Influence and persuasion are critical skills for salespeople. However, they are also crucial for fostering customer-driven growth in your organization. In this issue of Why Customers Buy, we are going to discuss the six fundamental principles of how to influence people, and you might be surprised by what you discover.
We spoke to Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, who is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence People in a recent podcast. His blog, Influence People, has readers all over the world and offers years of insight into the art of persuasion. As a specialist in applying the science of influence and persuasion in sales, leadership, and coaching, Ahearn spoke to us about the six fundamental principles on how to influence people.
Ahearn’s background was in the insurance industry. He read Robert Cialdini’s material, and he loved Cialdini’s stance on ethics and his advice on how to influence people in a non-manipulative way that is based on science. Today, Ahearn is one of his 20 certified trainers around the world.
Ahearn says that defining persuasion is crucial from the start. If you ask ten people to explain it, you will get ten different answers. Most people think of it as convincing somebody or changing somebody’s thinking, which he says is an excellent start to the definition. However, the definition is not enough for Ahearn because you ultimately want to change peoples’ minds so they change their behavior. For example, if you tell your kids to clean their rooms, you don’t want them to look at you and go, “That’s a great idea, Dad.” You want them to go in and clean their room. So, Ahearn says that persuasion is about changing behavior to something the person probably would not do in the absence of your ask.
Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence
Most of the time, the people Ahearn works with are intentional about trying to make a sale or changing the behavior of individuals in an organization. So, they are strategic about what they’re doing. Whether you are trying to strengthen a relationship, overcome uncertainty, or motivate people to action, there are different ways to apply the following principles:
#1: The Principle of Liking
If people like and trust you, it becomes a lot easier to go forward. Otherwise, you’re probably not going anywhere. Ahearn says where people make a mistake is by trying to get the other person to like them. However, it really should be about you coming to like them. When people feel you like them, they are more open to your asks because, deep down, we believe friends do right by friends.
Another benefit of the principle of liking is the more the salesperson learns to like the prospect, the more the salesperson wants to do what is best for them. It creates a virtuous cycle. Moreover, when you genuinely like the people you interact with, those people will start sending more people your way down the road.
Ahearn says to stop trying to get people to like you and focus on coming to like the people that you’re interacting with, including your co-workers, vendors, and the clients. However, it is crucial not to come across like a salesperson who will say or do anything to get that person to like you. Look for what you have in common. Give them genuine compliments. You’ll be amazed at the difference it will make in how you view them, but then also how they respond to that.
Look for what you have in common. Give them genuine compliments. You’ll be amazed at the difference it will make in how you view them, but then also how they respond to that.
Of course, we don’t always meet the people we are interacting with face-to-face. Much of our prospecting is getting someone to like you when you’ve never met. However, Ahearn says that humor and banter can help in these interactions. One tactic Ahearn uses when he gets a connect, or email is to ask how they came to find him. This question opens up the interaction with the other people, and they can make a more personal connection and get to know each other.
#2: The Principle of Reciprocity
Reciprocity is the feeling of obligation to do something for somebody after they’ve done something for us. When you are building a relationship, if you do something that helps the person, they will feel like doing something to help you. What Ahearn doesn’t like is when people misuse reciprocity by only “giving to get” or trying to give things to people only to get people to do something for them in return. He does appreciate giving help because it’s the right way to live life. Then, when you need assistance, you reach out to the people you know who can help you. Moreover, most will be willing to help you because you’ve done beneficial things for them from the start.
Research suggests that people are sensitive to insincere reciprocity attempts. Reciprocity must be sincere. So if you’re faking your way through this, it’s ultimately not going to be successful. People don’t like to wrestle with feelings of obligation, especially when they feel that the person on the other side of the interaction is insincere. Then, it feels like manipulation. When establishing your relationship, your offers to help should be authentic, so people receive them differently.
Ahearn says the critical concept here is that it is not about getting; it’s about giving. He says Zig Ziglar put it best when he said, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” Ahearn explains that when we give something away, it’s not as if it’s a bill that’s paid, and it never comes back. Instead, it comes back in spades. Not every person will reciprocate, but most will, and now you’re multiplying your ability to get things accomplished because you’ve got this vast network.
#3: The Principle of Authority
We all feel more comfortable when an expert gives us information. Ahearn says that’s why we turn to a CPA to do our accounting or hire an attorney for legal support. We feel better when that person who we look at as an expert gives us advice, and, generally, it saves us a lot of time.
We feel better when that person who we look at as an expert gives us advice, and, generally, it saves us a lot of time.
Ahearn has experienced this concept in his line of work. When he has conversations with people about these six principles, most find it interesting, and some might even consider making some changes. However, when people learn that Ahearn is one of 20 personally trained experts from Robert Cialdini himself, they sit up straighter and pay more attention. Nothing Ahearn shares has changed, but the fact that he has that authority based on his association with Cialdini and the extensive training makes people listen more intently.
#4: The Principle of Social Proof
Social Proof is our tendency to follow the crowd. Influenced by human evolution, we feel safety in numbers. Showing how many other people are doing something—particularly those who are most like the person that we’re trying to persuade—indicates they should be doing the same thing.
#5: The Principle of Consistency
Consistency describes how we all feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to live up to our word.
Ahearn says the mistake that people make is always telling others what to do. Telling isn’t tapping into the principle. However, when you ask and gain agreement, people are more likely to take action. For example, if you tell your kids to clean their room, they don’t always (or ever) do it. However, if you ask them to clean their room before lunchtime and they agree, they are far more likely to do it because they don’t want to feel bad about themselves for not keeping their word.
There are times when the person you are asking has a legitimate excuse for why they can’t do what you asked. However, Ahearn says being ready with another request helps in this situation. So, using the room example, if you ask your child to clean their room, but they tell you they have to submit online homework by 4 pm, change your request from before lunchtime to before dinnertime, and you will likely get agreement. Moreover, gaining that commitment is the difference between getting a room cleaned and not getting it.
(Now, if only I had met Ahearn 20 years ago when my kids were little!)
So, Ahearn advises us to stop telling people what to do and start asking. However, hold them accountable for their answers. He says people will be pleasantly surprised at how many more people do what they want them to do.
#6: The Principle of Scarcity
Scarcity is the idea that you don’t have the level of resources that you think you should have. We discussed this concept in detail with Professor Kelly Goldsmith, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University. She explained that when people experience Scarcity, it drives their behavior to a more competitive place.
Ahearn says all of us are pretty familiar with the feelings of Scarcity, especially in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early days, people were scared. As a result, people in the US bought more toilet paper than they would need in a year (inexplicably)! There were empty shelves where the toilet tissue should be for weeks at a time. Stores couldn’t catch up with demand.
We are all stronger working together than we are working opposed to each other.
Ahearn says that he understands these feelings of self-preservation. However, he also cautions that we are all stronger working together than we are working opposed to each other. In other words, by people sharing and acting more amicably between each other, stores can restock, and everybody can have the toilet rolls they need.
So, What Do You Do with This Information?
Using these principles is crucial to provide the proper environment to inspire customer-driven growth. For some of your team, these interactive skills are natural, as normal to them as breathing. For the rest of your team, not so much. However, few organizations offer training to develop these human interactions or soft skills for employees, despite the critical role they play in fostering customer-driven growth.
Some do train, however. In our business-growth consultancy, we developed our Memory Maker Training, which teaches the team about these psychological principles and how to incorporate them into daily interaction with customers. Many of our clients find that soft skills training for customer-facing employees makes a significant difference in the experience they provide and the levels of emotional engagement customers feel toward their organizations.
Ahearn has two additional practical bits of advice for us regarding these principles. First, he advises us to stop telling people what to do and start asking, and always have a fallback position. If you need a report by Friday, ask for it by Monday because the person you ask maybe can’t get it to you Monday, but could on Tuesday or Wednesday. Having the leeway to accommodate their schedule is helpful to gain their commitment. Second, resist the temptation to try to get people to like you, and instead work on liking other people. Ahearn says you will be pleasantly surprised at how your relationships blossom.
I agree with Ahearn that if you’re giving things, then eventually you’re going to get. It’s the basic cycle of life, and one to which the whole area of reciprocity is crucial. However, people aren’t going to do any of those things unless they like you. It is best to talk to people on a human level. By becoming more empathetic and focused on the needs of others, we can better meet everybody’s needs.
To hear more about this strategy in more detail, listen to the complete podcast here.
What customers say they want and what they really want are often different things. It is vital to know what drives value for your organization. Our Emotional Signature research can tell you where you are compared to other organizations and what to focus on to drive value for your customers. To learn more, please click here.
Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX