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6 Keys to Influencing Your Customers

6 Keys to Influence

This post, from Jamie Kleinerman of CEB Sales, outlines how sales professionals should think about influence.  It’s great to see how our business partners think about the issues that we face, and we can always apply ideas for selling as we work to embed our insights throughout the organization. 

At the 2011 Sales and Marketing Summit, “Inside the Customer’s Purchase Decision,” the keynote address was delivered by Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of the well-known book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Dr. Cialdini’s work on persuasive techniques is always an interesting read for business professionals, but what made his speech especially timely and relevant for the summit was that it was about persuasion during times of greater information overload and uncertainty.

Faced with more information than ever before, stricter budgets and approval processes, and greater internal consensus requirements, customers are increasingly uncertain about making purchases today.

According to Dr. Cialdini, people exhibit several possible responses when faced with decisional uncertainty:

  • Freezing—a reluctance to act or make a choice until the uncertainty is resolved
  • Loss Aversion—a tendency to prefer choices designed to prevent losses over choices designed to obtain gains
  • Heuristic Choices—when choices are made, they are based on a single, relevant factor rather than a set of relevant factors

It’s no easy feat for sales forces to contend with customers exhibiting these behaviors. Reps can help customers overcome their decisional uncertainty and hesitancy though, by using some key principles of persuasion and influence.

In his talk, Dr. Cialdini discussed the six principles of influence:

  1. Reciprocation—people feel obligated to give back to you the behavior you have given them
  2. Scarcity—when people think they can’t get something, it increases their demand for it and forces them to take action
  3. Authority—people’s uncertainty is reduced if an authority figure endorses something – it gives them more confidence to act
  4. Consistency—if people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal
  5. Consensus—people are more willing to take a recommended action if they see evidence that many others, especially similar others, are taking it
  6. Friendship/Liking—people are easily persuaded by other people that they know and like

While all six of these principles are important and merit further discussion, there’s one that especially jumped out at me (and many of the sales executives sitting in the room): consensus.

When uncertain about a decision, people can be compelled to act by seeing others’ past successes or hearing testimonials of similar others. Simply put, people are most persuaded by people like themselves.

Dr. Cialdini used an example about hotel water conservation to illustrate this point. He cited a study on what language most encourages people to reuse their towels in hotels (and therefore, conserve water). After trying different messaging and wording, the study showed that the most effective approach was not to lecture hotel guests with environmental warnings, but instead to point out how many other people were reusing their towels. And not just any people…the people who had stayed in the exact same room.

Yet another example he shared was about restaurant menus – when restaurants put ‘our most popular item’ next to a dish on the menu, it increases sales of that item 13-20%.

Though these examples come from the B2C world, the same thing rings true for B2B sales: people want to know who else like them has made this purchase. And when people are uncertain, they rely even more on their peers to provide guidance on the next steps to take.

CEB Sales calls this approach of leading customers through the purchase process Commercial Coaching, and Market Insights teams have seen similar success reaching business partners through familiar channels, including peers.  CEB Market Insights members, check out our work on Embedding Customer Knowledge Into the Business, including best practices to help you:

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