How Sales People can Influence, Ethically! | Salestrong


How Sales People can Influence, Ethically!

How Sales People can Influence Customers

Scientists have been studying the effects of persuasion for many years now and, as a result, we have an abundance of research proving that persuasion techniques really do work and have a significant impact on people’s behaviour.  These techniques can be applied by sales people to influence favourable decisions.  However, many sales people remain, understandably cautious of persuasion techniques as they are wary about crossing the lines of what is ethical.  However, not only are there a number of invaluable techniques that can be applied from the Psychology of Persuasion by sales people to increase their chances of winning the deal, but these techniques cost the sales person nothing.

Leading expert on influence and persuasion, Robert Cialdini, has found that there are six fundamental psychological principles that directly govern human behaviour when it comes to influence.  These are:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Scarcity
  3. Authority
  4. Consistency
  5. Liking
  6. Consensus

1. Reciprocity
The notion that, by giving somebody something first, they will be more likely to then give you something in return.  This is, arguably, the principle which elicits the most concern from salespeople because, not so very long ago in sales, reciprocity took a more questionable form.  Customers were offered incentives in the form of expensive gifts, tickets to major events, no-expense-spared invites to extravagant corporate events.  Many companies offered these merely as ‘thank yous’ to their existing customers, but others did so with a clear underlying incentive and expectation of future business.  With the lines so blurry, something had to change and (following some very big name companies receiving hefty fines for their ‘reciprocity’ techniques) most large companies now have internal policies governing what employees should do if they are offered gifts/invites to events.

So how can sales people use the principle of reciprocity in an ethical way?  The secret here lies in what you give.  It should be personalised and relevant and be given, ideally, well ahead of any point at which you might want your customer to give you a ‘yes’.  The solution is to give information.  Any information that is specifically of interest and of use to your customer is a great way to introduce the principle of reciprocity.  Social Media offers us a plethora of opportunities to do this.

Use LinkedIn to follow and connect with existing and potential customers.  If they post looking for advice, make sure you respond with relevant and insightful information.  And this shouldn’t just be a reactive activity.  Maintaining good industry knowledge and commercial acumen will allow you to be the first to spot opportunities with which to update and inform your customers and prospects before your competitors do.

2. Scarcity
Scarcity relies on the customer feeling that they will lose out if they don’t choose your solution.  Especially prevalent in retail, scarcity is often emphasised with the creation of a limited number, or period of time, offer.  However, it can also be evident in a truly Unique Selling Point.  For many sales people, the value of a USP has become lost though, as markets have become flooded and the number of competitors seemingly offering the same products/services as you, have swelled.  But pinpointing your USP enables you to create scarcity for your customer – the idea that they cannot get that USP anywhere else.  So, revisit your USP and remember to think outside just the features/benefits of your product/service.

3. Authority
The idea that people are more likely to follow those they deem to be in a position of authority, who they perceive as credible and knowledgeable.  Cialdini cites examples of those in uniform, or with certain titles, being able to exert more influence, but the sales person is unlikely to have a uniform or title that might exert that kind of influence.  So how can we ensure our customers and prospects view us as knowledge experts?

Personal recommendations and referrals that point to you, specifically, being a credible expert are ideal but whether you have these kind of recommendations and referrals in your back pocket or not, best practice is to ensure you position yourself as someone highly knowledgeable about your customer, their organisation, the industry they are in and, of course, your own products/services.  Rather than being an unethical persuasion technique, this is simply a case of ensuring your customer realises that you are genuinely an expert on their business and that you are therefore well-positioned to help them.

4.  Consistency
This is the concept that people will always prefer to act in a way that is consistent with their previous words and behaviours.  It’s the driving force behind brand loyalty and is what you’re battling against when you try to convert a customer who has been buying from a competitor for a number of years.
Depending on what it is you’re selling, this might be the most difficult to incorporate.  The key lies in gaining an initial smaller commitment from your customer.  One of the easiest ways to do this (where relevant) is to offer ‘try before you buy’ and ‘sale or return’ type offers.  Another example I’ve come across is to ask your customer/prospect to provide a quote, in their area of expertise, for a forthcoming blog/press release.  Since they’re only likely to do this if they are comfortable effectively endorsing your company, it gives you that initial smaller level of commitment you’re looking for.

5. Liking
This is the finding that people are more likely to buy from (or be influenced by) somebody they like.  Cialdini uncovered 3 factors which determine how much another person will like us:

  1. Similarity – how similar we are to each other
  2. Compliments – how much we compliment them
  3. Co-operation – how well we co-operate with them towards the achievement of mutual goals

The last of these maps directly to the role of the sales person, but can sales people influence the other two without sounding insincere?  The answer is, of course, is yes but it relies heavily on the ability of the sales people to build strong, trust-based relationships.  (For more on building trust and strengthening likability, see my blog ‘The Positive Power of Social Selling‘.)

6. Consensus
Consensus relies on the fact that the way other people behave will drive our own behaviour in the same direction, as a way of conforming to the norm.  The most obvious way a sales person can employ this principle is through referrals, case studies and testimonials.  The stronger the relationship between the person giving the referral/testimonial and your customer/prospect, the greater the influence.  If you’re lucky enough to be the market leader in your industry, this information can also have a positive impact here.
In addition to this degree of connection, a customer/prospect will be more likely to want to ‘conform’ with those they deem to be in a similar position to them – in terms of company, industry and even job role.  Rather than relying on your own ability to influence your customer towards a favourable decision, you are simply showing them what others, who are similar to them, are already doing.


Rather than using all of the available information, human beings naturally look for shortcuts in their decision-making processes.  Doing so saves them valuable time and energy.  The six principles of persuasion outlined above pick up on the ways in which people go about trying to shortcut these processes.  A sales person looking to adopt these principles should focus on sharing information, case studies and testimonials; building strong trust-based relationships and demonstrating knowledge and credibility.  All of these things should be essential components of the sales process anyway, the Psychology of Persuasion simply teaches us why these things are so important and exactly how they influence buying decisions.

If you’d like to talk to us about how we could help your team improve their influencing techniques, give us a call now on 01778 382733, or head to our Contact page and fill out your details there.

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