If you want a successful career in sales there is no greater skill than knowing how to turn a “no” into a “yes.”
As it turns out, those fellas by West Mall, who insist on cleaning your windscreen for small change, are masters of this tactic. Take my word for it. Your next dose of career wisdom is at the corner of Columbus Boulevard and Western Main Road, in those few minutes before the light turns green.
When I drove out of the mall last week, the pair of grey Converse I settled on in the back seat, a red light stared back as I turned east on Columbus. Two or three guys approached the car jostling to clean my windscreen. Instinctively, my face grim, I shook my head “no.” They weren’t buying it.
It took three or four protests, half-smiling, for them to back off. One of them, presumably for no charge, cleaned the windscreen anyway.
I gave him five dollars.
Even though I had declined his initial offer I felt as though I owed him for a service rendered and had to pay. If that isn’t some kind of sorcery, I don’t know what is.
Robert Cialdini’s business card might say Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University, but in reality he is the oracle on sales. His 2001 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is a must-read for anybody pursuing a career in sales.
Chapter two of the book opens with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that captures it nicely: “Pay every debt, as if God wrote the bill.”
Cialdini calls it reciprocation and it explains why I gave those guys my five dollars. Because the rule says if someone—even street hustlers—does us a favour, we instinctively return the favour.
In Influence, the author reports that after intensive study, sociologists such as Alvin Gouldner claimed that reciprocation is so pervasive in culture that “there is no human society that does not subscribe to the rule.”
In other words, most of us are wired to repay indebtedness. If you plan to be any good at selling, you have to know how to capitalise on that. By paying it forward, by giving of your time, resources or goodwill, you increase your chances of getting the response you want.
That autoresponse “no” isn’t as final as it may seem initially.
Are you plodding along in a sales job in Trinidad and Tobago? Who are you trying to persuade? A potential client? You’d do well to read Influence and study Cialdini’s five other insights on the art of persuasion.
It will redeem even the most unremarkable sales careers. Up and coming managers could learn something too.