“When you say it, they doubt it. When they say it, they believe it.”
Tom Hopkins, author and sales trainer
I recall that quote from How to Master the Art of Selling and Tom’s Sales Boot Camp. Telling someone what you think is right for them is never as effective as helping them see it and verbalize it for themselves. Dale Carnegie understood this truth as well when he encouraged readers to, “Let the other person think the idea is theirs.”
The psychology behind this truth has to do with the principle of consistency. This principle of influence highlights the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure, as well as external social pressure, to be consistent in what they say and do. When our words and deeds align we feel better about ourselves than we do when they don’t align.
For example, have you ever given your word to someone that you’d be somewhere or do something for him or her but had to back out? Sure you have. We all have because sometimes unforeseen things come up.
The real question is this – how did you feel when you had to tell them you couldn’t do what you promised? When I ask audiences that question the words they use to describe how they felt are heavy, emotional and negative. Words like guilty, horrible, terrible, and bad are frequently used.
Nobody wants to feel guilty, horrible, terrible, or bad so many times we find ourselves following through on our word…even when we didn’t want to do what was promised!
When someone voices an opinion, thought or idea they own it much more than if they’re told the same opinion, thought or idea. After all, once you’ve said it publicly or put it in writing you don’t want to go back on your word. That’s why people will look much harder for reasons that support or defend their position.
When it comes to persuading people you will be far more successful if you get them to say it – out loud or in their head – than if you just tell them. Steve Jobs was a master at this. When he introduced the iPod for the first time he slipped it out of his pocket and say, “A thousand songs in your pocket.” People got that and it was far more effective than saying, “This baby holds five gigabytes of information.” But Jobs went on to seal the deal when he said, “Isn’t that amazing?”
Important – Note that Jobs didn’t tell them (“This is amazing!”) it was amazing he asked them by using a question (“Isn’t that amazing?”). People feel compelled to answer questions, even if only in their head. When we tell them things they passively receive the information. There’s a BIG difference; one that master persuaders get. After Jobs asked that question and people answer affirmatively in their heads as they nodded they were convincing themselves they wanted one!
The way to get someone to believe is to have them say it out loud or to themselves. Most of the time this occurs through good questioning techniques.
In my line of work I deal with insurance agents. They’re experts compared to the buying public when it comes to insurance. They can share that expertise but sometimes it will come across as someone trying to sell a consumer more insurance than they need. But, if they ask the right questions they can get the consumer to see their need.
Here’s an example. In 2011 the town of Joplin, Missouri, was devastated by a tornado. Unfortunately for about two-thirds of the people affected, their homes were underinsured. Imagine having just lost your home and all your possessions then hearing the news that the insurance settlement will not allow you to rebuild it as it was because you didn’t carry enough insurance!
The challenge for an insurance agent is this – if they recommend more insurance John Q. Public probably thinks he needs, the agent is just trying to sell them more insurance to earn more commission dollars. The smart agent will ask questions so the homeowner sees their need.
Agent – Tom, I want to ask you a question. Is it your expectation that the insurance company will rebuild your home exactly as it is today if it were completely destroyed?
Tom – Of course, that’s why we carry insurance.
Agent – That’s what I expected, Tom. You’re like every other person we insure but I just wanted to make 100% sure that was your intention.
Now, if the agent realizes the home is currently underinsured he can approach the situation as follows.
Agent – Tom, last time we met I asked if it was your expectation that your insurance would fully rebuild your home after a disaster and you said yes. I have some bad news. With your current policy that won’t happen. I’ve estimated the cost with three different insurance companies and all of them come in around $250,000. Right now your policy covers your home for $200,000. So the big question is this – If your home is destroyed can you come up with the $50,000 needed to finish the rebuilding process?
Tom – No and that’s not what I’m going to do.
Agent – You’re like every other person I’ve ever dealt with so I ran up quotes with those three companies at $250,000.
Does the agent want to sell more insurance? Yes, but it’s to fully protect the customer. By asking the right questions Tom saw his need and by his own words could embrace the change. If an agent goes about it wrong he or she is seen as someone just looking to make more commission and that could be disastrous for someone who ends up underinsured.
Here’s your take away – Stop telling and start asking.
Asking questions engages the mind, keeps people focused on the conversation and can be used to help them see what you’re asking or proposing is in their best self-interest. As our Chief Sales Officer Clyde Fitch likes to say, “Self-interest may not be the only horse in the race but it’s the one to bet on.”