It’s a small, simple word that can be so difficult to secure from others. But did you know there are scientifically proven ways to increase your ability to persuade others? It’s true. You haven’t heard much about it because research on persuasion is somewhat of a secret science, often dormant in the pages of academic journals.
Today we’ll dive in and take a look at some of these covert techniques. You’ll discover a handful of tips that will help you become more persuasive online, at work and even at home. At the end of each tip, I’ll provide real-world examples that you can go out and test today. My only request is that you use them in wholly ethical ways.
Turn Your Weakness Into a Strength
Progressive Auto Insurance started providing its competitors rates on their website alongside their own — even if the competitive price is lower. It seems like a clear road to extinction to me, but the company has experienced enormous growth since launching the project. Though it goes against common sense, research conducted by a group of social scientists1 shows that people looking to buy online report being more likely to shop from a moderately priced store when that store also provides its competitors’ (sometimes lower) prices.
Why does it work? Arguing against your self-interest creates the perception that you and your organization are honest and trustworthy. This puts you in a more persuasive position when promoting your genuine strengths.
Test it: Next time you’re on a sales call, don’t be afraid to say that you don’t have a particular feature — the prospect will appreciate your honesty and become more persuaded by the features you do offer. Or next time you are trying to sell a car, volunteering a little negative information about the car should do wonders for the buyer’s trust in you and the vehicle.
The Power of Social Proof
Ever watch the Home Shopping Network? The channel secretly changes your perception of the popularity of a product by showing you the number of other people who have just purchased it. It’s a brilliant tactic. Why? Because recent studies2 show that home viewers follow and act on their perception of others. In turn, this increases the desire to buy and confidence in the decision. Even more interesting is that when asked, people deny that other people’s behavior influences their own. So you’re being persuaded without even knowing it!
Test it: On your website, use copy that takes advantage of social popularity — such as “join countless others” or “hurry, only 2 left.” Ask for testimonials from satisfied clients and feature them on your website, pitch slides and brochures. Take it a step further by setting up a situation where your current clients can give firsthand testimonials to prospective clients about how satisfied they are with you and your company.
Always Offer a Compromise Option to Buyers
Buying decisions are nearly always made by comparing the set of available options and their respective prices. When consumers consider a set of choices they tend to favor alternatives that are the “compromise” — between the minimum and maximum of what they need.3
Restaurants take advantage of this. A $90 bottle of wine seems expensive until you see the $320 bottle on the same list. The trick is, restaurants never intend to sell the $320 bottle — they want to sell the $90 bottle, so they include the $320 bottle to make the $90 bottle seem like a compromise. A sale of the $320 bottle is just a bonus.
Test it: If you sell consulting services, it’s best to offer low, medium and high pricing options. Make the medium option the one you want to sell the most of and make the most money from. To your prospects, the medium option will seem like a compromise between the high and low. Then you’ll sell more of what you want and make more money. Or if you need a new computer at work, don’t just show your boss the $1,200 Macbook Pro you really want — bookend that choice with one option not as nice, and one that is clearly more expensive. You’ll increase the likelihood that your boss will agree that the Macbook is the best choice.
Providing Too Many Options Can Diminish Participation
People often don’t know precisely what they want until they’ve surveyed what’s available. Recent reports4 show that offering too many choices can actually discourage participation. People get frustrated when trying to make the best decision with too many options.
Test it: Don’t offer 10 different subscription options if you sell online software packages. By saturating the market with a large number of unnecessary varieties, you could be inadvertently harming sales and, in turn, reducing profits. Take a look at your offering right now — it may be worth considering a reduction in the number of options to get maximum interest in your product or service.
Start Your Pricing Low or High — Which Will Make People Buy?
Have you ever wondered if starting your bid low or high for an eBay auction item will result in a higher sale price? I sure have. It turns out there is scientific evidence5 that supports one option over the other: start low. There are three reasons: First, a low price creates a low barrier to entry that encourages participation by as many people as possible. Second, bidders who get in early are likely to spend more time and energy on the auction and become more committed to winning. And third, the high number of bids you receive from starting lower acts as social validation for new bidders.
Test it: There are inherent similarities between the online auctions of eBay and a business’ competitive bidding process — so keep that in mind next time you find yourself deep in the trenches of a bidding war. Or if you are selling a business or high value domain name online, don’t be afraid to start the price low — it may feel risky but put your confidence in the scientifically backed option. You’ll get more people bidding who become committed to winning the auction.
Go out today and put these ideas into practice. You’ll be surprised by how well they work. And to pick up a few more secrets of persuasion, I suggest you start by reading a few books by PhD and expert on the topic, Robert Cialdini.
If anyone has any additional persuasion techniques to share, feel free to post them to the comments section below. Have fun with your new skills!
Jon Parker is an online marketing expert who lives in Austin, Texas and is the Senior Marketing Manger at All Web Leads Inc. In his spare time, Jon likes to provide online marketing consulting for smaller businesses, run outdoors and spend time with his wife and two dogs. You can follow Jon on Twitter via @jonbparker or on his personal blog: www.jonbparker.com.
1. “Turn Your Weakness Into A Strength,” by Trifts, V. and Haubl, G. Information availability and consumer preference: Can online retailers benefit from providing access to competitor price information? Published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2003.
2.“The Power of Social Proof,” by Nisbett, R., and Wilson, T. Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes. Psychological Review, 1977.
3.“Always Offer a Compromise Option to Buyers,” by Simonson, I. Get closer to your customers by understanding how they make choices. California Management Review, 1993.
4.“Providing Too Many Options Can Diminish Participation,” by Osnos, E. Too many choices? Firms cut back on new products. Philadelphia Enquirer, Sept. 27, 1997
5.“Start Your Pricing Low or High?” by Ku, G., Galinsky, A.D, and Murningham, J.K. Starting low but ending high: A reversal of the anchoring effect in auctions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2006.