If field representatives could have one wish—any wish— it would probably be to remove the word ‘no’ from their clients’ vocabularies. Rejection can be frequent and frustrating, but an exceptional field representative knows how to turn no’s into yes’s, or sometimes even evade the no’s. How? Through persuasion. At the turn of the century as technology was beginning its grand takeover, Jay A. Conger of the Harvard Business Press identified persuasion as the ‘new language of business.’ Today, almost 20 years later, this skill remains highly relevant, especially in the fields of sales and marketing.
The first thing to know about persuasion is that it should not be thought of as a form of manipulation. If you think you’re going to manipulate your clients into buying more products or giving you better shelf space, you have the wrong mindset. Manipulation is usually motivated by the idea that only you will end up better off in the end. Instead, your goal should be a mutual benefit with emphasis on your client. You need to persuade your clients that they will gain something from having this relationship with your company too. Ken Sundheim, CEO of KAS Placement, says to avoid “I’s” and use “You’s,” when addressing clients so as to place the focus on them and their needs. With the right mentality, we can now look at the necessary steps to master persuasion.
In order be persuasive, you must have credibility. “Our research strongly suggests that most managers overestimate their own credibility—considerably,” says Conger. So first things first, you must do an honest self-assessment to see where you stand on the credibility scale. He goes on to explain that credibility is a result of two things: expertise and relationships. You must have in-depth knowledge of anything and everything relevant to your relationship with your client. This includes your product, the industry that your company is in, your competitors, your client’s mission, what your client is looking for, etc. This knowledge comes from primary and secondary research, meaning internet searches as well as dialogue with clients. “Dialogue continues to be a form of learning, but it is also the beginning of the negotiation stage,” says Conger.
Remember that your goal is to mutually benefit, and you don’t have the full picture of how your client can benefit from this relationship without talking to them first. Achieving this customer-centric relationship requires compromise. Taking your client’s opinions into consideration and incorporating them into a new and improved solution is a slow process, but it’s a sure way to win your clients over. When they feel a sense of partial control in the relationship, they are more at ease and more trusting as well. Furthermore, Conger notes the best persuaders have strong emotional intelligences. In dialogue, these representatives can quickly pick up on a client’s social cues and proceed to present themselves in a way the client would be most receptive to. For example, some people are attracted to high energy and enthusiasm, and others may just appreciate the simple facts with little embellishment. Regardless of the way you present to your client, you should always exude confidence and certainty. “There is no quality as compelling, intoxicating and attractive as certainty,” says Forbes contributor Jason Nazar.
When supporting your own stance, the most important thing after credibility is evidence, both concrete and anecdotal. Concrete numbers such as a report of increase in sales or customer satisfaction are strong, but you can make your case even stronger with a story that will bring it to life. “We have found that the most effective persuaders use language in a particular way. They supplement numerical data with examples, stories, metaphors, and analogies to make their positions come alive,” Conger says.
Persuasion is most often not an innate skill. Mastering it is something that takes a lot of patience and practice. By focusing on credibility, evidence, and emotion, representatives are sure to strengthen their case and win the likings of their clients.
Aya Tsuruta is a Content Marketing Journalist at Repsly where she covers sales and marketing content through a creative lens. In addition to writing for Repsly, she is a frequent contributor to the music blog, Indie Music Filter, and BC magazine, the Gavel.