I've got some good news, some bad news, and then some even better news.
The good news is that most customers truly want to say yes! The bad news is that, although people love to buy, they hate being sold to.
Finally, here's the even better news: There are six ways to influence a customer to buy without explicitly selling to them, according to Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, author of the bestseller Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion:
1. Make yourself likeable.
Customers are far more likely to say yes if they know and like the person who's selling to them. That's why so many TV commercials use celebrity spokespeople, because consumers like and "know" them.
The true key to being likable is to be genuinely interested in the customers. Never fake friendliness, as in, "Hi, howya doin!?" Instead, cultivate curiosity about the customer and the customer's life.
As you have a conversation, discover characteristics about the customer that you appreciate and respect. As you express those emotions, the customer will naturally echo them back to you.
2. Become a respected authority.
People are more likely to buy from you if they see you as having specialized knowledge or unique credibility. There are many ways to create this impression.
One common method is to sell for a well-known corporate brand, like IBM. Another is to sequester a fancy job title. Some sales groups have dozens of titular vice presidents simply because customers respect the title.
A more honest way to create the impression of expertise is to actually become an expert. This is much easier if you find the subject matter interesting, of course. Hobbyists, for example, often make great salespeople.
3. Get the customer to owe you a favor.
People feel obligated to say yes to people who have already given them something or helped them in some ways. For example, charities double their response rate when they include small but useful gifts in direct mailings.
In the business world, the "gold standard" of such favors is to find a customer for your customer. For example, when I wrote freelance for high-tech trade magazines, I often referred potential advertisers to them. As a result, I was usually first on the list for the plum assignments.
Creating a sense of obligation need not be so explicit, though. Sometimes it's just enough to enter the sales situation with a sincere desire to help (rather than be helped). Customers sense this and respond positively.
4. Position buying as consistent with self-image.
Customers say yes more often if the yes is consistent with a prior statement of their identity. For example: Research firms double survey participation when the first question is: "Are you a helpful person?"
During your conversations with customers, listen for statements that define the customer's identity and sense of self. Then, tie purchasing your product or service to the customer's commitment to fulfill that identity.
For example, if a customer says, "I feel personally responsible for the security of this organization," emphasize those elements of your product that make the organization more secure.
5. Get endorsed by the customer's peers.
Customers are more likely to buy when they know that people "just like them" are also buying. That's why TV infomercials always feature interviews with happy buyers in the target audience.
The same principle applies in business sales, which is why so many companies feature reference accounts and case studies on their website. However, there is a more effective route.
The easiest opportunities to close are always the ones that start with an unsolicited referral from an existing, happy customer. How to manage this all-important technique is described in this (heretofore neglected) post.
6. Make your offering soon-to-be scarce.
Customers value offerings that are rare or dwindling in availability. Classic example: When GM announced the death of Oldsmobile, cars that had been on the lot for months sold in a matter of days.
The reason that so many companies use "limited time offers" is that they work. They work even when companies trot out the similar offers week after week after week!
For business-to-business selling, a more sophisticated way to use this rule is to focus the discussion on the financial loss the customer will incur through a delay in buying your offering. In other words, make the ROI scarce!
Like this post? If so, sign up for the free Sales Source newsletter.