Imagine a famous influencer—say, Oprah Winfrey—criticizing her audience and demanding that they do something she wanted them to do without so much as the courtesy of telling them why she believed they should.
“Oprah’s Book Club sales were down last month and I’m really disappointed in all of you. Tell me again how you’re too poor to afford a $20 book! Yeah, right. I bet you had $20 for fast food, you illiterate fatties,” the Bizarro Oprah might say. “Buy this new book, peasants. You owe me after your pathetic showing last month.”
Everyone with an ounce of pride and self-respect would flip Bizarro Oprah the bird, NOT buy the book she was promoting, and never pay attention to her again.
The most successful salespeople succeed because they tell the right story to the right person at the right time.
People buy things or services because they are trying to solve a problem. They need a new outfit for a wedding. They’re embarrassed about their landscaping, so they hire a landscaping company to give their home curb appeal. They need a place to spend the night while travelling.
You can wear a potato sack to a wedding if you really want. But you dress to kill because you like the feeling of looking good (or not looking bad).
A product or service sale should ideally be an exchange that BOTH parties feel good about. The business is happy to offer a widget or their service expertise for a price. And for consumers buying those things, they would rather have the widget or have the service done more than the money they’re exchanging.
In our human relationships, we are also constantly “buying and selling” in our everyday exchanges. Ideally, both parties feel good about these exchanges in our relationships with our romantic partners, with our children, with our friends, with our co-workers, with our employers, etc. That it was a “good deal,” or “fair exchange,” or “worth it” for everyone involved.
Because love is often present in our most personal relationships, we might not think of them as businesslike relationships, but it would be a mistake to believe otherwise. Parents. Children. Siblings. Best friends. Lovers. Spouses. All of these relationships can break when the “value” of being in that relationship goes away for one side.
Those are abusive relationships. If we are abused, we should try to remove ourselves from people and situations where we are mistreated. If we abuse others, it makes sense that they will eventually not want to have a relationship with us.
When we don’t see the value in a product or service, we hold onto our money.
When we don’t see the value in a personal relationship (or are not providing value for others), someone will choose to remove themselves from it at the earliest opportunity.
The Secrets of Successfully Selling Things are the Same Secrets for Influencing Others (Namely Your Spouse/Partner) to “Do What You Want”
They won’t do what you want because you tricked them. They won’t do what you want because you manipulated them. They won’t do what you want because you brainwashed them.
They will do what you want for the same reasons people are happy to exchange their money for goods and services in billions of transactions every day.
Persuasion Secret #1 – Give them what they want.
One of the surest ways to get someone to do what you want is to simply give them something first.
It’s called the rule of reciprocation.
The Hare Krishna religious organization started handing out flowers and books in airports and other public places back in the 1960s and ‘70s, because they understood that nearly everyone who accepted a flower would feel obligated to give some of their time or money in return. That simple act grew their orange-robed community to millions of people and created millions of dollars in funding.
In 1974, Phillip Kunz, a sociologist at Brigham Young University wanted to know what would happen if he sent 600 Christmas cards to complete strangers.
More than 200 (more than 33%) sent Christmas cards back to him—several with long, multi-page, handwritten letters included.
The world thought leader on persuasion is Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University, and author of the bestseller Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In an interview with NPR, he said that the rule of reciprocity is drilled into us as children, and is observable in every human culture he knows of.
“We are obligated to give back to others, the form of behavior that they have first given to us,” Cialdini said. “Essentially, thou shall not take without giving in return.”
It’s why it’s so unexpected and socially awkward to pass someone in the hall and say hello, only to have the greeting ignored.
“Give them what they want” sounds nice in a headline, but what we really should be doing is giving people what they need.
“People say they want to be rich, they need to be fulfilled,” wrote former U.S. Special Forces operative Mike Martel in an article for Lifehack. “People say they want sympathy, they need empathy. People say they want power, they need respect. If you supply what someone truly needs, they will do anything you want.”
Persuasion Secret #2 – Ask them to help you solve a problem.
You want something from someone. Thus, you have a problem to solve. So recruit them to help you, to rescue you, to save you.
“Present this as an opportunity to ‘help’ you by taking a look at something with fresh eyes and give you their seasoned opinion,” wrote venture capitalist Chris Snook in an article for Inc. “When they come in thinking that they are there primarily to protect you from making a potential mistake, they are listening and learning with both ears and eyes open. Their normal filter to block information will be gone and they will see it for what it is. Assuming you have a great solution or idea in front of them, they will likely feel compelled to act when you get done showing them.”
Persuasion Secret #3 – Tell them—very specifically—what you want and why.
This third secret is the primary reason I’m writing this.
I’ve read both husbands and wives write in blog comments and private emails about how frustrated they are with their spouse—one because they never feel as if they understand what their partner wants, and are perplexed by her or his unwillingness to say what they want. And on the other side are all of the spouses who have spent YEARS trying to explain themselves to their partner, only to feel ignored, invalidated, disrespected, etc. And they don’t want to HAVE TO explain themselves to their partner anymore. “They should already know how I feel about this!”
And I’m here to say:
- I totally understand why angry spouses/romantic partners don’t want to have to explain themselves. For example, I always wanted my wife to tell me what she wanted me to do to “help her” with house cleaning. I thought that was reasonable. She didn’t. She was right, and I was wrong. I was wrong, because by doing it that way, I was making it HER responsibility to keep things clean and organized, and to keep projects on-task. When wives start feeling like your mom, they stop wanting to sleep with you because that’s a really normal response in a parent-child relationship. HOWEVER.
- That’s not the dynamic I’m talking about. My wife 100% should have never had to be the team leader on house cleaning and childcare. But, could she have done a better job of explaining what she really wanted in a way that made sense to me? Yeah, I think so. I think I’ve demonstrated that I truly understand the problem, and I think I could have understood it while I was still married if the message was delivered in whatever way would have been more effective than however it actually happened.
If my wife had said something like: “Matt. You’re smart. When you go to work, you perform your job duties at a high level without someone hanging over your shoulder every second telling you what to do next. In fact, you’d hate it if that’s what happened. You pride yourself on understanding how your work contributes to the greater good of your company, and you’re always thinking about new ways you and others at the company can do things to have even greater success.
“Because of that, it really hurts my feelings and makes me feel disrespected when you don’t apply that same level of thoughtful care and observation skills to our home, to our child, to our marriage, to me. I feel like our family and marriage is way more valuable than our jobs. And it would mean so much to me if you would simply apply the same level of care to us that you do at your job. It would make me feel loved and cared for so much more than you might realize.”
A conservation like that might have changed the world for our three-person family.
My day job is to use words to sell things on the internet. And I can tell you unequivocally that the No. 1 thing you can do to get more people to click a button in an email, or to fill out a form, or to order something online is to very simply, very directly, very specifically tell the customer what you want them to do.
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When you tell someone what you want them to do using clear language, and you supply the reason for why you want them to (or why you think they should—telling them what’s in it for them) more people will respond favorably to your sales and marketing efforts. And so too will they in your personal relationships at home and in your daily lives.
We shouldn’t lead with give me, give me, give me.
We should lead by example. We should go first. We should give first. (And BELIEVE ME when I say that I know so many of you already give the most and sacrifice first in your relationships—people who do not reciprocate are not so different than relationship abusers, and I’m sorry.)
I’m simply saying that for most of us, there are ways of adjusting how we do things to increase how often we successfully get the responses we want in our interpersonal relationships.
We use selflessness to achieve what we “selfishly” want.
When we succeed in giving first, and recruiting our loved ones to cooperatively help us solve problems, and by clearly explaining what we want in ways the people we know and love can hear and understand us?
Good things happen.
Remember Phillip Kunz? The guy who mailed Christmas cards to 600 strangers?
His family received Christmas cards from many of those strangers for the following 15 years.