Why do people make purchasing decisions? What motivates or persuades them to buy? This is a question that all sales and marketing people (should) ask, and it’s a question that has captured a lot of attention in the field of psychology. One psychologist in particular, Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, has conducted intensive research into understanding what he calls the psychology of influence.
Cialdini’s research led him to develop 6 principles of persuasion. These principles predict how most people think and behave under certain circumstances, and understanding that predictable behavior can be used to influence them into making desirable choices, such as trying a free trial or deciding to purchase.
This post is part of a two-part series of Cialdini’s theory of influence. In part 1, we’ll discuss the first three principles of persuasion, and how they can be used in sales and marketing to increase leads and boost conversions.
Consistency and Commitment
As a general rule, people want to be consistent in their words and actions. If a person commits verbally or in writing to something, they will most likely follow through on those words in order to remain consistent. In one study, researchers asked people in a neighbourhood to put a small postcard promoting safe driving in their front windows. A few weeks later, the researchers asked people in two neighbourhoods – one where people had put postcards in their front windows and one where they hadn’t – to put a big ugly billboard on their front lawn promoting safe driving. The people who had put up a postcard in their front windows were four times more likely to agree to the billboard, because they wanted to appear consistent in their commitment to promoting safe driving.
One manifestation of commitment is known as the foot-in-the-door technique. According to the foot-in-the-door technique, getting a person to agree to a small request increases the chances that they’ll agree to a larger request later. The neighbourhood study above is an example of the foot-in-the-door technique.
You can use this technique in sales to gain meetings with a prospect. If you can persuade a prospect to meet with you for 15 minutes, they’ll be much more likely to agree to meet with you again for longer. This can be helpful in situations where you are trying to connect with time-strapped clients who, initially, might not have an interest in making time for your sales pitch.
A smaller but more frequent application of the consistency principle is having prospects agree to specific meetings ahead of time. Rather than settling for a non-committal “we’ll meet again soon,” the principle of consistency suggests that having prospects agree to a specific time and place makes it much more likely that they’ll actually show up to the meeting. Once they’ve committed, they’ll want to uphold that commitment.
The principle extends to even smaller applications, such as getting the prospect to verbalize an action you want them to take. For example, simply saying, “You should call if you have any questions” will likely have a lower response rate than directly asking the prospect, “Will you call me if you have any questions?” and then having them verbalize a “Yes” in response.
Reciprocity is the idea that if you do something for someone, they will feel as if they owe it to you to return the favor. A common example is when a co-worker picks up a coffee for you one morning, and you feel compelled to pick one up for them the next day. It’s human nature to feel indebted to someone who does something for you.
To use reciprocity effectively, there are a few things to know. First, you must be the first to give. Second, to increase the feelings of reciprocity, the gift should be personalized and unexpected. For example, if I brought you a coffee but don’t make it the way you prefer, that would be less effective than if I asked you how you like it, or even better, if I remembered how you take it and brought it to you without asking. Going out of your way to do something special for a specific individual without them anticipating or expecting it increases the feeling of reciprocity.
Finally, reciprocity works best if the giving is done with no expectation to receive in return. Reciprocity will still work even if you hope to get something in return, but in its most effective and powerful form, it occurs because someone did something for you out of the goodness of their heart.
When it comes to sales and marketing, reciprocity comes into play in a variety of ways. Offering free content and advice is a more subtle way to use reciprocity in business. Sales and marketing often work to provide prospects with informative content that can help the prospect grow their business and succeed. Salespeople may give expert business advice to help the company grow. These free offerings make the customer feel like they have been given something of value, and in return, they may do you the favor of purchasing your product. And remember, the more personalized and unexpected the advice or content is, the better.
The principle of reciprocity can also be used to generate valuable testimonials and reviews. Providing excellent customer service, great advice, and an exceptional product will make a customer more than willing to provide a testimonial or case study in return. If your company goes above and beyond to make the customer happy, the customer will be glad to return the favor in the form of positive reviews.
According to the principle of scarcity, if something is considered to be scarce, whether that scarcity is real or perceived, people feel that it is more valuable and will be more likely to act on the opportunity to obtain it. So if a consumer feels that they could miss out on an opportunity, offer, or product, there is an increased chance that they’ll purchase it in order to avoid losing out.
Scarcity can also suggest that the product is popular, and that the buyer should therefore take advantage of what everyone else wants – before it’s gone.
Scarcity is already widely applied in sales and marketing. From limited time offers to slogans like “while quantities last,” companies have a pretty good handle on how to use scarcity. But here are a couple of extra tips to take full advantage of this principle.
Consider reducing the length of any free trials or product discounts. KISSmetrics reduced their free trials from 30 to 14 days, which resulted in a 102% increase in the number of people that actually used the product they were signing up to test. With a reduction in how much time they felt they had, people were more likely to actually test out the product.
Similarly, if people only have 5 days left to take advantage of a discount, they’ll be more likely to sign up than if they have a full 30 days. This can be true for invitations to webinars and other events as well. For example, we’ve hosted a number of our practice solutions webinars with Danielle K. Lambert of Snout School and she finds that if she sends out an email announcing her webinars a day before they happen, she gets a higher response rate than if she promotes further in advance. Her last-minute emails suggest a scarcity of time.
Also be sure to emphasize what is unique about your product. If your product is the only one on the market with a specific feature or function, that means there is a scarcity of products with those benefits, increasing the product’s value. Mentioning what the prospect has to lose if they don’t buy your product also increases the feeling of scarcity.
Warning: Don’t overuse the principle of scarcity. Limited time or reduced offers work, but if your product is always in limited supply but never runs out, customers will notice, and it will damage your credibility and customer’s trust. The same goes for your event; sometimes it’s necessary to promote far in advance if attendees need to make arrangements for travel and other logistics.
These techniques aren’t replacements for good sales and marketing practices, and they should never be used in an unethical and deceptive manner. But by applying an understanding of the psychology of influence to your sales and marketing strategies, you can tap into human nature, increase your leads, and boost your sales.
Check out part 2 to learn more about Cialdini’s other 3 principles of persuasion.
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