In 1984, psychologist Robert Cialdini wrote what at that time was a breakthrough and seminal work, “Influence—The Psychology of Persuasion,” based on exhaustive studies and scientific research of how we are persuaded to act. He described seven characteristics that make people move toward our offer and say yes.
When people are uncertain, they move away from what we are offering, so working to eliminate uncertainty becomes the critical aspect of sales presentations.
It is important to understand these concepts because we are all influenced differently, and if you are only using one or two, that might not be enough to make a sale.
Cialdini’s 7 Principles of Influence
A point worth mentioning: Cialdini emphasizes, and I wholeheartedly concur, that these should only be employed ethically.
Principle: Human beings are wired to return favors and pay back debts. I do something for you—offer you a beverage, ask good questions, explain things simply, etc.—you do something for me (buy). It is the meaning of quid pro quo—something granted, something expected in return. Science has discovered that we feel indebted to someone who has done something for us, and we want to return the favor.
Think free samples at Costco: You taste the sample and then you buy the food.
It can also be as simple as calling someone by their name. The key in the sales effort is to be the first to give and to make the offer as personal as possible.
My advice: I have a higher-level aspiration to this principle—reverse reciprocity—which means that instead of “I do something for you, you do something for me,” it’s “I do something for you, I do something for me.”
The difference is that any effort we extend toward clients we are really extending to ourselves. A great presentation, staying late or coming in early to meet, good follow-up pre- and post-sale, actually caring about the customer means we are doing something for ourselves. But the client also is a beneficiary in the process. Thinking of this principle in this way keeps us developing and striving for excellence.
2. Commitment and consistency
Principle: People feel the desire to comply with a request if they see it is consistent with what they have publicly committed themselves to do in your presence. This is in full effect whenever anyone is defending a decision or purchase they have made.
We are employing this principle with a company credibility statement that ends with “does that sound like the kind of company you would like to do business with?” You have a “yes” and a commitment from the very start and the product/project discussion hasn’t even started yet. Science tells us we have greatly increased our chances of success for the customer to be consistent.
My advice: The key is that we do not know what our prospects' values, priorities or ideals of the situation are when we begin and the only way to know is to ask great questions. Questions allow us to control our focus on the prospect to establish how we align our presentation, proposal and value proposition with what they have told us. Want a higher closing ratio? Ask better, more direct questions and get tiny, incremental buy-ins from prospective clients all along the way to trigger this principle.
Principle: We like people who are like us, pay us compliments and cooperate with us toward mutual goals. This seems to be a simple concept: We buy from people and companies we like. Cialdini lists five traits that elevate this principle.
Physical Attractiveness. One of my mantras is “every day is a presentation” and this is a key component. It doesn’t mean beauty per se; it means effort. Are you neat and clean in appearance and speech? Is your showroom or office neat and clean? How about the restroom in your office? We associate these things with success and we all want to be associated with it.
Similarity. We like people with shared interests such as where we or our kids went to school, our favorite sports teams, hobbies, vehicles, etc. Customers usually signal some of these by their actions, but even if they don’t, simple questions can uncover them. It's these types of questions that move a sale out of purely transactional to personal. Here’s an example: I met a new neighbor recently, who is a runner (like me), in outside sales (like me) and from Tennessee (like me)—we are now great friends and though I’m not “buying” anything from him, I certainly would because of our similarities.
Compliments. We like people who give us praise; it makes us happy. The key here is sincerity. It is a mistake to give false praise and have it backfire on our efforts. Compliments can usually flow sincerely and easily by uncovering similarities.
Cooperation. We feel more positive when we work closely with someone. This is a critical aspect of consultive selling when we are trying to figure out exactly who the client is and what is going to best suit their needs. When we can establish the right product, spec it appropriately and deliver it as best possible to the customer, at that point we are working together in cooperation.
Association. We feel better about things that are associated with things we like. Think celebrity endorsements. Therefore companies contract and pay huge sums for celebrities to hawk their products. The products are presented in their best possible light; for example, pools or spas displayed in vignettes or in pictures of beautiful settings with people enjoying them—the epitome of the aspiration of the buyer.
My advice: I would emphasize sincerity and authenticity in all of these, which is very easy to do, and would add one more to this list: humor. If you can get a prospect to laugh, then you can get them to buy. It doesn’t mean you have to be a comedian; it mostly means that you don’t take yourself too seriously and do what you can to make the buying experience fun.
Think about how you can incorporate any of these concepts in your selling efforts and how to strengthen the ones you are using. I will discuss Cialdini’s other principles—social proof, authority, scarcity and unity—in my next article.