Not being a sales-y type of person - 'You don't want to buy this widget, do ya?' - I've always wondered if great salespeople were born that way or if they had to learn their craft.

After reading this book, I'd say a large part of salesmanship can be learned.

Dr. Cialdini spent nearly 40 years researching what makes people change their behavior. Using that research, he determined there are six principles of persuasion:

  • reciprocity,
  • commitment and consistency,
  • social proof,
  • liking,
  • authority,
  • and scarcity.

The book is easy to read. And I often found myself dumbfounded by his revelations. No wonder I said 'yes' when I really wanted to say 'no!'

Why do we do that?

Because it takes less brainwork to use shortcuts to keep up with the demands of everyday life instead of analyzing every decision. If we had to make conscious decisions about everything we do, we'd be overwhelmed. So we generally choose autopilot instead of thinking logically.

Unfortunately these short cuts can be exploited by salespeople or any wanting to get their own way.

Cialdini explains each principle and provides plenty of interesting examples - sometimes from his own family life - to help you understand how to apply them. He also explains how to defend yourself against someone else using them.

According to the author, "the drive to be (and look) consistent constitutes a highly potent weapon of social influence, often causing us to act in ways that are clearly contrary to our own best interests."

Take, for example, buying toys for your kids. Have you ever braved the crush of shoppers during Christmas-time to get that one toy your child just had to have, only to find store after store was out of stock? Hopefully you didn't promise Junior would get that toy because now you have to find a substitute.

And guess what? The commercials for that special toy start up again in January. Junior wants it and - surprise! - it's actually in stock now. Coincidence? Nope. Toy makers found a way to bump up their post-holiday sales by advertising that special toy before Christmas, but under delivering enough stock so you had to substitute. If you promised it in December and it shows up again in January now you feel compelled to buy it - even if you're already way over your toy budget.

Another principle, called reciprocity, makes us feel indebted when someone gives us a gift, even an unwanted gift. The followers of Hare Krishna used this principle quite successfully. Say you're running late to catch your plane when suddenly someone steps in front of you and hands you a flower. Without thinking, you take it, but you don't really want it and try to hand it back. They refuse and tell you it's a gift, but a small donation would be appreciated. You try again to hand it back - unsuccessfully - and now you feel uncomfortable. Quid pro quo is part of our nature. You can't give the flower back, but to keep it makes you feel indebted - so you reach for your wallet.

The most startling revelation was the use of the word 'because.' It seems too simple to work. But it does. For example, pretend there's a line to use the office copier and you're in a hurry. So you tell the first person in line that you need to use the copier first because you need to make copies. Huh? Why would anyone accept that reasoning and let you go ahead? And yet Dr. Cialdini says using a request plus a reason - even a weak reason that adds no new information - works over 90% of the time.

It might be useful to look at various ads and marketing messages to see if you can spot some of the techniques mentioned in the book. You might also get some ideas for your own advertising.

I recommend reading this book - whether you want to reach higher sales goals, get your way more often in your personal life, or just want to know how to recognize and defend yourself against the various principles.

It will change the way you look at the world.


Cialdini, Robert. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. New York: Harper

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