Posted tagged ‘influence’

Cold Calling Step 5: Identifying the Right Person for Your Sales Presentation

July 23, 2010

All too often, we limit the equation of success to having a product with specific benefits and a compelling presentation. But if your presentation is conveyed to the wrong audience, it will be met with boredom and disinterest.

Some “sales gurus” will advocate that you should present to the highest level you can reach within an organization. But what do you do if, frankly, your product or service is too granular in scope to engender interest from the highest levels of the organization?

That is why you need to identify the person who has a vested interest in the product or service that you are advocating.

Finding such a person is not that difficult. For this particular campaign, I acquired a directory of health care organizations within my specific target market. These directories listed the senior leadership. There were two potential roles that would likely be interested in this product. Where the product would have value was dependent on the organizational design and structure.

I decided to call both. I recognized that the person that I called might not be the appropriate person so I decided to employ two tactics. The first was to explain in detail in voice mail the compelling benefits and why this would be interest. Where I could not get into voice mail – where a gatekeeper blocked me or where I could only leave a message – I employed a second tactic.

In these circumstances, I leveraged the lessons from Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. (Please note: I have reviewed this book on this site. Search Cialdini if you wish to understand his work in a few short posts)

Knowing that people naturally liked helping others, I courteously and passionately asked if I could be directed to the right person and explained what my product provided. An overwhelming number provided me with the name and the number of the person I should be contacting. Additionally, I now had a referral to bring to the discussion as indeed I was being advised to call a particular person. My cold call was transformed into a warm lead.

A brief digression…

Personally, I am very comfortable employing this approach. When I represent an exciting new product that can make a difference, I view what I am providing as a unique opportunity for my prospect. If my product allows them to deliver better value to their clients…well, what could be better than that?

Additionally, with cold calling, there is a unique challenge. Your prospect likely doesn’t know that your product exists so he or she can’t seek you out. In fact, by providing a compelling benefit and solution, you, the salesperson, are opening new horizons and possibilities for your prospect. By making their company more competitive, efficient or valuable, you are contributing to the well being of their clients, employees, families and the overall marketplace and economy.

This is why sales, if done appropriately, is a very noble profession.

Back to the topic at hand…

I have found that it takes, on average, at least seven calls to the same prospect over a three-week time frame to get a call back. This is because the prospect needs to know that you are so enthusiastic about the offering that you are presenting and you will not go away without a response.

As to what that intriguing voice mail sounds like…that is the subject of our next post.

The Changing Face of Marketing and What It Means to Your Company

September 6, 2009

The message has always been the brand and the brand has always been the message.

Marketing and marketing communications have traditionally been about what is conveyed to the public and to a company’s employees but the changing face of customer service may be altering the way we think of this important role.

As more and more small and mid-size companies shift into creating ways for customers to help themselves – see this article on Southwest Airlines, a not so small company – perhaps it is time to reconsider the role of marketing in the development of new programs and IT solutions.

The thinking here is that the customer experience is the brand, as much and if not more than the message. Large companies have known this for a long time. Small and mid-size companies need to recognize this.

Does their web portal reflect the important messages of the brand? Is the IT system that is being deployed throughout the company an extension of how the company wishes its employees to think of it?

One of my clients asked the other day if it’s time for a ne role, one that he called a “Customer Experience Officer.” In these tough economic times, I’m not so sure I would approach this opportunity by adding a new role.

Here’s what I would do…

(1) Insist that Marketing outline the key principles that all new programs and internal and external software solutions must incorporate. If these solutions did not reflect these tenets, they are not rolled out.

(2) Until these principles are second nature, marketing should be a member of all new programs (and I do mean all – not just software programs) and design teams.

(3) All graphical user interface developers on the IT side should have to learn and discuss how they are incorporating these principles into their solutions.

If you share this belief that people are attracted to your brand and what it represents, is there really any other choice?

Scarcity: For Marketers, Less is More

July 6, 2009

When Joni Mitchell wrote “Big Yellow Taxi” and the expressive lyric, “Don’t it always seem as though you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” she may have been onto something.

The last of Prof. Cialdini’s weapons of influence centers on scarcity or, as he explains it, the increase in the appeal of an opportunity when it appears that it will soon become unavailable. This lure is evident in the actions of those who put a telephone conversation on hold when another phone line rings simply because of the fear that the chance to hear information might be lost or the possibility to speak to that person if that call is not taken.

In fact, the thought of “losing” something over winning something is typically more appealing and interesting. More people insulate homes because of the “money that they could lose” rather than the money that they could save.

Consider the language of marketers who tell us that “only a limited number” are available or that you should hurry because “a sale ends Sunday.” Scarcity has a tendency to make items more valuable in our eyes. This is because we understand that those items that are difficult to possess are typically better than those that are easy to possess. This concept is more often than not a true one. The second factor that weighs in that we hate to lose “freedoms” – that is whenever free choice is limited, the need to retain our freedoms makes us desire them more.

Cialdini engages the reader in a very interesting discussion of the behaviorists’ view of Romeo and Juliet. Was this a case of young and pure love or rather was the intensity of the love heightened because of the extraordinary obstacles that the Montague and Capulet families placed in the path of these young lovers and therefore infringed on their freedoms? Or to use a biblical example, did Adam and Eve desire the apple more because it offered enlightenment and knowledge or because it was “one of a kind” and prohibited?

The Iranian election and the management of its outcome by its supreme leader may be an additional event worth studying through the prism of scarcity. Did the current leadership fan the flames of revolt by making opposition information scarce (and more believable because exclusive information is more persuasive) and by reducing freedoms while creating obstacles? And conversely, can groups pretend that information is restricted so as to align others with their perspectives? If this interpretation of Cialdini’s thinking is correct – and he does acknowledge that this concept applies to information and censorship as well – there are tremendous implications for the way governments manage conflict and companies manage information flow.

There are a number of corollaries to our scarcity weapon of influence. The first is that scarcity has greater impact when people have a taste of abundance and then have that abundance replaced with scarcity. Cialdini cites the glasnost era led by Gorbachev followed by a crackdown. The Soviet people chafed at the loss of freedoms and fought more strenuously to keep the freedoms that were already experienced during the Gorbachev regime.

The second corollary is that scarcity is made more impactful when there is competition for a good or service. Imagine for a moment, those department store sales where certain goods are only available between certain hours and the panic that ensues within the store. These sales are designed to foment both scarcity and competition and force a buying decision.

So how does one control the strong emotional pull of scarcity? First, we need to recognize the heightened sense of arousal that comes with scarcity. Then, knowing that we are now engaged at this level, we must separate the use we have for the item from the desire to acquire it. By its very nature, scarcity is about possession and not utility. Distinguishing the two will allow us to behave more rationally.

It is important to recognize that all of the weapons highlighted in “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” will become more pervasive simple because of the overwhelming information available to and thrust upon us. We are truly information overloaded and it is imperative that we recognize when gut reactions cause our behaviors. Where Cialdini has done us a great service is by “pulling the curtain back” so that we may more effectively recognize manipulation, and combat it.

Managing Authority so as Not to Lose Your Sense of Responsiblity

June 28, 2009

George Carlin once said, “I have just as much authority as the Pope; I just don’t have as many people who believe it.”

One of the most pervasive weapons of influence is the use of authority. Being told to, and indeed, “following orders” is such a powerful concept that it has been used in times of war and even the Holocaust of the 1940’s as a justification for committing horrific atrocities. Yet, when used for positive and appropriate purposes, it allows for order and the development of social and political structures that enables each of us the opportunity to live safely and productively in society and avoid a frightening state of lawless and dangerous anarchy. Talk about a double-edged sword!

Cialdini asserts that this is why we are literally trained from birth “that obedience to proper authority is right.” We learn this concept at home, in school and in our houses of worship. The Bible early on teaches us that the consequences of disobedience are pretty severe (Eating a forbidden fruit gets Adam and Eve – us? – tossed out of paradise or Abraham being tested and asked to sacrifice his beloved son because a Higher Authority tells him to do so).

The interesting thing is that once we have learned the importance of obedience, we pretty much follow it without giving it too much thought. We do this because we understand quickly that others know more than us or have greater access to information and there are true benefits to listening and following instructions from those who are “in the know.”

The challenge though is to know when to stop and think for oneself and avoid blind obedience. Cialdini cites a great example of this and one that most of us have experience with — healthcare. HCFA (The Healthcare Financing Administration) did a study and found that there was a 12% daily error rate in patient medication dispensing. A decade later, in the 1990’s, a Harvard University stated that 10% of all cardiac arrests were attributable to medication errors and while these errors can occur for a variety of reasons, at least one book attributes this situation to the “mindless deference” to the person in charge of the patient’s case – the attending physician.

The two professors who wrote this book, Medication Errors: Causes and Prevention, humorously tell the story of a patient who was prescribed ear drops with this note “place in R ear” and how the duty nurse place the drops in the patient’s butt instead of in the patient’s right ear. While tragically funny, more than likely, many of us have personal experiences that have taught us to ask questions when dealing with the medical establishment.

For purposes of our discussion, this example dramatizes how easily we submit to authority. More than that, we also submit to the symbols of authority. Seeing someone in a certain uniform (makes you realize the importance of understanding clothing as costumes), with a certain title, with a certain type of office or car, or with a certain level of authoritative expertise creates an automatic response to be influenced. One could make a case that Bernard Madoff leverage his positions on boards and trappings to such a great extent that he was able to create the greatest scam of all time.

Caildini notes how people become more deferential in conversation when they learn someone has a title. In fact, in one of the studies that he cites, he noted a correlation between perceived height and title. The greater the title, the greater the perceived physical stature.

So how does someone control this powerful form of influence? Cialdini believes that being aware of the powers of authority and its trappings is the first step to managing the inappropriate influence of authority. There are two questions that he feels needs to be asked – (1) Is the authority truly an expert? and (2) How truthful can we believe the expert to be to us?

Answering the first question enables us to decide if the authority is worth following and if that particular expertise is relevant to the situation. The second question is a little more complex in that if the authority has a vested interest in the outcome, the way that the information is presented in worth questioning.  Sometimes a practitioner of authoritative influence will use a tactic to show us that he or she is really on our side. They tell us something negative about the product so that when something positive is presented, we find their claim more believable. (L’Oreal – a bit more expensive but worth it) Still, this prescription for deciding whether to follow authority seems very practical.

Our next post will focus on Cialdini’s last weapon of influence – scarcity.

People Buy From Those They…Like?

June 19, 2009

The fourth weapon of influence is one Cialdini attributes as “liking.” The classic example of this weapon in action is the Tupperware party. The Tupperware party actually employs several weapons at once (attendees win prizes – putting reciprocity in play), and each participant has to speak to the value that they receive from using Tupperware (public commitment and consistency) and, of course, social proof as each purchase reinforces the belief that other similar people want to buy the product.

Make no mistake, though, the foundation for success is predicated on the belief that you will be going to a friend’s house and she will be “asking” you to buy Tupperware products. While the Tupperware person may do the “ask,” the hostess sitting off to the side is the reason that you are even there.

The key success factor in many of these types of sales presentations is the referral from a friend.  Turning the salesperson away in these circumstances is like turning a friend away and that is exceptionally difficult for most people to do.

Cialdini, however, uses a very broad definition of the term “liking.” For example, physical attractiveness encourages people to like a person. In fact, we frequently attribute talent, honesty, kindness and intelligence to those people who look good. (Can someone say Billy Crystal’s impression of Fernando Lamas saying “It is more important to look good than to feel good.”) This is such an important element that for beer or car ads, “beautiful people” are frequently the spokespeople. And Cialdini cites studies that physical attractiveness impacts court settlements and sentences.

Sometimes those same car and beer manufacturers employ a different flavor of “liking,” one that Cialdini calls “similarity.” We like people who are similar to us. People, who dress, think, look and talk like us are ones that we relate to. Some sales people use this to great advantage by citing similar backgrounds (“You’re kidding — I grew up near Montana, too!”) so that we may relate to them more closely. Studies have also shown that people respond extraordinarily well to compliments…even if they are not entirely true.

The final component in his liking section is one devoted to contact and cooperation. This section is perhaps the most important element he discusses, because of its implications for tolerance among races and countries. Cialdini points out that where there is more contact between groups, familiarity breeds friendship – with one notable distinction.

When people are placed in competitive environments where rewards are perceived as zero sum games (only one or limited winners), enmity actually increases. This is an astounding perception because it crystallizes why school desegregation doesn’t usually create greater understanding among races and why longstanding political conflicts continue. Cialdini cites studies that suggest that if people share a critical (important because it encourages cooperation) goals and work together toward achieving it, friendship and respect are created.

As he does with all his sections, Cialdini concludes his discussion with how best to mange this weapon of influence. He recommends that we cognitively separate the message / offer from the messenger so that we may weigh the offer on its own merits.

Social Proof: Is there really strength in numbers?

June 12, 2009

I had expected that when I read about Professor Cialdini’s third weapon of influence, social proof, I would not discover anything terribly intriguing. Boy, was I wrong!

Social proof is predicated on this theorem: Since the vast majority of people are imitators, people are persuaded by the actions of others than by any other proof that is offered. We see this rule put into play quite often. Canned laughter, TV and print endorsements by “people on the street,” bartenders loading a jar with tips before people arrive, are all examples of creating a social proof that it is appropriate for us to take an action simply because there is an appearance that others just like us are taking that action.

The applications of this rule are significant. Studies have shown that children and adults can overcome fears by observing people doing what they are personally afraid to do. If they see someone else doing it, it feels safe to them.

The interesting application of this idea is the concept of similarity. It may not be sufficient to see someone else do something but, rather, it often has to be someone like us. In other words, a child will respond to seeing another child doing something as opposed to an adult doing the same thing. (Overcoming an irrational fear is easier for a child if another child demonstrates no fear when doing that particular thing.)

This, however, leads us to another cultural phenomenon.

Many years ago, Kitty Genovese was murdered in New York City. I first learned of the unusual circumstances surrounding her death when I heard the Phil Ochs’ song, “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends.” Her murder was particularly remarkable because 38 people observed the murder taking place over a period of more than a hal hour from adjacent apartment buildings. Yet, none called the police.

Ochs attributed her death to widespread apathy and said it was indicative of how unfeeling we had become. Cialdini, though attributes it to something he calls “pluralistic ignorance.”

Pluralistic ignorance assumes that when multiple people are present, people will (a) assume others will take actions and (b) look to others to see what actions should be taken because, to some degree, (c) they are uncertain. (It also may explain why when an e-mail is sent to multiple people requesting an action be taken, no one takes the action.) The interesting point about all of this is that if nobody takes an action, the assumption becomes that no action should be taken (Otherwise someone would have taken it, right?)

To test this theory, Cialdini cites a study, where an emergency was staged – sometimes in front of multiple bystanders and sometimes in front of a single individual. Help was provided nearly three times more often when staged in front of the individual than =when staged in front of the bystander groups.

The way to mitigate the likelihood of inaction is to do three things (1) Indicate that help is required – this eliminates the situational uncertainty, (2) designate an individual to help – this eliminates the perspective that “if I don’t help, someone else will” and (3) request a specific action – this removes any remaining uncertainty about what should be done. (“Hey you in the green coat – I’m hurt – stop, call an ambulance now!)

So how do you combat this form of influence? One needs to recognize the manipulation going on in social proof situation and, as the author suggests, recognize that bad social proof is being demonstrated and the our own behavior can be controlled.

The Compelling Role of Reciprocation

June 4, 2009

At its core, a “weapon of influence” is a trigger. It stimulates a response that is truly compelling and one that we have difficulty ignoring.

The first “weapon of influence” is one that Cialdini refers to as reciprocation. You can see the concept of reciprocation being put into play every single day. Those address labels that accompany the letter requesting that you donate to a worthy cause… reciprocation, in this case, in the form of an uninvited debt. Gifts to politicians with the intention of receiving support later on…reciprocation. Even the free sample given by manufacturers with the intention of exposing someone to a product is still another form of – you guessed it – reciprocation. And it is core to the way we raise our children (i.e. the golden rule and if you want him to be nice to you, you have to treat him nicely)

The rule of reciprocation states that “we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided to us.” The need to reciprocate is a self-imposed obligation that we place on ourselves. You can even see it in our language as “much obliged” has become synonymous with “thank you.” In fact, this sense of obligation is pervasive in all human society.

In reading Cialdini’s work, I was frankly ambivalent. On the one hand, I was concerned that I was becoming wise to ways that I was being manipulated (or, dare I say, in fact, manipulating others). However, as I reflected more and more on the book, I realized that these influence factors are truly an engine for advancement and care.

Some sociologists note that this sense of future obligation has made a significant difference in our ability to evolve because it meant that what we shared, gave, or even taught, would not be lost. Reciprocation is the basis of trade, mutual defense and perhaps even friendship. Those who do not live by the rule of reciprocation are ultimately scorned (i.e moocher or ingrate). Reciprocation does indeed create a positive cultural norm.

The rule is also overpowering that it can even overcome dislike for the requester. Cialdini cites the Hare Krishna as truly understanding the rule. When they would solicit passerbys, they would not only offer a flower, but they would insist that the flower be accepted. They referred to it as “gift” and would not accept no for an answer. Fundraising was so successful that two important phenomena should be noted.

The first is that the passerbys often discarded the flower at the first available trash can. The Krishnas were thus able to recycle the gifts. There is also now a common practice in many airports to restrict solicitations to certain discrete areas simply because the power of obligation to accept a gift and to repay it is so overwhelming.

The reciprocation rule can also trigger unfair exchanges. Cialdini cites a woman whose car wouldn’t start. She was helped by a young man. About a month later, the young man asked to borrow the car, and while the woman hesitated, she felt compelled to lend him her car, even though she had misgivings about his age. Needless to say the young man totaled the car. The lesson though is that indebtedness and the need to reciprocate is an itch that we must scratch.

There are exceptions and they typically fall into the category of circumstance or ability. If circumstances or ability prevent us from reciprocating, we allow ourselves that latitude

The area that was particularly enlightening to me was the concept of reciprocal concession. This is a common tactic in negotiations where one party asks for something that would be deemed inappropriate simple so that the offer can be withdrawn and replaced by a less outrageous offer. The other party often feels a need to reciprocate to the concession and agrees to the new request.

To make this point, Cialdini draws on the testimony of Nixon associate Jeb Stuart Magruder, upon hearing that the Watergate burglars had been caught, responded by asking, “How could we have been so stupid?”

As the story goes, it seems that G. Gordon Liddy, who was in charge of the intelligence gathering for the Nixon campaign, had initially asked for $1,000,000 in cash for a wide range of activities. Magruder and Campaign Director John Mitchell kept declining the offer. Liddy kept scaling back the request until finally the rule of reciprocal concession kicked in and his request for $250,000 in cash for the break-in was approved.

As to more mundane examples, think of the salesman who shows you the top of the line product so that he can scale you back to sell you a more “affordable” item in the product line

Is there a way to say no? Cialdini suggests that one can say no if one adopts a mindset that recognizes the tactic for what is. This requires us to cognitively understand that reciprocation is a tactic and be present so that the tactic can be effectively managed.


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