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5 Keys to Influencing Prospects

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It is often said of some hot product that its excellence is so evident that it sells itself.

But bestselling author and sales coach Bob Burg says that’s just not how things work. Sure, once something is proven in the marketplace, sales can multiply. But it took a salesperson to introduce that product and influence others to purchase it.

And indeed influence is the heart of sales and the subject of Burg’s latest book, Adversaries into Allies: Win People Over Without Manipulation or Coercion.

The ability to influence others, Burg says, is a key to prospering in business and to enjoying a happy life. And it applies to everyone from president to parent.

Burg says the idea of harnessing American national resources to our first space flight to the moon naturally seemed outlandish to most people at the time, and would not have occurred had President Kennedy not sold the American people on the idea.

“Leaders have to sell people into comitting to their vision,” Burg told ThinkAdvisor in a phone interview. “The only way to do so is to first find out what others want and tie that into what they want.”

Whether a great leader or effective salesperson, he continued, “it’s never about them; it’s always about the other person.”

Burg recently posted a 14-question self-assessment tool to his website to help people evaluate their effectiveness at influencing others. At root of the questions are five core principles, discussed in his new book, that he argues are determinative of one’s influence. ThinkAdvisor asked Burg what those principles are.

First of all, how do you define influence?

Influence is the ability to move a person to a desired action — to purchase your product or service, assuming your product or service is a match that can help them.

Typically those people who are the best influencers are those who can match what they want to happen to that other person’s needs, wants or desires.

As Dale Carnegie said in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, people do things for their reasons, not our reasons.

Your self-assessment tool has surprising questions, dealing with issues such as a person’s ability to control his anger. What’s the connection to influence?

Controlling your own emotions is the No. 1 principle discussed in my book.

It’s only when you’re in control of your own emotions that you’re in a position to take a potentially negative situation and turn it into a win for everyone involved.

As human beings, we are emotional creatures. We like to think we’re logical, but we’re really pretty driven by our emotions. In fact, we make major decisions based on emotions. Of course, we rationalize — which is to tell ourselves rational lies.

Controlling our emotions also has to do with how we can allow our buttons to be pushed by people. When someone does something rude or thoughtless, we often react in a way that makes us part of problem rather than being a part of solution. A person who can control his emotions is the leader in that situation, he’s the influencer.

As my friend Dondi Scumaci put it, “By all means take your emotions along for the ride, but make sure you are driving the car.”

What is the second principle of influence?

It’s understanding the clash of belief systems.

Belief is the truth as one understands the truth to be; in other words, it’s subjective truth.

We all have what is essentially an unconscious operating system. These thoughts and beliefs are a combination of our upbringing, environment, schooling, news media, television shows, movies and pop culture.

Our basic belief system is pretty much etched in stone by the time we’re little more than toddlers. Every new thing that comes into our lives is filtered through this unconscious belief system; most people live their lives this way totally unconscious that this is the case.

 As human beings we tend to believe that everybody else sees the world the way we do.

How often do you hear people saying “Everybody likes that,” “Nobody feels that way,” or “I would never say that to someone.”  We wouldn’t because it’s not congruent with our belief system.

So how does someone trying to make a sale cope with the coming collision of world views?

What we need to do is not try to necessarily understand this person’s belief system. What we need to do is just understand that they’re coming from a world with a different set of beliefs than we are. Now we can respect that. That helps create the context where win-win is the result.

Can you give me an example of this clash of beliefs in a sales situation?

Sure. A person came into my office to sell me a copying machine — a sales manager and his assistant.

The sales manager’s presentation focused on how much money I’m going to save and how much cheaper his product was than other products.

His entire focus was on money, but I’m a convenience shopper; he mentioned I’d need [to periodically perform some manual data input] and kept talking about price.

But I’m not a fixer. For him the best deal is based on price; for me the best deal is never having to worry about it.

We were totally at an impasse until his assistant, observing this, said: “Mr. Burg, if we put down in writing that you will never have to manually input data, would you then be interested in purchasing this copier?”

[The sales manager almost lost the sale because] he was so immersed in his belief system. A good sales person understands it’s not about them and their beliefs; it’s about the other person’s beliefs.

What is the third principle of influence?

The third principle is: acknowledge their ego.

Why their ego, and not ours? Because we don’t have an ego [laughs]. We already know that we have an ego, but … 95% of influence and persuasion is simply helping people feel good about themselves.

So if they have objection about a certain thing and you respond “You know, as I’ve already said…” — that’s going to offend their ego.

Ego itself not bad; it’s simply the “I” — the unique human being that is separate from others. When it’s controlled, it’s put to great use for us and society as a whole.

When it controls us, it’s not only non-productive but nothing good’s going to come from it.

Can you give another illustration of how salespeople at times bruise egos?

You can’t say to a prospective customer, “You’re wrong.”

You have to respect their question or their desire to know more.

Now, we know the customer isn’t always right. However, you can never make them feel wrong; you need to make them feel good about the transaction.

Tell us about the fourth principal of influence.

The fourth principle is setting the proper frame.

A frame is simply the foundation from which everything else takes place.

I was in a Dunkin’ Donuts and saw a toddler, maybe 2 ½ years old. When his parents called, he came running but took a spill. He intuitively understood that was not supposed to happen. I saw him look up to his mom and dad for help interpreting the event. He wanted to know what it means.

Had his parents reacted or gotten concerned I could easily see he would have broken out crying. But they smiled and said, “Oh, that looks like so much fun.” They set a productive frame out of which he could operate.

It’s the same with any sales presentation.

So how does an advisor do that?

You set a frame that you’re a trusted advisor — for example, that you’re there to provide information and it’s up to them to decide. Just by the way you handle yourself you’re setting a frame.

You could say, “I don’t know if what I have to offer is going to match your needs, but I would like ask you questions to see if it might be a fit.”

[That shows] it’s going to be an exchange of information rather than you trying to push something.

What’s an example of adversarial framing?

When you answer an objection — the prospect says, “Wow, that’s kind of expensive.” And you say, “No, that’s not expensive at all” — that’s adversarial.

A better approach would be to [seek clarification]:

“You’re saying X dollars is expensive to invest in widget. If I may ask, what kind of results would you need to see to justify that price?”

Now you’re edifying him — you’re asking the question rather than trying to tell him why it’s a good deal.

And whatever he answers will reveal his objections.

And the final principal of influence is?

Tact and empathy.

Tact is the language of strength; it’s the ability to correct or constructively criticize, and to do so in way where the other person is not defensive and resistant to our ideas but open to us and receptive to our ideas.

Empathy is the ability to vicariously sense another person’s emotions.

You know your product, but they may not even know enough about it to identify their question.

An empathetic person needs to figure out what the prospect is not saying. You might say something like, “I’m feeling you might have a question about something that you’re not vocalizing” to open up the conversation.

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