Ryan Stephens Marketing

Six Principles of Influence to Increase Your Sales

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You can make a list of some ‘important’ names in your database and call them all in an attempt to peddle your product if you’d like. I’m sure there’s some law of numbers or averages or something that even dictates that if you send enough proposals and pester companies enough, eventually a couple might sign up out of sheer exhaustion of dealing with you. Yeah, keep doing it that way; apparently it used to work for you.

Use your employees time to revise a proposal 5 times, to research the company for hours on end, to grab a few current events to include in the e-mail. Okay, so maybe that last one isn’t so bad, but I assure you there’s a better approach now.

I’d argue that “the best marketing ideas are actually company operations that happen to be really appealing or compelling to customers too.” (Check out some great examples courtesy of Zeus Jones.)

Clearly, those examples aren’t the easiest to duplicate, but there are some sure fire principles that can truly enhance your ability to increase your bottom line via sales strategy.

When I’m selling my services I turn to Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence. (*Hat tip to Guy Kawasaki for the introduction in his book, “Reality Check.”) What follows are examples specific to my consulting services, but I’m certain if you’re a little intuitive you can easily apply these principles to anything you’re selling.

Reciprocation:

I will do whatever it takes to ensure that my customer is successful in their endeavor(s). If that means staying until 4 am to finish a strategic framework for the next days’ launch, immersing myself in your community to get the pulse of your consumers, or spending an extra hour on the phone to ensure you really ‘get it,’ then that’s what I will do. I’m going treat you with respect, have patience for you and consistently go above and beyond. Why? Because then my customer will take care of me both monetarily, in the form of a good testimonial, or telling others.

[Do you always make it about you? What you’ve done? I got news for you. Nobody cares unless that directly correlates to how you can help them. Give them one example and spend the rest of the time having a dialogue about what they want and how your services can help them achieve it. This doesn’t mean dictating to them what they need either. Maybe they can’t articulate it, but they already know. Help them extract it.]

Scarcity:

I have a full-time job where I approach 50 hours most weeks. I have to find time to stay sharp by reading a lot of relevant content and keep my wits about me by allotting myself some free time to work out, spend time with friends and sometimes just veg out completely. What does this mean? It means whether I want to or not, I’m not going to take on 5 paying clients at once. Two projects at a time are all I can handle. That means my services are in short supply. If those two slots are consistently, full potential clients know I’m probably doing my job.

[If you’re cold-calling people for business or have the time to send out countless proposals and keep revising them over and over even when the potential clients don’t have the budget or clearly aren’t interested then chances are your services aren’t that in demand. If you did a good job the first time they’ll come back when the time is right. Times are tough for a lot of companies, but break your back for the clients you do have, over deliver and they’ll tell others, I promise. You bending over backwards for potential business illustrates that you’re desperate. If you’re desperate, then I’m going to question how good your product/services really are.]

Authority:

I don’t know as much about social media as Chris Brogan, and I don’t know as much about relationship marketing as Keith Ferrazzi. I won’t pretend to, but I do know more about both topics that most people. I try to convey that here, on my blog. I try to illustrate my knowledge in guest posts on other blogs, in forums, and social networks in which I participate. Heck, I’ve even done it via free consulting sessions.

There’s over 100 posts on this blog. Not all of them will provide everyone with value, but chances are you can learn something, especially about marketing. And this is all free. It’s not going anywhere. Potential clients can wade through all of it and determine for themselves if I have the chops to help their company out. I don’t have to call anyone and “sell myself.” This is how I’ve received 70% of my business; the other 30% from referrals. This my friends, is authority. Well, at least on days I know what I’m talking about.

[Let’s revisit that cold-calling approach. Or even a soft lead you have to persuade. That takes time, and time is money. My time is valuable to me, and I want to spend it helping clients, not desperately trying to close leads. With a stockpile of information in the form of a blog, or free reports, white papers, webinars, etc. clients will come to you with the cash already in their hand. The best part? Instead of wasting time pursuing leads you won’t get, you’re investing that time into content that will provide value for years to come rather than a sunk cost like chasing leads you won’t get anyway.]

Commitment:

Clients (and people in general) know what to expect when they get involved with me. I typically have a candid conversation beforehand about what they expect from me, and in turn what I expect from them (many people neglect this part.) I tell clients up front that if they can provide me with the following information and feedback throughout the process it will help me be more successful at what I do – and invariably earn them more money. It’s a soft sell. They almost always agree to it and adhere to it because they’ve publicly committed themselves to it. This also works with testimonials.

[If you’re so focused on getting the sell that you leave out key information, like the client helping you set some parameters, then you’re digging yourself a hole from the onset. You can promise add-ons and package deals until your heart’s content, but make sure that you’re also getting your client to publically and verbally commit to helping you attain the resources, and giving you the feedback necessary to ensure you can provide the most value. Also, tell them up front, “Provided I do a good job and you achieve the results you’re looking for, I would really appreciate a referral/testimonial at the conclusion of this project.” Most people will agree to this, and having committed to it, they’ll be reluctant to go back on it even if you didn’t blow them out of the water.]

*Commitment is the one I struggle with the most. What works for you here?*

Liking:

You want to know a secret? There’s probably 10, 25, 50 people (at the very least) that can provide the same advice I can, that can uncover the same insights, that can affect positive change within your organization. I don’t want to discredit myself, because I think I’m pretty good at what I do, but the reality is that what I do is duplicable. So why do people do business with me? I’d like to think it’s because they like me. They always know what to expect and they can always count on a candid conversation. I’m not going to bullshit anyone, (but I will occasionally crack jokes that only adolescents would find funny.) It probably doesn’t hurt that my price point isn’t very high because I consistently convince myself I’m very young and still have lots to learn (which in many ways is true.)

[You better be the best there ever was at what you do if you’re arrogant. If you’re shoving your product down someone’s throat, forget it. If you’re snarky and/or always assuring a potential client that nobody else can do what you do they already know you’re full of shit. I think being overly assured of your abilities is the #1 reason why people squander a good thing. (At least confine those thoughts to your own head, eh?) But there are many others: being boring, having a dry personality, being a machine, thinking of a client as only a paycheck. I’m sure you can name countless others. Be yourself, provided you’re likable.]

Consensus:

Testimonials are a good thing, particularly if the client you’re trying to land is similar in size, stature, personality, etc. as the people that have provided you with testimonials. With that in mind it probably doesn’t make sense for a big company to hire me, but for someone looking to help grow their small business, or someone wanting to build their personal brand – chances are I’m at least on their radar.

[To re-iterate from a previous point, don’t tell a company about all your previous clients, rattling them off one after another is obnoxious. But do point them to a couple of testimonials (and explanations if they ask) about how you helped other organizations very similar to them with similar tasks. This offers valuable reassurance, yet it’s subtle enough that they don’t feel like you’re shoving your product/services down their throat. Consensus is comforting.]

*Photo Credit: ThinkPanama

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If you’ve read this along, first of all, thank you. Seriously, thank you. Now let me know you made it this far so I can graciously thank you in the comments section. What’s another 2 minutes? Leave a comment and let me know what you think of my application of Cialdini’s principles of influence as they apply to the sales process. What additional suggestions do you have? What flaws do I have in my arguments? What did you find most valuable about this post?

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  • http://www.jackieadkins.wordpress.com Jackie

    Great post, Ryan, I had been looking forward to reading (all of) it. I’ll be the first to admit that I have very little sales experience, but from what I have learned about it, I’d say your points were right on.

    One of my favorites was how you suggested taking on fewer clients and over-delivering for those clients, instead of taking on as many as you can handle. Not only does this keep you from spreading yourself too thin, but it demonstrates to your client that you really are committing yourself to the partnership. If other people are knocking on your door, yet you still only take on a couple of clients, this is amplified (and it may help create demand through scarcity).

    Again, enjoyed the post, keep on keepin on!

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Jackie – I liken it to a really popular restaurant that has limited seating. If it’s good and you have great food and customer service people are invariably going to have a great experience. They’re going to tell others, and the line is going to accumulate outside. That’s scarcity, that’s not a bad thing. I love that you extracted that part because not only is it an important point I wanted to convey, but one that would serve a lot of businesses well. The art of “saying no” more often is a tough one, but over delivering for 5 clients is WAY better than stretching yourself thin for 7, don’t you think?

    [Reply]

  • http://www.opheliaswebb.com Elisa

    Ok, that was much easier to read thru than anticipated. Though I suppose as a sales manager the material appealed to me a bit more than the average person! I think I’ll actually be forwarding this article along to some of my agents for ideas on the important of relational marketing in their sales process.

    On that note, however, I am curious if you feel this approach works for ALL sales organizations or ones that are a little smaller and thus have some more flexibility. My question stems from the fact that you reference a few times the un-need to acquire new clients, which is obviously something that works for you. I see a lot of businesses, however, that need to grow their clientele thru marketing as well as current clients and referrals. I would agree, though, that the latter will always provide you the best sales opportunities (cause they are the ones you already have a relationship with…and thus we come full circle!)

    This is quite possibly my favorite quote from blogs in the past week: “You better be the best there ever was at what you do if you’re arrogant.” Might even be better than the stoic gentle one…might. :)

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Elisa – I’m glad some of this could resonate with a bonafide sales person. If you indeed pass it on and receive feedback I’d love any additional value your agents could provide to the conversation.

    To your question, this is what works for me, and it’s what I anticipate works best for smaller, more flexible organizations like you’ve alluded to. I don’t want to say that it’s 100% applicable to bigger organizations trying to grow their clientele because I haven’t acquired enough experience in that niche yet and I’m not one to preach it before practicing it.

    What I will say is that I’ve witnesses a lot of companies try to grow to quickly when their infrastructure isn’t well suited for growth. Sometimes account managers aren’t ready to head up entire teams’ and often times the company doesn’t yet have the funds to bring in a more experienced outsider. Growing too fast and having to scale back is worrisome. Taking your time, providing your current clients with tremendous value and having them become your evangelists as a result (usually) ensures that your institution grows at a pace indicative of what you’re capable of leaving you with time to implement the necessary alterations for long-term success.

    Patience is a virtue, both in business and life. If we try to run too fast we’re likely to trip on our own feet.

    And glad you liked that quote since it’s a Ryan original. LOL

    [Reply]

  • http://www.thejourneywest.com Will

    Ryan, I have been reading your blog off and on, and most of what I come across I can not only relate to but directly benefit from. I work for ADP selling to the small business market and a lot of your philosophies simply can’t be taught effectively in a corporate class room or roll-play.

    I have shared this particular post with my sales team because some of our biggest competitors maximize their client channel, and in turn scoop up new business without bending over backwards grinding out hundreds of prospects. Thanks for helping me keep motivated to work smarter!

    Will

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Will – Nothing you could’ve done could be more rewarding than passing my humble advice on to your sales team. I’m genuinely flattered, and searched your blog for a while looking for an e-mail so I could thank you personally (couldn’t find one.)

    There’s no sense grinding out hundreds of prospects when you can provide valuable free content that will have them begging you to hand you their money so they can get the “paid stuff.” Then work your tail off to over-deliver. Not only will you retain that client, but they’ll tell 2 more. It’s not an advanced science or philosophy, but common sense.

    Please follow up and let me know if your team has any increased success or if there is anything else I can do to help you and/or your team.

    [Reply]

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  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuart Foster

    I like to refer to the taking on to many things and clients as “Scope of Influence”. As in as my consultancy grows larger I need to keep in mind my core ideals and business plan. I can’t expand to far beyond those without stretching myself to thin and undercutting my product.

    I still haven’t hit a critical mass of inbound success. I think that is largely due to the weakness of my consulting page which I am consistently revamping (and could honestly use some advice on).

    Once again I learned something here. Good stuff Ryan.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Stuart – I like that, “Scope of Influence.” I think it’s something we’ve all been guilty of screwing up once or twice. I’ve tried to take on more than I can handle and one of two things inevitably happens, either I kill myself working so much and burn out or someone gets let down. The person that gets let down is never coming back and they certainly won’t evangelize me; they might even tell others they were underwhelmed (and rightfully so.)

    Having learned that lesson, I try my best not to ever sacrifice my core ideals for a bigger paycheck. Sometimes it’s a tough temptation to fend off, but if you continue thinking long-term and over-arching broad scope of what you want to achieve, chances are you’ll make the right decisions (for you) more often than not.

    And your consultancy page is way better than mine, which is completely blank. Thankfully, I haven’t had to use it yet, but it’s been in the works for some time now. If you find some good examples please pass them on, and I’ll do the same

    [Reply]

  • http://twitter.com/Spiewak Spiewak

    Ryan,

    Excellent post. It helps me realize that one of our biggest assets, which often goes either overlooked or abused, is our time. Your passion for your work is obvious, and I’m sure your clients see that. I can tell that if you devote your time to something, that your client is getting your authentic passion, drive, and desire to help, which in my book is damn near priceless. Bravo!

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Stephen – It’s funny how when you’re in school all you want to do is get a job making the “big” bucks, and then you get into the “real world” you’d like to make those too, but you definitely value your time a lot more. I guess there’s less of it so you embrace it to the fullest extent. Thanks for the kind words and solid additions.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.bossey.com Keith Bossey

    Hi Ryan, I think you are definitely on the right track with each of these principles. Do the right thing for the client (not for your wallet in the short run), be a thought leader (sell your expertise, not your labor), manage expectations, be a real person (likable), target well (you can’t be a good solution for everybody). The only one that I have trouble with is scarcity. I think this works fine for an individual consultant, but not if you are looking to grow a business. If all of your time is taken up by clients, you don’t have a business, you really just have a job. One of your clients has to be you. While many people don’t enjoy the sales and marketing game, ensuring that you have a steady flow of new clients is essential to the long term growth and success of your firm. No matter how satisfied clients are, circumstances change, people move on, and the need for your services by any one client can end quickly. Furthermore, just as you will grow in your career, anyone you hire will desire that same growth path. If your company is not growing, it will be very difficult to keep your best people engaged. Scarcity also means that at some point, you have to disappoint a good client or prospect because you just can’t physically do the work. Managing capacity, having a plan in place to grow the business, at a speed you are comfortable with is much more important than the pricing power attained through scarcity.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @Keith – Thanks for your insights. I think you bring up an interesting discussion. Can you practice scarcity and still grow your business? I think Elisa also alluded to this as well, particularly with bigger clients.

    “One of your clients has to be you.” – I hadn’t thought about it framed quite that way, but I whole-heartily agree, and I didn’t mean to imply that scarcity entailed only working with your clients and not trying to expand at all (though I certainly see how it was interpreted that way with my singular consulting approach.)

    Back to the restaurant example. Does an exclusive restaurant operating at capacity have trouble getting new people in the door when old customers move away? Perhaps. Maybe. Not Necessarily. You still grow, but you can now be more selective about the clients and work you accept. There’s some great agencies making a ton of money just doing a couple of projects at a time. Brains on Fire comes to mind.

    If the projects are fun, challenging, intriguing your current employees will enjoy them. Do they want somewhere to move-up to, absolutely. So you’re absolutely right, you do have to be growing, but like you mentioned, there has to be a plan in place to do it intelligently. And you let your best employees grow with you, same with your best clients. With the others you’ve hoped you’ve prepared them enough to move along and be successful when they’re ready.

    You’ve added some great insights to the discussion. I assuredly missed addressing a couple. What’d I miss? What can I elaborate on? Where do we still disagree?

    [Reply]

  • http://www.bossey.com Keith Bossey

    I think your approach to employee development is a good one. We used to call it the “petri dish”. We were hoping to grow solid performers, knowing full well that they all wouldn’t/couldn’t stay. The trick for management is realizing that this is the situation and making the most of it. Recognizing that people have good reasons to move on and making sure you capitalize on your “alumni” network. Thinking further down the road, eventually the owner(s) of a consulting firm will eventually want to monetize the fruits of their labor (sell). Having a well defined growth process adds significant value to what has been built. A buyer will want to know that, absent the founders, the firm has longevity. Maybe I’m thinking TOO long term Ryan, but times change, people change, and if I was starting a consulting firm today, i’d like to make sure that when I wanted to do something else, I could maximize the value of all my hard work. Might be a little off topic, but I think that you have to believe that any endeavor you have will be successful and planning for that success is essential. Thanks for humoring me on this topic. Unfortunately (for many) I can talk about it for a long time.

    [Reply]

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  • http://washington-marketing.com/ How To Attract New Customers

    The most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. That will influence –your entire relationship to the world.
    And the best thing possible is that you love yourself… and… you are lucky to find employees and customers who love that same you.

    We often take refuge in our own weaknesses. It’s one of the main reasons we can stay stuck in dysfunctional relationships with employees and customers who aren’t good for us.

    [Reply]

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