Monday, September 22, 2014

Choose Your Words Carefully Because They Matter

This summer was a whirlwind! After an unusually heavy amount of travel in the first half of the year. I was looking forward to no airports or hotels until I began making the rounds for fall sales training. All of that changed when I made it known to the head of State Auto’s claims division that I was available if he needed my help. To be honest, I thought he might invite me to sit in on a few meetings in our home office and share my expertise in influence. Instead he asked if I would travel to each of our claims offices to give an overview of persuasion to all of our claim reps.

Six cities and two-dozen sessions later I concluded with a presentation to the senior leaders in our claims division. As I fielded questions at the end of the talk I was reminded about the need to choose my words carefully. If anyone should be aware of this it should be the guy who teaches influence for a living! Having said that, we can all slip at times and I’m no exception.

During the presentation, I shared about a particular application of the principle of reciprocity. This principle of influence alerts us to the reality that people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. The particular application I shared that day had to do with concessions. That is, when we concede a little by taking a step to the middle, quite often people feel obligated to take a step towards the middle in response to our first move.

As I spoke about this I shared a story from Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., that shows how powerful concessions can be. Dr. Cialdini had some of his graduate assistants spread out across the campus of Arizona State University to randomly ask people this question:

“Hi, I’m from the juvenile county detention center and we’re looking for people who would be willing to chaperon a group of juvenile delinquents on a day trip to the zoo. Would you be willing to volunteer?”

As you might imagine, spending a day at the zoo with juvenile delinquents didn’t sound appealing so not too many people offered up their time. In fact, only 17% agreed to be chaperons.

At a later time, to test the theory of concessions the graduate assistants started with a much bigger request then retreated to a smaller request upon hearing no. It went something like this:

“Hi, I’m from the juvenile county detention center and we’re looking for people who would be willing to be a big brother or big sister for some juvenile delinquents. Generally we like people to commit a few hours every weekend and we ask that people sign up for two years. Would you be willing to be a big brother or big sister?”

As you might imagine, nobody said yes because that’s a huge commitment but as soon as that offer was rejected the graduate assistants retreated to a smaller request, the one they’d asked people days before:

“If you can’t do that, would you be willing to be a chaperon on a day trip to the zoo for some kids in need?”

The response in that case was a 50% volunteer rate. That’s triple the initial request even though it was the same time commitment – one day at the zoo!

You might not have caught the subtlety in how I shared that second request but someone from our legal department pointed out that the second request for the day trip to the zoo wasn’t exactly like the first request because dealing with “juvenile delinquents” is different than helping some “kids in need.” It’s probably easier for people to say yes to “kids in need” versus spending all day with “juvenile delinquents.”

It was a good reminder for me about how powerful words are! The reality was both requests were identical in the study but I got lazy when I shared the story that particular day. In the study both requests were to spend a day at the zoo with some juvenile delinquents so it was an apples-to-apples comparison.

This post isn’t so much about the power of reciprocity by way of concessions, as it is to remind us that we need to choose our words carefully because they matter. Frank Luntz, a conservative pollster, brilliantly shows this in his book Words that Work. I highly recommend the book because it will open your eyes to scripting used by political parties. For example: 

  • Taxes. If you’re against taxing inheritances passed down to family members you’ll talk about the “death tax” but those in favor of taxing inheritances will refer to it as the “estate tax.” Each description conjures up very different images and feelings.
  • Immigration. If you’re for opening up immigration you might refer to people already here as “undocumented workers” but those against it call these same people “illegal aliens.” Again, each word choice creates very different mental pictures and feelings. 

These are just two examples of how word choice describing the same thing can make a very big difference in people’s perception of the issues. Remember, what you say and how you say it can make all the difference when it comes to hearing “Yes” or “No.”

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The 7 Most Common Persuasion Mistakes

When I work with students in the Principles of Persuasion workshop we talk about three kinds of persuasion practitioners: bunglers, smugglers and detectives. Here’s a quick synopsis of each:

Detectives are folks who understand the principles of influence and look for genuine opportunities to use them in order to create a win for themselves as well as the person or people they seek to influence.
Smugglers are individuals who also have some understanding but they look for shortcuts through manipulation. They find it easier to distort the truth or lie outright in their use of the principles of influence so they can get what they want no matter the cost to others.
Bunglers are people who don’t understand the persuasion process or principles and therefore miss opportunities to be more effective when it come to persuasion. Or, they might intuitively know a few things about the principles but don’t understand how to effectively use them. Unfortunately the vast majority of people fall into this category and they make predictable mistakes.

In this post we’ll look at some of the most common mistakes people make when trying to persuade others. No offense, but if you find yourself doing these things, you’re bungling away persuasion opportunities.
  1. Validating undesirable behavior. There’s a lot of bad stuff that happens in society. For example; too many kids try cigarettes and cheat in school; far too many people don’t vote; violent behavior seems to be on the rise, etc. When you talk about what many people are doing – consensus – you tend to validate the bad behavior. This can cause more people to do the very thing you’re preaching against! Instead, you want to point out good behavior you want people to emulate. This approach was validated in the last two presidential elections where people were told to get to the polls early because record turnouts were expected. Those turnouts materialized. 
  2. Highlighting gain instead of loss. I’ve shared in recent posts about homeowners who, when told about energy saving recommendations, were informed they would either save $180 by implementing the energy saving ideas or that they would lose $180 if they failed to implement the ideas, the latter of which is an application of the principle of scarcity. Everyone I share that study with correctly guesses more people in the “lose” group made the necessary changes. And they’re correct -- 150% more people in the lose group chose to incorporate the energy saving ideas. Despite intuitively knowing this, most people still go out and talk about all the things someone will gain, or save, by going with their idea. Perhaps they fear coming across as negative but they’re failing to apply the most persuasive approach and they won’t hear yes as often.
  3. Confusing contracts with reciprocity. Reciprocity explains the reality that people feel obligated to return a favor. In other words, if I do something for you you’ll feel some obligation to want to do something for me in return. An example would be; I’ll do A and I hope you’ll do B in return. This is very different than entering into a contract – I’ll do A IF you’ll do B. Quite often you can engage reciprocity by doing or offering far less and still get the same behavior in return. 
  4. Mixing up positional authority with perceived authority. Believing you’re an authority is far different than other people perceiving you to be an authority. Sometimes others need to know your credentials. When people rely solely on their position to gain compliance it will never be as effective as it could be if they engaged people in the persuasion process by highlighting their credentials. It’s one thing for me to do something because the boss says so versus doing the very same thing because I see the value in doing so because an expert convinced me.
  5. Failing to connect on liking. Effective persuasion has a lot to do with relationships built on the principle of liking. It’s not always enough that someone likes your product or service. Quite often the difference maker is whether or not they like you. It doesn't matter if you’re a salesperson, manager or someone else, spending too much time describing ideas, products, services, etc., without getting the other person to like you is going to make persuasion harder. And here's the gem - make sure you create time to learn a bit about the other person so you come to like them and you'll be amazed at the difference it can make!
  6. Telling instead of asking. Telling someone what to do isn’t nearly as effective as asking because asking engages consistency. This principle tells us people feel internal psychological pressure as well as external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. By asking and getting a “Yes” the odds that someone will do what you want increase significantly. In the POP workshop we talk about a restaurant owner who saw no shows fall from 30% to just 10% by having the hostess go from saying, “Please call of you cannot make your reservation” to asking, “Will you please call if you cannot keep your reservation?” The first sentence is a statement but the second is a question that engages consistency. 
  7. Failure to give a reason. When you want someone to do something, giving a reason tagged with because can make all the difference. As I’ve share with State Auto claim reps, “Can you get me your medical records?” will not be as effective as “Can you get me your medical records because without them I cannot process your claim and pay you?” This approach was validated in a copier study where 50% more people (93% up from 60%) were willing to let someone go ahead of them in line when the person asking gave them a reason using the word “because.”
So there you have some of the most common persuasion mistakes. By pointing them out hopefully you’ll change your ways if you’ve made these mistakes before. If you’ve not bungled like this then hopefully you’ll avoid these mistakes now that you’re aware of them.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Influencers from Around the World: The Importance of Preparation Before the Sale

This month our Influencers from Around the World post comes from Marco Germani by way of Italy. Marco has been a guest writer for Influence PEOPLE from the start. He combines great knowledge (he wrote a book about persuasion in Italian) with real world experience (he travels the world selling wine). This month's post is excellent because I can attest to the need for preparation in sales, or any endeavor in life, if you want to succeed. Read Marco's words of wisdom and enjoy!

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

The Importance of Preparation Before the Sale

A professional athlete would never dream of starting a major competition without any warm-up. This would increase the risk of getting injured and, in the best scenario, drastically reduce the possibility of delivering a great performance. Similarly, a professional salesperson should never approach an important sales call, without the proper “warm-up.”

What you do in the 10-15 minutes prior to a face-to-face or telephone conversation with a potential customer may determine the outcome of your presentation. It is therefore surprising how most salespeople completely ignore this principle and too often enter a meeting with a client having no strategic preparation of any kind. Far too many people just listen to the car radio on the way to the appointment filling their brain with commercials, low quality music and what I like to call “chewing gum for the ears.”

Let us instead summarize, in three points, what a professional salesperson should do in the minutes leading up to a sales appointment.

The first – and Golden Rule – when we are in front of a customer is not to ask any question where the answer can be easily found somewhere else. For example, if I ask my customer information about his company, which I could have found on his company’s website, I am just showing him I didn’t care to do my homework before the meeting. This is a very bad start for any salesperson. If, on the other hand, I say to the customer, “I understand your company has manufacturing facilities in three countries, sells about 80% of its production outside the U.S. and is one of the top three players in the market,” I’m showing my potential customer I’m a professional, serious and committed person who cared enough to learn as much as possible about his business. In addition to showing concern it also prevents wasting the prospect’s time. This is a very good start, which builds trust and opens the door to the possibility of starting a partnership.

In the minutes immediately prior to the meeting, it is also a good rule to briefly review your marketing material (presentations, any samples to show, etc.) to make sure everything is in order. Mentally summarize the objectives of the meeting, recall any previous contact with the customer and how you initially met. This is necessary in case you need to refer to past details and it gives you a clear, ideal picture of how you wish your perfect meeting would unfold.

Shortly before the meeting put yourself in an upbeat mood and be sure to establish a positive winning attitude. Picture in your mind’s eye the best possible scenario, in which everything goes as planned, and the sale ends in the best possible way, with great benefit to all parties involved. This positive attitude will be perceived by the customer, who will understand he is dealing with a sales professional, who is prepared, confident and ready to help him make the decisions that are in his best interests.

These three simple steps, if carried out diligently before a sales appointment, can greatly influence the final result. Often I hear salespeople complain about how hard it is to “bring home” a sale, or how customers are difficult and never seem ready to make a buying decision. If they do not do the preparation I’ve described, or preparation of any kind, then they’re the ones to blame, not the customers! Preparation is 80% of success; let us never forget about it!


Monday, September 1, 2014

James Bond needs no introduction, but you do!

I read an article not too long ago that a friend passed along and felt compelled to share my thoughts about it. The article appeared in and was titled “Why Public Speakers Need To Copy James Bond.” That's a compelling title for Bond fans and speakers alike – of which I'm both – so I got sucked in and read. The author's piece was well written and compelling...unless you know something about the psychology of persuasion.

The gist of the article was this – Bond movies open with compelling action-packed scenes, not the credits, to immediately hook moviegoers.  Speakers should do the same by starting immediately with a compelling story.

I wholeheartedly agree that a speaker starting with a good story hooks the audience but foregoing a brief introduction misses out on a golden opportunity to utilize the principle of authority which will make you more persuasive, according to the science of influence.

Imagine going to a conference and getting ready to listen to a speaker you've never heard of before. Will you pay more or less attention if you quickly learn beforehand the speaker was the top salesperson in their organization, or had a doctorate, or was one of only a handful in the world who does what he/she does, or had some other fact that established him or her as an expert? I’m willing to bet you’ll be more interested to listen after learning something compelling about the speaker.

Several years ago, Joshua Bell, one of the most accomplished violinists in the world, was playing a million dollar Stradivarius violin in a public subway. Despite the fact that people pay several hundred dollars to hear him in concert, hardly anyone paid attention that particular day in the subway. His beautiful music was the equivalent of a compelling story but it wasn't enough to grab people’s attention. Do you think people would have stopped to listen if they knew he was one of the greatest violinists in the world and that he was playing a million dollar instrument? I'd bet you any amount of money that many, many more people would have paid attention to him and his music.

James Bond enjoys a brand very few individuals can claim. Warren Buffett, Bill Clinton and a few others would need no introduction before giving a speech, but you and I do, so here are six tips for your intro when presenting to a group of any size: 
  1. You write the introduction. Don't leave this to chance because nobody knows you and your expertise like you do.
  2. Keep it short. An intro of 100-200 words is plenty because too long and it's boring, but too short and you may omit something important.
  3. Make sure it's audience-appropriate. There may be interesting things you've accomplished that have nothing to do with the talk so leave out those things.
  4. Include something personal. This allows audience members to connect with you on a personal level which invokes the principle of liking.
  5. Have a third party introduce you. You do this because someone else can say things about you that will sound like bragging if you say them.
  6. Make sure the introduction happens before the talk. Unlike the movies where the credits come later, you want people to feel compelled to listen before you even open your mouth.
Talking about Bond as a model for speaking makes for a compelling headline but not everything he does will work for you and me. That's the difference between movies and reality. So my advice is this; find out what the science says then diligently apply it and you're sure to give a more persuasive presentation.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

As noted last week; Dr. Cialdini has a new book coming out that he's coauthored with Steve Martin and Noah Goldstein, Ph.D. The book is called The Small Big and can be pre-ordered here.