3 hacks for psychological selling

Tim Houlihan

Recently, I met Robert Cialdini at a conference and told him, “Your work has positively impacted my consulting business. Thank you.” He smiled as if it were the first compliment he’d ever heard. “Thank you,” he said and opened up a conversation asking, “What do you do?” We talked for 20 minutes. I doubt that conversation would have happened at a book-signing event or in a security line at the airport. What made it work was the situation.

According to Cialdini’s latest book, “Pre-Suasion,” the unconscious pre-suasion of the situation enabled me to introduce myself and for him to so generously respond. For the record, persuasion is loading a message to convince someone of something. Pre-suasion is what happens the moment before we deliver the message. In my case, standing beside him in the buffet line made him more approachable.

By incorporating pre-suasion hacks, sales reps can be more effective.

Hack #1: Lead the witness

If you’re selling security systems, don’t start your sales pitch with the 1.7 percent of calls that don’t get answered. Start with crime statistics. Frame the conversation.

If you want your client to try a new product, greet them by asking, “What kind of adventures did you have over the weekend?” Set up their adventurous spirit, their risk-taking self.

And if you want them to defend you at the next committee meeting on your contract, you could say, “I know you’re a competitive person and you go to the mat on some issues...how did you feel about the Super Bowl?”

Or if you want them to renew your contract, you might say, “You’re one of most consistent people I know.”

These seemingly innocuous comments set the stage. They help frame the conversation and they are key to pre-suasion.

Hack #2: Whatever grabs attention is relevant

Attention is foundational when it comes to behavior. Its chief allies are vividness (“Everything in the Store is 70% Off!”), temporal construal (“Act Now!”), and most of all, relevance (“Buy One, Get One Free!”). These three attributes help attract attention like nothing else. Unconsciously, when we are exposed to these messages, we connect with them, whether or not we are aware of them.

Our brains are lazy. We remember only a small percentage of what we experience. We live in the moment. And we are influenced mostly by what just happened. Just check out Darren Brown’s video (bit.ly/LiftHack) in which he subtly influences two London advertising executives to do exactly what he wants using images they don’t remember seeing less than 30 minutes prior.

Hack #3: Words matter

Have you ever heard your name across the room at a cocktail party? Did you excuse yourself to see why your name came up? Our name is probably our most favorite word in the entire language, and a great way to engage us.

After our name, the most wonderful thing is a happy experience. Being reminded of good experiences makes us happy. Happiness makes persuasion easier. Knowing some happy experiences in your customer’s life can go a long way.

“Hi, Anne, it’s great to see you again. You look great today!” is a much better opening than, “Hi. What conference room are we in today?” And if you think every greeting you make is perfect, check yourself. Monitor every word. Few of us are that careful.

Back to Bob

Cialdini is bright and vital as he presents himself. He has sold tens of millions of copies of his book, “Influence,” and has celebrity status in many venues. Standing in the buffet line at a small conference didn’t automatically make him approachable. He could have been wary of my compliment. But he wasn’t. That’s not because of me or him, it was because of the situation. We were two of only 100 people attending the same conference. We were standing next to each other loading lunch onto our plates. The situation lent itself to easy conversation.

After lunch, Cialdini made a presentation on the research from “Pre-Suasion” and shed new light on his best-seller from 30 years ago. For those of you haven’t read it, buy it. For those who have, these hacks should be in your sales kit. They will improve your skills and your effectiveness.

Bonus Pre-suasion hack: How you frame something is critical. Visit https://salesandmarketing.com/content/hack-4-framing-anchoring for a fourth pre-suasion hack.