Principles of social influence – influencing people in sales
During one of our entrepreneurial meetings, we talked about how the principles of social influence described by Robert Cialdini can be used in communication and sales. In his work, Cialdini, with scientific accuracy and a light narrative, presents a description of the mechanisms through which some people are able to persuade others to submission. So how do you get another person to change their ways? How to influence a decision? How to do it in such a way that our interlocutor himself wants to change? On the other hand, how to protect ourselves from the unethical influence of others on our actions? How to avoid situations in which only after some time we realize that someone urged us to do something we did not want to do?
In this article you will find out if it is possible to softly and naturally influence customers, co-workers and clients so that they start perceiving us the way we would like to be perceived. Is it possible to use the psychological basis of actions to conduct communication in such a way that it becomes exceptionally effective? And finally, is it possible to operate the rules of social influence in a business environment, relying on natural and automatic mechanisms of human action?
Below we present several mechanisms of social influence which were discussed among entrepreneurs during one of the TechMine Coffee meetings.
What is automaticity of action?
Even if you are sure that your analysis of reality is based on facts, evidence and logic, a large part of your thought processes is involuntary and outside of your awareness. On the one hand, we act in a controlled, conscious and deliberate way, and on the other, unconsciously and in an automatic way. So what is automaticity in our actions?
The more complex and complicated the situation, the more often we use shortcut and automatic thinking, which allows us to assess the circumstances in which we find ourselves more quickly and without much effort. We react to certain behaviours with summary, stereotypical and heuristic thinking – why? Because it’s just easier. And despite the fact that automatic thinking significantly speeds up decision-making in many trivial situations, it is natural that it is not error-free. On the one hand we save time and energy, but on the other we expose ourselves to mistakes. How it works. Our mind automatically classifies information into the right category and by the time anything appears in consciousness, it has already been recognized as an item with a specific position in a system of other categories. The whole automatism is to find out if the elements obviously fit together.
The rule of reciprocity
The principle of reciprocity is one of the most well-known rules of social influence. It boils down to the fact that when someone gives us something, we become grateful and automatically feel like returning the favor. Interestingly, the size of the favor done does not matter much. Even if it is a small advertising gadget, the person we give it to will feel obligated. So we can ask for a favor incomparably larger than the actual size of our gesture. These do not always have to be physical things, either – we can bestow a compliment, a smile, a good opinion, emphasizing the character traits or the environment of our interlocutor. In negotiations, we can “give” our partner a concession in some unimportant matter, and then expect a concession in a more important matter in return. However, we should remember that the value of a good gesture from our side devaluates in time. So if you want to make use of the principle of reciprocity, ask for a return payment immediately after you have done a favor.
Examples of using the reciprocity rule can be:
- A lead magnet such as an infographic, ebook, or other report or study that you give to a potential customer for free, asking them in return for their contact information or for taking the time to talk to us
- Promotional Gadgets.
- Any free samples or trial periods.
Social proof of rightness
It is a rule of influence that makes us susceptible to suggestions that come to us from those around us. If many people like or recommend something, it is probably good. We are influenced by other people’s opinions. If something worked for others, it will probably work for me. This principle works especially strong in combination with the rule of authority described below.
Examples include numerous likes in social media, positive opinions and reviews of satisfied users, recommendations and testimonials. So, if you want a potential customer to form a positive opinion about your company even before the meeting, make sure that you can find good reviews and feedback from satisfied customers online beforehand. You can also present information about how many people have already used the service or product or how much interest there is in it.
To use social proof consciously in your communications you can include phrases such as:
- “90% of our customers say that …”
- “All our satisfied customers confirm that …”
- “120 people have already benefited from …”
- “Our solution is highly recommended by …”
The rule of inaccessibility
The rule of unavailability says that if something is in some way rationed, difficult to obtain, people desire it more than if exactly the same thing was more readily available. A good example is the whole segment of luxury brands, which positioned as exclusive and expensive are available only to people with sufficient purchasing power. In reality, the material, design or service provided does not have to differ in quality from those with a lower price and greater availability. The exact same thing or service can have a different price if you add the right values to it and make it “not for everyone”. An example of this can be early access – “invitation only” – to new websites, any selection criteria, whether positive or negative, for access to something. The use of the strategy of high prices and low expenditures, also makes the good more difficult to access and therefore more desirable.
The principle of unavailability is widely used in sales and marketing. All time-limited promotions (e.g. Black Friday), which were invented by some marketer in the company, and yet we feel the pressure of the fact that the promotion lasts “only until the end of the month” and it happens that we succumb to it. They work in a similar way:
“only two places available for the cooking course”
“last available room in this hotel”
“buy now to be in time for Christmas”.
So make access to your service or product subtly more difficult or create time pressure to make a decision, and it’s likely to be more desirable.
The rule of authority
If a person can boast, for example, of a scientific or professional title or a high position among experts in a given field – that is, he or she has authority – then we automatically tend to accept the claims made by such a person as true. In reality, the facts do not have to match, but we trust that since the information comes from someone with a well-established high position, it is true. This is perfectly illustrated by the Milgram experiment, in which a professor asked people under study to electrocute other participants in the experiment. Authoritarians are usually characterized by knowledge, wisdom, and power – for these reasons, we may have a strong tendency to automatically succumb to their suggestions. In addition to the people themselves, we may also tend to succumb not to the authorities themselves, but to the symbols that represent them. These symbols may be a dress, a title, or a car, for example. Companies or brands can also have authority – they can be seen as having desirable qualities.
So if you include your customers’ well-known and respected brands in your portfolio, new customers may think that if they are benefiting – and they are good companies that demand quality from their suppliers – then I can safely benefit too. If a product is recommended by a scientist or research institute with a good reputation, customers are more likely to trust the quality of that product. When a dentist tells us on television about the benefits of toothpaste, he can’t be wrong because he does this every day.
Authorities can also be less formal, such as celebrities or Internet influencers. Since many people like and trust them, they may be susceptible to suggestions for products or services that they recommend. Hence, numerous brands actively use the support of celebrities and online creators to promote their offerings.
The rule of authority can be used particularly effectively when a potential customer may have doubts about the quality of products or services offered. If we say then that “a group of PhD students from a local polytechnic has thoroughly researched the properties and assures that the quality is ok” it is hard to argue with such an argument if you do not have advanced knowledge of the field.
How else can you apply the rule of authority?
Get quality certifications.
Get references from a well-known person/brand.
Have research done to prove the qualities.
Perform in public (the person on stage has authority because someone/organizer recognized them as such and invited them to speak).
Write a book (unless you’re a celebrity, it’s better not to do another public service…).
Hire people who are known in the industry or who can boast titles.
Win awards and accolades.
The Likeability Rule
An extremely simple rule of social influence which shows that we are much more likely to comply with a request from a person we like than someone we don’t like or is indifferent to. How does it work in practice? By nature, we like people who are similar to us, with the same problems, the same values and similar social status. We are also much more likely to be influenced by nice people we know and associate with something positive.
An example of using the rule of liking and liking:
Beautiful hostesses at trade shows and promotions.
Skillful use of a sense of humor in relationships.
Smile and positive attitude towards interlocutors.
Rule of engagement and consistency
We usually care about our reputation and how we want to be perceived by those around us. We care that we are seen in the best possible light. A socially desirable trait is a kind of constancy, the ability to rely on someone and predictability of their behavior. Therefore, most of us in our behavior strive to be perceived as consistent, verbal, and not backing down from the agreements we have made.
Furthermore, if I said A, and the natural consequence of A is B… then I can’t back out now. So if we manage to engage someone in an action, get an initial declaration then we can require them to be consistent, based on the fact that they will not want to “lose face” on the one hand and on the other conclude that the decision they originally made was wrong. So if I start e.g. a free subscription of some service then of course I want to check it out, but at the same time I make a decision that this something can be just for me, and we rather don’t like to be wrong and admit mistakes.
So when we can get a customer to enter the sales-purchase process and engage them in some action within that process, they are more likely to continue their journey through the sales funnel than if they didn’t take that action. If we can get an initial conditional purchase statement in the conversation – if certain conditions are met (of course, we know we can meet them) – then the customer will have a hard time backing out of the deal at a later stage because they would be unkind.
Good examples of applying the principle of commitment and consistency might be:
Free trial periods.
Unconditional money-back guarantee.
Offering products/services complementary to those already purchased.
Knowing the basic concepts of social psychology puts us in a somewhat privileged position, allowing us to orchestrate the business space in such a way as to achieve the intended goal. Thanks to the ability to create attractive incentives for cooperation, by applying Cialdini’s rules of social influence, we increase the likelihood of achieving a specific plan. A customer influenced by communication based on automatic behaviour patterns is more likely to succumb to a consciously constructed suggestion than when there is none.
The principles of social influence are one of the basic issues we discuss when building a sales process for small and medium organizations. Every company should take a conscious approach to how it may be perceived by the external environment. If we ignore these issues it doesn’t mean that these principles will stop working. Especially in the context of market competition and when it makes conscious use of the rules described by Robert Cialdini in his book “Influencing People”. Therefore it is worthwhile to conduct your communication in such a way that, where possible, it is reinforced with the use of social influence rules.