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The Greatest Salesman Who Ever Lived

I’ve shared variations of this post in the past. Because it’s Christmas Eve I thought it appropriate to share it again. Enjoy!

Santa Claus is the greatest salesman who ever lived! Why do I assert that Santa is the ultimate salesman? To start, he has a couple of success stories most of us can’t compete with. First, he’s successfully run the same family business for hundreds of years. There’s something to be said for stability, especially over the long haul.

Second, Santa has a client base that expands every year — no matter the state of the global economy.

Can you or your business make those two claims?

But those aren’t the reasons I believe Santa is the greatest salesman who ever lived. Contrary to what you might think, his success doesn’t come from his business savvy. After all, consider the obstacles he has to deal with.

  • Business attire: Santa obviously doesn’t buy into the “dress for success” business attire philosophy. Power suits are fine but a red suit and hat, both lined with fur, is a little over the top in today’s casual business environment.
  • Delivery system: Santa’s remains way behind the times here. His “One Day Delivery” is literally that – you get your packages one day a year. He doesn’t seem to notice in today’s economy people want what they want, when they want it, and that usually means now. But the real problem behind “One Day Delivery” might just be his delivery method. I think you’d agree the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx or UPS would be much more efficient than eight tiny reindeer pulling a small sleigh.
  • Manufacturing: Some say Santa’s operation is too labor-intensive to survive much longer. After all, he’s competing with Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple and other giant organizations. In today’s marketplace, how can any business can get by without automating? Perhaps if he automated a process or two he’d have enough inventory to open this store more than one day a year.
  • Efficiency: I realize Santa gives his product away for free but that doesn’t mean it costs him nothing. He has all those elves and reindeer to take care of. Food and lodging are bad enough but health care costs have to be crushing his profit margin! And what about worker’s compensation costs? If he automated at least he’d save a little money and might be able to take Mrs. Claus on a nice vacation – somewhere warm for a change!
  • Branding: All companies change their branding to fit the times and Santa might want to consider doing the same. After all, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas!” has gotten a bit old and stale.
  • Orders: I think Santa could fill orders much faster if only he’d just set up a website. And how about replacing all those last minute letters with email, text, instant messaging or a Twitter account? It has to be painfully slow for him to read all those handwritten letters.

So, all this begs the question, “Why is Santa so successful…in spite of himself?” In business if you continually land new customers and retain the old ones then you’re doing something right. Here are six reasons Santa continually attracts new customers and retains all his current ones:

  • He loves his job! Could you do the same job day after day, year after year for most of your life? Could you do it and remain so upbeat and jolly? Perhaps, “Ho, Ho, Ho,” is his corporate culture and not just some slick branding slogan.
  • He genuinely cares for his customers. His goal is to meet everyone’s needs and all he hopes for in return is to see joy on their faces. Do you get joy from serving others?
  • He gets to the personal side of selling. Granted he’s not always accessible but he doesn’t expect clients to come to him. When he’s at his absolute busiest, with his deadline approaching and delivery date nearing, he can be seen everywhere talking with his customers. How he can be in so many places at one time I’ll never know. How often do you initiate contact with your customers, even when it’s inconvenient for you?
  • He creates an experience. A toy is just a toy, except when it’s from Santa. Because it only comes once a year and will be found under the tree on Christmas morning it creates anticipation and builds excitement! That’s so much better than getting something online or from some mail order catalog. Do you create an experience for your customers?
  • He adds value. When people hear the word “free” they often think “cheap” or wonder, “What’s the catch?” Even though Santa gives his products away we love what he gives us mostly because it comes from him. Don’t you have a few things you value above all others because of the person who gave it to you? Do your customers see you adding value?
  • He delivers on his promise. Santa does what he says and always delivers; no excuses, no extra charge, always on time! Can your customer count on you to be that consistent?

So there you have it, six reasons behind the success of jolly old St. Nick. Did you notice that everything Santa does is within your power to do with your customers? That’s right, there’s no reason you can’t do the same things Santa does. And here’s some welcome news for most of you – you don’t have to wear a silly red uniform while you do those things!

I hope you enjoyed this post and that you and your loved ones have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed 150,000 times! The course teaches you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process. Not watched it yet? Click here to see what you’ve been missing.

 

Systems Plus Persuasion Equal Success

Something I’ve noticed over time is how much systems contribute to success. It’s not to say that being carefree and creative don’t have value – they do. However, my observation has been with most things – learning, fitness, health, sales, coaching, leadership, etc. – having good systems in place are much more beneficial than winging it. Even with creative endeavors like improv comedy, there’s a system or approach that’s used. It may appear as though those doing the comedy are just going with the flow but there’s a structure underneath their creativity.

Two athletic examples come right to mind when I think about systematic approaches: weightlifting and running.

As a teenager I learned a system for weightlifting that made a world of difference. Before my junior season of high school football, I worked out consistently for a year and only gained 5 lbs. Pretty disappointing! During the offseason before my senior year I learned a system for working out and put on 30 lbs. before the season started. At my peak in college I was 90 lbs. heavier than when I first started lifting.

When I took up running my first marathon was a disaster. I covered the 26.2 miles in four hours and fourteen minutes and “hit the wall” about 20 miles into the race. Then I learned a system for running and eventually cut an hour off of that first marathon time and qualified for the Boston Marathon in the process.

In business I’ve seen this play out time and time again. People and organizations with systematic approaches win consistently. Let’s take leadership, sales and coaching as examples.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning and applying leadership concepts from Focus 3. At a high level their system focuses on three things: leaders, culture and behavior.

In the Focus 3 approach leaders create the culture that drives the behaviors that lead to results. If you want better results you need better behaviors which means creating the right culture to support the right behaviors. That’s why culture is the #1 responsibility of leaders.

When it comes to behavior Focus 3 uses the following formula: E+R=O. In plain English this means Event plus Response equals Outcome. Life happens (events) and we usually have no control over those events in the moment. We can influence outcomes in the direction we want by choosing disciplined responses. These disciplined responses are our behaviors.

When it comes to sales the system is pretty simple. Selling is about building rapport with the prospective customer, overcoming objections they may pose then closing the sale.

Coaching has a system very similar to sales. Coaching also starts with building rapport, gaining trust, then motivating the person being coached to new behaviors. Without relationship and trust it’s not likely someone will follow the advice of a coach.

Where does influence come into these business systems? Every step of the way! According to Aristotle, persuasion is about getting people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask. Whether you’re leading, selling or coaching, the principles of influence can be used to support the system because they can be used to change behaviors. For example, the principles we call liking and reciprocity are excellent ways to build rapport. To gain someone’s trust or overcome objections the principles of authority and consensus come into play. And finally, to close a sale or motivate behavior change try the principles of consistency or scarcity. Do you have a system in place that will lead you to success? If so, then consider how you’ll execute your system. If your system involves other people at any point then you’ll want to decide which principles of persuasion you can tap into to get a better result.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLEand Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 130,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it and you’ll learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

A Top Down or Bottom Up Approach to Selling

There’s old saying that applies to persuasion and selling, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I don’t actually know anyone who’s ever skinned a cat so I have no idea how many ways you can do it but I’ll trust there are multiple ways. When it comes to persuasion there are many approaches you can use to hear “yes” more often.

What I’ll share this week is directed towards salespeople but the application goes beyond just sales. When it comes to landing a sale, there are a couple of ways you can approach it: top down or bottom up.

Top Down. Sometimes you want to go for it, pull out all the stops and be bold. After all, you have no chance of hearing “yes” if you don’t ask for the sale. Too many salespeople censure themselves with a belief that the prospective client will never go for their top of the line proposal. What they end up doing is reducing their offer…and their chances of making the sale.

I’ll give you an example from my industry – insurance. I can tell you from more than 30 years of experience that far too many people are underinsured when it comes to their homes, cars, businesses, and lives. Here are just a few reasons this happens:

  1. People feel “forced” to buy insurance. The state says they have to insure their car and the bank that holds their mortgage requires them to insure their home.
  2. Laws require business owners to carry certain coverages like workers’ compensation.
  3. Nobody wants to contemplate the end of life so the decision for life insurance is put off again and again.

Because people don’t like to buy insurance they can be quick to dismiss coverages and suggestions from their insurance agent. It’s always in the best interest of the customer that the agent recommends the policy and coverages he or she believes will afford the proper protection. During my time in the insurance industry I’ve never heard someone say after a loss, “Darn! My agent sold me the right coverages and I’m fully protected!” However, many people have said, “Damn! My agent didn’t sell me the right coverage (or amount) and now I’m paying out of my own pocket!”

By offering the right policy and coverages up front the agent risks being rejected and that’s okay. First, never underestimate that some people will buy what’s presented because they recognize it’s in their best interests to do so. If the individual rejects what’s presented the agent has the opportunity to engage what’s known as “reject and retreat.”

If someone rejects your initial offer and you step in with a more moderate offer, one that still affords the essential protection they need, the likelihood that the prospect will say “yes” to the second proposal is higher than if you’d have started with it outright. Why? Because of the principle of reciprocity. This principle of influence tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. In the case of rejection, when you make a concession, take a step to the middle, quite often people will make a concession too and meet you part way.

My advice to salespeople is always this – don’t censure yourself! Put the proposal on the table that you believe is right for the customer. When you do so, anticipate they might reject it and be ready with reduced offers you can use in case you hear “no.” Anticipating “no” is not pessimistic, it’s strategic because it allows you to strategically engage reciprocity.

Bottom Up. Sometimes it’s best to tackle the situation from the opposite direction. There might be reasons you can’t go for the whole enchilada because it will surely result in hearing “no” without any fallback options. This might happen because:

  1. You don’t have enough experience with the type of account you’re trying to write.
  2. You don’t have a strong enough relationship with the business owner to warrant going after all the policies associated with his or her business.
  3. The main part of the account comes up for renewal at a different time.

Your best opportunity under these circumstances would be to try writing something smaller like the prospect’s home and auto or part of their business account (auto, worker’s compensation, etc.). The reason you want to approach the sale in this manner is to get your “foot in the door.” If you write any business for the prospective customer you become their agent. Assuming you do a good job for them that little step forward will make it easier for them to give you an opportunity on the bigger parts of their insurance package.

The psychology behind this approach is the principle of consistency. This principle of influence alerts us to the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. Once you’ve become someone’s agent it’s a consistent next step to see if you can help him or her with their other insurance needs. Now the whole enchilada is within sight!

Persuading a person isn’t always as simple as some would lead you to believe. Due to situational factors and individual differences you can never predict what a single individual might do any more than a doctor can predict which person will live a long life. However, just as a doctor can confidently predict more people will live longer if they live healthy lifestyles, we can confidently say more people will say “yes” when you correctly tap into social psychology. We can make this claim because there’s more than seven decades of research you can rely on to significantly increase the odds that you’ll hear “yes” when you make a request of another person.

So, next time you go into a sale consider whether or not top down or bottom up is the right approach. A little strategic planning could make the sale much easier.

Selling Without Making People Feel Sold

One of the nicest compliments I’ve received came after a presentation I gave a few years ago at a large insurance event. An attendee said afterwards, “I think Brian came across as a guy who, quote unquote, was not interested in selling you and invariably he sold us.” That compliment came to mind recently as I worked with a young intern at State Auto Insurance.

I spent an hour with this high school student talking about coaching in business. I started with the example of a basketball coach because she had a clear picture of what a good basketball coach should do to prepare a team to play to the best of its ability. From there we transitioned to business coaching and eventually focused on her.

As we talked about routines I asked her if there was something she’d like to change in her typical day. She acknowledged having a hard time getting ready for school in the morning. We discussed why that was the case and what she could do to make it easier on herself. She talked about possibly laying out her clothes the night before, perhaps showering the night before and doing her hair. She also knows she could start making the choice not to hit the snooze button after 6:45 AM.

Once we’d discussed all the options I asked her what she intended to do. She said she knows a better routine would help and committed to write down a few things we had talked about then try them over the next seven days. I encouraged her that even if it doesn’t work out as well as she would like we could talk about it again and see what part of her new routine might need to change.

Then I surprised her with this, “Do you realize we just had a coaching session?” Her eyes got wide; she smiled and shook her head to indicate no she didn’t realize it. I didn’t come across as someone who intended to “coach” her and in the end I coached her because there was no resistance. My coaching was just part of the bigger conversation we were having.

If your attempts to coach, sell or persuade someone come across as anything but a conversation you might want to rethink your approach. In our Principles of Persuasion Workshop I often tell salespeople the best way to close a deal starts the moment you shake a prospective customer’s hand and look him or her in the eye because everything builds from there. Your “selling” should really be informing people into yes and that happens best when you ethically employ the principles of persuasion.

I didn’t intend to convince you of anything here but I hope I convinced you.

The Greatest Salesman Who Ever Lived

I boldly proclaim Santa Claus to be the greatest salesman who ever lived! Why do I assert that Santa is the ultimate salesman? To start, he has a couple of success stories most of us can’t compete with. First, he’s successfully run the same family business for hundreds of years. There’s something to be said for stability, especially in today’s economy. Second, Santa can boast a client base that expands every year — no matter the state of the global economy. Can you or your business make those two claims?

But those aren’t the reasons I believe Santa is the greatest salesman who ever lived. Contrary to what you might think, his success doesn’t come from his business savvy. After all, consider the obstacles he has to overcome.

  • Business attire: Santa obviously doesn’t buy into the “dress for success” business attire philosophy. Power suits are fine but a red suit and hat, both lined with fur, is a little over the top in today’s business environment. Now if he were in Hollywood…
  • Delivery system: Santa’s remains way behind the times here. His “One Day Delivery” is literally that – you get your packages one day a year. He doesn’t seem to notice in today’s economy people want what they want, when they want it, and that usually means now. But the real problem behind “One Day Delivery” might just be his delivery method. I think you’d agree the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx or UPS would be much more efficient than eight tiny reindeer pulling a small sleigh.
  • Manufacturing: Some say Santa’s operation is too labor-intensive to survive much longer. After all, he’s competing with Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple and other giant companies. In today’s marketplace, how can any business can get by without automating? Perhaps if he automated a process or two he’d have enough inventory to open this store more than one day a year.
  • Efficiency: I realize Santa gives his product away for free but that doesn’t mean it costs him nothing. He has all those elves and reindeer to take care of. Food and lodging are bad enough but health care costs have to be crushing his profit margin! And what about worker’s compensation costs? If he automated at least he’d save a little money and might be able to take Mrs. Claus on a nice vacation – somewhere warm for a change!
  • Branding: All companies change their branding to fit the times and Santa might want to consider doing the same. After all, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas!” has gotten a bit old and stale.
  • Orders: I think Santa could fill orders much faster if only he’d just set up a website. And how about replacing all those last minute letters with email, text, instant messaging or a Twitter account? It has to be painfully slow for him to read all those handwritten letters.

So, all this begs the question, “Why is Santa so successful…in spite of himself?” In business if you continually land new customers and retain the old ones then you’re doing something right. Here are six reasons Santa continually attracts new customers and retains all his current ones:

  • He loves his job! Could you do the same job day after day, year after year for most of your life? Could you do it and remain so upbeat and jolly? Perhaps, “Ho, Ho, Ho,” is his corporate culture and not just some slick branding slogan.
  • He genuinely cares for his customers. His goal is to meet everyone’s needs and all he hopes for in return is to see joy on their faces. Do you get joy from serving others?
  • He gets to the personal side of selling. Granted he’s not always accessible but he doesn’t expect clients to come to him. When he’s at his absolute busiest, with his deadline approaching and delivery date nearing, he can be seen everywhere talking with his customers. How he can be in so many places at one time I’ll never know. How often do you initiate contact with your customers, even when it’s inconvenient for you?
  • He creates atmosphere. A toy is just a toy, except when it’s from Santa. Because it only comes once a year and will be found under the tree on Christmas morning it creates anticipation and builds excitement! That’s so much better than getting something online or from some mail order catalog. Do you create an experience for your customers?
  • He adds value. When people hear the word “free” they often think “cheap” or wonder, “What’s the catch?” Even though Santa gives his products away we love what he gives us mostly because it comes from him. Don’t you have a few things you prize because of the person who gave it to you? That’s your change to add value. Do your customers see you adding value?
  • He delivers on his promise. Santa does what he says and always delivers, at no extra charge, on time! Can your customer count on you to be that consistent?

So there you have it, six reasons behind the success of jolly old St. Nick. Yes, I stand firm on the assertion that Santa Claus is the ultimate salesman! Did you notice that everything Santa does is within your power to do with your customers? That’s right, there’s no reason you can’t do the same things Santa does. And here’s some welcome news for most of you – you don’t have to wear a silly red uniform while you do those things!

I hope you enjoyed this post and that you and your loved ones have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Persuasive Selling – A New Lynda.com Course

I had the privilege this year to work with the people at Lynda.com, now owned by LinkedIn, to create an online sales training course. It was quite an experience to visit their facility in Carpentaria, CA, a stunningly beautiful place! I worked with a director, producer, make-up artist, lighting technician, and a digital artist. And that was only part of the crew that ultimately made Persuasive Selling come to life.

Understanding how people think and behave is key to mastering the art of persuasion and an essential ingredient to any successful sale. In this new sales course I draw on the work of social psychologists and behavioral economists to provide concrete, actionable items and transferrable ideas for each step of the sales process.

I start the course out by sharing eight psychological concepts that you can easily employ throughout the sales cycle. If you’ve been a reader of Influence PEOPLE for any length of time then you’re familiar with reciprocity, liking, social proof, authority, consistency, scarcity, compare and contrast, and using the word because to get people to say “Yes” to you.

After laying that foundation you’ll learn how these concepts play a role in the early stages of the sales cycle, as well as how they can help you realize the qualities of your ideal client, deliver presentations, handle objections, negotiate, close, and ask for referrals. Lastly, you’ll learn how to grow from each sale and continuously refine your approach. Topics include:

  • Reaching out to prospects
  • Developing a rapport with customers
  • Making a good first impression
  • Giving a successful presentation
  • Providing the correct amount of options
  • Handling objections
  • Understanding the value equation
  • Closing the sale
  • Asking for referrals

The course lasts an hour and by the time you’re finished you’ll feel much more confident as you ready yourself to tackle the next sales opportunity.

Want to get started? First, if you’re not already a Lynda.com member you’ll need to sign up. To get that process started click here. Once you’re inside the site type “Persuasive Selling” in the search box and you’ll see the course with my name next to it. Click on the link and you’ll be ready to launch the course and start learning.

I hope you find Persuasive Selling entertaining, enlightening, and most of all, useful for your career.

WIIFM – Is It Always The Motivation?

Salespeople like to say everyone’s favorite radio station is WIIFM. In case you don’t know it, WIIFM is an acronym that stands for “What’s In It For Me?” The assumption salespeople make, and most other people for that matter, is humans are always motivated to act in their best self-interest. State Auto’s former Chief Sales Officer Clyde Fitch put it this way, “Self-interest isn’t the only horse in the race but it’s usually the one to bet on.”

In the absence of certain factors people do act in their best self-interest quite often. But the smart persuader knows there are many decades of research from social psychologists and behavioral economists that refute this claim.

This was brought to the forefront of my mind as I reread Robert Cialdini’s new book Pre-suasion. He highlighted a study conducted by Adam Grant and David Hoffman. These two looked at the hand washing behavior of doctors. If anyone knows the importance of hand washing to prevent the spread of germs it would be doctors. Despite their knowledge, doctors wash their hands about half as often as they should. That’s not good for doctors or patients!

In an effort to see if they could motivate more hand washing to prevent the spread of germs and disease Grant and Hoffman tried two different approaches. One appealed to WIIFM and another appealed to why most people chose to become doctors – to help patients.

In the WIIFM scenario doctors saw signs that read, “Hand hygiene protects you from catching diseases.” In the patient focus appeal the sign said, “Hand hygiene protects patients from catching diseases.” So the difference was a single word – “you” vs. “patients.”

The WIIFM approach caused no change in hand washing behavior but the patient focused approach cause a 45% increase in hand washing!

What does this mean for you? It’s easy to default to WIFFM and that leads to typical ways to motivate – salary increases, bonuses, rewards, etc. Make no mistake, those traditional approaches do change people’s behavior but sometimes there are better, less costly ways to motivate a behavior change. Taking time to know why people do what they do then tapping into that can be far more effective.

Most people don’t become doctors to make lots of money or for fame. Those are nice by-products but not the motivation. Usually people get into healthcare because of a personal experience that leads them to want to help others.

Teachers certainly don’t get into that profession for the money. A love of learning and desire to help kids are big reasons people become teachers. Coaches usually choose that profession because of a love of sports and the impact a coach had on them. They want to pass along the love and impact people the way they were impacted.

When you discover someone’s why and craft your persuasive appeal around it you’re tapping into a powerful principle of influence – consistency. When your persuasive appeal reminds them of their why it’s much easier for them to say yes to you.

My encouragement for you this week is to pay attention to those you interact with, see if you can discover their why then make sure your attempt at persuasion incorporates that knowledge. Do so and you’ll be far more successful when it comes to hearing yes.

Last Impressions are Lasting Impressions

About 10 years ago Abigail and I were out shopping. I had a cast on my left hand because I’d broken a bone sparring at taekwondo. When we stopped at Best Buy, the young man at the register asked me what happened to my hand. We had an engaging conversation about my injury and his time in martial arts as he rang up our items.

Later that day we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods and the experience at the checkout line couldn’t have been more different. The young man behind the counter looked like an athlete and I assume he worked there primarily for discounts on athletic items. He never said hello, never looked me in the eye and barely acknowledged us. When I pulled out my credit card he finally spoke when he pointed to the card reader and said, “You can scan it there.” He put my items in a bag, handed me my receipt and Abigail and I were out the door.

I asked her on the walk to the car, “What did you notice about him?” She struggled for the words, but at 10 years old, she said, “He didn’t engage the customer.” (Now you know what we talked about a lot as she grew up!) I replied, “I feel bad for him because it’s not his fault. His manager needs to teach him the last impression people have as they leave the store is the interaction with the person at the checkout line. That needs to be a good experience to make people want to come back.”

And that leads to the point of this week’s post – last impressions are often lasting impressions. Consider these examples:

You’re a golfer and you’ve played pretty poorly but on the last hole you got a par, or perhaps a birdie. You probably feel fairly good and look forward to the next round because you might just keep the mojo going. However, if you played really well but had a double bogey on the 18th hole, you’re most likely angry and frustrated because you could have had a good score were it not for the last hole!

What about going to a restaurant? Suppose your table was ready when you arrived, you had a very nice meal and excellent service but at the end of the night you found a discrepancy on the bill and it wasn’t resolved to your satisfaction. That would ruin an otherwise great night for most people. What if you got to the restaurant and had to wait an extra 20 minutes for your table, the food and service were okay but a discrepancy on the bill was corrected quickly and to your satisfaction. You’re most likely happier about your experience than the person I first described.

Humans are funny in this regard. Something wonderful can be wiped away by a bad experience at the end or something not so pleasant can be made very good by a positive experience at the close.

Researchers actually tested this theory on people who had to have a somewhat painful, very uncomfortable and certainly embarrassing procedure – a colonoscopy. They had patients rate their discomfort and overall experience throughout the procedure. Here’s what they learned:

Patients who experience a lot of pain for a short period rated the experience much worse than patients who experienced just as much pain and over a longer time, but who experienced much less pain near the end. In psychology this is something known as the peak-end rule to denote the fact that we rate experiences by the highest level of pain (peak) and the pain we experience at the end. Duration neglect accounts for the fact that the length of discomfort was irrelevant because it was all about how bad was it at the peak and at the end.

What does this mean for you? First and foremost, in whatever you do (make a sale, go on a date, celebrate a milestone, work as a customer service rep, etc.), certainly look to minimize any potentially bad experiences throughout the process but most importantly, make sure the ending experience is as good as possible.

I still shop at Dick’s Sporting Goods but there are very few other choices for big sporting goods stores in my area. When there’s lots of competition and people have choices, you better pay close attention to this because it could be the deciding factor in someone coming back or not. Remember, last impressions are lasting impressions.

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.

Influencers from Around the World – The Principle Of Liking With Real Estate Agents

This month our “Influencers from Around the World” post comes from Marco Germani. Marco is a native of Italy and lives in Rome. A skilled practitioner of influence for decades, he even wrote a book on the subject in Italian. In this post he explains how the principle of liking can impact the sale.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
influencePEOPLE 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.  

The Principle Of Liking With Real Estate Agents

The principle of influence popularly known as liking, as expressed by Dr. Robert Cialdini, states people are more likely to say “yes” to those they know and like and those they perceive as similar to themselves. I had a real-life test of the liking principle recently when my wife and I decided to buy a small apartment in a coastal town near Rome, our home in Italy. Our goal was to rent the apartment and generate some extra passive income.

I carefully researched the market and I got in touch with all the existing real estate agencies of the area, visiting almost 20 different properties, within the size and budget we defined, before settling on two particular apartments, the most appealing of the lot.

Next we had to make a decision – which to purchase followed by a formal written offer to the owner. Both apartments looked good, were in a nice area close to the railway station and shops, had better than average quality-price ratios, and both owners appeared to be particularly motivated to sell quickly. All things considered, for a few reasons we both liked apartment #1 slightly more than apartment #2. We were also dealing with two different real estate agents.

The agent dealing with apartment #1, whom I’ll call Mrs. Bianchi, was a middle-aged woman and owner of the real estate agency. From the beginning she didn’t appear to be very skillful or professional. When she sensed there was real interest from our side, she started to ruthlessly apply every selling technique straight out of a sales book:

  • She called me the following day telling me there was another very motivated buyer for the same apartment and we needed to hurry up with our proposal.
  • She gave me an inflated evaluation of the rent rate I could ask to the future tenant.
  • She tried to “close” us in several other ways, but without any particular skill in doing so.

We were interested in the apartment anyway, so her poor sales skills were not a problem for us. When I went to her office to negotiate her agency commission she become upset and acted surprised that I was asking for a reduction. She treated me like I had offended her. By keeping a straight face and with the technique of the “broken record,” simply asking over and over for my conditions regardless of her behavior, I was able to obtain a reasonable reduction on her requested fee and everything seemed to be right to make an offer at a price the apartment owner would have accepted.

The agent dealing with apartment #2 was a completely different story. Fabio, a salesperson working for the agency, was a skilled and trained professional and from the moment he first told me “hello” on the phone. I could clearly tell he was somebody who understood the basics of salesmanship and worked hard on his craft. From our first meeting he was focused on building a relationship with me:

  • He tried to find common ground and he told me about his passion for the Greek island of Santorini, after hearing I have been there twice on holiday and loved the place, where he even owns a small studio, advising me to consider buying one myself one day, even proposing to help for free.
  • He also told me, after noticing my interest for apartment #2, that there was another motivated buyer and I needed to hurry (a trick I guess must be on page one on the manual of the good sales agent in Italy!) but he did it in a sincere and elegant way, always positioning on my side and asking “for my help” in solving the problem when we needed to move forward in the discussion.

After some smooth negotiation, we ended up with the exact same conditions, buying price and agency fee, for the two apartments. We liked apartment #1 slightly better but we liked Fabio, the agent for apartment #2, a lot better. It was a difficult call and, to my surprise, my wife and I both felt better about moving on the apartment sold by Fabio, even though we liked apartment #1 more! We mentioned a bunch of rational justifications linked to the technical aspects of the business but we both knew it had all to do with the personality of Fabio and the principle of liking at work. This principle being so powerful to lead us to want a less appealing “product” because we liked the salesperson better!

The story does not end there. After defining a strategy with Fabio for the proposal, with a very low first offer which was meant to be turned down by the apartment owner (which he did) to then come up with our real offer, something else happened.

Fabio called us one evening telling us he had just received the mission to sell another property. Apartment #3, a real deal being sold by a “don’t-wanter” (someone with serious financial issues ongoing, who urgently needed money) was ready to sell a much better apartment than the one we decided to buy, for the same price. Everything was contingent on the money coming in fast and in cash, which was possible for us. We closed the deal quickly and everybody was happy, including Fabio, whom we decided to reward by accepting his request for a much higher fee than the one we agreed, one which still kept the deal very advantageous for us.

The moral of this story is twofold:

  1. Even though you are trained on the principles of influence and are aware of how the principle of liking could (and sometimes shouldn’t) influence your buying patterns, it will work all the same and you can find yourself buying a less appealing product sold by a salesperson you like more.
  2. For anybody involved in sales, neglecting to work on this principle, by learning to genuinely be interested in others, create empathy and build a relationship before talking about the deal, can be very expensive. In today’s economy nobody in real estate, or in any other business involving human interactions, can afford to ignore the principle of liking.

Besides, we might start investigating if any good property is available in Santorini someday, with the help of Fabio, of course!

Marco