Useful Tips for Reaching You Goals

In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi made the case that people are happiest when fully absorbed in tasks they find challenging and that give them opportunities for personal growth.

He calls the state people experience at those moments “flow.” If that term is unfamiliar perhaps the terms athletes use might be more familiar: “in the zone” or “unconscious” or “in the groove.” Flow is a lot like love in that you definitely know when you’re in it because whatever you’re doing seems effortless and time flies by.

Something that Mihaly believes can help people achieve flow are goals. How you view goals can make all the difference in your motivation. For example, if you can’t run a mile without feeling tired then focusing running on a marathon would be demoralizing. However, if you accomplish running a mile, then focus on perhaps going two or three miles, then five, and so on, it’s very likely you’ll stay motivated.

You see, most humans feel a sense of accomplishment when they stretch themselves and do things they’ve never done before. Using marathons as an example, it’s irrelevant for most people that they cannot run the 26.2 miles in under two and a half hours like elite marathoners. What the typical person cares about is the fact that they did something they never thought they could!

A great way to accomplish big goals is to have many little goals, mile markers if you will, along the way, in order to stay focused. A good example of this comes from martial arts. Most martial arts use a belt system that starts at white and culminates in black with as many as 10 belts that must be earned along the way. These incremental belts help people stay focused and motivated. It’s much easier to focus on achieving the next belt than thinking about the three to five years it may take to earn a black belt.

When you set goals there are two ways to feel good about your progress. The first is early on to focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you still have to go. I used to run marathons and when we’d reach points early in the race people usually encourage runners saying, “Way to go, 10 miles down already!” Imagine how a runner would feel if they said, “Way to go, only 16.2 more miles left!” What?!?

Next, as you make progress and move past the halfway point don’t focus on how far you’ve come but rather focus on what’s left. Returning to marathoning, as we got closer to the finish you never hear someone say, “Great job, 23 miles down!” No, they would say, “Great job, only three miles to go!”

You might notice that in each case the key is to focus on the smaller number to feel a sense of accomplishment, remain focused and stay motivated. This thought process applies to getting through college, weight loss, projects at work and just about anything else that can be measured.

I have another tip for goal accomplishment but it takes some guts because it’s puts you on the line. When you set a goal, tell somebody or share your goal with multiple people.

When you share a goal you engage the principle of consistency on yourself. Consistency is the principle of influence that tells us people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do.

This principle is a powerful motivator because your self-perception is on the line when you make public statements on things like goals. We don’t want other people to see us negatively nor do we want to feel negative about ourselves. That can spur you on to keep hammering away at your goals. For more details on this see a post I called Pave the Way to Success in the New Year.

So there you have it; a few simple ways to get into the flow and accomplish goals that mean something to you.

Would You Stop at the Store on Your Way Home?

What’s the most powerful principle of influence when it comes to sales? That’s a typical question I get from salespeople who attend my sales training or keynote presentations. While the situation usually dictates which principle to use, I believe the principle of consistency is perhaps the most powerful principle of influence when it comes to making a sale.

Why do I believe this? Because good salespeople talk way less than their prospective customers. Shocker! Having studied sales for more than 20 years and reading countless books, magazines and blogs, I can tell you the conventional wisdom is good sales people talk only 25%-30% of the time.

That wisdom might go against your experience as a consumer but I would venture to guess the salesperson you’re thinking of who droned on and on and on was not a “good” salesperson. Quite the contrary, they were probably average at best and more likely downright bad!

The principle of consistency tells us people feel internal psychological pressure as well as external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. This is so because we feel good about ourselves when we do what we say and others view us positively when we live up to our word. That’s powerful motivation from within and without!

How does consistency come into play for a salesperson? Good salespeople recognize this principle and learn to ask the right questions in order to find out what customers need and want. They also use questions to highlight their offering in a way that aligns with what customers say they’re looking for. In the principles of persuasion workshop, I share with participants this wisdom, “People don’t resist their own values.”

Let me paint a picture: Imagine your spouse, significant other or someone else asking, “Would you stop at the store on the way home to get…?” If the store is a good bit out of your way, perhaps taking an extra 30 minutes, you might hesitate to say yes because that’s somewhat inconvenient. However, if the store is right on the route you normally take to get home it’s probably no problem at all to make a quick stop.

That word picture applies to your questions. When you ask the right questions early on and then clearly show the potential client that what you’re offering lines up with what they said they want and need, getting to “Yes” is pretty darn easy. But, if you don’t ask good questions you’ll have to work harder to talk them into what you’re offering. That’s where people feel “sold” and as author and sales trainer Jeffrey Gitomer says, “People don’t like to be sold but they love to buy.”

So make the buying experience easy for people and yourself. Know your product, your competition and most importantly, know the right questions to ask your prospective customers. Do this and your sales are sure to increase.

Persuasive Marketing the Old Fashioned Way

People often ask me if Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence are as effective today as they were when he first wrote about them 30 years ago. I emphatically reply, “Yes!”

The methods of communication may be changing – email instead of letters, text or instant messaging instead of phone calls, online advertising instead of television commercials, to name a few – but humans have not evolved nearly as much in the last century.

The human brain has not changed as rapidly as technology so you can rest assured the principles of influence work every bit as well today as in the past IF you understand them and employ them correctly.

Even though the preferred methods of communication may be changing, things like television ads, phone calls and letters are not going away any time soon so the smart marketer will be looking to use the principles with traditional media during this transition.

A friend recently gave me a marketing letter he received from AT&T because he knew I’d be interested in it from a persuasion perspective. I’d like to point out several places where AT&T is effectively using influence.

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At the top the letter had my friend’s name – John – which personalized the communication. Dale Carnegie said the sweetest sound to anyone is the sound of their own name. Our name catches our attention and that’s the marketer’s opportunity to keep you reading.

In the opening paragraph it reads, “Per your request…” Closely read the letter and you’ll realize it isn’t directed to the person who received the letter. It’s written to David Banks of AT&T’s Consumer Marketing Department. Like most people reading something like this I didn’t pay close attention so it took me a couple of reads to figure that out.

If the person reading the letter assumes it’s directed at them then “Per your request” taps into consistency. This principle tells us people feel psychological pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. If you requested something it’s much more likely you’ll take time to read the rest of the letter and consider the offer.

The next paragraph mentions a number of free offers. People love free to the point of irrationality. Dan Ariely wrote about our obsession with free in Predictably Irrational. One example Ariely frequently cites is how often people purchase additional items on Amazon just to get the free shipping. In the end they spend much more money!

Being offered the free items up front is an attempt to engage reciprocity although it doesn’t actually do it in this letter because unless you take AT&T up on the offer you’ve not received anything. It’s only when you get something that you feel obligated to do something in return. Nonetheless, a potential free offer keeps the reader interested.

The fourth paragraph reads, “We don’t want John to miss out on this great deal.” This is the principle of scarcity. People hate the thought of losing out, especially on great deals, so it motivates behavior that wouldn’t otherwise happen.

At the bottom of the page the “Reviewed” stamp adds an element of authority. As noted above, the letter is to David Banks from AT&T’s Consumer Marketing Department and the stamp shows he reviewed and approved the offer.

Last but not least is the “hand written” yellow sticky note affixed to the top of the letter. In a blog post I called 700,000 Great Reasons to Use Sticky Notes, I went into detail about how using these little post it notes can dramatically increase response rates. This sticky note looks hand written and that engages reciprocity because the perception is that someone took a little more time to put the sticky note on the letter and more time to actually write the note.

Now you may be thinking this would never work on you and you might be correct. However, it works on enough people that AT&T and many other smart companies incorporate this type of psychology into their communications. If it didn’t work they’d quickly abandon approaches like this in search of others that do work.

Using the principles of influence won’t make a bad product good or a lousy offer better. But, in a day and age where we’re assaulted thousands of times a day with marketing messages, small tweaks to communications might be the things that grab attention and keep people reading. And that’s the goal of marketing because in the absence of that, nobody would take AT&T up on an offer like the one you just read.

The Southwest Airlines Love Affair is over and it’s Completely Irrational

Yes, you read that correctly; my 12 year love affair with Southwest Airlines is over and truthfully, it’s irrational on my part and Southwest’s too. Perhaps you could say we have irreconcilable differences.

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality, uses studies from behavioral economists to prove we humans are not the rational beings we like to think we are…at least most of the time. One such study that highlights our irrationality is the ultimatum game.

In the ultimatum game, person A is given $10 and can choose to give any amount to a playing partner, person B, and keep the rest for himself or herself. How much would you give person B? Is $1 enough? After all, that’s better than nothing. Would you give $4 or $5? That seems like something a fair-minded individual would do. How about $6 or $7? It’s a rare person who would give away more than they would keep.

There’s a catch to the game; person B can reject the whole deal – meaning neither side gets to keep any of the money – if they don’t like what’s being offered.

Things change rather dramatically under conditions of perceived fairness. Person A almost always offers $4 or $5 in hopes of being viewed as fair because that usually leads to agreement. When agreement is reached everybody wins because both parties leave better off financially than they were before the game started.

If you think about it rationally though, if you were offered $1 that’s better than nothing and yet the vast majority of people don’t view it that way. If something “fair” isn’t offered, person B will almost always reject it…even to their own financial detriment.

Consider that for a moment – people willingly subject themselves to “injury” (take no money instead of a few free bucks) just to punish the other person when they feel they’re being treated unfairly. You need look no further than divorce court to see this play out in real life!

How does this impact Southwest and me? I fly a good bit but recently learned I had lost my A-List status with Southwest. When I called to find out why, I was told I needed 25 flights in 2015 but only had…24. I thought it reasonable to ask for an exception given my loyalty, increased flights in recent years, and because I had a December business trip I needed to reschedule till this spring. I’d be hard pressed to think of a handful of times I’ve flown other airlines the past five years and when I have it’s because I traveled with colleagues who had already booked flights.

My request was rejected three times at various levels over the phone and one last time after writing a letter. The reason Southwest wouldn’t budge was “to maintain the integrity of the [frequent flier] program.” I was shocked given the level of customer service I’d experienced with Southwest and my loyalty over the past dozen years. I would have expected that response from many other companies but not my beloved Southwest!

Being a persistent guy I finally emailed CEO Gary Kelly (you’ll never hear “Yes” if don’t ask, right?). At each level Southwest dug their heels and now I have, too, because I’ve made the choice to take at least a couple of flights on other airlines this year. It’s irrational because Southwest flights are almost always on time, their flight attendants are great, and the more I fly the better my chances at getting my coveted A-List status back. But like the person who feels they were treated unfairly in the ultimatum game, I don’t care!

For Southwest’s part, they could have made a loyal customer even more loyal by saying, “Mr. Ahearn, seldom do we make an exception like this but we can see you’re a loyal customer and we appreciate your business so we’ll do it this one time. Will you still be flying with us every chance you get?” Boom! I would have been happy and would have told them I’d absolutely fly Southwest at every chance. And you know what, I would have, because they would have used the principles of scarcity, reciprocity, and consistency on me at the same time. Making such an exception would have cost them almost nothing other than letting me to accrue frequent flier miles 25% faster. That benefit equates to me getting a free ticket 25% sooner which might cost Southwest about $100 assuming a I earn a $400 round trip ticket a year.

So Southwest has made an irrational choice, too, because when I choose to fly other airlines, Southwest will lose more revenue than they would have “given up” if they’d simply accommodated my request.

Much like the ultimatum game, there comes a point when everyone loses despite their best effort to persuade the other side. In this instance I lose and Southwest loses too. But, we’re all human after all so I’m sure it’s not the last time Southwest will stick to their guns nor will it be my last time to stick to mine.

8 Simple Phrases to Become a More Persuasive Salesperson

I think it’s safe to say the easier something is to remember the more likely you are to act on it. State Auto’s Chief Sales Officer Clyde Fitch drove home this truth during his tenure with the company. Clyde had many memorable sayings we affectionately called “Clyde-isms.” He used these simple messages to drive home various points. Here are just a few of Clyde’s well-known sayings:

“Self-interest isn’t the only horse in the race but it’s the one to bet on.” A great picture of the reality that most people will do what’s in their best interest most of the time.

“If you only have bananas, sell bananas.” Don’t complain about what you don’t have or bemoan what your competitor has. Instead, make the best of what you’ve got because complaining gets you nowhere.

“Creativity is fine. Plagiarism is fast.” Learn from others by taking what they do well and making it your own. Sometimes it’s not about originality, it’s about having the tool to get the job done quickly.

I’ve learned a lot from Clyde and as I reflect on his “Clyde-isms,” I recall influence phrases that can serve the same purpose for you. Below are eight that will help you be a more persuasive salesperson if you commit them to memory.

“People live up to what they write down.” It’s scientifically proven people are more likely to do what you want if you can get them to put pen to paper. The act of writing and the visual reminder of what was written compel people to follow through more than those who don’t engage in this simple act. This is the principle of consistency.

“Less is more.” Hitting people over the head with too many facts, features, benefits, etc., works against you. One study showed this when people were asked to list reasons they would buy a particular car. Contrary to what most people would guess, those who listed fewer reasons felt more compelled to buy the car! It’s easy to come up with three reasons (probably the best ones come most easily) but if you struggle to list 10 reasons you might convince yourself the car isn’t the right one for you after all. This is the principle of scarcity.

“In wins!” This phrase is short for, “If you retreat in the moment you win. If you retreat from the moment you lose.” No matter how good a salesperson you are people will say no to you. However, if you come in with a second proposal immediately you’re very likely to hear yes because you’re seen as a reasonable, somewhat giving person. This is an application of the principle of reciprocity.

“Compared to what?” In sales you hear “Your price is too high” all the time. Something can only be high or low, big or small, inexpensive or expensive compared to something else. You need to know what that something else is because all too often it’s not a valid comparison. Yes, this Cadillac is expensive…compared to the Volkswagen you currently own…and there are lots of reasons for the difference in price. This is the contrast phenomenon.

“Keeping up with the Joneses.” Despite the fact that we’re all individuals and want to be recognized as such, people are social creatures. We want to know what others are doing; especially those who are most like us, because that’s an indicator we should be moving with the crowd. If you’re a salesperson touting what other customers (just like the one you’re talking to) have done makes getting the sale much easier. You may have heard this called peer pressure, social proof or the principle of consensus.

“People like to do business with people they like.” I’ve heard people say, “My job isn’t to be liked, it’s to get things done.” You may not be paid to be liked but you’ll get a lot more accomplished if people like you. So why not make friends of coworkers, vendors, clients and others so you can accomplish more (that’s what you’re paid to do!)? Oh yea, and one other benefit – you’ll enjoy what you do even more than you currently do. This is the liking principle.

“No pain, no gain!” This too is short for a longer phrase, “People are more motivated by what they stand to lose versus what they might gain.” Studies from Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his late research partner Amos Tversky proved that people generally feel the pain of loss anywhere from 2.0-2.5 times more than the joy of gaining the same thing. Point out the downside of not going with your proposal and people will me more motivated to take it. This is the principle of scarcity.

“Stop telling and start asking.” Nobody wants to be told what to do but beyond being polite there’s another reason to ask instead of tell. Once someone tells you (verbally or written) they’ll do something, research shows they’re much more likely to do so as opposed to those who are told. Ask people questions to get them to verbalize what they want and your job as a salesperson gets a whole lot easier. That’s because asking triggers the principle of consistency.

So there you have it, eight short phrases I encourage you to commit to memory. Do so and you’ll become a more persuasive person as you recall them and act on them.

Goals Gone Wrong

I’m a goal setter. It seems as if most people who succeed in life are goal setters too. After all, without a goal how will you know when you’ve achieved success? Goals give us something to shoot for, keep us on track and allow us to measure progress. All in all, goal setting is a very good thing…most of the time.

There’s the old adage, “What gets measured gets done,” and sometimes we come to realize our measurements got us focused on the wrong activities. Here are a few examples.

About 25 years ago, around the time I started with State Auto, I was a commercial lines underwriter. At the time, a point system was put in place to measure our work. A full day of work was 60 points and various tasks (new business, renewals, changes, etc.) were given specific point totals. People quickly learned how to maximize their points while minimizing their effort. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to announce before lunch that they’d hit their 60 points. That could be accomplished more easily by tackling simple policy changes rather than dealing with new business even though the new business was more important. In other words, we were not incenting the right behaviors for the outcome we wanted.

A personal example comes from me. I used to run marathons and was very competitive with myself. My goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which I was able to do. To reach this goal, I would lay out a 24-week training plan with specific runs every day. Sometimes I became a slave to the plan. If a day called for an eight-mile run at a particular pace I was intent on getting eight miles at that pace come hell or high water. The only problem is sometimes my body was telling me to slow down, cut the miles or rest altogether. Not listening to my body usually resulted in injuries that only served to make reaching the ultimate Boston Marathon goal harder.

So what can you do so your goals don’t go wrong?

  • First, remember why. Constantly recall why you set the goal. This is why plans and strategies have been put in place. Success isn’t following the plan to the letter, it’s reaching the goal.
  • Second, be flexible. Don’t become a slave to the plan because sometimes flexibility can lead to better results over the long haul. (Remember my body telling me to rest.)
  • Third, don’t be afraid of change. If you see the plan is starting to distort the goal or it isn’t keeping you on pace to reach your goal don’t be afraid to change it or scrap it altogether.

Goal setting is good when it’s done right. If you read my post a few weeks ago on how to PAVE the Way to Success, then you know the principle of consistency comes into play when you set a goal and share it with others. As you set your 2016 goals, make sure they are Public, Active, Voluntary and Effortful.

PAVE the Way to Success in the New Year

If you’re like many people then you’ll be making New Year’s resolutions in a few days and if you’re like most people you’ll break your resolutions within a few days. According to one study, more than half the people who make resolutions are confident of achieving them, yet barely more than 10% do so. That’s amazing because most resolutions are good!

Here are a some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions:

  • Spend more time with family
  • Lose weight
  • Begin exercising
  • Quit smoking
  • Quit drinking
  • Get organized
  • Get out of debt

The list is admirable so why are these goals so difficult to achieve for 9 out of 10 people? There are probably as many reasons as there are resolutions and dwelling on those reasons would not be as beneficial as giving you scientifically proven ideas that can help make 2016 a year of positive change for you. Around this time every year I share an influence technique that can help readers PAVE the way to success in the New Year.

In the study of persuasion there’s a powerful motivator of behavior known as the principle of consistency. This proven rule tells us people feel internal and external psychological pressure to act in ways that are consistent with their prior actions, words, deeds, beliefs and values. When we act in consistent ways we feel better about ourselves and other people perceive us in a more favorable light.

There are four simple things you can tap into in order to strengthen the power of consistency in your life. These simple ideas will help you PAVE the way to success because they’ll dramatically increase the odds that you’ll follow through on your New Year’s resolutions.

Public – Whenever you make a public statement, whether verbally or in writing, you’re putting yourself and your reputation on the line. The mere fact that another person knows your intention and might ask you how you’re doing is often enough motivation for you to follow through.

Recommendation #1 – Share your New Year’s resolution with another person, or group of people, and ask them to hold you accountable.

Active – You have to actively do something. Merely thinking about a resolution, just keeping it to yourself as some sort of secret, will lead to the same results as people who don’t make any resolutions. In other words, nothing will change. This came to light in a study with a group of students who wanted to improve their college grades. One group was asked to write their goals down, one group kept their goals in their heads, and the last group had no specific goal whatsoever. As you can imagine, the group with the written goals succeeded, with nearly 90% of students increasing their grades by a full letter grade! With the other two groups the results were identical and poor. In each group fewer than 1 in 6 students improved a full letter grade. It’s worth noting, they were all given the same study materials so they all had the same opportunity to better their GPA.

Recommendation #2 – Make sure you have to take some active steps. It could be as simple as buying a book to help you learn more about the changes you’re hoping to make or writing them down.

Voluntary – This has to be YOUR goal, not someone else’s goal for you. If you’re trying to do something – quit smoking, lose weight, get in shape – it’s not likely your motivation will last if someone told you that you have to do it. The goal has to come from you because if it’s forced on you it’s not likely your willpower will last long. Samuel Butler said it best when he wrote, “He who complies against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Recommendation #3 – Make sure it’s something you really want to do of your own free choice.

Effort – It was already noted that you have to actively do something. In other words, making the commitment should require some effort on your part. The more effort you expend setting up your goal, the more likely you are to succeed. Something as simple as writing down your resolution can make a difference, even if you don’t share it with anyone. But, taking the time to share it also fulfills the public requirement, which gives you more bang for the buck! Robert Cialdini puts it this way, “People live up to what they write down.”

Recommendation #4 – A little more effort, like committing pen to paper, will increase your chance for success significantly.

So to recap the four recommendations:

  • Public – Share your resolutions with others.
  • Active – Make sure to take some active steps.
  • Voluntary – Make it your goal and own it.
  • Effort – Commit pen to paper.

None of what I just shared is new but I’m guessing many of you haven’t tried to PAVE the way to success before. If you’ve failed at your resolutions in the past then give this approach a try. If you fail again you’re no worse off but this different approach might just be your key to success in 2016. Good luck and Happy New Year’s!

Doubt and Belief

“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.”

Influencers from Around the World – The Power of Influential Questions

I met Dan Norris in August 2004 when I attended the Principles of Persuasion Workshop®. Dan was the workshop facilitator and did a terrific job. He’s been a Cialdini Method Certified Trainer, one of less than two-dozen worldwide, for 15 years. In addition to being a CMCT®Dan has been the Director of Training for HOLT CAT since 2003. I invited him to contribute to Influence PEOPLE because of his vast knowledge of ethical influence. I know you’ll enjoy his writing and learn a lot from his post. If you’d like to connect with Dan reach out to him on LinkedInor Twitter.

The Power of Influential Questions
I can admit it freely now:  I’m a notorious eavesdropper.  Whether at an airport, grocery store, or restaurant, I delight in listening to the discussions of others.  I try to soak up every juicy detail, every interpersonal conflict, and every persuasive pitch that reaches my ears.  It’s amazing what people will actually discuss in public—topics ranging from the mundane to the downright absurd.  I like to believe I’m a student of human behavior, but the truth is, I’m just really nosey.

Over time, I learned more than just the latest gossip:  I realized people spent the majority of their time “telling” others what they thought and very little time asking questions.  In many cases, we spend enormous amounts of energy arguing points others already agree with.  We are just too busy “telling” to listen to what others have to say.

I reflected on myself. Was I any different?  (Spoiler alert: Nope.) I thought about all the times I belted out what I thought I needed to say.  I’d deceive myself and say “I’m just telling you how it is,” oblivious to others needs or perspective. Looking back, it took me significantly longer to get things done when I would “cut to the chase” and tell.  All too often, I felt I had to rehash issues several times before they were finally resolved.

Of course, I used to think others were slow or didn’t “get it.”  The truth is that I was the slow one.  My lack of questions and assumptions made it exceptionally difficult for me to hear what others were saying—and modify my behavior accordingly.

After this realization, I read every book I could find on questioning and communication.  I attended seminar after seminar on the subject. I also spent mentored with people who asked great questions (I’m looking at you, Larry Mills!).  It made a tremendous difference in my life—especially in terms of how I influenced others.

One memorable example of how questioning changed my influence approach came while coaching an employee named Harvey. At the time I was the new director of training at a large equipment dealership. It was common for me to spend time coaching others to reach their developmental goals.

However, this situation was different.  The supervisor shared with me the person frequently made disparaging remarks about his co-workers, and appeared to have a very “negative attitude.”  At the end of describing the employee’s behaviors, the manager leaned forward and curtly shared that “This is his last shot.  I’ve told him A THOUSAND TIMES that he needs to change and he hasn’t.  If you can’t help him, he’s out.”

I gave the meeting a lot of thought.  In the past, I would use the same template that many others use—tell the employee they have a problem, tell them what the problem is, and tell them what will happen if the problem isn’t resolved.  They would reluctantly agree to the findings of the meeting and leave. Sometimes they changed…sometimes they didn’t.

Then it hit me—his supervisor probably “told” him 999 times too many.  Despite failing each time, his supervisor continued to use the ineffective approach of “telling.”  I’m sure it lead Harvey to be as frustrated as his supervisor.

I decided to use questions in this coaching session to change the direction and try to salvage the working relationships.  To avoid falling back on my “telling” habits, I made a list of all the things I could gain by asking questions:

Questions reveal information I don’t already know.

“Telling” only shares information I’m familiar with…it doesn’t reveal how others are feeling, their perspective, or provide opportunities to influence.  Questions help me better listen to the needs, interests, and positions of others.

Questions influence others to make commitments.

When I ask questions of others, they make commitments about what they feel and believe.  If I say what needs to happen, others can doubt me. If I get others to tell me what needs to happen, they feel more committed to the solution.  Dr. Robert Cialdini’s landmark book Influence: Science and Practicecalls this the Principle of Consistency.

Questions involve others in the conversation

Telling pushes people away. Questions invite others into the discussion.  People want to express themselves and be heard.  They are more likely to listen to me if I listen to them first.

Questions influence people to reframe how they view the situation.

Questions are highly persuasive.  They are excellent ways to ethically influence others to experience private, inner changes about how they view a situation.  Another take away from Dr. Cialdini’s work.

I reflected on these four reminders.  “That makes sense,” I thought.  “Now how the hell do I use it?”  Channeling sage advice from a dear mentor, I resolved to write down several questions ahead of our conversation to prepare.

When the time came, Harvey sat down sheepishly in my office.  I could see in his eyes that he expected another didactic lecture about his behavior. After offering him some water, I pulled up a chair next to him.

“Thanks for meeting with me, Harvey. Before we get started, would you mind if I asked you some questions?”

“Sure,” said Harvey in a skeptical tone.

“How clear do you think I am about what happens in your department on a daily basis?”

Harvey tilted his head and appeared surprised by the question.  “I suppose you don’t know a lot about what goes on directly…probably only what you’ve heard.”

“I’d certainly agree with that,” I said.  “What role do you see me playing in our company?”

Harvey thought some more. “Well, you’re the training guy.  I guess you’re responsible for helping people grow and get better.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “I work with people at all levels of the company on their performance.  Since you and I don’t work closely together, I want to make sure I have some clarity about your goals before we move forward.  I wouldn’t want to make any recommendations without understanding your plans for growth.  How does that work for you?”

“Makes sense,” he replied. His body language became more relaxed. His shoulders dropped, and he became more comfortable in his chair.

“Great,” I said.  “Now I hope you stay with us for your whole career. Whether you work for the company for five, 10, or even the next 30 years—what do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be known?”

Harvey paused in thought for a moment.  “Nobody’s ever asked me that.  I guess I would like to be the ‘go to’ person.  I’d like to be the person that others would trust coaching new employees or handling difficult tasks.  I want to be the person that is a ‘slam dunk’ for the next promotion.”

“I’m sure you have the talent to do so,” I replied.  “That said, I’d like to ask you another question:  When you use disparaging and negative language about others, how does that match the vision you just described?”

He paused as his eyes widened. “I never thought about it like that. I guess it doesn’t.”

“You’re right,” I acknowledged.  “How does that behavior position you as the next best leadership candidate?”

He began shaking his head. “Well, I guess it doesn’t make me a strong candidate.  I never thought of it that way.  I was just trying to be funny—I didn’t mean to upset anyone.”

It was clear that Harvey was beginning to see things differently.  “The past is the past, Harvey.  We all make mistakes or send messages to others that we don’t intend. Going forward, what are some things you might do to change your behavior?”

Harvey began discussing ideas that he could change.  His entire demeanor changed.  He became energized and focused.  He wanted to make the changes.  He wanted to fit the vision he had for himself.  We talked for some time as he created an action plan for himself.

I had one final question before we ended our meeting. “I know that you’re the type of person that can make changes like this happen.  There is no doubt your capable of rebranding yourself.  However, I think it’s important to reflect on what may happen if you choose not to change.  If you don’t go through with these changes, what the consequences would you expect?”

Harvey sat back in his chair thinking.  “Well,” he thought, “I imagine I’d be up for disciplinary action.  I’d expect to be written up.”

I was floored—his honesty was as surprising as it was refreshing.  I committed to support and coach him.  He was energized and ready to work on his relationships with others.  I called his supervisor to fill him in on our discussion. He was dumfounded.  He couldn’t believe Harvey was receptive.  He laughed and said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Harvey did change —dramatically.  He took ownership for his behavior and worked very hard to repair the relationships he had with others.  Harvey had no idea how his behavior affected others.  True to his vision, he now leads others and is a sought after coach.

Dr. Cialdini’s Principle of Consistency—influencing others to make a choice or take a stand on an issue—was the primary reason Harvey changed his behavior.  Questions revealed new information, involved Harvey in the conversation, influenced him to make commitments, and reframed how we all saw the situation.  It ethically changed the way we viewed the situation and provided a win-win for everyone involved.

I’m sure you have a “Harvey” in your life.  What questions are you asking them?

Dan Norris, CMCT®


Dan Norris, CMCT®

The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Referrals

For the most part salespeople don’t have a great reputation. This is so because many people feel they’ll be pressured into buying something they don’t want or need by someone who is manipulating them. I teach sales and don’t always like dealing with salespeople because most of the time they don’t add value to the transaction. If someone can only tell me what I can already read on online or find on a label, then they’re not doing me much good. Good salespeople add value because they:

  • Ask questions to help uncover a need you might not have considered before.
  • Save you the time and effort of having to do lots and lots of research on your own.
  • Point out features you might not have known about and demonstrate how they’ll be beneficial for you.
  • Can be a “go to” person for you when something goes awry.

When you interact with someone who really helps you, it’s natural to want to help him or her in return. That’s the principle of reciprocity and it will make the client happy to help you by giving you some referrals.

It’s common for salespeople to ask for referrals at the close of the sale.

“John, I’m really glad we’re doing business together. One way my business grows is through referrals. Do you know anyone else who might be interested in the services I offer?”

Personally I think that’s a terrible approach because you’ve not done anything yet to deliver on your promise! If the client doesn’t say no right off the bat it’s likely to be met with a name or two off the top of their head quickly just to satisfy you.

Here is an approach that combines the principles of reciprocity and consistency that is sure to get more and better referrals! You disarm the client by telling them you’re not going to ask for referrals but would like to ask a favor. Ask if you can talk sometime in the future about referrals, after they’ve had a chance to see how your product or service performs. This is where planning comes in because you’re planting a seed. Here’s what I recommend to insurance agents. I’m sure some variation might work for you in your business:

“John, I’m really glad we’re doing business together. At this point in the sales process I know a lot of insurance agents would ask for referrals but don’t worry, I’m not going to do that. I would like to ask a favor though. After you’ve had a chance to experience our service, say nine months to a year from now, if we’ve done what we said we would and you’re happy with us, could we talk about referrals at that time?”

Humans are funny in many ways and one is our willingness to put things off into the future that we’d rather not do today. I guarantee nearly everyone will agree to talk with you in 9-12 months about referrals.

Now it’s up to you to have an efficient diary system for following up with clients.

“John, it’s Sue. I’m calling to see how things are going and if there’s anything you need from me as we approach your renewal date?”

Towards the end of that conversation try this:

“John, do you remember when we started doing business together last year? I asked if we could talk about referrals if we’d lived up to our promises and you were happy. I feel we’ve done that (reciprocity). Are you happy with the decision you made to move your business to us?”

Don’t just ask for names and numbers at this point because the customer will be scrambling. They were not thinking about referrals when they picked up the phone, so continue in this way:

“I don’t want to take any more of your time today and I’d like to give you a chance to think about who might appreciate the kinds of things we’ve done for you. Could we set a time next week to talk for about 15 minutes?”

You’ve planted the seed for them to really give this thought and they will because they told you they would. On next week’s call you’re sure to get the names of people who would be most likely to appreciate what you have to offer.

This is the final post in this series where we’ve looked at using particular principles of influence at different points in the sales cycle. I hope you’ve found the posts enlightening but more importantly, that you employ what you’ve learned and see your sales soar as a result!