speaking of evangelization, why not be like an actual evangelist? I asked one person whose opinion I respect who he thought was the greatest speaker he’d ever heard? His reply: “Billy Graham — and I’m agnostic!” Speaking is one of the most effective ways to create personal evangelists. Know your topic, engage your crowd and deliver your message with enthusiasm. Whether you should mimic Billy Graham’s style or content is up for debate, but exceptional speaking skills can create a tent-revival atmosphere around you and your persuasion priorities.

Now get out there and begin gathering your own personal evangelists!

How to Ask for a Referral

While testimonials are static statements for a job well done, a referral is an introduction to another potential client or customer. One person says to another, “You should really talk to Tom. He did terrific work on our project, and he might be able to help you.”

The next best thing to someone witnessing your outstanding performance is a trusted colleague telling someone else about that outstanding performance. Call them referrals, call them introductions, call them networking opportunities. Whatever. Just take advantage of them.

Referrals will help your persuasion efforts because they provide a “warm” contact in your target. You’re a friend-of-a-friend, a welcome visitor, a known entity. This offers instant credibility and removes the time and effort required to “prove” yourself and your credentials or ideas. Your target is immediately and seamlessly involved.

Referral Reluctance

Yet, like testimonials, many people don’t leverage referrals. I call it “referral reluctance.”

They don’t want to imperil a new relationship and are more concerned with being liked than being respected, with gaining affiliation instead of gaining an objective.

They also don’t want to sound like a sales-person. They feel, inexplicably, that they are asking for something instead of contributing something, trying to take instead of give. Sometimes, people feel as though they will put the other person in an awkward position. In those cases, their sympathy outweighs their empathy.

Referral Deferral

On the other hand, there also exists a phenomenon called “referral deferral,” whereby your persuaded target doesn’t want to sound as though he is pushing your business toward others. In some cases, that target might have been “burned” before when making what turned out to be a bad referral to a friend. Or perhaps, people don’t like when they are put in a similar position.

Other possible reasons for referral deferral include not wanting others to think they are part of a manipulative action, don’t know what to say, have a lack of trust or simply possess an innate cynicism that precludes them from reaching out to colleagues and peers.

Ask for the Referral

You can help overcome referral reluctance and referral deferral by establishing a good rapport early on. Securing referrals and introductions shouldn’t be an ambush. If you’re working with someone on a project and think you’d like to leverage that person for future referrals and introductions, simply say something like, “My objective is to make you so deliriously happy that you’ll want to tell others about our great work.”

This will make you memorable, because a lot of people don’t make such bold statements too often. “Deliriously happy” is compelling language, like Babe Ruth calling his shot.

I like to end these kind of conversations with a quick confirming question: “Fair enough?” “Sound good?” Now, your target has gone on record and will be more inclined to follow through on that referral, because he promised he would.

Timing, in business and just about anything else, is everything. Some moments are better than others when asking for a referral. You don’t want to ask too early in the project, because you may not have delivered or begun to show results yet. That would be like proposing marriage on a blind date. You also don’t want to wait too long, because, no matter how well you’ve performed on an assignment, enthusiasm cools and memory fades.

The two best times?

  1. During your project when your target has made a significant positive comment, such as “Working with you is so easy!” Now, that is an opportune time, because I have never seen a project go completely smoothly all the time. There always seems to be a midcourse correction required or a misunderstanding or argument at some point during the process. So take advantage of propitious moments when you can.
  2. When your target has indicated excitement and you sense you can capitalize on it. This might be during your project wrap-up, while reviewing positive results or when you hear such trigger terms as “excellent,” “pleased” “satisfied” “terrific” and the ever-popular “awesome” and “amazing.”

Again, as with testimonials, asking for referrals requires charm and savvy: “We’re thrilled you’re so pleased with the way things went. Remember, our goal was to make you deliriously happy. Who else in the organization could you recommend who might benefit from working with us?”

Here is where terms like “recommend,” “suggest” and “advise” really pay off.

Maintain the Referral Relationship

After receiving a referral, don’t overlook the importance of following up with the referring party. Always keep that person in the loop. That way, he or she can help if the third party isn’t immediately responsive. The referrer also will be motivated to provide you with more contacts and support. After all, the referring party will score some points with their sources, too.

Want to Hear ‘Yes’ More Often? Ask for Testimonials

The key to long-term career success is not just obtaining agreement; it’s about obtaining agreement again and again and again: Creating perpetual yes.

Several ways exist to help you ensure this cycle of yes — beginning with the obvious: Perform outstanding work. Nothing gets to “yes” more frequently than past success. Now that you’ve succeeded with one persuasion priority, get ready to create perpetual yes by understanding how to create, acquire and leverage testimonials, referrals and personal persuasion evangelists.

A testimonial is static evidence of success (a letter, email or recording), a referral is someone who specifically recommends you to another person for a specific intent, and a personal evangelist is someone who actively sings your praises. You’ll need all three if you want to create what I refer to as a career of perpetual yes.

If you have testimonials and evangelists without referrals, you’ll have no pipeline with cool projects and opportunities. If you have referrals and evangelists but no testimonials, there’s no evidence of your success. If you have testimonials and referrals without evangelists, you’ll lack momentum. Build your rock star career with all three.

Securing Testimonials

A testimonial is an endorsement of either you or your team. It can speak to character, skill, or result, and it can be in written form, a video or a voice recording. Even a personal reference counts as a testimonial.

I’ve never met anyone who said testimonials don’t matter.  Then why don’t more people go out and get them? The best persuaders are constantly accumulating testimonials (just like trophies) for projects well done.

The best way to capture testimonials is when that window of opportunity opens. In social exchanges, that might be when someone compliments you or thanks you. Shyness won’t help you here. Let’s say your happy target shakes your hand, smiles and says, “Thank you! You’ve done a great job on this project. You did everything we talked about and got great results we needed. Thank you!” If you respond with a “Happy to help” or a plain and boring “You’re welcome,” you’re missing a huge opportunity.

You’re target is pleased, so now is the time to ask him for a testimonial. He’s more than likely to say yes than at any other time in the future. But people don’t ask, because they don’t know how, they don’t know what to say, they consider doing so rude or they fear rejection.

When requesting a testimonial, I suggest something like this: “Happy to help. We’re glad the project turned out so well. We’re always trying to spread the good news of what we’re doing in the sales division. Would you take what you’ve just told me and put it in a quick email message so I can show others how pleased you are?”

Get testimonials any way you can. I’ll take a testimonial via text message, email, voicemail message or iPhone video. Sometimes, your happy target might even say, “Write something up, and I’ll give it a look.” Done! Video is most compelling, but I will do whatever the other person prefers in the moment. Don’t be bashful about pulling out your camera or phone right there and shooting 30 seconds of spontaneous support! Don’t fear rejection, either. You can’t walk away with less than you walked in with! You’re simply trying to create leverage to further your goals.

The greatest aspect of testimonials is that they can be used all the time, with both internal and external clients, buyers, and targets. Drop them into conversation with others: “This project is important, and we’re confident about our projections. I know you know Anne Emerich in product development. We worked with her on a big project last quarter. She used the word ‘astonished’ when she described how close her actual return matched our projection.”

Pull pithy quotes and add them to your email signature, too — “the best marketer in Dallas!” — and provide references to them in your proposal cover letters and other materials.

Next time, we’ll focus on referrals.

Use Fewer Words to Obtain More Results

During a recent visit to a Milwaukee-area post office, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of service options and point-of-sale items available, all offered in an effort to stimulate postal sales and revenue.

But the attempts by behind-the-counter employees to persuade customers to purchase those services or items usually bordered on the feeble, if they’re talked about them at all. “Would you like your package to be sent overnight, Priority, First Class or regular mail?” they usually asked half-heartedly, sparking discussions about the differences in services and costs.

And so it went.

“Would you like delivery confirmation?”

“Do you need any stamps today?”

“Are you interested in renting a post office box?”

This all takes time, and most people want to get in and out of the post office as quickly as possible. Not to mention, when you are 15th in line, you’ve heard those phrases so many times that you stop caring.

If the U.S. Postal Service wants more business, its transactions should be more efficient! What’s my solution? Why, two-for questions, of course: “First Class?” “Delivery confirmation?” “Need stamps?”

Whether you are in a B2C or B2B selling environment, the sales-persuasion possibilities using the two-for method are almost limitless.

B2C face-to-face exchanges might include: “Day off?” “Come far?” “Nice outside?” “Half day?” “Lunch break?”

B2B exchanges could be one of these: “Big project?” “Good meeting?” “Tough sell?” “Long day?” “Good call?”

The only boundary is your creativity (and perhaps good taste).

How Better Chemistry Leads to More Persuasion

Chemistry. It’s a difficult term to define when referring to personal relationships. Often characterized as people having mutual attraction, rapport or an emotional bond, chemistry is a distinctly human trait — and it can significantly impact interpersonal interactions with your buyers.

You can ask about a hobby or a family member when conversing with your buyer. But how should you emotionally react to his or her response? Should you be sympathetic or empathetic? Should you be engrossed or merely interested? Should you be happy or ecstatic? Do you ask a follow-up question or move on?

Same thing with email correspondence. Does your customer reply to your emails at 2:25 a.m. because he suffers from chronic insomnia? Or does he reply consistently around 6 a.m., suggesting he’s an early riser who gets work done before helping the kids get ready for school?

How and why is this important to you?

Well, the insomniac could be prone to knee-jerk reactions as a result of sleep deprivation. So keep that in mind when persuading this individual. Buyers with small children may be less willing to take risks when considering your offers and subsequent solutions. They, instead, may seek stability and safe options.

Obviously, there’s a lot more at play in persuasion than taking note of these personality traits. But paying attention to the little details can help you be successful when negotiating the bigger ones.

Do You Know Where Your Career Is Headed?

We often describe it as being “hot,” “in the zone,” “on target” or “firing on all cylinders.” But what we’re really experiencing at those moments – partially, at least – is what Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced MEE-hye CHEEK-sent- -HYE-ee) calls “the state of flow.”

In his groundbreaking 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi described flow as “the process of total involvement with life.” Years later, in interview with Wired magazine, he defined flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Unwittingly, Csikszentmihalyi also was describing peak performance, which occurs when you perform almost effortlessly at an incredibly high ability in challenging situations: The athlete who easily hits the ball over the centerfield fence in the ninth inning of the big game, the composer who writes the perfect song connecting melody and emotion when the record company demands a hit, the salesperson who performs gracefully and comfortably in challenging and complex selling situations.

In the introduction to Flow, Csikszentmihalyi notes that “twenty-three-hundred years ago, Aristotle concluded that, more than anything else, men and women seek happiness.” Just about everything else we do is done primarily because we expect it to increase our happiness.

I believe happiness begins with heading in the right direction. Even the highest-performing vehicle won’t perform if it’s not on the proper road. Put a Ferrari on a pothole-ridden dirt path in the middle of Indiana, and it won’t perform nearly as well as it does on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Whether your aims are personal or professional, sales-oriented or social, two key questions remain: Where are you headed? And are you on the right road?