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How to Influence and “Pre-Suade” Buyers, with Robert Cialdini [Episode 359]

Joining me on this episode is Dr. Robert Cialdini, New York Times bestselling author, with three million copies of his books sold. Dr. Cialdini is known for his international best-selling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, as well as his latest book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. Dr. Cialdini is the Regent’s Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, as well as the President and CEO of Influence at Work.

Among the topics Dr. Cialdini and I discuss are how his own experience of being “a pushover” led him to research how people are influenced to make decisions; the six (now seven) central precepts of influence and how to use “pre-suasion” to prime prospects to receive the value of your messaging.

Key Takeaways

  • Robert says he’s always been a pushover to buy things he didn’t want, and to make contributions to causes he didn’t know, while people walked away with his money. This is why he started studying the psychology of influence.
  • He wrote Influence to inform people how to recognize and resist unwelcome influences upon themselves. All of his clients, though, want to harness influence, not to deflect it.
  • If we tap into those fundamental motivations that are universal to humanity, then we have a set of influence tools that will be most successful over the widest set of situations and populations.
  • The 6 key precepts of influence.
  • A tactic used on American POWs during the Korean War, was to ask for a neutral agreement before asking for a big one. The agreement mentally turned them from prisoners to assistants. This also works, to turn prospects to customers.
  • Dr. Cialdini once found he was influenced to make a contribution to a man at his door, who had presented no credentials, and no evidence of validity. Dr. Cialdini made a donation, and felt good about it, until he realized how he had been influenced.
  • Savvy communicators Pre-Suade, before they deliver their message. It is not changing a person’s mind, but changing their state of mind, so that they willingly receive your message.
  • If you want to sell by quality, rather than price, show an environment of quality in your marketing materials. Dr. Cialdini tells of a study of clouds vs. pennies for landing page backgrounds, for a furniture store. Listen, for what happened!
  • What has been most recently elevated to top-of-mind, when you’re about to make your pitch? That is what will determine how receptive people will be to it.
  • Dr. Cialdini discovered a seventh principle of influence: Unity (being one of us). People say, “yes” in the boundaries of, “we.” Point to existing memberships you share before you ask. Ask advice (as of a partner), not opinion (as of a customer).
  • These principles work effectively in person. But even in an email, if we start it with a personalizing, connecting message, then that re-establishes the human basis for exchange.
  • Andy recommends to all his listeners to read both books: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul (0:56):

It’s time to Accelerate. I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with the leading experts in sales, marketing sales, automation, sales process, leadership, management, training, coaching, any resource that I believe will help you accelerate the growth of your sales, your business and most importantly, you.

 (2:43) Hello and welcome to Accelerate. I’m excited to be talking to my guest today. Joining me is Dr. Robert Cialdini. He is New York Times bestselling author, known more about his book Influence, the Psychology of Pre-Suasion, as well as his latest book, Pre-Suasion, a Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. Dr. Cialdini is also the region’s professor emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. And as well the president and CEO of Influence at Work, in addition to being a best-selling author, 3 million copies of books sold. Very impressive. Robert Cialdini Welcome to Accelerate.


Robert Cialdini (3:18)

Well, I’m glad to be with you, Andy.


Andy Paul (3:20)

Well, thank you for taking the time. So, take a minute, a very brief introduction, I know, but how’d you get into this business of studying influence?


Robert Cialdini (3:29)

I actually say something about it in the first paragraph of the book Influence, it’s that all my life I’ve been a sucker. I’ve always been a pushover for the appeals of salespeople or fundraisers has come to my door. And I would stand in unwanted position of things or recognizing that I contributed to causes I didn’t really know about, and it occurred to me that there must be something other than the merits of the thing that got me to say “yes”. I didn’t want those particular things I bought, but I was standing there with them. And someone was walking away with my money, which I did want. So, it must be the psychology of the way the merits were presented that win the day, and I decided, well, this is worth studying.


Andy Paul (4:34)

What’s interesting in Influence, I mean, more so than Pre-Suasion, in Influence you spend almost as much time telling people how to resist the methods of influence as much as how to implement them.


Robert Cialdini (4:49)

Indeed, that was the purpose of Influence, to inform people about how to recognize and resist influence attempts that were used on them in an undo or unwelcome way. Not all influence attempts, that’s very important to me. Influence that’s done honestly and informs people into consent, I am a big fan of that kind of influence. But I did want to arm people against those individuals who counterfeited the process, who misguided people into a cent. And so, the book was written for consumers in mind, the interesting thing is that no consumer group has ever called me.


Andy Paul (5:37)

I was going to say, your clients and the people you speak to are all on the other side of saying, how do we implement this as opposed to how do we resist it?


Robert Cialdini (5:44)

Precisely, because people want to know, “well, if you understand how the influence process works, how do we get to harness it? How do we get to harness that understanding, so that we can be more effective in the process?” And of course, that requires– if I’m going to shift from deflecting influence to employing it, that does require a focus on the ethics of the process. So, the people who use these influence strategies can feel good about it. Not only can profit from it, but they can feel good about themselves in the way that they managed to create that success.


Andy Paul (6:31)

Yeah. And what was interesting with that sort of contrast, when you’re resisting as opposed to implementing is that either way, really requires a level of conscious thought that most people don’t give us this idea about influence. They think it’s just about sort of brute force persuasion. And what you lay out in Influence are, are almost things that have been bred into us genetically, at some genetic level, in terms of how we react to certain like the reciprocity, and so on, how do we react to that? It’s almost like we’re– unless we’re thinking about it, we’re not in the ability. We are not able to resist it.


Robert Cialdini (7:11)

I think you’re right Andy, and what has evolved for me in all of this is the recognition that those tendencies that are most primitive in us are also the most powerful. So, if we can tap into those fundamental motivations that are universal to the species, then we’ve got a set of tools that will be most successful over the widest range of situations, widest range of populations.


Andy Paul (7:49)

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on Influence, but you lay out the six basic precepts of influence. So, what are those again, just to refresh for the listeners?


Robert Cialdini (7:59)

Sure. The first is reciprocity, the idea that people want to say “yes” to those who have first given them something. So, for example, research shows that if the manager of a candy store gives people a piece of chocolate, as they enter, they become 45% more likely to buy something in the store. Because they’ve received, it requires something in return when you have received. So that basic idea suggests that we have to give first, and most often it can be information that we can provide that informs people. I have a friend who’s a speaking agent, and she had a client who was a very slow pay, it took six months to get paid from this guy, that was true for all of her friends said the same thing about this guy. So, here’s what she did to cut in half the return time. When she sends in an invoice. She knows that this guy happens to be an art fan. She goes to her local art galleries and museums and buys a little postcard of a piece of art. She includes it in the invoice. And she has cut his response time in half because he’s received something. So, another principle is the principle of liking. Nobody would be surprised to know that we prefer to say “yes” to those people we like, but a small thing we can do to increase the likelihood that people will like us is to simply point to a similarity or commonality that exists between us. And we now have a tool, the internet to find out what those commonalities might be, people tell us about them on Facebook, on LinkedIn and so on. We’d be fools not to mine the orb that’s theirs.


Andy Paul (10:20)

In preparation. You almost sort of turned that on its head a little bit too, because you talk about how people want to do business with people that they know like them, which I thought was a really interesting point.


Robert Cialdini (10:34)

You’re exactly right. That was a perceptive comments that you made because when we find out that someone is similar to us, we like that person more, right? So, when we learn that about a customer and let that customer know, not only does the customer like us more, we like the customer more and that’s what he or she really wants to see.


Andy Paul (11:02)

That’s very, very interesting.


Robert Cialdini (11:04)

If you’re going to sell me something, and I like you because you’re funny and you’re sociable, and so on, that’s fine. But it doesn’t have the weight of knowing that you like me. Because I’m safe there.


Andy Paul (11:22)

Yeah, when we talk about people who buy from people they know, like, and trust, we tend not to think about it being a two-way street. You are laying it out in Pre-Suasion, it really is a two-way street.


Robert Cialdini (11:31)

Right. Liking. Another is what we call social proof. The idea that, if a lot of other people are doing something, it becomes more legitimate. So simply informing people of what the most popular model is that we have, or the most popular payment plan or so on, gets them to stop dithering and decide, “okay, this is the one I will choose.” Another principle is authority, we tend to defer to the opinions of legitimately constituted experts. So, if we can show people that others who are legitimate experts in an arena, have endorsed what we’re saying very often, that is enough to stop people from looking further into decide, “okay, here’s a shortcut I can use to be right. I’ll align myself with the experts.”


Andy Paul (12:35)

And it really plays into this whole idea, and I think you refer to some in your book with Herbert Simon, with the Satisficers. People want to make the good enough decision, right? Not most people are going to be the maximizers, evaluate every single option out there. But that really plays into that.


Robert Cialdini (12:53)

With complex decisions we want to make them good and gone. In fact, there’s a colleague of mine who did a study with realty, in a realtor’s organization. And he listened to what the receptionist said when she took a call. This was in London, the caller said, “I’m looking for commercial real estate in Knightsbridge.” She would say let me connect you. If instead she’d said, “let me connect you to our expert in commercial real estate in Knightsbridge”, they’d got a 16% increase in conversions from callers to customers. Simply honestly informing people of expertise that was there in the situation, the best thing about that little study was that that receptionist was sending people to experts. Anyway, she just didn’t see so.


Andy Paul (14:10)

And then you’re also bringing Pre-Suasion into the whole thing when you’re labeling that person the expert.


Robert Cialdini (14:16)

Before they ever heard a word from that person, they were persuaded to defer to this person’s judgment, because he or she was an expert.


Andy Paul (14:29)

Right? Very interesting. And then the last one–


Robert Cialdini (14:33)

Well, the one is scarcity. A no surprise that we prefer to say “yes”. We find things that are scarce or rare dwindling in availability, more attractive. There was a study done in supermarkets, they just randomly put beneath certain brands, only three items per customer and it doubled sales for seven different brands. People want what they can’t have. So, when we have unique features, we have to be sure that we bring that to the top of consciousness before they even begin considering those features, we have to tell them that these are uncommon, unique, and or perhaps dwindling in availability. And then finally, there’s commitment and consistency. People want to be consistent with what they have already committed themselves to. And so, if we can get people to take a small step in our direction, they will be much more likely to take a larger step in that direction, provided that it’s consistent with what we’ve asked them already to do.


Andy Paul (15:47)

And you have an extremely powerful case study about that in Influence about the letters that the POWs wrote on the Korean War, which, again, not to get too far off track, but I may just spend a second on that because it shows the power of this consistency in our human nature.


Robert Cialdini (16:03)

Right. During the Korean War, the Chinese allies of North Korea were often in charge of the prisoner of war camps and one tactic that they use to turn people into essentially telling the administrators about plans for escapes and so on, was to begin with a very small request, “would you agree that the United States is not a perfect country?” And everybody would say “yes”. They’d say, well, “can you give us an example of how it’s not a perfect country?” And they would say, “well, you know, we have economic ups and downs, we have unemployment.” Well, “can you tell us? Would you be willing to write that down?” “Yes.” They write it—it is what you believe, right? Then they would say, “would you be willing to read your essay over the loudspeakers here in the camp?” And now these people had gone from simply admitting something that was universal? “Yes. No country is perfect” to now being collaborators with the enemy. And that would then get them to take other kinds of stands that we’re consistent with that behavior.


Andy Paul (17:41)

Yeah, it is just the power of human nature, that you are almost genetically encoded, that’s the way you act because you have this basic need to be consistent within your own thought process.


Robert Cialdini (17:54)

Precisely right.


Andy Paul (17:56)

So, as you talked about before, for a small commitment from a customer before the big one is they’re just acting in a consistent fashion that way.


Robert Cialdini (18:06)

Right. It’s not just that you’ve given them a chance to experience, a small sample of your product, to make a small purchase just to see, it’s that once they’ve made that step in your direction, you’ve changed them from prospects to customers. And it means something entirely different to be in the role of customer, then prospect.


Andy Paul (18:40)

Well, yeah, it’s really interesting because I’ve always found that over time the very act of selling to a customer, necessarily changes them. And where you think you’re going at the beginning of the process, if you’re paying attention, isn’t necessarily going to be different when you get halfway through and three quarters of the way through.


Robert Cialdini (19:04)

I agree.


Andy Paul (19:05)

Yeah, very interesting. So, you wrote this great book, Influence, and again, if there are people out there that haven’t read it, they absolutely need to put it on their list and get it read. I had a number of my clients read it this past year. What was the motivation then to write Pre-Suasion? What would you say it was missing that you had done in Influence that you wanted to complete?


Robert Cialdini (19:26)

Something was happening in my assessment of how the influence process works, that didn’t fit completely with the six universal principles of Influence. For example, this happened to me and it caused me to step back and make another one of these decisions, “oh, there’s a book to be written here.” There’s a knock at my door. There was a man standing there and he was asking to contribute to a cause. It was after school programs for elementary school children whose parents were working, and they needed something positive to be doing with their time after school. He didn’t show me any credentials that he was associated with this program. And in fact, I’d heard of such programs, but I hadn’t gotten any information that these programs were being considered for my local school system. But I wound up giving this man more money than I normally give to legitimate charity organizations, that I’m confident are legitimate charity organizations. And besides that, I felt good about it. And afterwards, I closed the door and thought to myself wait a minute. How did he do that? That was a risky thing he got me to do. How did he get me to prioritize children’s or the prospect of children’s after school programs above the riskiness of giving my money to someone I didn’t know who showed me no credentials? And then I realized it was what he had done, before he said a word. He brought his seven-year-old daughter with him. And I was focused on children, and children’s issues, and I was happy to give him my money. Because what had happened is that he had changed the state of mind I was in before he made his appeal for children. The state of mind I was in was now congruent with his message. And that was the lever for change. It was what he did first. And I thought to myself, “oh, there’s a book here.”


Andy Paul (22:21)

Turn out a very good book. So, for people listening, Pre-Suasion, is the title on it. If you write it down, your spell correct is going to spell checker autocorrected a million times.


Robert Cialdini (22:33)

Well, there’s a hyphen between Pre and Suasion. That will help if you do that.


Andy Paul (22:37)

When I was doing my notes in preparation was interview, I did type it five times, even with the hyphen it wouldn’t let me. But to summarize it, and you use this phrase to say, it’s what savvy communicators do before delivering a message to get it accepted. We talked before about front loading this attention. I think, you use term channeled attention in the book. So, what you’re saying is you’re not trying to change a person’s beliefs. You’re only trying to serve change what’s prominent in their mind at the time they’re making a decision.


Robert Cialdini (23:16)

Exactly. So, one way to say it is that you’re not yet trying to change their mind. You’re first trying to change their state of mind. So that when you make your case, they will be uniquely receptive to it, because of the state of mind that you’ve arranged for them to be in.


Andy Paul (23:39)

I like that. That’s a great way to say it. We’ve talked before about this idea of creating positive, strong first perceptions and impressions, and ideas or front-loading value into a sales process. Any thoughts about how you can “pre-suade” on that? Because we talked a little bit before we went on the air, is that in crowded competitive sales arenas is that salespeople really have that frontline of differentiation, but in order to do that they need to be able to capture the time and attention of the prospects. People are inundated with emails and undifferentiated messaging. So how does “pre-suasion work in that environment?


Robert Cialdini (24:24)

It channels their attention to something that is your strength. So, let’s say that you want to sell on quality of what you have to offer rather than price. And we know that’s a big problem for most salespeople. If you get into this downward cycle of reducing your price to try to deal with what your competitors have done, it’s a race to the bottom and where no one wins, because the customers are given inferior merchandise inferior services, and the profit margin is so thin it hardly pays to be in the business. So, what can you do? Well, here’s a study that was done for an online furniture store. Researchers sent half of the customers to a landing page for this online store that had fluffy clouds as the background wallpaper. The other half were sent to a back to a landing page that had pennies, small coins as the background wallpaper. What happened was, those individuals who initially saw, the first thing they saw their attendance was channeled to comfort by those clouds, by softness and comfort, they rated comfort as significantly more important as a basis for deciding what kind of furniture to buy. They searched the site for comfort related information, and they wound up preferring more comfortable furniture to purchase. Those who were sent to the site with pennies, they rated cost as the most important thing in their decisions. They searched the site for price information, and they wound up preferring inexpensive furniture to purchase. So, where they were steered first, to value or comfort, quality or cost, determined where they went, and what they ultimately decided. Now, maybe the most interesting and in some ways, scary thing about all of this is when they were asked afterwards, not one recognized that the clouds or the pennies influenced their decision. It was so under the radar because it happened before the message. People aren’t looking before the message to any persuasive techniques. They’re looking in the message. So, they never even recognized it. So, we have to use this, we’ve got dynamite here.


Andy Paul (27:54)

Yeah, you think about the ways that the sales from the negative standpoint, the way that salespeople inadvertently and subconsciously set a tone that could be price oriented, could be that before they even start talking.


Robert Cialdini (28:09)

Exactly. And so what we have to decide is, what’s our strength? What is the differentiator? What would make it wisest for people to focus on within our message? That is wisest for them, that would send them to a consideration of our strength and focus. If that’s it, then you take them to the moment before the message begins and give them an image or a phrase or a slogan that brings their attention to that particular differentiator. So essentially, we’re reverse engineering the process of persuasion.


Andy Paul (29:03)

So, one point that you bring up that serves interestingly that I wanted to follow up on; you talked about that it’s not often the best solution that sort of guides the decision. I think you use the term– that most recently brought to mind. So, the last one in basically.


Robert Cialdini (29:29)

Great. What the last thing? What’s top of mind? Maybe that’s the best way to say it. What’s top of mind when you’re about to make your request? What have you brought to consciousness, elevated to consciousness immediately before you’ve made your pitch, that will determine how receptive people will be to your pitch? Here’s an example, it just happened to me a while ago, while I was doing the research for this book. In the new book, Pre-suasion, I developed the argument for a seventh principle of influence besides the six we just talked about. There’s one I call unity, the idea of being inside the boundaries of we, with your audience. They see you not just as– they don’t just say, “Andy is like us.” They say, “Andy is one of us. Andy is of us.” Inside that set of boundaries everything is easier in the influence process. People say “yes”, to those inside the boundaries of we. Let me let me give a couple of examples, one is pointing to existing memberships that you share. Here’s an example. So, I just had just reviewed all this research on this concept of unity and togetherness, and I was also writing a report that was due the next day, and I realized I didn’t have all the information I needed in my files to complete my report. But I knew that one of my colleagues in the psychology department where I work, did have that information from a study that he had done. So, I sent him an email. This was kind of an irascible, sort of sour guy. Let’s call him Tom. So, I sent him an email. I said, “Tom, I’m in a bind. I need some information for report that is due tomorrow morning, I don’t have it, but I know you have it. Could you go to your files and get that out for me and send it to me? I’m going to call you on this in a couple of minutes.” So, I called him. He said, “Bob, I know why you’re calling. But I’m not going to be able to help you with this. Look, I’m a busy man. I have my own deadlines and so on. I can’t be responsible for your poor time management skills.” Now, before I had read this research on unity, the concept of inside the boundaries of we, here’s what I would have said to him, “but Tom, I really need this. I’d appreciate it if you could do this for me.” That’s what I would have said. But it wouldn’t have been successful. He had already told me “no”. So instead I did something first, I said, “you know, Tom, we’ve been in the same psychology department now for 12 years. I really need this. I really hope you could do this for me.” And I had the information that afternoon.


Andy Paul (33:22)

So, one question I have is, when you approach your colleagues, do they all have their defenses up?


Robert Cialdini (33:32)

They do. But let me tell you that since I use these things, “pre-suacedly”, they don’t even recognize that anything was being done. Now, here’s the second thing that I think we can get that your listeners can use. You know about this idea of co-creation, how we ask our customers to help us create the next generation of a particular product or service, or to modify what we’ve got, to tell us about their expectations for a new version of what we have to offer, right? And we ask them for their feedback. I think that’s great. But when we ask them for their feedback, we typically make a one-word mistake. We ask them for their opinion on this topic, “can you give us your opinion of what you would like in the next generation of our products? What are your expectations for what our next version would look like?” Here’s what happens when you ask for an expectation or an opinion. People take a half step back from you psychologically and they go into themselves to find that expectation or that opinion. They introspect, essentially, they separate from you. If instead, you ask for their advice, they take a half step toward you, they unify with you, they see you, as a partner with them on this project. They become cooperative and collaborative in their state of mind immediately before you give them your blueprint or your draft of what you have in mind. And the research shows they become more supportive of your plan before they encounter it.


Andy Paul (35:49)

Yeah, that’s a very subtle difference between advice and opinion.


Robert Cialdini (35:54)

That’s right. That but the research shows that the difference is not that people thought that if you ask for that– so half of them were asked for their opinion, half were asked for their advice.


Robert Cialdini (36:08)

Those who were asked for their opinion, thought that they had helped. As much as the people who were asked for their advice. It wasn’t how much they thought they had helped. It was how close they felt to the person who would ask them. If they were asked for their opinion, they went into themselves. If they were asked for their advice, they went into a partnership.


Andy Paul (36:37)

Yep. I like that. Very cool. All right, one last question for you. So, and this is something really important to me because again, we see in the sales field, a lot of automation coming into the space. And you have a phrase you use, we allow presentation, our forces of separation, and your talk, I think– you’re applying to serve social media and other things take a shared sense of human connection out of exchanges. Me, I use the term, “the relation gets removed leaving just the ships passing at sea.” I love that line. Do you see a danger of the human to human, person to person impact, a person to person influence, “pre-suasion”, persuasion or diminishing?


Robert Cialdini (37:29)

Well, I think that anyone who understands this process can benefit from that. What seems to be just an inevitable shift in technology. Because of the internet that we are going to be contacting people by email, by mass means rather than face to face. But if we put inside those messages, especially at the start of them, some connection between us, some personalizing message that lets them know that we have taken into account who they are, that reestablishes that human basis for exchange, and gives us the right mindset for becoming more connected in the exchange.


Andy Paul (38:49)

Love it. Great. Well, Robert, thank you very much for joining me today. Tell folks how they can find out more about you and your books and so on.


Robert Cialdini (38:59

The best place is our website www.influenceatwork.com. And they can get information about our books, the tapes that we’ve got, we even do platform presentations at conferences and so on. So, all of that’s available there on influenceatwork.com.


Andy Paul (39:29)

Excellent. And yeah, for people listen to the show, we’ve talked about your first book, Influence, quite a bit in terms of recommended titles people should read. Make sure you read it if you haven’t already, and then add Pre-suasion to your list, it’s a great companion piece to it. You can read it on its own as well, but I recommend you read both. So, again, Robert, thanks very much for joining me. And friends. Thank you for spending time with us today. Remember, make it a habit to learn something new every day to help you accelerate your success and easy way to do that. Join my conversations with business experts like my guest today Robert Cialdini, who shared his expertise about how to accelerate the growth of your business. So, thanks again for joining me. Until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling everyone.

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