The Science of Persuasion

I had the fortune to see Steve J Martin speak at our event earlier this month in Edinburgh. First off, if you are looking to visit Edinburgh, then the George Hotel is definitely somewhere you should stay. Beautiful hotel near Princess Street and great polite staff and lovely rooms.

The premise of the event was to learn about The Science of Persuasion and how it effects all of our lives in business and in general.

Steve co-wrote a book called YES! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion which provides practical tips and case studies on social psychology and how we react to certain requests.

One of the studies he undertook was looking at an estate agency in London. Let’s be honest, estate agents are not exactly everyone’s cup of tea and there are an abundance of them out there… what makes someone choose one over the other? People usually work on referrals in everyday life when looking to make a purchase or a service, be it friends or colleagues or an article/review done on a film. Estate Agents are no different and amazingly the referral system works, even if it is the same company making it. Let me explain:

The estate agent was asked that when a potential client phoned in, that they should establish what the client was looking to do, IE rent, purchase or sell etc and then for the reception to put them through to the relevant person… shock there then! BUT, before putting them through, they should say I am putting you through to Joe, Joe has 15 years’ experience in selling properties in this area, he is widely accepted as one of the best estate agents we have and is qualified in XY and Z. What was being asked was that the reception should put the referral to the agent into context and even though the reception desk works for the same company, it was a referral none the less and built an instant confidence that the client was being put through to the right person. This simple action increased the estate agents success rate on getting new bookings by a considerable level. Even though the client had no idea who this person on reception was, the positive referral had been made.

Another example was that of a restaurant. Lots of research has been done proving that people are more likely to tip a waiter if they give them a mint or sweet with their bill. What one restaurant owner did was to tell his staff to leave the bill, give a mint to each of the guests and then walk away, but while walking away, turn back around and say “as you have all been so lovely tonight, here is an extra mint just for you”. Tips went through the roof. It plays to the idea that the waiter has gone out of their way to give you something unexpected and suggested that they have given extra thought to making sure your dining experience was excellent. At the very least it personalizes the gesture/service/product.

How many times have you gone out of your way to solve a problem for a customer and when thanked, simply responded “Don’t worry about it” or “Your welcome”. At this point when you have made a personal connection with someone and they have acknowledged that you have done something unexpected or outstanding for them, that is the moment when they are most likely to positively respond to a further requests. It’s called reciprocation. Steve makes a very valid point that any further request should be honest and ethical, don’t try to take advantage of someone in this instance as it will backfire on you in the long run, but use the moment to perhaps ask for a further meeting, or to tell their friends and colleagues about how happy they are with the service.

Another example he used was a petrol station during the fuel crisis in the early 00’s. We all remember the fuel shortage and blockades. One petrol station in the midlands, that for various reasons ended up being the only station with fuel for a 10 mile radius decided to put his prices up due to the demand and take advantage of the problem. They increased prices to £8 per litre! They took more money in one day than they would in 10 days and thus profits rocketed. However this backfired. When the shortage was over and everything went back to normal, not only did customers refuse to go back to their petrol station out of protest for taking advantage of the situation, they also set up blockades around the station. So the petrol station benefited in the short term, but lost out long term. What they could have done is perhaps raise prices a little, but put local people as priority customers allowing them to have first option on the fuel. They could have advised this to each customer who came in which would have seen them grow in local goodwill and thus built up a customer loyalty for the future.

The final one I want to mention is that of a blind man sitting on a street corner asking for money on a sunny Spring day. The man has a sign saying I am blind. A marketing executive walks past with his colleagues and says to them, I bet I can make that sign more effective just by adding 3 words. Taking up the challenge, the executive writes 3 words extra to the sign and sits back and watches as more and more people donate money to the blind man. He then approaches the blind man and recognising his footsteps, he asks what he did and what he wrote. The exec simply says I added the words “It is springtime” to the “I am blind” message.

This is an example of tapping into peoples emotional responses and creating a connection with them. By placing the words “It is Springtime” before the statement of I am blind not only emotionally connects with passers-by, but also shows the importance of making the connection prior to the transaction statement. Everything must be put in context. It was agreed that “I am blind, and its Springtime would not have had the same effect as the emotional tag was placed after the statement.

The increased influence that comes with greater understanding of how people respond to emmotional triggers is very powerful – and it is important that leaders understand them.

Steve is the author of YES! 50 secrets of the power of persuasion and I can highly recommend you read it.


2 responses to “The Science of Persuasion

    • Interestingly, Steve mentioned a situation whereby a medical supplies salesman went out of his way to get a new machine to a senior doctor who’s existing machine broke the night before he needed it. The salesman went out of his way to drive half way across the country to get the new machine to him in time. Upon arrival, the doctor was over the moon and obviously greatful for the effort of the salesman. Upon thanking him, the salesman said “no problem, your welcome.” What Steve said was that it was at this precise moment, when you have clearly done something of great value to the other person/business, you should make a further request. This could be to refer the salesman onto a colleague or another company that would benefit from his medical equipment or simply agreeing to a further meeting to review what the clients needs are. People are most likely to respond to a further request when they have expereinced something of value. This does not mean take advantage of the situation and try and sell more goods, but do use the opportunity to further develop your relationship with your customers.

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