Why are so many new ideas, even technically advanced or economically sound ones, such a tough sell? Isn’t it true, as the old saying goes, that if you invent a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door?
No, that’s baloney! In fact, it’s never been less true. For one thing, people everywhere have become savvier, more skeptical, and less trusting of those bringing a message, any message, even one that has the potential to help them. Secondly, organizations build barriers to change because change brings risk, and risk conflicts with the desire for control and predictability. Thirdly, and most important, many people just aren’t skilled at the art of persuasion – the ability to get others to want to do what you want them to do.
To better persuade, you need to cultivate those behaviors which make people feel it’s in their best interest to follow your lead. A starting point for doing that is to make sure you and others understand “the need gap”, the difference between someone’s current situation and the desired one. That gap may be obvious. For example, your customers may tell you they want new, less expensive technology that completely replaces what they are using. But, sometimes, the gap isn’t so clear, and finding it requires following a four-step process:
- EXPLORE NEEDS AND GOALS
The main way you discover the need gap is by asking questions. Questioning makes persuasion easier because it gets the target person involved in discovering the problem (where it “hurts”) and being committed to creating the solution (how to make it feel “better”).
Indeed, well-phrased questions are the mark of a skilled persuader. Such queries help people organize their thoughts and feelings, and the answers smooth the way for the building of rapport.
It’s best to begin with open questions, the kind that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” or a simple fact. Such questions increase dialogue and show your interest. For instance, “How’s business?” will likely get you a pat answer. A much better open question might be: “Can you tell me a little bit about your business?”
Once you’ve gathered information that paints a broad picture, you can use narrower questions to get specific facts.
Let’s suppose you’re thinking about remodeling your home. The first contractor asks a few questions like: “How old is the home?” “What areas do you want to remodel?” “Will you need financing?” and “When do you want the work to start?” Those are all reasonable, but closed, questions that give the contractor useful information.
Then a second contractor arrives and asks: “Could you tell me a little about your lifestyle?” “Which area of your home is your favorite, and why?” “What do you hope to accomplish by getting this remodeling done?” Then, in addition, he asks the same questions the other contractor asked.
Which contractor would you hire? My guess is, all other things being equal, you’d be more influenced by the second builder who started with the open questions because he helped you explore your need gap, your BECAUSE.
Asking good questions makes persuasion more of a collaborative experience. Remember: increasing your persuasiveness is not an exercise in exerting power over people. Some folks may still cling to the old image of using verbal domination to get others to see things their way. But it doesn’t work that way in the real world any more, if it ever did.
- CREATE AND SELECT A SOLUTION
Usually when you’re trying to persuade somebody, there’s more than one possible course of action. So, in most cases, you’ll want to involve the other person in exploring ways to close their need gap. If they’re helping create the solution, they’ll be far more committed to implementing it than if you unilaterally create the solution.
For instance, if you’re a real-estate salesperson, you may find a great home that meets a family’s living needs, but doesn’t meet their criteria for schools or access to shopping. Or, you may be able to meet all the requirements – including schools and shopping – but not at the right price. By collaborating with your customers, you can help solve the problem by getting them to detail their priorities, telling you which factors are most critical to their plan. The point is, you want to make others feel they have a part in the solution.
- COMMIT TO AN ACTION PLAN
If a simple “yes” or “no” is all that’s required, action is immediate. But if what you’re seeking requires several steps or phases, you’ll need agreement on how to proceed.
During this step, make sure the other person clearly understands the advantages of the agreed-upon solution. Clarify and agree on the benefits and what it’s going to take to get them. For instance, the contractor might encourage the customer to say, “If I invest $10,000 in this remodeling plan now, my house will be worth more when it comes time to sell it, and I’ll also save between $500 and $700 a year in heating costs.”
Of course, nothing is going to happen if an action plan isn’t mutually agreed upon.
- ASSURE SUCCESS BY IDENTIFYING, MONITORING, AND MEASURING RESULTS
There’s an old adage: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
There’s a lesson in that for us. While the key to long-term influence with customers is exceeding their expectations, often they don’t have a firm idea of what they expect. So, you can help them by uncovering their success criteria. If possible, quantify them, such as return on investment or number of years a product should last or the maximum amount of maintenance needed.
Secondly, you need to help them manage their expectations. If they expect too much, you’ll fail; if the expectations are too low, any competitor could match them. So, you must help them come up with realistic quantitative and qualitative expectations.
The real work of maintaining influence with people occurs AFTER they say “yes.” Staying in touch with your customers, and staying tuned in to their values and needs, is what this fourth stage is all about.
In short, you’ll be a powerful persuader when you can align your vision with their needs, wants and objectives. So, make a conscious effort to think of others’ wants and needs before your own.