Soft skills like time management, creativity, and adaptability play an enormous role in business success. But there’s one important and highly profitable soft skill that continues to suffer from a bad reputation: the art of persuasion.
Hard Selling vs Soft Selling
Persuasion skills can be a powerful tool for entrepreneurs. But despite the fact that they contribute directly to your ability to attract new customers - and so, improve your profits – the art of persuasion remains linked to overly aggressive sales tactics in many business owners’ minds.
The hard-core sales pitch, which in many cases is meant to manipulate a buyer or disguise fine print and hidden fees, is frequently about selling someone something they don’t necessarily need and that they’re apt to regret buying later. In fact, the hard sell is less about identifying and meeting a customer’s specific wants, and more about closing as many sales as possible.
The good news is that you can use those same persuasive techniques to establish a softer sales strategy aimed at clients who would actually benefit from your product or service.
And because business owners are among a distinct group of people who not only deal with customers, but who also interact with employees, managers, and service providers, understanding the art of persuasion can help you with everything from getting the most from your staff, to cultivating valuable business relationships.
Understanding the Art of Persuasion
There’s no question that becoming skilled at influencing sales prospects, commercial partners, and team members can:
- encourage a culture of invested enthusiasm,
- promote better collaboration in the workplace, and
- further your client and vendor negotiations
And any one of these outcomes can boost your profitability. But how do you develop the skills that will help you achieve the results that you want?
According to Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, persuasion is the art of getting someone to do something you want through reasoning. Bringing them around to your way of thinking - and moving them to action – is in fact a simple “ask” that begins with describing authentic reasons that are to that person’s benefit to accept.
Understanding the art of persuasion begins with recognizing that it’s really just a subset of effective communication. It works because it’s based on making a conscious effort to really understand what another person is saying, rather than just passively hearing their message - or worse, not listening to them at all.
Persuasive people are influential largely because they:
- genuinely try to understand the needs and motivations of others,
- are empathetic toward those needs, and
- do their best to put the needs of others before themselves
We all have a unique set of beliefs and desires. So when it comes to persuading potential customers to buy, pelting them with the benefits of your product isn’t always enough. The most persuasive sales messages are the ones that reflect a company’s ability to recognize and empathize with their audience’s hardships and values.
Putting Persuasion to Work for Your Business
If you’ve done your due diligence in terms of market research, you’ll already have a pretty thorough understanding of your customers’ pain points and problems. Choosing a sales approach that emphasizes how your product or service was specifically designed to address and resolve those issues for your clients demonstrates empathy for their dilemma, and highlights your responsiveness to their needs.
Although the art of persuasion begins with a sympathetic mindset, it manifests in a wide range of practical marketing applications. For example, it’s natural for us to want to repay the favor when someone does something nice for us. And understanding that can help you persuade customers to engage in an act of reciprocity: the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.
Providing an opportunity to take part in a trade that benefits both sides has been shown to inspire a sense of expectation in potential buyers. And that’s important, because hope has also been identified as one of a handful of emotions that contribute to buyer decisions.
At the marketing level, you can encourage reciprocity with prospective clients by doing something as simple as offering a free e-book download on your website in return for a visitor’s email address. Convincing someone to volunteer their contact information – and effectively become a new sales lead for your business – is one of the simplest examples of the art of persuasion in action.
Naturally, your success with persuasive selling starts with making sure your product or service is right for the audience you’re marketing to. But once you make a point of directing your message toward the people who stand to benefit most from what your business has to offer, mastering the softer side of sales will not only translate into greater profitability, it will help you sleep better at night.
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