Six Principles of Persuasion – How To Influence People in Business

Influence – The Principles Of Persuasion

sales pyschology

So the last 2 episodes have focused on six principles of persuasion and these principles were;

  • consistency
  • reciprocation
  • social proof
  • liking
  • authority
  • scarcity

I got most of the information for these two episodes from a book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

The book is highly recommended and very useful for marketing as it sheds light on customer psychology in sales and what makes people actually do things!

influence- the power of persuasion

In this episode I’m going to go through these principles of persuasion again to pull out more examples from the book on each of the principles.

Principle of Consistency

So I’ll start with consistency and the story in the book for consistency is actually quite funny – but it’s also very true and it really does give us a window into what goes on people’s minds and it’s also very instructive if you’re putting together surveys or you’re doing a sales process questionnaire or something like that.

Before we get into the story lets recap about consistency – consistency is an internal drive that makes us want to appear consistent, that is; to remain consistent in our words and actions and intentions

This idea of consistency is an evolutionary trait instrumental in the formation of societies and in the details of day-to-day life.

The reason for this is it if we don’t appear consistent, if we change our minds constantly if our words and actions are disconnected, that is our actions do not tally up with the words that we are saying – we don’t do what we say we going to do – then we will appear inconsistent and unreliable and this affects our ability to flourish and survive in society. So it’s important psychologically and in the wider society for us to appear consistent.

So in the first episode this week we spoke about the Korean War and the techniques that the Communists used to brainwash American captives.

We also spoke about ‘low-balling’ whereby a car salesman will offer a fantastic deal and then will back that up with further reasons to buy the vehicle and then what happens is he takes away the initial deal but by that stage the prospect already has built up numerous reasons to actually buy the car and so goes ahead anyway.

This works on the principle of consistency because the prospect has already said yes and agreed that all these things are wonderful and so doesn’t want to appear inconsistent just by having one of these reasons taken away and ditching the deal

Ok so the story in the book is as follows;

A rather attractive young lady came knocking at Cialdini’s house asking him if he would complete a survey, he describes this woman as “a stunning young woman just in shorts and a revealing halter top” and she’s carrying the clipboard and asks him to participate in a survey.

He does admit that he stretched the truth in the interview giving answers to present himself in the most positive light and then he goes on to explain how the conversation went.

The woman was actually doing a survey on entertainment habits of city residents -how many times they go out to dinner and if they order wine, about movies 7 concerts the ballet etc and he paints this picture of himself as a bit of a man-about-town – he likes to go out and eat in restaurants about 4 times a week and goes to the movies goes to the ballet, to concerts and so on.

So after giving the answers the young lady says ok great thanks very much let me just to check my figures here for a moment and goes on to say “I’m pleased to say that you could save up to $1,200 a year by joining Club America – the small membership fee entitles you to discount on most of the activities that you mentioned that you already partake in. Surely someone as socially active as yourself would want to take advantage of the tremendous savings the company can offer on all the things you’ve already told me you do?”

Cialdini goes on to explain how he realised that he’d been trapped by his own words and that he could feel his stomach tightening as he realised that he had been taken by this woman and says to decline the offer at that point would have meant two alternatives if he tried to back out – he’ll come off a liar or look like a fool for not wanting to save $1,200

He says “I bought Entertainment package even though I knew I’d been set up due to the need to be consistent with what I already said.”

That’s a really interesting and enlightening anecdote and what’s most interesting about it is that the woman, the sales woman, obviously knew exactly what she was doing – she dressed in a way to attract attention and to get her prospects to relax and to open up to her and the survey questions were designed in such a way as to make the sale inevitable if they answered in a certain way

That’s a very interesting technique there that can actually be applied in situations where you are making a proposal – plan the questions in such a way that they will lead the prospect naturally into a situation where they will want what you’re selling and it becomes difficult for them to turn down due to this rule of consistency.

Principle of Reciprocation

Let’s talk about the second pinciple which is reciprocation. This can be described as the rule that enforces uninvited debts!

Reciprocation is the principal that says if you give someone something then psychologically, subconsciously they are obligated to return the favour!

One of the stories in the book is about the Amway group who offer domestic products in a door-to-door direct sales model.

Amway experienced huge growth through the use of a free sample in a device called the BUG. The BUG consists of a collection of products in a plastic carrier including bottles of furniture polish, detergent, shampoo, spray conditioners, deodorizers, insect killers, window cleaners, etc and what they do is the sales person leave the bug with the prospect for one, two or three days with no obligation and werer instructed just to tell the prospect that they would like her to try the products for free with no obligation.

The Amway representative returns and picks up the BUG and take any orders for the products that the customers wish to purchase.

Of course what happens is by accepting the BUG the prospect has obligated themselves through this rule of reciprocation.

Now within the Amway Corporation which was already growing the BUG created a really big stir this is an example of feedback from state distributors in the United States;

“Unbelievable excitement as products are moving at an unbelievable rate local distributors took the BUGs and we had an unbelievable increase in sales – a fantastic retail idea where on average customers purchased about half the total amount of the BUG when it’s picked up! In one word tremendous! Have never seen a response within our entire organisation like this!”

So the use of a trial period with no obligation, that seems to work really well if you can invoke that rule of reciprocation, then you can sell more

Principle of Social Proof

Social proof is the rule that if you act in accordance with what everyone else is doing you can’t go too far wrong. However this unfortunate story around the concept of social proof in the book shows that social proof is powerful but also sometimes misleading!

In New York in 1964 a woman called Catherine Genovese was murdered, reporters got hold of the story and this is the description from a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter AM Rosenthal of what happened that night

“For more than half an hour 38 respectable law abiding citizens in Queens watched the killer stalk Genovese in three separate attempts, twice the sound of the voices the glow of bedroom lights interrupted the killer, but each time he returned to stalk and eventually kill his victim. Not one person telephoned the police durng the assault – one witness called after the woman was dead!”

Following the murder and the realisation of how it unfolded there were lots of newspaper & magazine articles about the ‘cold society’ and how living in cities was making people insensitive to their fellows, to their neighbours and their plight -however psychologists came up with another explanation for why this occurred.

So how do you know if it’s really an emergency? So often emergencies not obviously an emergency for example the man lying in an alley; has he had a heart attack or is it just a drunk sleeping one off? What is loud bang in the street – gun shots or just a car backfiring?

The psychologists reasoning is all about social proof – with all these people observing the event they’re also there looking for social evidence of what is actually going on. Because nobody else is making a fuss for calling the police then people assume that was not actually an emergency! Further there is the question of ‘well if there was a problem someone else would call to the police’.

So we see the power of social proof there by the fact that if people think there might be some kind of emergency going on the fact that no one else is responding to it leads us to believe that is not an emergency!

So that is an example of social proof working against us – or at least working against someone.

Principle of Liking

Ok let’s move on to Liking

So as we discussed previous episodes and we more likely to do business people we like but I want to extend this idea of liking past people and onto to ‘things’.

Psychologist Gregory Razwan came up with the ‘Luncheon Technique’ and this explains why so many business and political deals get done over lunch or dinner!

What he concluded was that individuals became fonder of the people and things they experienced whilst they were eating – so in the experiment he presented the subjects with some political statements that they had rated once before and asked them to rate them again.

He found that certain statements had gained in approval – but only those statements that had been presented to people whilst they were eating!

So there it is – take your prospects out to dinner or lunch and they’ll like you more and like your products more!

Principle of Authority

Principle five was authority and some really interesting experiments have been done around authority – one was by Zimbardo who got college students to play the roles of warders and prisoners, the experiement had to called off as those subjects role-playig as guards became incredibly brutal and mistreated those role-playing as prisoners!

But the most famous one was by Stanley Milgram – he carried out some experiments at Stanford University in the late sixties & early seventies.

Milgram himself actually got into a spot of bother with this due to the extreme nature of the experiments – so let me very quickly tell you what happened.

Milgram got his subjects into the experimental room and he told them that he was carrying out an experiment to see how pain, motivation and recall all interacted so the set-up was that there was a person in another room and this person was connected up to a machine that gave an electric shock at the press a button and the subject of the experiment would have to ask the questions which the other person would hear over a loudspeker and answer using a microphone.

If they got the answers wrong the subject would have to give them an electric shock

Now this obviously wasn’t actually about pain, recall and motivation but about authority and how far these people would go in giving shocks to an obviously distressed individual.
The basic premise behind the experiment was ‘are the Germans different’ – so remember this 25 years after the end of World War 2 and obviously the horrors of the Nazi regime and the concentration camps were still fresh in peoples’ memories and so there was lots of writing all around this concept of what made the Germans do it, how could it happen, etc.

Milgram’s process was that his subjects would ask questions and when the person in the other room got question wrong they would get an electric shock and that’s when they could hear the person screamingin the other room.

With the subject was a ‘scientist’ in a white lab coat who had a set number of responses like ‘it’s important that we continue with the experiment’ or ‘we must finish the experiment’ whenever the subject expressed doubt or concern for the person in the other room.

Milgram found that most people would continue asking questions and giving shocks even though they were extremely uncomfortable and in some cases they actually believe that they killed a person the other room – this is how far they would go!

So the experiment concluded that the Germans were no different and that basically we’re all psychologically susceptible to authority – or actually to perceived authority!

So if you can get your prospects to consider you as an authority in your market, in your niche then you’ve got more chance of being able to get them to do what you want them to do!

Principle of Sacrcity

The final principle was scarcity and there’s a study psychological study that shows how scarcity makes things more attractive – the basic procedure was that participants were given a chocolate chip cookie from a jar and asked to taste and rate it’s quality.

For half the subjects the jar contained 10 cookies and for the other half it contained just two now that you’re expecting the scarcity principle with the cookie was one of the only two available is rated more favourably the money is one of the 10 to the cookie in short supply was right it is more desirable to eat in the future more attractive than the identical cookie in abundance supply

That is a very basic and simple straightforward study that shows that when there are less of things available they become more desirable so in marketing to create scarcity you can run special offers that are for limited time only – now on that special offers is it doesn’t have to be about price, you can throw in bonuses and additional items, but the bottom line is scarcity works!

Action Steps

This week we’ve discussed these principles of persuasion and your action steps are to incorporate these principles into your marketing and I’ve given you some ideas on how to do that in this and the previous two episodes.

Your other action step is to buy and read Cialdini’s book becuase it really is worthwhile – here’s another link to on it on Amazon.

influence- the power of persuasion