The Science of Persuasion

It’s rule one in any salesperson’s rulebook and marketers have been working with it for decades… Simply put, to sell something you have to be able to convince the buyer not only that they want a product or service, but that they need it.

This is clearly where the art of persuasion comes into play. But what about the science of persuasion?

These tactics don’t ‘just work’, there’s science behind them that prompts people to act in a certain way in response to persuasion tactics and a number of studies have been conducted to find out how. Gradually it’s becoming clear that in order to master influence tactics, one must learn and understand the science of persuasion. It’s science, not magic.

A traditionally favoured set of influence tactics comes from Robert Cialdini and his “Six Principles of Influence” which highlights six key subconscious triggers:
We feel obliged to return favours
ConsistencyWe normally follow consistency
Social ProofWe are influence by other similar people
AuthorityWe feel a sense of obligation to people who are seen as being authoritative
LikingWe are influenced easily by people we like and people generally prefer to say yes to people they like
ScarcityWe often fear missing out through failing to act

Cialdini’s argument is that we are all part of an animal kingdom and essentially, work on autopilot based on our basic instincts. We are exposed to stimuli all day every day and as a result our brain uses subconscious routines to filter out certain signals and stimuli and thus allows us to react to stimuli without even realising. His key principles of influence provide the science behind how we are wired and, the simple fact is that whether we like it or not, we respond to each of these triggers positively. Cialdini aimed to answer a question that researchers have been studying for over 70 years- What influences us to say yes? And it seems he may have hit the nail on the head. More recent studies have been conducted looking at some of the six tactics and the key results, along with recent examples are summarised below.

Reciprocity “In a study, the giving of a mint increased a waiter’s tip by 3%. Two mints equal an increase of 14% in tips. BUT, if the waiter leaves one mint, walks away but turns and says but for you nice people, here’s another… tips increased by 23%!”  – The influence was not focused on what was offered but how it was offered.

Scarcity – British Airways announced that they would be cutting twice daily Concord flights from London to New York because they had become uneconomical… The response: Sales more than doubled the very next day.

AuthorityAt a lettings agency, the sales staff asked the receptionist to mention their credentials to customers before they were transferred on the phone. This led to a 20% rise in appointments and 15% rise in signed contracts” – Signalling to credibility is important.

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