Getting people to do what you want isn't always as easy as you'd like it to be-especially when you're trying to sell your product or service and the ears of your skeptical audience automatically tune out when they sense you're "pitching." The art of persuasion and influence is a tricky area for entrepreneurs, but it's not as mysterious as you think.
So how do you become a master at influence? We've asked author Harry Mills, owner of international sales, negotiation and influence consulting and training firm, The Mills Group, and 22-time author (including his latest book, Artful Persuasion: How to Command Attention, Change Minds and Influence People, available for $17.95 from Amacom), to offer his tips and advice for mastering persuasion and influence.
Entrepreneur.com: What is a USP-a unique selling proposition-and why is it important when you're trying to influence people?
Harry Mills: Jack Trout recently wrote a book called Differentiate or Die, and what he simply says is there's so much for people to choose between, we just can't make up our minds. If you wander into a supermarket and you have to choose between-literally-150 items in very narrow product category, you get confused. So we need some ability to narrow our choices. If companies or individuals don't differentiate themselves, they don't give the person being influenced any way to make a choice. So differentiation, or the unique selling proposition, is an old idea, but it's back and it's more important than ever.
Entrepreneur.com: You have a very helpful chapter called "Power Talk" in your latest book. What are some characteristics of power talkers?
Mills: The easiest way to recognize a power talker is by what they don't do. The first thing we know is power talkers don't use weak language. They don't use "ums" and "ahs." They don't qualify their expressions. They don't apologize by the way they talk. They speak confidently and assertively. They use also very strong words. Their language is almost littered with what direct-mail people call the "power words." For example, you can see it in an advertisement for a Pentium III processor. You'll see the word "new" used as many as five times on a half-page ad. Power talkers do the same thing. They use words like "new" and "guarantee" very often and very persuasively.
Entrepreneur.com: You say in your book that "credibility rests on two pillars: trust and expertise." What are some methods business owners can use to be seen as credible?
Mills: We live in a world where people are incredibly skeptical. We won't listen to people even if they have a brand name like Mercedes, which has been around in the luxury car business for, say, 100 years. If the company claims, "We're the best" and we're the [potential] Mercedes buyer, our radar screens go up: "Does not compute. We do not believe you." So the first thing you have to do is establish some form of trust. And it's the same with everybody because if you don't establish your credibility up-front, you don't establish your believability towards persuasion.
If you're selling something, the first thing you've got to do is get the person who's buying to believe you're not acting in your own self-interest. You've got to convince the customer you're acting in their interest. Very skillful persuaders often seem to act in a way that seems-initially anyhow-contrary to their best interests. For example, they'll tell you about a deficiency in one of their products to make you trust them and listen to other advice they want to influence you with. [Getting your prospects to] trust you comes before everything.
The second [half of building credibility] is expertise. What you've got to do-particularly if you're selling an intangible as a consultant or a professional-is consciously sell your expertise. That's why, for example, the most highly paid professionals in the world, say the Mackenzie consultants and the like, spend a huge amount of time reinforcing their expertise by publishing books about their area of expertise. They then become authorities so they've got some sort of reference to their expertise. If you can get a business book on the New York Times bestseller list, your outright fee, for example, will go up [five-fold]. And that's simply recognition-you've been recognized publicly as an expert or an authority in your field.
Entrepreneur.com: Why is emotion so important to influencers?
Mills: You can influence people in two ways: through their head and their heart. And while we'd all like to think that the rational side of us is the one [we use to make decisions], the fact is that our emotional brain is the one that first kicks in when we're being persuaded. The general theme of my book is that we're being influenced almost every second of the day, but our rational brain, which concentrates on arguments that are logical and planned and supported by evidence, is only in gear for a small portion of that day. The rest of the time, the brain is locked on automatic. And when it's locked on automatic, the things that cut through first are emotions. So emotions are the most powerful persuaders. That's why people often say we buy emotionally first and then justify the decision with reasons afterwards. In other words, when we go out and buy a car, we first fall in love with the look and the feel and the color and how we see ourselves driving down Main Street.
Entrepreneur.com: What are some tips you have for the actual structuring of a presentation?
Mills: The formula I use is the AIM formula, where the "A" stands for "attention." The first thing you have to do is use some sort of hook or emotional appeal to grab your prospect's attention. The second thing you've got to do is grab their interest. So the "I" is for "interest." And you normally interest them by putting up a proposition with benefits specifically targeted or designed to appeal to them.
The third part of structuring an argument is "M," which stands for "motivate." You've actually got to get people to take action. For example, you listen to someone give a presentation and they deliver a rousing speech. You're just about ready to pick up your guns and walk into battle to die for them. But then they don't ask you to do anything; they just leave you charged up. So professional persuaders' real skill is they know how to get you to do something.
Entrepreneur.com: What is self-persuasion? Why is it important to involve people in the persuasion process?
Mills: In the United States, we live in a world where democracy is the main form of government. We know that simply persuading people through the use of sanctions or commands can work, but it leads to limited involvement and limited compliance. So to increase commitment, you've got to involve people; you've got to consult with them. Self-persuasion means using tactics that involve people, that get them committed to a proposition.
If you ask people questions and you structure arguments that pull them through the process rather than push them, then you're much more likely to get increased commitment from them. If you ask people why they like something rather than tell them that they should like something, you've got a much greater chance of being successful at persuasion.