In our previous blog we highlighted the differences between true salespeople and order takers, the latter being almost exclusively led by existing customer demand for their offerings, the former using their skills of influence to create or further build that demand. We proposed that it’s becoming increasingly tough to thrive in a pure order taking role. So to become an even more successful salesperson how do we develop our influencing skills?
A quick search on Amazon using the keyword ‘influence’ generates over 50,000 results in the Books category – so it’s not like there aren’t already a number of schools of thought out there around how we can better use our skills of influence to generate more effective results!
Amongst the best I’ve seen though is @Robert Cialdini’s work on the Psychology of Persuasion. I particularly like it for two reasons:
- It’s based on 35 years’ worth of evidence based research – so would appear to be more scientifically valid than most.
- The principles he presents are equally applicable in all walks of life.
Over the course of this and the following blog we’ll introduce Cialdini’s six universal principles of persuasion. For our purposes we’ll focus on how they can be employed in sales environments, and how, when applied ethically they can significantly develop your level of influence and increase the chances that someone will be persuaded by your request
Simply put, people are obliged to give back to others the form of a behaviour, gift, or service that they have received first. Think about it – if a friend invites you to a party there’s an obligation for you to invite them to a future party you are hosting. If a colleague does you a favour, then you owe that colleague a favour in return. In the context of a social obligation people are more likely to say yes to those who they owe. In the sales environment the same principles ring true. If you introduce your customer to those in your network who could potentially benefit them, they’re more likely to introduce you to prospects in their network. If you share some market or industry information with them that helps build their knowledge or competence they’re more likely to say yes to a meeting when you next feel you have something of value to offer. The key to using the Principle of Reciprocity is to be the first to give, and to ensure that what you give is personalised and unexpected.
People are attracted to the things they have less of. In 2003 when British Airways announced they would no longer be operating the London to New York Concorde flight, sales the very next day rocketed. Nothing had changed about the Concorde itself. The plane didn’t fly any faster, the service hadn’t suddenly improved, and the airfare hadn’t dropped. It had simply become a scarce resource. As a result, people wanted it more. We’re surrounded by examples of the Scarcity Principle every day. Have you ever booked a flight or hotel online? What’s the human reaction when you see the words ‘Only 3 seats left at this price’, or ‘Only two rooms left on our site at this price’? Book it! Book it! Book it! Influence by Scarcity in action.
When it comes to persuading others to maximum effect using the Scarcity Principle, the science is clear. It’s not enough simply to tell people about the benefits they’ll gain if they choose your products and services. You also need to highlight what is unique about your offering and what they stand to lose if they fail to consider your proposal.
This is the idea that people follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts. Cialdini sites numerous day-to-day examples of the Authority principle at work. Physiotherapists are able to persuade more of their patients to comply with recommended exercise programs if they display their medical diplomas on the walls of their consulting rooms. People are more likely to give change for a parking meter to a complete stranger if that requester wears a uniform rather than casual clothes.
What the science is telling us is that it’s important to signal to others what makes you a credible, knowledgeable authority before you make your influence attempt. Of course, you can hardly go around telling potential customers how brilliant you are, but you can certainly arrange for someone to do it for you. Are you making the most of references, referrals, testimonials?
One group of Real Estate agents was able to increase both the number of property appraisals and the number of subsequent contracts by arranging for reception staff who answered customer enquiries to first mention their colleagues’ credentials and expertise.
So, customers interested in letting a property were told “Lettings? Let me connect you with Sandra, who has over 15 years’ experience letting properties in this area.” The impact of this expert introduction led to a 20% rise in the number of appointments and a 15% increase in the number of signed contracts. Not bad for a small change in approach that was both ethical and costless to implement. Are you and your sales team maximising your levels of authority when interacting with customers and clients?
So there we have the first three of the six principles of persuasion. In the next blog we’ll introduce the final three. When applied effectively these principles will undoubtedly raise your levels of influence, and further build your status as a pro-active salesperson rather than a passive order taker.