Two psychological researchers at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis did a project a couple of years ago. The two researchers took a 25 cent coin into a telephone booth, placed it on the ledge inside and walked out of the phone booth. Hiding behind a nearby tree, they waited for an unsuspecting subject to walk into the phone booth, pick up the quarter, and walk out with it. At that point, one of them approached the subject and said, “Did you happen to see my quarter in there? I left it in the phone booth. I need to make another telephone call.” Only 23 percent of the subjects who were asked for the quarter actually gave it back.

For the second part of the study, the researchers changed their approach in one critical way. They touched each unsuspecting subject below the elbow for not longer than three seconds and said, in effect, the same thing. In the second case, when the subjects were touched, the majority reached into their pockets and said something like, “I’ve been looking for someone to give this back to.”

Now think back over the past 24 hours. Did you, in that time, touch somebody on the side of the arm to grab their attention, reinforce a comment, or underline a concept you wanted them to remember? Do you realize you’re doing this naturally, on your own? Why not make this a deliberate tool you can use to help your prospects remember and retain more and close them more quickly.

The right way

You may be thinking that some of your prospects or clients just don’t like to be touched, and you’re hesitant to try such a technique. But your prospects and clients may never know that they’ve been touched if you do it the right way.

You are probably wondering why below the elbow and why three seconds? During this study, they also discovered that if you touch a stranger above the elbow, you’re basically penetrating very intimate space. The area below the elbow, however, is considered a public space in which a total stranger can walk up to you, extend his or her hand, and shake yours. This is acceptable behavior from people we don’t know very well. So, unless you want to risk becoming too intimate too quickly, make sure that you use this technique only below the elbow, not above.

You will know you’ve violated the three-second rule when you touch your prospect on the arm, and suddenly your prospect stares at your hand. This is clear, nonverbal communication that says, “Take your hand off me.” You will probably never see this happening because of the simple fact that if you pay attention to timing, your prospect will never realize they have been touched.

Nearly every salesperson and professional who has used this technique reports that it works. If you touch your prospect or client on the arm below the elbow for less than three seconds to illustrate key ideas, you will get them to remember more, retain more, and be more easily closed. But be careful. If you touch him too often, you may dilute the effectiveness of this very powerful technique. Touch your prospect from time to time, and you’ll become more persuasive and be perceived by him as warmer and more sincere. 

For more from Kerry Johnson, see:

How to sell the way people want to buy

How to gain clients through CPAs

Why teamwork works