Finding common ground can be key to sales success

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Salespeople tend to believe their ability to give a smooth product presentation is what will best move a prospect to the closing room. Not necessarily.

So says author Robert Cialdini in “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.” What a salesperson does first to create a particular state of mind in prospects that will make them receptive can be the real key to success.

For example, look for some common ground right away. “It’s not just that people want to deal with someone they like,” Cialdini contends. “They want to deal with someone who likes them, and who is like them. People trust that those who like them won’t steer them wrong.”

So a successful salesperson should be looking for any visual clues — such as fishing caps, college rings and sports emblems — that could signal some sort of common ground where early small talk can be channeled.

Even better, if you’re dealing with a prospect who has set up an appointment, the door is open for deeper pre-meeting research, and it’s never been easier than it is today. Fire up the computer; check out the prospect on social media channels, such as Facebook, for the likelihood that you’ll find some good information.

Another recommendation Cialdini offers concerns your competitors. Forget them. Research has shown that there is a real advantage when the prospect can focus on the product you’re selling in isolation from a competitor’s. Specifically, when you ask prospects to consider a certain product, their intention to purchase actually increases. But when they consider the same product after any mention of a competitor’s offering, the impulse to purchase yours takes a nose dive.

Rather than shoot yourself in the foot by mentioning a competitor, go to your strength and showcase your top feature(s). Visual clues can tell you whether a prospect most values speed, comfort, service or some other feature. Researchers created an online furniture store with fluffy clouds or shiny pennies on the landing page. The found that people who saw the clouds ranked comfort as more important than those that saw the pennies. The cloud group was also more likely to seek added information about comfort features and purchased more comfortable furniture at a higher price.

When questioned afterward, most participants said neither the clouds nor the coins had any influence on their purchases. But Cialdini contends that purposely drawing attention to a prospect’s favored feature is effective not only in getting that person to consider the product fully, but also leads him or her to give that feature inflated significance in the purchase decision.

Two of my favorite ideas that Cialdini presents are the benefits of scarcity and the hot coffee trick. First, he says, scarcity sells products. One need only think about the lines of cars hoping to get some gas before the stations ran out when Hurricane Irma struck Florida. “FOMO (fear of missing out) is real,” he says.

Anything that plays to that fear — the only one of this model available; this boat has a special feature not on others; this is a limited-time-offer — can create a sense of urgency and trigger the decision to buy now.

Second, research has concluded that a hot beverage in the prospect’s hand will evoke “warm thoughts” about you and your dealership. Seriously. The research shows that people holding something warm are more generous. So having fresh coffee ready for your prospects could be one of those subtle things that will favorably affect the way they receive your pitch.

“Pre-Suasion” was named among the Best Business Books of 2016 by the Financial Times. It, along with Cialdini’s latest bestseller, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” is available from Amazon.

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