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by David Brock on April 7th, 2010

Persuasion—it’s important to sales.  It’s important to business.  When we want to change something, we can’t do it without persuasion. 

Persuasion is a simple word, but somehow in the context of “selling” it becomes vile–it sets people off.  It brings up all the worst stereotypes of peddlers and hucksters.  Customers don’t want to be persuaded, “I feel like sales people are making me buy something I don’t want or don’t need.”  Sales people, reacting against these stereotypes don’t want to acknowledge the “P” word.  “We don’t do that, we can’t make people buy what they don’t want, we just want to satisfy their needs and solve their problems.”

There are some important words that always accompany persuasion.  They are dialog, change, choice.  We forget this, but persuasion would be a meaningless, waste of time if it did not exist in the context of these three words.

If there is no dialog, if there is no exchange of ideas, no conversation, not opportunity to persuade.  Without dialog, we might as well talk to a wall.  Implicit in a dialog is listening, understanding, probing.  Dialogs are about the exchange of information, ideas, and possibilities.  They are the foundation to persuasion.

If there is no willingness to change, it is virtually impossible to persuade.  Sales is really about change and change management.  We are asking the customer to do something, we are asking them to buy our products and services.  We are asking them to change–maybe change vendors/suppliers, maybe change the way they do something in their business, maybe address an opportunity they hadn’t thought of before.  Without a willingness to change, we might as well try to push a rope uphill.  Persuasion simply doesn’t work.

Persuasion does not eliminate choice.  Persuasion requires choice.  Choice is always in the customer’s hands.  They choose to accept our offer, that of our competition, or to do nothing.

Persuasion is part of everyday life, it’s part of business, it is fundamental to sales.  Persuasion is our job, but persuasion does not exist in isolation.  As a sales professional, I am driven by the opportunity to persuade.  It is fantastic to have people understand what our products and services can do for them, how we can create superior value, and why they should choose our solution. 

I think much of the negative reaction to the concept of persuasion, both by customers and sales people relates less to persuasion, but more the techniques and approaches used to persuade.  That will have to be the subject of a different post.

Have I missed anything else important to persuasion?

  1. I like the way you focused on persuasion as interactive, voluntary and receptive components. I am highly sensitive to the use of persuasion as there is a fine line between encouraging persuasion and teaching manipulation or intimidation. Taking the time to effectively identify, understand, and discover what people need results in very little persuasion, if the solution presented represents exactly what they asked for in the first place. Persuasion only comes into play when the behaviors above interrupt the presentation and acceptance of a perfectly designed answer.

    • Dave: Thanks for your comment. I agree that manipulation and intimidation (I would add trickery) have no place in selling or effective persuasion. Having said that, I think persuasion is important in selling (and a lot of other things). There are legitimate different points of view in business. Persuasion, exercised in a healthy way, serves a great purpose. As sales people we hope to influence the outcome of a customer decision, persuasion is an element of that.

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion. Regards, Dave

  2. Dave,

    The negative rap against persuasion always bugged me; never seemed “fair” to a noble old word. Slick, clever, manipulative persuasion IS the hallmark of a wanna’ be sales rep – a charlatan. Persuasion based on logic and facts that leads to change that in turn leads to value for a customer is the hallmark of a true professional.


    • Todd: Thanks for the note. Unfortunately, there are a lot of “charged” words in our profession. Pesuasion is all around us, every day. It’s how things get done and people/organizations move forward. Persuasion execute through trickery and manipulation is wrong.

      We should be proud that we are persuaders!

  3. Michelle permalink

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by davidabrock: Persuasion!

  4. Lee permalink

    The problem with the word “persuade” is that it implies that the object of the persuasion is reluctant. Therefore, depending on how adamant the persuader is, the persuasion can get quite ugly. Think back to childhood when your mother “persuaded” you to eat all your vegetables through threats and punishment (i.e. no dessert or having those vegetables for breakfast the next day!).

    I think a better word is “convince.” “Convince” has an implications of a logical argument or debate derived from facts, research, and conclusions drawn therefrom. When something is said with conviction, there is no doubt in the speaker`s mind. And, removing doubt is more apropos to [good] sales than to remove reluctance.

    • Lee, thanks for the comment. The concept of “persuasion” is an interesting one. Because of poor tactics by too many sales people, persuasion has very negative connotations. As you point out, just the notion of persuading someone seems distasteful.

      That being said, the job of the sales person is to convince, persuade, influence—all in the most positive senses of those words. I would tend not to shy away from using those words, but focus on demonstrating the value of our arguments and the benefits the “persuadee” might get.

      Lee, thanks for continuing to comment. Your ideas are great and contribute to the value of this blog.

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