Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
By: Robert B. Cialdini

Quick-take: Interesting stories about sales strategies.

Dan's Review

There are all kinds of sales tactics happening to us. We are familiar with many of them, but why do they work? And what are some of the more insidious ones? How do they play into our base instincts?

This book dives into those details.

It covers these 4 themes:

  1. Reciprocation. This is the idea when somebody does us a favor, we are inclined to do one for them.

The free samples at grocery stores are a good example. The business is relying on us to return the favor with buying something, and it works.

What made this chapter the most interesting for me is when it talks about how this good idea can go bad... we apparently feel inclined to return the favor even if the favor was never asked.  A (hopefully) well known example of this is the flower gift scam. A stranger gives you a flower. You decline. The stranger says, "Oh, no. It is a gift! However, we would really like a donation!" They continue to shove it into your hand and refuse to take it back. Not sure what to do, you pay a few bucks.

A more subtle example is when the sales person gives you a free coke. They may say, "I was at the vending machine, so I went ahead and bought one for you too." You don't want to refuse the coke. After all, the money is already spent. Despite having never asked for the coke, you now feel indebted.

  1. Commitment and Consistency. The idea is that the salesperson wants a commitment... any kind of commitment at all... and that opens the door for bigger commitments.

You see this happening when the salesperson asks for something very small, like taking a survey. That can then lead to something bigger.

The most evil example from this was the "low ball". A car dealer offers you the vehicle for a very good price. You recognize "the mix-up" and jump on it. However, before the deal closes, the error gets caught. You've already agreed to buy the vehicle. You've already filled out a bunch of paperwork. Do you really want to back out now over a few hundred dollars?

  1. Social Proof. This concept covers the tendency of people to simply follow what others are doing.

It is the wisdom of the masses. Typically, that is a good strategy. If everybody is doing X, then perhaps I should too. Marketers use this on us by mentioning just how many have been sold, or if they are #1 best seller. Everybody is using us!

The most compelling takeaway from this section was a safety tip. It covered the phenomenon of somebody seriously injured in a busy city street, and yet nobody stops to help. If the same happened in a less populated area, then the person would probably be helped.

The reason given for this is that the city folk are following "social proof". Nobody else seems to be helping the person, so that person is likely already in the process of being helped or doesn't need it. It is not that the city folks are not caring. They are uncertain. Even if they can see something is wrong, they don't know it is on them to help.

The safety tip is to cut through all the uncertainty. If you are ever in a crowd and need help, here is what to do: Point to a random person and say, "Call 911! Tell them Y!". Give clear and concise commands, leaving no doubt you need help, and it is now their job to do something about it.

  1. Liking. This section discusses the idea that you are more motivated by requests if you like the person.

An example is the old good cop / bad cop routine. The good cop treats you with respect, causing you to like them, and offers to protect you from the bad cop... he just needs a written confession.

  1. Authority. We are highly motivated to follow individuals in positions of authority.

What this section stresses is that we sometimes follow even with just the appearance of authority. Example: Actors dressed like doctors recommending products on TV. We know they are actors, but we are still influenced.

The book then discussed the famous Milgram Shock Experiment. It is an example of just how far ordinary people will follow the command of authority figures.

  1. Scarcity. If there are few remaining, we want something more.

This is the well-known tactic of saying, "Limited supply! Hurry!" A couple takeaways I will cover... salesman often say, "I just sold this model you are looking at. " Target responds, "Oh no! Is there more in the back?" Salesman gets a commitment, "Perhaps. Before I go look, would you be willing to buy?"

Most interesting story was from a used car salesman. He would often schedule conflicting appointments so multiple people would appear and thus a bidding war / urgency would happen. If they didn't decide now, then they would never have the chance again.

If you are ever in a situation where you must decide today or you'd otherwise have to leave, then alarm bells should go off. The seller is trying to create artificial scarcity.

I realize this is all very basic sales strategies, but much of the content was new to me. If you have never studied this kind of content, I definitely recommend this book. Score: 5/5.

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