Can I tell you where I FAIL at persuasion?
Straight up: with my five-year-old daughter.
And often, in parenting in general.
I don’t say this because my kids are somehow bad or anything like that — they’re actually really good kids, being really good kids.
I say I fail as a parent because my default mode of being a persuasive parent really sucks.
In this article, I’ll reveal my flaws. Plus the wake-up call I got from an audiobook I just started listening to for the second time, after getting it 3 days ago.
And, importantly, how this reveals the #1 rule of persuasion, and how YOU can use it to be more persuasive in selling — one-to-one and one-to-many.
Why I often fail as a persuasive parent…
As a parent, it’s our job to tell our kids the right way to live their life, and to guide them to make the right decisions…
This is really easy — and even important — to believe when your kids are really little.
You know — in all your parenting wisdom — that if the kid sticks a toy in the electrical socket, they’re going to get shocked, right? Or if they touch the stove, they’re going to get burned? Absolutely!
So when they’re little, we get used to guiding their behavior. Telling them what to do, and especially what not to do.
And that’s how toddlers actually survive.
But then the little buggers get a little older, and they grow a mind of their own.
Which is incredibly problematic.
Because suddenly they’ve figured out that they don’t always agree with you. Not only that, they realize there’s this word, “NO!” And they start using it in response to EVERYTHING.
“Keep your finger away from that electrical outlet!”
“But you’re going to get shocked!”
“It’s going to hurt!”
They’re asserting their independence. They’re deciding what the heck they want in life, and it’s often in conflict with what you want.
So, for example, my daughter has figured out that if she wears an outfit and then has to put the clothes in the dirty clothes hamper, she can’t wear them again until after laundry day.
So every day before she gets dressed, she has to ask how many days there are until laundry day.
And then she refuses to pick ANYTHING out because she doesn’t want the clothes she wants to wear to get dirty.
But, being the all-wise, all-knowing parent, I try to reason with her and explain to her that she has to wear SOMETHING, and and it’s in her best interest to accept the fact that clothes get dirty. So pick something, and get dressed, dang it!
And here’s where the persuasion really fails.
I try to convince her why she should see it my way.
I try to bring her to my side.
I try to be right, and have her agree with me.
Nope. Not happening.
She — like my two sons — is dang independent. Something I’ll be thankful for around the time they’re ready to live an adult life.
But right now she’s five, and when she decides to make up her own dang mind, I dig in my heels! And then she digs in her heels.
She wants things her way. I want things my way. And we just both get more frustrated with each other.
Until one of us eventually gives, and nobody is happy.
Yay. [… Roy says with dripping sarcasm.]
The thing is — it doesn’t have to be this way…
How to be more persuasive, and happier, too…
So this weekend I picked up a book titled Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone To Do Anything—FAST, by Dr. Michael V. Pantalon of Yale University… Which makes a big promise on its cover of “The only motivational approach scientifically proven to succeed in less than 7 minutes!”
(And to give credit where it’s due, I did pick this up after multiple podcast recommendations plus this article from Chris Thompson of Mike Mandel Hypnosis.)
Now, there’s a lot of good stuff in this book, and I’m likely to write more about it later this week.
But today I want to focus on the one foundational principle that the entire book is founded on…
It’s the core of the entire six-step Instant Influence conversation taught throughout the book.
It’s the one thing you must remember even if you forget the specifics of the system — to be more influential in everything.
It’s what I’ve been very careful to apply in my persuasive parenting in the last few days (since starting the book) and I’ve been astounded with how much smoother every day has gone.
Here’s what it comes down to…
You can only ever motivate anyone to do anything through tapping into their own reasons for doing it.
Sure, you can tell them what you think. You can tell them why you’d do something if you were them.
But the moment you try to take away their autonomy to make their own dang choices, you will fail to persuade.
This is such a powerful lesson.
I’ll tease it a little here, but reserve writing about it in full until later this week. (You can always beat me to the punch if you want to get the book for yourself.)
The Instant Influence conversation is build around uncovering their motives for doing something or making a specific change.
It starts with a WHY question. “If you were to decide to make XYZ change, why would you make that decision? What inside you would motivate you to change?”
I paraphrase (which is encouraged). But that’s the idea.
It’s not about YOU, the influencer. It’s about them. Influencing themselves. Autonomously coming to their own decision.
Your role in this is merely as a trusted advisor, helping them find their own motivation to change, or to do something in a certain way.
So my son just got the Nintendo Switch Labo VR Kit.
It’s like Google Cardboard for the Nintendo Switch — on steroids. It’s a big box full of cardboard pieces — and a bunch of mini-games designed to be played in VR mode. The cardboard pieces assemble into a headset, a camera, a blaster, and some other items.
Which is a big mess as you’re putting it together. Cardboard everywhere in our TV room.
And when toys don’t get picked up in there, they get stepped on.
Now, normally grumpy, persuasion-fail dad would say, “You need to pick up all this cardboard when you’re done because otherwise I’m going to step on it… grumble, grumble, grumble…”
But yesterday I decided to assume autonomy instead, and let him make the decision.
(Knowing that we’d already talked one time about putting it away so it didn’t get damaged. Because it’s a kids toy. Made of cardboard. Have the designers ever met children?!)
So as it was time to be done for the day, I asked him, “Hey, I wonder if you have good reasons why you’d want to make sure this all gets picked up before bed?”
“Yeah, I don’t want it to get broken.”
I walked out.
He picked up.
It was done, no fuss, no fight.
I planted the seed of what I wanted by asking the right question about why he might want to do what I wanted him to do. But there was ZERO fuss or fight, as I know there would’ve been if I’d demanded he pick up — even kindly.
I’ve been testing this all over the place in little conversations with my kids.
Reinforcing their autonomy, and asking them why THEY want to make the decisions.
(Some of my readers, at this point, are thinking, “Yeah, duh.” But stick with me a minute because what’s obvious in one area may not be so in another.)
And not only has parenting been EASIER, it’s also been much HAPPIER when I do this.
I’d been stuck in a rut where the harder I tried to persuade, the less it worked.
And this fundamental assumption of their autonomy — their right and ability to make their own decisions, even bad ones — has changed everything.
This applies to all persuasion and selling situations!
The very best sales people, leaders, and persuaders never try to force someone to think or act a certain way.
Rather, they try to uncover that person’s innermost motivations, and see if they align.
Chapter 1 of Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz starts…
“Let’s get right down to the heart of the matter. The power, the force, the overwhelming urge to own that makes advertising work, comes from the market itself, and not from the copy. Copy cannot create desire for a product. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already-existing desires onto a particular product. This is the copy writer’s task: not to create this mass desire — but to channel and direct it.”
This is also the aim of all consultative selling.
It’s to find the already-existing desires in your prospect, and determine how your product or service aligns with them.
You can help them down that path. You can help them uncover their desires. You can help them discover how they align with your offer.
But you can’t make the buying decision for them.
And if you try — if you try to force them to think or believe or act in a certain way — you will kill the persuasion.
In a sense, the #1 rule of persuasion is that there is no persuasion.
You can do a better or worse job of helping someone find their desires and reasons, and a better or worse job of helping them identify how those align with an action you may want them to take. All while honoring their autonomy.
But you can’t plant a desire, or force an action.
A final thought about the difficulty in applying this in marketing…
Perhaps this is why the best marketing often barely reaches into double-digit conversion rates, while the best salespeople can close upwards of 90% of qualified prospects.
Because each individual will have their own reasons to do anything in any moment, and a canned pitch can only go so far to meet their reasons why with your offer.
In a sense, you have to make your best guesses about their reasons why and their desires, and lay out that path in your marketing in the hope that it will align enough for them to buy.
Here’s an article I wrote a while back, that starts with the Eugene Schwartz quote from above, titled The 16 Human Desires: Use these in your marketing.
While you can’t build a one-to-many marketing pitch that perfectly aligns with every prospect’s desires, you can at the very least identify which core human desires are the most relevant to your market, and build your pitch around them.
(You can also have Instant Influence conversations with prospects or use Ryan Levesque’s Ask Method as a way to elicit at least the dominant or most common desires driving buyer behavior.)
Once you are fairly confident about these core drives and desires, you can then build your marketing messages around them. While also being careful to always write or speak in a way that respects their autonomy.
Remember: nobody has to believe you, agree with you, or take the action you request.
But they may be happy to if you make it clear that you understand what they want and need, and offer them a clear action they can take to get those wants and needs fulfilled.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,