They have an innate ability to influence people, sway opinions and win arguments. While such “mind powers” are instinctive to some, most of us have to work hard to persuade people to our way of thinking. Fortunately, persuasion and influence cannot only be learned; they can be mastered.
Have you ever read Robert Cialdini? He’s the “Godfather of Influence” and the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, one of the most influential business books of the past 30 years. More recently, he authored Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.
Much of Cialdini’s work is focused on helping people master “leadership’s greatest challenge – getting things done through others.” But the skills employed by accomplished leaders are quite similar to those needed in sales. Let’s look at Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence through a sales lens:
The principle of liking says that people like those who are like them. You should “uncover real similarities and offer genuine praise.”
Cialdini uses the example of a Tupperware party to illustrate how liking works. The hostess invites friends and family members. Because the attendees like the hostess, they’re far more willing to buy Tupperware products. For example, my wife finds herself at a handful of parties each year for multi-level marketing products such as Tuppperware. Inevitably, she ends up buying something just to please her friend (the hostess).
The two most significant factors affecting liking are similarity and praise. People are more apt to like people who are similar to them. If you praise other people – even if that praise isn’t terribly merited – they are much more likely to like you.
What does that tell us?
Sales managers should sales representatives who have similar interests and backgrounds as the targeted prospects. Sales reps should take time after meeting new prospects to establish common ground. Find excuses to compliment your prospects on their companies, products, careers and accomplishments.
According to the principle of reciprocity, people have a tendency to repay in kind.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – The Golden Rule has been scientifically proven to be true. Cialdini says any manager can be the beneficiary of good behavior by displaying the same behavior to others first.
The same applies to sales professionals.
Gift giving is a somewhat primitive example of reciprocity, but I have had success reaching prospects by first sending them a little gift. Simply because I mailed them a copy of my books or a unique gift that relates to their company, I am much more likely to reach them on the phone.
This is my favorite of Cialdini’s principles because it relates directly to sales: “People follow the lead of similar others.” We should “use peer power whenever it’s available.”
Cialdini cites a study in which researchers went door-to-door collecting donations for a charity. When people answered the door, the researchers showed them a list of neighborhood residents who had already donated to the charity. The longer the donor list, the more likely prospective donors were to contribute.
Social proof is why references, testimonials and referrals are so important in sales. Take time to collect testimonials and make them available to prospective clients. Get a referral from a respected source before making a prospecting call. Your success rate should rise dramatically.
“People align with their clear commitments,” Cialdini says. “Make their commitments active, public and voluntary.”
Cialdini says if you supervise an employee who should submit reports on time, get that understanding in writing (such as a memo or email); make the commitment public (perhaps by sharing it with people in other affected departments); and link the commitment to the employee’s values (such as the impact of timely reports on team spirit).
This is why winning mini commitments is so effective in selling. If your prospective client agrees to something up front, you are more likely to close a sale with them. Perhaps you could summarize the outcome of a meeting in an email and ask the prospect to email you back confirming that everything you said is accurate.
The principle of authority says that “people defer to experts,” and Cialdini advises you to “expose your expertise; don’t assume it’s self-evident.”
While it is critically important for sales people to listen more than they talk when sitting in front of prospective clients, you do need to take at least a little bit of time to demonstrate your credentials and backgrounds.
People naturally want more of what they can have less of, Cialdini says, so highlight unique benefits and exclusive information.”
Cialdini writes about a time when wholesale beef buyers’ orders jumped 600 percent when they alone received information on a possible beef shortage. Provide exclusive information to persuade. When you tell people they are getting information before everyone else, they are more interested. If people know they have access to something that is closed to others, they value it more.
Sales professionals might want to make special offers or upgrades available to the best clients first, or in some cases, only to the best clients.
In the end, sales professionals can gain a clear advantage by employing Cialdini’s six principles, but keep a few things in mind – Trust is one of the most important components to completing a sale especially a complex, high-ticket-price B2B transaction. If you use these principles with an exploitative and manipulative heart, you will hurt your chances of creating a recurring client.
The other key to selling is value. You must discover exactly what prospective clients value and then deliver products and services which deliver that value exactly. If you fail to do that, the principles of influence will ultimately be ineffective.