12 Takeaways from Pre-Suasion for Salespeople

As with his first best-seller Influence ( 1984 ), Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Pre-Suasion ( 2016 ) is another useful book for salespeople. And no wonder, it took him thirty-two years to write!

The main purpose of Pre-suasion is to teach persuaders how to prime prospects to be more receptive to sales and marketing efforts.

Put another way, the book attempts to help persuaders create ‘privileged moments’ with prospects where they adopt the ideal states of mind to be influenced and persuaded.

Perhaps now the book’s title ‘Pre-Suasion’ makes more sense? You know.. because it’s about optimizing what occurs before a persuasion attempt… Pre-persuasion…

Anyway.. before we dive into some of the takeaways for salespeoplelet’s briefly overview how the book was organized.

Pre-suasion is split into three sections. The first section is appropriately titled ‘The Frontloading of Attention’ as Cialdini explains how guiding the attention of our prospects and customers is crucial in priming them to be receptive to our persuasive efforts.

The second section overviews subtle peripheral features and details that can nudge prospects toward a desired outcome.

Finally, the third section, my favorite section, overviews the central takeaways of Cialdini’s first bestseller Influence and advises persuaders to keep them in mind when deciding what to focus the attention of their prospective customers on. Also, this third section outlines some important ethical considerations.

In an effort to better represent the book, I’ve ordered my takeaways sequentially by how they appeared in the book.

Twelve Salespeople Takeaways ( Ordered How They Appeared in the Book )

1. The Importance of Attention in Creating Privileged Moments

‘Privileged moments’ occur when prospects adopt the ideal state of mind to be influenced and persuaded.

Earlier in Cialdini’s career his thinking on creating privileged moments was governed by the dominant scientific model of social influence which asserted that to change another’s behavior meant that you had to change some existing feature of that person so it fits with the new desired behavior.

For instance, if you wanted someone to buy a new soft drink — you would work to make them believe rationally that it’s a soft drink that they want. You may accomplish this by highlighting that it is the fastest growing soft drink product in the market — or you may win their business by showing trusted celebrities that endorse the product.

Both of these methods alter the perception of the soft drink in order to influence prospective customers, and as effective as the perception-altering methods are, they are not the only way.

“It’s not always necessary to alter a person’s beliefs or attitudes or experiences. It’s not necessary to alter anything at all except what’s prominent in that person’s mind at the moment of decision.”

For example, in a comparison study on persuasion, scientists used two methods to approach unsuspecting people to sign them up for a free sample of a new soft drink.

The first method was to simply ask people if they could provide emails to be sent instruction on how to receive their free soft drink sample. This first cut-and-dry, to-the-point method received a 33% success rate.

The second method leveraged a pre-suasive technique that primed people to provide their email.

In the second method, individuals approached were first asked “ do you consider yourself an adventurous person? ”

Then, after 97% of individuals affirmed they were adventurous, 75.7% of them agreed to provide their emails.

In this example we can clearly see that the perceptions about the soft drink were not influenced. There was no shifting of belief about the soft drink. Instead, it was by focusing the individual’s attention on an adventurous version of themselves that made them more receptive and susceptible to the persuasive effort.

Another example of creating an effective privileged moment can be seen in a second persuasion experiment conducted by communication scientists Bolkan and Anderson.

In their experiment, Bolkan and Anderson compared two methods of asking unsuspecting people to complete a survey.

The first method was to plainly ask the unsuspecting people if they could help complete a survey. This first cut-and-dry, to-the-point method received a 29% success rate.

In the second method, individuals approached by surveyors were first asked “ do you consider yourself a helpful person? ” Then, after almost every individual confirmed they were helpful, 77% of them agreed to take the survey.

Once again, when the attention of the unsuspecting individuals was focused in the right way, they became much more likely to say yes.

Once peoples’ attentions were focused on how adventurous or helpful they were, it would have been inconsistent with what they just said to not provide their email for the first experiment or complete the survey for the second.

Afterall, as Cialdini highlighted in Influence — “the desire for consistency is a central motivator of our behavior.” ( More on this type of thing in takeaways six to twelve. )

Now I can’t list all of the ways in which you can create privileged moments, but if you read on, you will uncover some more key techniques and principles to help you create your own.

2. Target Chuting

Target chuting is a common technique used by palm readers. The way it works is by first understanding the natural human tendency to hunt for confirmations rather than disconfirmations when asked a question, and then to ask questions that will trigger prospective customers to hunt for confirmations that are in line with what we want them to focus their attention on.

For example, if we want prospective customers to take a risk and try a new soda, we ask them if they are adventurous, and if we want their help filling out a survey, we ask them if they are helpful. In both cases, a question is asked and then the attention of the prospective customers is chuted in a direction that primes them for our persuasive communication.

Another example of target chuting can be observed by cult recruiters. One of the first questions they use to seduce new recruits is to ask them if they are unhappy — then the approached individuals are sent spiraling through a torrent of unhappy memories and are left far more susceptible to the recruiters promise of a happier future in the cult.

A similar technique to target chuting, left unnamed by Cialdini, was brought forth by famous psychotherapist Milton Erickson. When Erickson wanted a way to emphasize certain information to his patients without raising his voice, he would lower it. The effect of lowering his voice was that his patients would lean in and redouble their focus on his words. Yes, he could focus his patients by adding volume, but this risks offending his patients and straining his relationship with them, and as a psychotherapist, or a salesperson, straining relationships for an ounce of focus is a bad tradeoff.

3. Subtle Details Can Help You Persuade

Throughout Pre-SuasionCialidini provides examples of how subtle details can help influence and persuade:

  • If you want someone to buy an Italian bottle of wine, play Italian music.
  • If you want someone to try something new, ask them if they consider themselves to be adventurous.
  • If we want people to feel warmly toward us, pour them a hot drink.
  • If we want people to be helpful, show them an image of people working together.
  • If we want people to be ambitious and achievement oriented, show them a picture of an athlete celebrating their victory.
  • If we want someone to think carefully on a topic, we should attach an image of Rodin’s famous statue of ‘The Thinker.’
  • If we want someone to buy expensive, comfortable furniture from a website, we should make the website’s background an image of plush clouds.
  • If we want someone to buy cheaper furniture, we should make the website’s background an image of rusted pennies.

Cialdini’s Pre-susasion is chock full of examples on how we can subtly focus the attention of our customers and prospects in order to influence and persuade. Again, exemplifying that what people pay attention to is material to how they react in any given situation.

4. Tell stories. Better yet, tell mystery stories

Telling a good mystery story is one of the best ways to engage others. Once you start your mysterious story, your audience will listen until the mystery is solved. Here is an outline provided by Cialdini for your mystery:

  • Pose your mystery
  • Deepen the mystery
  • Circle proper explanation by eliminating alternative explanations
  • Resolve the mystery
  • Draw conclusions about the resolution to make your point ( and use metaphors if you can )

5. Live Happy

Although it is not a big part of the book, Cialdini briefly mentions that happiness is correlated with success in other aspects of life, and he even provides a few habits that are found to help people improve their happiness:

  • Count your blessings and gratitude at the start of every day. Then give yourself some concentrated time with them by writing them down.
  • Cultivate optimism by deciding to look on the bright side of situations, events, and opportunities
  • Negate the negative by deliberately limiting time spent dwelling on problems or unhealthy comparisons to others

In addition to these tips, Cialdini even recommends the app called Live Happy, which helps people do the above and more, and he reminds readers that being happier is like exercise or eating healthily, you need to practice these happy habits habitually.

Special Note On The Following Takeaways

Section three of Pre-Suasionrefocuses readers on the fact that “ frequently the factor most likely to determine a person’s choice in a situation is not the one that counsels most wisely; it is one that has been elevated in attention. “

Then, this section directs readers to focus their prospects and customers’ attentions on Cialdini’s six universal principles of influence, which he first introduced in his earlier novel, Influence, where he went undercover in several different sales organizations to uncover the secrets of influence and persuasion.

The six principles are as follows:reciprocity, liking, authority, social proof, scarcity, and consistency.

The next eight takeaways are from this third section of Pre-suasion.

6. The Power of Reciprocity

Of all Cialdini’s universal principles of persuasion, the principle of reciprocity has been most useful in my sales career.

In short, this principle highlights the natural urge most people have to pay back favours and gifts they have received. Perhaps it is genetic, perhaps it is out of a feeling or responsibility, or perhaps it is because we are all afraid of being called a freeloader.

Whatever the case, people tend to say yes to those they ‘owe.’

When I was a door-to-door salesperson, almost anytime I bought something at a yard sale, I would walk away with some commission. Also, giving away chocolate to everyone I spoke with improved my sales results.

But this doesn’t just work in door-to-door. Enterprise sales people invest in expensive dinners, trips, and gifts for prospects and customers because it allows them to quote, and at times, win deals.

To strengthen your customer’s and prospect’s urge to pay you back, make your favours and gifts tailored, thoughtful, and unexpected.

For example, a waiter who provided chocolate to dinners saw their tips rise. Then, when that same waiter provided chocolate to dinners, walked a few paces away from the table, and turned unexpectably and gave extra chocolate to the diners, they saw their tips rise 21.3 percent.

One last concept about this principle of reciprocation. In negotiations, when one side makes a concession, it is often viewed as a favour, and the other side typically responds with a concession of their own.

This is why savvy negotiations start with extra demands.

7. We Likely Buy From People We Like

Along with making yourself presentable, there are a few things you can do to boost your likeability.

  • Find Similarities: If you can find common ground with your customers and prospects, you will be more likable.
  • Compliments: Can you remember a few compliments you’ve received in the past? Felt good didn’t it!? If you can find something you authentically think is complimentable, pay that compliment!!
  • Be Attractive: Studies have found that physical attractiveness is associated with intelligence.
  • Appear Competent: You can be likeable as anything, but you also want to appear competent. Wear clean clothes, be prepared, and find other subtle ways to convey your competence.

Why we want to be likeable:

People like people who like them. If you can show that you like your prospect or customer, they’ll be more likely to trust you.

Like the old adage says: “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

8. Prove That You Are An Authority

You’re probably told twice daily to be knowledgeable, to understand your customers, and generally build your acumen.

But this is only half of the equation.

It’s just as important to prove to your customers that you are a knowledgeable authority.

If you can exude knowledge, insight, and experience, your prospects and customers will be lined up around the block to do business with you.

Find ways to share insights and knowledge so that they know you’re an authority, and of course, find insights and learn as much as you can about your customers, your industry, and your products and services so that you know how to prove yourself.

When I sold cable door to door, I was able to ask one or two questions and then tell customers exactly what they were paying. This trick showed them I knew what I was talking about, and this primed customers to think of me as an authority who was worth listening to the subject.

This isn’t an easy thing to do when selling complex products, but it’s also not impossible. Build your knowledge, and then find ways to adverse it.

Also, it can’t hurt to dress above your job, and to beg your boss for a fancier position title.

9. Scarcity and Fear

Limited time offers, limited availability, and fear can create urgency, but if you use these mechanisms in a dishonest way, your prospects and customers will probably find you out and refuse to do business with you in the future.

Use this tactic with caution.

10. People Want To Be Consistent

People have an urge to be consistent. Afterall, ‘your word is your bond!’

For whatever evolutionary or devine reason, this urge for consistency is strong, and as salespeople, we can leverage it to influence and persuade.

Remember the examples from the start of this article? Asking prospects if they considered themselves helpful, made it extremely difficult for them to say no to helping out with a survey. And, asking prospects if they were adventurous, made it extremely difficult for them to say no to providing an email so that they could be sent a new soft drink.

Most did not want to take a survey or provide an email, but once those pre-suasive questions were asked, more people participated because it would have been inconsistent not to.

11. Social Proof, Conformity, And Keeping Up With The Jones

If an option on a restaurant menu has a note next to it saying that it’s a bestseller, then it will sell like crazy!

Conforming with the group is typically a safe and easy way to make decisions. If everyone else is doing something, then you should do it too!

And we do conform, and it works, but we always remember to watch out for group think!

Another way social proof that can be used is to highlight the danger of being left behind. “Everyone is transitioning to VOIP phones, and if you don’t, your company will be left behind! “

This touches on both our urge to conform and on our fears, and it can be super effective.

12. When To Leverage Cialdini’s Principles Of Influence

At the first stage of most sales cycles, your job is to cultivate positive associations. Two principles of influence, reciprocity and liking, are most useful here.

Next, in typical sales cycles, your job will be to reduce the uncertainty and anxiety that surround the transaction. Here, the principles of social proof and authority help most.

Finally, once you are ready to ‘close the deal,’ look to the principles of consistency and scarcity in order to create commitment and urgency.

Good luck!

As salespeople — we can focus the attention of our prospects and customers in a way that primes them to be more susceptible to influence and persuasion.

This fact is unsurprising to anyone who’s ever been swept up in the moment and bought something they’ve regretted.

However, now that this fact has been brought to our attention, we must remind ourselves that these tactics should be used ethically.

In a perfect world, sales tactics would only be directed toward prospects and customers that undoubtedly benefit from what’s being sold.

But even if this were the case, some may argue that they should never be used, but in my opinion, if it weren’t for sales people using these tactics to combat the indifference, fear, and laziness of buyers, nothing would ever get done.

All this said, make your own determinations. My opinion is worth what you paid for it.


Links to Pre-Suasion ( 2016 ) and Influence ( 1984 )

For more sales articles, visit www.conorwriter.com

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