Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, while not your typical sales book, provides a fascinating look at the science of persuasion and how buyers are influenced into making purchases. The author, a professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, spent three years undercover in telemarketing organizations, car dealerships and fundraising organizations observing how purchase decisions actually happened.
The book cites 6 key areas of influence which are summarized below:
- Reciprocity – People are naturally inclined to return a favor, respond to good deeds and repay debts. What is powerful about this is that the favor may be unsolicited and/or the debt may be implied. For example if a sales rep sends something free to a potential buyer, that person may be more inclined to repay the favor by taking time to speak with the sales person and potentially even more inclined to purchase. Another more subtle sales example involves a customer who declines to take advantage of a salesperson’s offer of a discount on a high priced item, but but feels obligated to accept a second offer on a slightly lower priced item.
- Commitment and Consistency – When people make a commitment either verbally or in writing, they are more likely to honor that commitment. We often see sales people leverage this tactic when they ask a prospect to agree to a conditional purchase (“if I can show you these benefits, will you buy?”).
- Social Proof – People feel comfortable following the bahavior of a crowd and will do things that they see other people are doing. A good example of this is the experiment where several people stop on the sidewalk and look into the sky. Soon others gather to also look into the sky and the crowd becomes so large that it blocks traffic. There are other darker examples of this in history such as mass suicides, and in sales we often see companies tout their customers as proof that the “crowd” buys from them.
- Liking – People are more easily influenced by people they like. Cialdini talks about the different traits that affect like-ability including personality, attractiveness, commonality and familiarity. Sellers who can become liked by the buyer can exert more influence and sell more.
- Authority – People perceived to be in position of power (real or not) tend to be more persuasive since people are inclined to respect and follow authority figures. Marketing campaigns will often use certified professionals to promote products as a way to influence buyers. We also see sales and business people using big titles or showing off fancy watches and luxury cars as a statement of their success and power.
- Scarcity – This powerful rule of influence involves supply and demand and I am sure we have all fallen prey to this. For instance, we go to price shop TV’s and the sales person tells us that he has a great sales on, but the floor model is the last available. How many of us feel tempted to short circuit our research and make a purchase? I would think most of us would. The more limited the supply (even perceived), the greater twill be our urge to buy. Exclusive, limited quantity or limited time offers can be very powerful in persuading buyers.
The bestselling book is a must read for any business leader and particularly those who are in charge of making sales happen.
To your success!
Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.
He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.
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