Four Stages of Your Business Value Advisory Practice

The Science of Persuasion and Influence in Software Sales




Animals respond to external stimuli based on instinct: they eat, fight, run, and procreate according to automatically triggered signal paths defined deep in their brains. Humans have instincts, too, but most of our "fight or flight" days are behind us. The daily tribulations we face are not so starkly defined as we decide where to concentrate our time and energy, what points of view to take, which professionals to listen to, and how to best set ourselves up for future success.

To handle these imprecise, no-right-answer situations we rely heavily on learned responses. Through millennia of social conditioning humans have developed rules for interaction that provide intellectual shortcuts to cut through the noise of modern life and guide our behavior in a myriad of situations. In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini identifies the "six levers of influence" to which we all respond - knowingly or not - to keep our society functioning smoothly.

As a sales professional, working within the framework of the "six levers of influence" will make you more persuasive and improve the reception of your message. In this article, we'll review the "six levers" and brainstorm ideas for using them in a sales context.


Reciprocity is the obligation to return the favors or gifts of another. We expect that the things we do for someone else (helping them move, paying for dinner, traveling to visit, etc.) will be remembered and eventually repaid.

  • Request an account-advancing action every time you've met a commitment. After your work is accepted, you can ask something in return: setting a timeline for the purchasing decision, help developing new contacts in other departments, getting you meetings with executives higher in the organization, making a budgeting commitment for software, etc.
  • Do unrequested favors to invoke the reciprocity rule. Classic examples are providing free tickets, meals, or trips in exchange for the sale. Bribery is rightly out of favor but you can put the principle to work in small ways to help you break loose a "stuck" account. Use your imagination.
  • Get reciprocal concessions. When a first request is refused, a smaller second request is more likely to be granted. Be forewarned that if you make outrageous requests so that your follow-up will seem reasonable by comparison, you will probably insult the client. This tactic works best when both requests are realistic.


Consistency is the tendency to behave in reasonably harmonious ways with what you've done before. If your current actions or statements are similar to your past deeds, people will generally assume you are stable, trustworthy, and believable.

  • Get clients to commit to solving problems. Using methods like those outlined in SPIN Selling, get the client to list problems, outline the implications, and espouse their readiness to resolve the issues. When you demonstrate how your software solves the problem and saves them big money, the "consistent" action for clients to take is to move forward with the sale.

  • Encourage clients to speak at industry events about their success with your software. After publicly advocating the benefits of your products, clients become more closely associated with your company- both in their minds and in the minds of others. To be seen as consistent, clients will put more stock in their relationship with you and less in those with your competitors.

Social Proof

Social Proof is the affinity to "follow the crowd," especially in times of uncertainty. If you emulate everyone else when in unfamiliar territory then people accept you more readily. (You also tend to get whatever results they do, good or bad.)

  • Use reference accounts to support the truth of your value proposition. A believable demonstration of what your software can do in practice, what business problems it solves, and how much value it generates is unbeatable.

  • Invite clients to join user groups. The more people clients see using your software, the more success stories they encounter (or even problems, as long as they can be solved or overcome) the more they come to believe that they can rely on you, your company, and your product.


Liking is the inclination to be drawn to people who are charismatic, attractive, familiar, or similar to us. We enjoy being around and easily relate to people with whom we share experience and perspective.

  • Connect with clients around things you have in common. Find things outside of the sales process that you can share and discuss comfortably, without pressure. Come back to them when needed to reestablish a bond.

  • Stay in it for the long term. We like people that stick with us through thick and thin. Work to build a foundation of trust that will lead to repeat sales and blocked competitors.

  • Donate software to college and school programs. As more people with familiarity of your products enter the workforce, the chances that new hires will select your software for use in their companies rises.


Authority is the predisposition to believe people who present themselves as experts in esoteric areas of knowledge, such as medicine, law, or science. Instead of learning a new discipline before deciding what to think about a complex issue, we listen to experts and align ourselves with their (hopefully) considered opinions.

  • Provide clients with analyst white papers and opinion articles that describe how your products can be used successfully in the context of their industry.

  • Present documented customer success cases that demonstrate your credibility in the client's industry and your ability to make clients successful, a scarce commodity indeed.

  • Ask clients to educate themselves through industry conferences, webinars, or conference calls with software analysts/industry experts. The more time clients spend building expertise in your software or industry domain, the more vested they become in pursuing a sale.


Scarcity is the affinity to want things that seem in short supply. Given the choice, we want to secure the limited-time-offer, associate with exclusive groups, acquire the finest possessions, and be viewed as high-status individuals.

  • Offer limited-time discounts. People love to buy products on sale, but be careful not to force a big decision with this tactic or it could backfire and stall the account.

  • Initiate site license and exclusive pricing agreements. This may lock a client into your low-price products and services, but if you charge too little for a "high-maintenance" customer then you will lose money. Know you customer servicing costs inside-out before adopting this tactic.

  • Invite clients to join your company's advisory boards, product steering committees, or beta test groups. Being an "insider" engenders feelings of inclusion and importance. Clients will make an effort to keep the privilege.

The "six levers of influence" are always at work. Being cognizant of their effects and responsible for their proper use will enable you to be better understood, to solidify relationships, and to make yourself and everyone around you more successful.

This post is packed full of ideas you can put into practice immediately. What are you going to do first? What performance improvement do you think is possible with these tactics?

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