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.”


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.

Why What You Do Can Be More Compelling Than What You Say

Here’s a true story about how and why people make the decisions they do:

Picking his way through the cramped ballroom, people-filled padded chairs all askew, there was no clear route. Obstacles, however, were not this man’s primary concern. On his face, you could see his mind racing — searching for what he would say once he was in front of the crowd. Few people like public speaking, but this seemed even more torturous than usual. He found his standing spot, turned and faced the crowd.

“I have traveled three hours round trip every day to attend this training. I’ve driven dangerous roads and in heavy traffic. You are a talented and knowledgeable group. I have learned from you, and you have learned from me. And I sure could use the money to help pay for gas. Please, please. Pick me!”

That scene played out in a Calgary persuasion workshop during which I asked three volunteers to vie for a single, crisp $100 bill by convincing the audience to individually award them the money. Whoever made the most compelling case, thus winning the affections of the crowd, walked away with the cash — and the bragging rights.

Participants were allowed to make their case in any way they deem appropriate, with one exception: They couldn’t share the money or materially benefit the crowd in any way (I’ll buy you all drinks!). Adding to the pressure, I gave them just four minutes to develop their case and only 25 seconds to present it.

What would you say if you were in this situation?

This activity mirrors business life today in many ways. You are often in competition with others for the account, the promotion, the project. You must think on your feet and be able to put together compelling arguments fast, and you might not have much time to state your case. Sometimes you need to do all this — especially in peer-to-peer persuasion situations — without offering some sort of material gain. Not an easy assignment, to be sure.

But the most interesting aspect of this workshop activity is not the people vying for the money; it’s the people deciding who will earn the money. You may think that people carefully analyze participants’ arguments, weighing the pros and the cons to rationally decide who gets their votes.

That’s not what’s happening, though. Far from it.

After the three contestants made their case for the $100 bill, I lined up the group for judging. Would the winner be the guy who claimed he risked his life to arrive at the workshop, but essentially just needed the money for gas? Would it be the generous man who stated he would donate the money to a charity? Or, finally, would it be the person who claimed his peers should pick him because he held his own with the group at happy hours?

To determine the victor, I used a timeless and scientific method: the applause-o-meter. When I asked for applause for the most persuasive presentation, the results were absolutely clear. The winner was our hero who needed gas money. He beamed as he received the crisp $100 bill, and the crowed gave him another thunderous round of applause.

During the luncheon that immediately followed the workshop, I did what I always do: I inquired with those at my table about the contest and what they found so compelling about the winner’s argument. As usual, the comments were enlightening:

“We voted for him because he’s been so helpful ever since the start of this workshop.”

“He’s always willing to run a sales simulation or brainstorm an idea, so I like him.”

“He’s so funny. He had me cracking up all morning.”

Our winner obviously created a halo effect with his peers during the workshop — doing everything he could to find a positive entry point with people who ultimately decided to award him with cold, hard cash.

Persuasion Success: How to Avoid Surprises

Somewhere between a no, a neutral and a positive response lurk mysterious X factors, which seemingly come from out of nowhere to derail your persuasion efforts. These can include technological glitches, competitive actions and intrusions by a trusted advisor. Here’s how to help avoid that unknown gray area:

Never accept a simple “yes.”

Work, instead, toward a profound agreement. I call this the Columbo method. Actor Peter Falk played a disheveled TV detective named Lt. Columbo, who was known for extracting the info he needed from sources by saying, “One more thing before I go …”

Ask what else you need to know.

Try one of these: “Is there anything we haven’t discussed that will prevent us from moving forward?” “Will you be having conversations with others who might not have the insight from our exchanges?” “In the past, has anything surfaced at the last minute to change your mind about decisions like this?”

Formalize the decision.

You want your target to go on record with his decision. Of course, in many cases, this means a signed contract. In others, it might mean issuing a purchase order. At the very least, you want your target to send an email or in conversations tell others. This formalizes your agreement, and can make it stick. Once people go on record, they will do just about anything to stick with their commitment.

Don’t you feel better now?

Persuasion Success: Navigating the Gender Gap

If you like to watch fireworks, just bring up the subject of gender differences at your next friendly neighborhood cookout. Chances are the grill won’t be the only thing on fire.

The moment you take an absolutist stand on gender differences, you find yourself in a proverbial gender La Brea Tar Pit. Every individual — man or woman — has unique education backgrounds, experiences and frames of reference. (Please keep that in mind before you send me irate emails.) That said, there is real science behind the differences between men and women when it comes to decision-making and persuasion. Consider these findings:

Men often overstate their abilities; women understate them.

“In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality,” wrote Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in a lengthy article for The Atlantic magazine’s website in 2014. The authors of Womenomics and authorities on gender differences in business found that women working at Hewlett-Packard applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the job qualifications. On the other hand, men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.

Bottom line: Persuasion is about taking risk. You can’t get the job if you don’t apply.

A four-letter word for men: help.

In her book, Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers, gender expert Bridget Brennan claims women love asking for and receiving help. For men, “help” is a four-letter word.

Bottom line: When persuading women, offer assistance in some form. This gender preference will do wonders for you and your persuasion priority. If you’re persuading men, try something like this: “I did find a report that talks about what you were researching. I’ll leave it here.”

Men buy, women shop.

Shopping behavior mirrors gender differences throughout many aspects of life. Women consider shopping an interpersonal activity, according to Wharton marketing professor Stephen J. Hoch. Men treat is as something that must be done.

Bottom line: Pair this idea with personality behaviors to give you strong indications of how fast or slow you should move with your request.

Perfectionism is a confidence killer.

“Women feel confident only when they are perfect,” Kay and Shipman wrote for The Atlantic. “Study after study confirms that [this] is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required. We watch our male colleagues take risks, while we hold back until we’re sure we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified.”

Bottom line: No one needs to be at 100 percent all the time. In fact, few are. Leverage that reality in your persuasion efforts.

Gender behavior is based on brain structure and body chemistry.

In 2007, neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine released The Female Brain, a book that generated major debate by claiming that women’s brains “are so deeply affected by hormones that their influence can be said to create a woman’s reality. They can shape a woman’s values and desires, and tell her, day to day, what’s important.” Brizendine then released The Male Brain in 2010, in which she states that “a man will use his analytical brain structures, not his emotional ones, to find a solution.” She also notes that the male brain thrives on competition and is obsessed with rank and hierarchy.

Bottom Line: Differences in estrogen, testosterone and oxytocin affect moods, behaviors and decisions. Everything is situational, especially this guidance. Identify the mercurial targets from the more static and approach accordingly.

Gender behavior changes with age.

As men and women age, testosterone and estrogen levels decrease, respectively. This results in women becoming more assertive and men more accommodating.

Bottom line: Take into consideration the age of your target.

Women don’t ask.

While researching their book Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation — and Positive Strategies for Change, economics professor and negotiation specialist Linda Babcock and co-author Sara Laschever found that only about 7 percent of female MBAs attempted to negotiate their salaries when hired, compared to 57 percent of men. Those who did negotiate increased their salary by more than 7 percent.

Bottom line: You’ll never get the promotion, the assignment, the budget or the career you want if you don’t ask. The worst thing your target can say is no.

Women make great personal evangelists.

Women focus on details, researchers say, and are more likely than men to talk to their colleagues about their experiences with you.

Bottom line: If you want personal evangelists — people willing to sing your praises — identify women with whom you’ve exceeded their expectations.

Men decide; women ruminate.

Scientists Colin Camerer and Read Montague imaged the brains of men and women to determine the neural roots of fidelity and betrayal. After making a decision, the male brain turned off. Female brains, however, continued to display activity in parts that regulate worry and error-detection.

Bottom line: When she says, “I’ll have to think about it,” that doesn’t mean “no.” It usually means she actually does need to think about it.

Here are more gender differences to keep in mind:

  • Women are better at negotiating for a group.
  • Men are better at negotiating for themselves.
  • Women tend to avoid conflict situations.
  • Men tend to avoid emotional scenes.
  • Women respond more to stories than facts.
  • Women have better peripheral vision and will notice that family photo on your desk.

Some women — and men — might be highly offended right now and argue against any generalizations like the ones listed above. Others may be nodding in agreement. Regardless, keeping these ideas in mind will help you stay out of the muck as you seek to achieve your persuasion priority.

New Year’s Resolution: Convince Yourself to Make 2018 Your Best Year Ever

Whether attempting to sell more motorcycles, pursuing a new managerial position or convincing your boss to give you a raise, we all talk to ourselves before we take action. Many psychologists have labeled this ongoing mental dialogue as “self‐talk.”

These internal comments impact thoughts, emotions, actions, and ultimately careers and life itself. The following quote, attributed to everyone from Mahatma Gandhi to Ralph Waldo Emerson to the president of a leading supermarket chain, illustrates this cause and effect:

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

The point is made even more elegantly in one of my favorite books of all time, As a Man Thinkethby philosopher James Allen, published just after the turn of the 20th century and reprinted many times. It may very well be the first “self‐help” book.

“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself,” Allen wrote. “He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”

What are you building? And how will your “self-talk” make 2018 your most successful year ever?

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.

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 Respond When You Hear ‘Yes’

Just as there are clearly missteps you can make when you hear “yes,” there also are actions you can take that will help remove any trace of doubt that may linger with your target.

Five Moment-of-Yes Do’s

1. Immediately shake hands.

I know, it seems obvious. But you’d be shocked by how many people miss this important moment. For many cultures, dating back to ancient Greece, shaking hands has remained customary for everything from meeting and greeting to saying thank-you and offering congratulations. A handshake also signals the completion of an agreement. Even if I’ve worked with a person for years on a big agreement, I always shake hands to affirm the commitment. Although it may be executed differently in different countries, shaking hands is almost always the socially acceptable thing to do (though, in certain cultures, it’s a good idea to check ­— especially in male-to-female agreements).

2. Offer a reinforcing comment.

While shaking hands, it’s critical to also offer some sort of agreement-reinforcing comment: “This is going to be an exciting project.” “We will do great work together.” “Here’s to accomplishing important work.” Avoid statements such as “Well, here’s hoping it works!” or “Thank you for the opportunity; I hope I make you proud.” The objective here is to fill your target with confidence, not initiate buyer’s remorse or demonstrate that your pitching skills are stronger than your confidence.

3. Give a “next steps” overview.

Be absolutely clear on what will happen next: “Okay, so I’ll work with the legal department this afternoon to put the final details into an agreement. You’ll be deciding which budgets to use. And we’ll collaborate on the project’s announcement this afternoon. By this time tomorrow, we’ll be up and running.” In other words, determine who will handle the purchase order, who will draft the agreement and who is communicating what to others.

4. Make sure your target takes action.

In the example above, the target is given next-step responsibilities. That is intentional. Sometimes in the moment of “yes,” persuaders are so relieved to receive agreement that they take the focus on accountability off the target. Don’t create a “sit back and relax” experience for the target. You want him or her to take action: Make a phone call, provide a signature, send an email, review a document. Set something you and your target can agree on immediately, then schedule a follow-up session.

5. Go public.

Nobody wants to be considered a hypocrite. The majority of people want to perform consistently with their publicly stated ideas and positions. This can take many forms: letting just a few people around the lunch table know about the new agreement, a massive companywide memo or alerting the local and national media. Going public makes that “yes” official by naming those accountable and broadcasting the commitment.

Next time, we’ll cover how to create what I call “perpetual yes.”

Frame the Options for Best Persuasion Results

In previous posts, I revealed the formula for persuasion success, suggested ways in which to engage your persuasion target and offered ideas about how to explore the persuasion situation.

As a reminder, here is the formula: Yes = E2F3.

1. Engage your target.
2. Explore the situation.
3. Frame the options.
4. Finesse the rough spots.
5. Finalize the decision.

In this post, I’ll discuss the first of the three “F” components: How to frame the options.

Instead of providing a binary choice for your target — a take-it-or-leave-it option, which is a 50/50 proposition at face value — offering three options raises your chances of acceptance to about 75 percent. In other words, you now have three shots at hearing “yes.”

The Power of Three 

Create varied options from your own exploration information, but also from the responses your target provides during that process. Including some of his comments and observations will substantially increase your odds of success. Try something like this:

“Not only should we look for an affiliation in Italy to launch this program, but your idea of sending our own managers over for six-month assignments is a perfect way to develop them and ensure a first-hand view by our own people.”

Additionally, most psychologists agree — and my own sales experience concurs — that “three” is the proper number of options. People tend to think in threes, or “triads,” because they are easier to process. (In scientific experiments, participants found positive impressions peaked at three, and skepticism increased when more points were suggested.)

There’s a reason retailers created the “good, better, best” concept decades ago. In fact, you can use that approach to help you form your options.

Frame the Options

When you present the options you’ve developed to your target, you are framing them. Much like certain frames enhance or detract from the attractiveness of a work of art, how you frame your options will impact the likelihood of hearing “yes” or “no.”

So prepare to be the Renoir of revenue, and the Picasso of profit!

Always begin with the most expensive option first. If you do, your target may just select your “best” option. And if he does? Well, that’s frost on the beer mug for you and your organization. But the real reason you frame your options in this manner is because your target might say “no.”

Nobody likes to be turned down, because it feels like failure. But if you know what to do in those seconds immediately after rejection, a “no” can be a lot less painful. This approach is often called “rejection-then-retreat,” or as psychology and marketing master Robert Cialdini sometimes refers to it, “concessional reciprocity.”

Walking in front of a university library one day, Cialdini was approached by a Boy Scout who asked him if he would like to purchase tickets to the Scouts’ circus for that Saturday at the local arena. The tickets were $5 each. Cialdini politely declined. Without losing an ounce of composure, the boy replied, “Oh, well, then would you like to buy a couple of our chocolate bars? They are only $1 each.” Cialdini bought two chocolate bars. Stunned, he knew something significant had just happened — because he doesn’t even like chocolate!

Analyzing this exchange, Cialdini discovered concessional reciprocity — the idea that when you decline someone’s offer and that person comes back with a smaller, less extreme offer, you want to say “yes” to reciprocate for the concession he made to you by accepting your original “no.”

That’s why it’s imperative to have options and frame them accordingly. If your target says “no” to one, you can retreat to your next offer.

Discuss the pros and cons of each option objectively, understanding that they all lead to your desired outcome. Allow the target to comment critically, perhaps eliminating one option altogether while seriously considering the other two. You might even want to combine aspects of the three options to create one acceptable hybrid.

Remember, all options are fine with you, because you created them around the goals you’re pursuing. Providing choices, any one of which creates the results you and your target both require, is at the heart of forming and framing options.

But this doesn’t ensure unmitigated success. I’ll cover that next time.