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Use These Six Persuasion Principles to Improve Your Selling

Selling Skills

While COVID-19 has forced sales organizations to make a dramatic shift towards selling virtually, it hasn’t changed human nature. Fundamentally sound sales techniques work, whether the meeting is taking place in-person or on a Zoom call.

At the heart of all great selling is an understanding of how people make decisions. With that in mind, there’s great value in considering Robert B. Cialdini’s seminal book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” published in 1984.

Cialdini was one of the first researchers to study how people are persuaded, and his research findings form the basis of many standard sales and marketing strategies.

In Influence, Cialdini identified six core persuasion principles that can affect how we make decisions: reciprocity, liking, commitment and consistency, social proof, scarcity, and authority.

1 | Reciprocity

When someone gives you something, it’s human nature to want to repay that person. That sense of obligation is a powerful force in persuasion and can result in an unequal exchange. For example, in a classic psychology experiment, waitstaff that included mints with the check received much higher tips. Or consider in your own experience how a small free sample at the grocery store (pre-COVID) influenced your buying behavior.

According to Cialdini, to fully leverage the power of reciprocity, you need to act first and give someone something unexpected. So, think of an early-stage sales opportunity and, then, before your next meeting, share research reports, data, or samples with the buyer.

2 | Liking

We are more open to being persuaded by people we like, or, as Cialdini found, people we see as similar to ourselves.

Great sales professionals focus their rapport building time on discussing common interests. The time to start thinking about such common experiences is during your pre-call research.

Research people you're meeting using Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Read their posts, see if they have been quoted anywhere, and pay attention to previous jobs. Focus on areas where you and the buyer have something in common: career history, education, geography (where the buyer lives or works), sport, etc.

3 | Commitment and Consistency

Cialdini’s research also found that people unconsciously want to behave consistently with past behavior. Experiments have shown that if a person performs even a trivial favor for someone, she is far more likely to perform a bigger favor later.

You can use this powerful persuasion tool early in your sales process, establishing a pattern where you ask the buyer to take action. Start with small, realistic commitments that can be made. If you get the buyer to take a specific action after each meeting, you increase your chances that they will take a more significant action -- buying from you-- later.

4 | Social Proof 

Humans take their cues from others in the group, particularly when we make decisions. That’s why the sign in front of every McDonald’s reads “Billions and Billions Served.” You can also use this powerful tool by sharing case studies, customer success stories, and testimonials with your buyers.

5 | Scarcity

Our brains are biased to fear missing out on an opportunity. So, we assign a greater value to scarce items.

The scarcity principle is the basis for the classic “urgency” close – e.g., ‘If you order by the end of the month, I can get you that 10% discount!” This technique works well with someone who is hesitating about making a decision since they create a sense of scarcity. But you should only use this technique if your offer is genuine, and some customers may consider it manipulative.

6 | Authority

We are more likely to trust someone who we believe is an expert.  Think of the classic commercial for Trident gum, “4 out of 5 dentists recommend…” or the use of celebrity endorsers.

You can use the authority principle by focusing on customer testimonials from industry leaders or research reports conducted by respected third party institutions.

Understanding Cialdini’s six persuasion principles can improve your selling, whether you’re selling virtually or in-person.  

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About David Jacoby

As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.