As practitioners of professional persuasion, marketers and salespeople are constantly on the lookout for ways to get people – our prospects – to say “yes”.
We learn – and teach – strategies and principles based upon psychological research and millions of data-points collected across thousands of industries and transactions.
Irrespective of where and how we’re setting up for the sale, one principle remains constant: that of decreasing buyer resistance.
And we employ any number of tools to reach that goal.
- We build rapport, to break down the barrier of dealing with the unknown and to increase our likability factor.
- We uncover pain and deliberately exacerbate it with bullet points and questionnaires and slow-motion black-and-white infomercial montages.
- We incentivize purchases with bonus stacking, bundling, promotions and price-drops.
- We deploy urgency and scarcity on a daily basis with fire-sales, expiring coupons and limited-time offers.
- We push emotional hot buttons to reinforce our logical arguments for buying and – in doing so – make a purchase more likely.
All of these approaches are proven. They work.
And yet – as Kelly Diels eloquently argues in her piece “On the ‘Mental Triggers’ of Online Marketing … “, many of these strategies risk eliminating personal agency.
And that is problematic.
It’s problematic because – when taken to its logical limit – any concerted attempt to eliminate buyer resistance is successful when buyer resistance equals zero: the end goal is no resistance.
Now, in the case of one prospect, there may be no resistance from the beginning. Our work is done before it’s started and we become “order takers”.
While in the case of another prospect, the resistance may be strong and we will need to work harder at eliminating that resistance.
- Do we deploy sleep deprivation?
- Do we use blackmail?
- Do we make threats of personal harm?
- Do we administer date-rape drugs?
The answer is clearly no … but also yes.
The answer is also yes because our goal and intention remains the same: to alter the mental state of our prospect to the degree that they will acquiesce to our demands. The tool that we use to arrive at that result, it could be argued, is irrelevant.
Perhaps there’s a definition in law where you live regarding coercion, as there likely is surrounding false representation.
But it’s woolly, isn’t it?
What’s the ethical difference between the creating the physical discomfort of tightened thumb-screws and the psychological discomfort of having our “pain” exacerbated?
And while we can probably agree that chemical inducement of a changed mental state is “not allowed” (with Rohypnol, for example), we encourage the ramping up of endorphin, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin production through our trigger words, ad copy and launch sequences.
We wouldn’t encourage sleep deprivation … yet we’ll recommend a motivational speaker’s event that has us on our feet until 1am in the morning, three days on the trot.
We wouldn’t threaten another person with bankruptcy or misery or broken legs, but we’ll happily directly tell them that “boy, if you’re miserable today … and you don’t do this … you’ll be more miserable tomorrow. After all, if you do what you’ve always done …”
And we wouldn’t hypnotize our prospects into spending money, but we’ll gently hypnotize them with NLP and suggestion …
If you work in sales and you think about this too long it becomes problematic.
It’s precisely why salespeople have long been seen as immoral and avaricious.
So how do you deal with this issue if you value personal agency in the decision-making processes of your own prospects?
You draw your own line in the sand.
That means you say something like “I’ll never use thumb-screws but I will use a countdown timer” or “I’ll employ manufactured scarcity but never on somebody who has credit card debt“, or similar …
Which I guess is a start.
Personally, I’d like to think that I would have the strength to say to EVERY prospect I speak to “listen … you’re not allowed to make a decision about buying this right now … but we’ll have a conversation in 72 hours and you can tell me yes or no, right?”
That will go some way to swinging the pendulum of legitimate choice in their direction. Their consent will be (more) deliberate and (more) considered.
But who am I kidding?
I’ll roll out the “limited spots available” during some launch in the future. And there will be an “early adopter incentive” on something I run sometime soon. And I’ll write bullet points that say “are you unhappy with X?” and I’ll rub a little salt in your wound.
But I’ll never use thumb-screws, and I’d much rather live in a world where you want to become a customer because of the WORK I do for you, than because of the sales tactics I deploy to ensnare you.
So, signing off a slightly weird missive from the sales trainer who, apparently, would rather live in a world where the whole act of selling was unnecessary.