Persuasive Sales Negotiation (Part III of III)

In this, the last article of the series Persuasive Sales Negotiation, we examine how we can apply the last two principles, authority and scarcity to optimise our sales negotiations.

In my previous two articles, we considered 4 of the 6 principles of persuasion as set out by Dr Cialdini. We looked at how we could apply the principles of reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof and liking to our sales negotiations. In this, the last article of this series, I will examine how we can apply the last two principles, authority and scarcity to optimise our sales negotiations.

There is a strong pressure in our contemporary society for compliance with the requests of an authority. Dr Cialdini states that the strength of this tendency to obey legitimate authorities comes from systematic socialization practices designed to instil in members of society the perception that such obedience constitutes correct conduct. In addition, it is frequently adaptive to obey the dictates of genuine authorities because such individuals usually possess high levels of knowledge, wisdom and power. For these reasons, deference to authorities can occur in a mindless fashion as a kind of decision - making short-cut.

Research has proven that when reacting to authority in an automatic fashion, there is a tendency to do so in response to the mere symbols of authority rather than to its substance. Three kinds of symbols that have been shown by research to be effective in this regard are titles, clothing and auto-mobiles. In separate studies investigating the influence of these symbols, individuals possessing one or another of them (and no other legitimising credentials) were accorded more deference or obedience by those they encountered. Moreover, in each instance, individuals who deferred or obeyed underestimated the effect of authority pressures on their behaviours.

Communication researchers have learned that, in conversations, people unconsciously shift their voice and speech styles toward the styles of individuals in positions of power and authority. One study explored this phenomenon by analysing interviews on the Larry King Live television show. When King interviewed guests having great social standing and prestige (for instance, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barbara Streisand), his voice style changed to match theirs. But when he interviewed guests of lower social status (for instance Dan Quale, Spike Lee and Julie Andrews), he remained unmoved, and their voice styles shifted to match his (Gregory & Webster, 1996).

You may be wondering how we can use this knowledge to advance our sales efforts. As taught on our sales skills negotiation courses, one of the best things we can do to increase the effectiveness of our sales efforts is to have our value proposition endorsed by an authoritative individual of recognised standing. It is important to consider that the context of this authority should be relevant to our industry and value proposition. Some very successful organisations have long been aware of this principle as evidenced by their use of celebrities to endorse their products. Just think of the products endorsed by sportsmen & women such as Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Venus Williams etc.

Collectors of everything from antiques to stamps are well aware of the principle of scarcity's influence in determining the worth of an item. As a general rule, if an item is rare or becoming rare, it is more valuable. Dr Cialdini cites that "opportunities seem more valuable to us when they are less available". We also know that people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. For instance, college students experienced much stronger emotions when asked to imagine losses as opposed to gains in their romantic relationships or in their grade point averages (Ketelaar, 1995). Especially under conditions of risk and uncertainty, the threat of potential loss plays a powerful role in human decision making (Tversky & Kahnemann, 1981; De Dreu & McCusker, 1997).

Probably the most straightforward use of the scarcity principle occurs in the 'limited - number' tactic in which a customer is informed that a certain product is in short supply that cannot be guaranteed to last long. According to the scarcity principle, people assign more value to opportunities when they are less available. The use of this principle for profit can be seen in such compliance techniques as the 'limited number' and 'deadline' tactics, wherein practitioners try to convince us that access to what they are offering is restricted by amount or time.

Dr Cialdini states that "The scarcity principle holds for two reasons. First, because things that are difficult to attain are typically more valuable, the availability of an item or experience can serve as a shortcut cue to its quality. Second, as things become less accessible, we lose freedoms. According to loss theory, we respond to the loss of freedoms by wanting to have them (along with the goods and services connected to them) more than before."

In addition to its effect on the evaluation of commodities, the scarcity principle also applies to the way that information is evaluated. Research indicates that the act of limiting access to a message causes individuals to want to receive it more and to become more favourable to it. The latter of these findings - that limited information is more persuasive - seems the more surprising. In the case of censorship, this effect occurs even when the message has not been received. When a message has been received, it is more effective if it is perceived as consisting of exclusive information.

The scarcity principle is most likely to hold true under two optimizing conditions. First, scarce items are heightened in value when they are newly scarce. That is, we value those things that have become recently restricted more than those that were restricted all along. Second, we are most attracted to scarce resources when we compete with others for them.

In a sales context we can use this principle by sharing scarce topical information with our prospects whilst the information is still new and therefore scarce. If our products and services have a genuinely scarce component or character, we should emphasise this as part of our sales communications.

[Part I] [Part II] [Part III]

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