A Guide to the 6 Principles of Persuasion & How to Use Them in Sales

One can’t talk about influence and persuasion without touching on psychologist Robert Cialdini’s six principles. He compiled these through his own research as well as that of others, and describes them in his bestselling Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. While they can operate at a conscious level, they all pack a subconscious punch as well.

1) Reciprocity

Do something for a person with no conditions or expectation of a return favor, and they are more likely to do something for you.

Reciprocity is not a quid-pro-quo exchange, but rather a situation where one person gives something or provides a favor to another person with no requirement in return.
Most content sites like blogs and news sites do employ a form of reciprocity. They allow visitors to read both current and older content at no charge and without having to register.

When you send a prospect links to free content, free research, or offer them free advice on a problem they're facing, you're taking advantage of reciprocity. According to Cialdini’s research, this should actually work better than the much more common approach of getting first, then giving.

2) Commitment/Consistency

People unconsciously want to behave in a manner that is consistent 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 one later. In online terms, this trivial favor could be a Facebook “like” or completing a one-question survey.

Sites that use multi-page forms exploit this principle. If a visitor clicks once, then completes a few fields, and clicks again, continuing to fill in data would be consistent with the actions they just took.

To use this principle in your selling routine, you could try making small asks of your prospect -- for example, asking for a quote on a blog post your company is writing that is related to their area of expertise.

3) Social Proof

People pay attention to what other people are doing, both consciously and unconsciously. They will choose the crowded restaurant over the nearly empty one, even though they’ll be served more slowly. That’s why bloggers trumpet their popularity when they ask you to subscribe. It’s not to feed their ego (at least not entirely); it’s to provide social proof that they are delivering information of great value.

Similarly, companies talk about how many millions of their products have been sold, or how many customers they serve, and so on -- it’s all about social proof. You can use social proof in your sales process by referencing customer case studies, third-party reviews, or even leverage willing customers as references your prospects can speak with.

4) Authority

People defer to those in authority -- officials, professors, doctors, and experts in a field.

Consciously, they may follow the direction of an authority figure. At a non-conscious level, they will tend to weight the opinion of an authority more highly than that of others.

Authority seems a bit like social proof, but it’s based not on numbers but on perceived expertise, status, or power.

Psychologist Stanley Milgram's classic study showed that subjects were so deferential to an experimenter wearing a lab coat (an authority figure) that they tortured an unseen individual with electric shocks. (The screams were simulated, and in reality nobody was actually harmed in the experiment.)

Point to industry leaders or your largest customers to leverage authority. If your prospects see that established, successful individuals or businesses use your product or service, they may be reassured that it's a good investment.

5) Liking

People we like more easily persuade us. While some liking feelings are conscious, as with a friend, often they are so subtle we aren’t aware of them.

According to Cialdini, a key element of liking is having things in common with each other.

Hence, smart salespeople work to establish common ground with their prospects. They determine if the customer is a golfer, a football fan, a graduate of the same university, etc., to try and build likability.

A great way to leverage liking in a business context is to point out what you have in common with most of your customers. If the business sells fishing gear, a photo of the company founder wading in a stream or reeling in a fish will build liking.

Salespeople should already be familiar with this concept, as building rapport is a core part of effective selling.

6) Scarcity

The fewer there are of something, the more people like and want them. Usually, they are quite unaware of their preference for scarcity. Marketers often employ phrases like, “Only five left!” or “Offer expires at midnight!” as powerful motivators.

Travel sites have also become some of the most skilled users of scarcity -- they often display warnings like, “Only two seats left at this price!” or “Only one room left!”

To practice your powers of persuasion, download my free Persuasion Slide workbook here.

How do you use these principles in your selling routine? Let us know in the comments below.

Editor's note: This post is excerpted from The Persuasion Slide: A New Way to Market to Your Customer's Conscious Needs and Unconscious Minds and is republished here with permission.

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