The Psychology of Persuasion - Three is the Magic Number

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The Psychology of Persuasion – Three is the Magic Number

Over the years I have spent as a salesperson and sales coach I have come to realise that the primary role of the salesperson is to “influence customers to make a favourable decision” – and the words “influence” and “favourable” have been carefully chosen in crafting that statement.

When I’m talking about influence, I mean in a positive and ethical way and not the manipulative influencing techniques that have been too commonly used as part of clever sales techniques. When I’m talking about favourable, I first mean it has to be favourable for the customer (we would never sell something to a customer that wasn’t favourable to them and their situation). I also mean favourable to us, in that ideally, they select us as their seller of choice and we are able to get a fair price for our product or service, otherwise our careers as salespeople won’t last very long. Both of these things require us as salespeople to be persuasive.

Bestselling author Robert Cialdini suggests that “when it comes to persuasion, success begins before you say a word.” There are a number of elements from the psychology of persuasion that when understood and utilised by sales people can support their ability to influence customers to make a favourable decision. In this article I’m going to explore the compromise effect and the paradox of choice.

The Compromise Effect and the Paradox of Choice

Until the mid-1990s, Starbucks offered three drink options: Short, Tall, and Grande. Most people avoided the extremes, Short and Grande and ordered Tall drinks. But when Starbucks dropped the Short size from the menu and added the Venti size, the Grande became the middle and most frequently selected option. This was good news for Starbucks and probably a well thought through psychological strategy for influencing their customers to spend more money on more coffee. Let’s face it, customers suddenly didn’t need more coffee in one cup, it’s just an easier decision to go with the choice in the middle.

People don’t tend to choose big options or small options. This tendency is called the compromise effect, because it means compromising between two extremes. There are countless studies that have replicated this effect and it is considered to be one of the most robust phenomena in behavioural research.

There is another effect at play in customer decision making; that is the Paradox of Choice. The American psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for buyers and a number of studies have demonstrated that when faced with too much choice we can get paralysed by indecision, slowing down our buying process or causing us to abandon it altogether

In Summary

This has significant implications for sales people, particularly when creating a proposal or pitching alternative options for a customer. The science is clear, people will tend to go for the middle option, therefore create a middle option for them; if you provide too many options you will make it too difficult for them to make a favourable decision. My experience is that a maximum of 3 alternatives is the magic number with the most favourable option positioned in the middle.

Look out for my next blog post when we will explore the concept of social proof and how you can leverage the power of the “best seller” and use testimonials to increase sales.

Let me tell you more

I’m proud to invite you to my latest Salestrong Bitesize event in Leeds – a fast-paced day of short and powerful development sessions, including one on the psychology of influence, that enable you to improve your sales skills. To find out more, book your place and learn my pragmatic and effective tools and techniques that will supercharge your sales performance, click here.

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