I’m a learning addict. It’s gotten so bad, my therapist tells me the day I stop learning is the day I will die.
Recently, I’ve been learning more about the science of persuasion, and I wanted to share a number of insights from this research that can help you improve your building material sales and marketing.
Two caveats before we get started:
- Some people think that persuasion is unethical while selling is perfectly fine. Here’s my take on it: persuasion and selling are skills. Whether they’re ethical or not depends on how you choose to use them. If you use persuasion to convince someone to buy your product because you sincerely believe it’s in their best interest, there is nothing unethical about that.
- Later in the article, I will discuss the way Trump successfully uses persuasion and what you can learn from him. I think these lessons apply no matter what you think of him. If you dislike him, I hope you can read it anyway.
Persuasion in Sales and Marketing
When building material companies want to increase their sales, they usually focus on three words: sales, selling and marketing.
Those aren’t bad words, but they’re the same ones your competitors use. And when everyone thinks the same way, it is much harder to make a breakthrough. Everyone settles for and measures their success based on small incremental gains when they could have much larger gains simply by using a different language.
One powerful example of this is using the word “persuasion” in place of the word “selling.” It seems like a small difference, but it’s one that has a big impact. When you change your language, you apply a different filter and start looking at how you sell and how you market your product in a whole new way.
Marketing people and ad agencies have long understood that they are in the business of persuading customers. Salespeople tend to be more comfortable with the more sports-like terminology of selling, which enables them to keep score and always be playing offense. The danger of this mindset is that it makes selling the most important measure, while the customer is merely a goalpost.
When you redefine selling as persuading, it slows you down. Now, the needs and wants of the customer are more important than simply whether or not you made a sale.
You can also think of persuading as seducing. When you do, you will only consider yourself successful when you manage to see each customer as an individual and tailor your approach to them based on who they are.
Selling encourages you to see all architects, builders and contractors as interchangeable and basically the same. That allows you to use the same sales approach over and over again. Persuasion is much more effective because it lets you see each individual customer’s needs and shows you exactly how you could meet them.
Now, before you decide to click away, let me clarify that I am not saying that selling skills are not extremely important. I am simply encouraging you to take a moment and look at selling skills from a different angle to see if you can’t become an even better salesperson.
The more persuasive you are as a salesperson, the more sales you will close, and you will close them faster. You will also waste less time because you will be more likely to focus on the best customers for your product.
At the end of this article, I’m going to suggest a few books and resources you can check out if you’re interested in learning more about persuasion and how improving your persuasion skills can improve your sales. If you’re in marketing, these recommendations will also serve as a refresher course in the art of persuasion.
Translating Facts into the Customer’s Language
When selling, most building materials salespeople think their customers will consider the facts as they make their decisions. But I’ve sat in on enough building materials sales calls to tell you that the “facts” just don’t usually make much of a difference.
The salesperson usually leaves these unsuccessful calls questioning their ability to communicate the facts. They’re literally thinking, “If I could just get the customer to understand that eating spinach is good for them, they would buy from us.” That didn’t work for your mother, and it won’t work for you, either.
Part of the problem is that these salespeople are usually trained by a product expert. These experts are so focused on the advantages of the product that they have a hard time relating to the customer.
Unfortunately, this body of knowledge tends to come with an attitude of “We know best.” So, they usually teach salespeople that their job is to educate the customer about the wonderful benefits of eating more spinach.
Having these experts explain the products to salespeople is, of course, very important. It makes the salespeople more knowledgeable and increases their confidence in the product and their ability to sell it. But what’s often missing is someone who can translate what the product expert has taught them into the customer’s language.
These translators might, for example, say “We just learned that our product can do X. What this means for the customer is Y.” This is such a simple and critical step and I am amazed at how often it’s missing when explaining products to salespeople.
I have also never once met a person who invented or developed a new product and is very good at selling it to a customer. They almost always fall on their face because the features they consider to be the most important are not the ones that are important to the customer – at least, not in the way they present it.
If you take a look at other industries, like pharmaceutical or automobile sales, you’ll see how much time they spend translating the technical aspects of their products in a way that helps their salespeople be more persuasive and land more sales. Building material companies should be doing the same.
Robert Cialdini on Influence
The leading authority on persuasion is Dr. Robert Cialdini, whose entire career has based on researching the science of influence.
Dr Cialdini is an expert in what it takes to get us to say “yes” to the requests of others. His work has revealed that there is a science to persuasion, and that a lot of what influences us is quite surprising.
One thing Cialdini teaches us is that, as our lives are becoming increasingly overloaded, we learn to use shortcuts or rules of thumb to guide our decision-making.
His research has identified six shortcuts that guide human behavior:
According to Dr. Cialdini, “Understanding these shortcuts and employing them in an ethical manner can significantly increase the chances that someone will be persuaded by your request.”
Scott Adams on Persuasion
Another expert in persuasion is the cartoonist and creator of Dilbert, Scott Adams. While Dr. Cialdini approaches the science of persuasion from an academic standpoint, Adams takes a more every day, commonsense approach.
Scott Adams caught my attention when he went out on a limb and predicted that Donald Trump would win the presidency because of his persuasive sills. I knew he was a successful cartoonist, but I found out that his real passion is the study of persuasion. He is so committed to the study of persuasion that he lost half of his income from speaking and his Dilbert cartoon just because of his prediction. And the kicker is that he’s not even a fan of Trump; he’s simply a fan of the power of persuasion.
After the election, he wrote a book titled Win Bigly – Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter.
In this book, he covers:
- The ranking of the most effective persuasion methods (fact-based reasoning is lower than you might think)
- Why visual imagery is so much more powerful than words
- How to come up with killer messages
- How to neutralize a criticism by taking the high ground everyone can agree on
As a useful summary, here are ten things Jeffrey (he doesn’t share last name) has learned about persuasion from Scott Adams:
1. Humans think there is a single, objective view of reality that we all share. The truth is, we all connect different dots of our experiences and put different weight and meaning behind those connections. We all experience different realities.
2. Human focus is limited. Bland things don’t stand out. Much of Trump’s behavior, including his tweets and provocative statements, are designed to draw our attention and change the conversation. Trump directs our energy by being ‘wrong’ in a ‘how dare he!‘ sense, or even with his punctuation. Everyone then feels the need to dissect and discuss Trump’s behavior or punctuation, ensuring the conversation remains on that topic.
3. Once Trump is able to direct our energy, and because human focus is limited, any new ‘scandal’ can easily move us past the previous small scandals. We love a good scandal. No need to worry about the old ones if the new ones will make us salivate. They don’t even need to be true.
4. Humans tell ourselves stories to make sense of our random world. Cognitive Dissonance is when people cannot easily mesh a new idea with the story in their head. They’ll either outright deny the new idea or rewrite their story to accept the new, unsettling idea. (You can see this when people get angry at something they don’t understand).
5. Humans are led by emotions far more than we want to believe. We all think we’re rational people. The negotiation book taught me otherwise. Trump knows how to negotiate and he understands peoples’ emotions well.
6. Writing is a method to tell a story and get the authors thoughts into the reader’s brain. At it’s best, it’s a hypnotizing effect that paces the reader to a point where they agree, and then leads them to a new understanding.
7. The Founding Fathers of the United States were Master Persuaders. They inspired the colonists to join in a united identity with their words, We the People, in order to form a more Perfect Union…
8. People are visual creatures. Put a sign in front of us and we cannot help but read it. Describe a beautiful sunset at the beach and we can’t help but picture it. (I have since learned more about this from Kahneman.) Trump knows this too, and used it to great effect in his campaign. His concept of the Wall along the US-Mexico border, for example, was always very vague. Vague, but a physical object. The vague idea allowed everyone to visualize it how they preferred. He never once tried to clarify the idea, even to defend it from detractors.
9. Contrast of ideas has amazing power. Ideas don’t exist in a vacuum. Any one idea is contrasted with another idea. Proper framing the ideas is essential to getting that contrast right.
10. If you’re able to identify and cover your downsides to a situation and set up Two Ways to Win, and no way to lose, the outcome of any given scenario is far less risky. Trump wrote about this in The Art of the Deal, he used it during his campaign, and he’s used it since becoming president. For example, he lets the Republican-led congress write a bill that may or may not pass. If it passes, Trump can sign it and claim a victory. If it fails, he can claim they tried and now everyone’s a bit more willing to negotiate for the next attempt at legislation. A lot of the Two Ways to Win strategy lies in the framing of the outcomes.
Books That Will Increase Your Persuasion Skills
I could go on and on about what I have learned from these two experts and how it can help you improve your building material sales and marketing, but I’m going to turn it over to you instead.
- If you’re a leader who is interested in improving the performance of your organization, I encourage you to read some of the following books.
- If you’re an individual sales or marketing person who wants to improve your skills on your own, I also encourage you to read some of these books.
And be sure to check out these other resources to learn more about the power of persuasion:
Thanks for the following comments. I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions on how to sell architects.
“Mark, great article. Impressive…”
Marc André Sarazin
International Sales Leader