'Pre-Suasion' is what happens before you even start to persuade somebody – or in our case, mostly customers.
Robert Beno Cialdini, the Regent´s Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University and visiting professor of marketing, business and psychology at Stanford University, as well as at the University of California; is best known for his theories on persuasion and marketing. His studies in the area of influence and persuasion are not only enlightening and practically useful, but also scientifically proven. His work should be of interest to everybody, but especially to those who are in direct contact with customers.
He identifies six significant aspects of influence:
- 1. Reciprocity
- Most of us know that if you do a favor for someone, they will often feel a responsibility to do something for you in return.
- 2. Likeability
- Make yourself trustworthy. A counterintuitive, but proven and very successful method is to talk about the mistakes you’ve made! We’re all familiar with this strategy, but while we like people to speak candidly about their weaknesses, we seldom apply this practice when speaking about ourselves.
- 3. Consistency
- When we commit to something, we have a tendency to justify this commitment by inventing a new rationale and otherwise seeking confirmation that we have made the right choice. For example, when you ask somebody for a favor, he will then see himself as the kind of person who does favors to you.
- 4. Social Proof
- People like to do things that other people are doing. In an experiment, students were instructed to stare up into the sky. The experiment was aborted, however, because traffic was stopped by the many bystanders who saw the students and felt compelled to look at the sky as well. For example, "99% of our customers are very satisfied with our work and the kind of partnership we share".
- 5. Authority
- Humans tend to obey authority figures. This effect can be a very subtle one. For example, in most restaurants, the “Chef’s Recommendation” is the bestselling dish.
- 6. Scarcity
- Perceived scarcity will generate demand. If we sense that something will no longer be available, we want it now!
He points out that it is of utmost importance to use these techniques in a very subtle and responsible way, otherwise the result will be the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve. A very interesting fact about influence and persuasion is that, even if we deny it, the context in which the specific communication takes place plays a huge role.
Two unmasking studies that show how 'unconsciously influenceable' we humans are in terms of context:
- In France, male students had to ask young women for their telephone numbers, and the average success rate was about 13%. However, women who were asked in front of flower shops (which are correlated with romantic impressions) gave their numbers in 24% of all cases. That means nearly double the success rate! Afterwards, the women denied that they were more easily swayed by their location in front of a flower shop. While their denial is understandable, it is nevertheless false. We neither know nor accept how impressionable we are.
- Another study revealed that writing styles can change depending on the type of pictures displayed on the wall of the room where writers were asked to write a short article. In the room with pictures of professors on the wall, the articles sounded heavily academic, and the writing style completely changed when the room was decorated with pictures of children.
Besides the fact that you can integrate this knowledge into your communication toolset, how could these ideas be put to use when deciding where to meet potential or existing customers? Does it make sense to evaluate a meeting spot with the goal of the meeting in mind?
Would it be a good idea to design meeting rooms according to the conscious and unconscious feelings we would like employees and customers to have? (not necessarily a romantic flower shop theme).
It could even make sense to “customize” meeting rooms for specific customers and for specific negotiation goals.
These are just some ideas to find new ways to continuously optimize our communication with partners and customers with something we hadn´t even considered in the past.
For anybody interested in reading more on this subject I can recommend the following books by Robert Cialdini: