How do you persuade?

How do you persuade?.

How do you persuade someone to change their mind?

I've been thinking about this a lot. Why? It's my job. I'm an evangelist at Microsoft and I'm paid to persuade you to write software for an operating system that none of you have even seen yet.

But, let's avoid talking about Microsoft for now. Really everyone needs to persuade at some point. We persuade people to go out on dates with us. We persuade people to buy things from us. To hire us. To help us. It's a skill everyone needs, but we rarely think about.

So, since I can't be at BloggerCon, this is the talk I'd give if I were there.

What are the best practices in persuasion methods?

If you listen to Donald Trump's Apprentice show, or political advertising, you'll quickly pick up on the predominant method of persuasion:

Make the thing you're trying to persuade people to do seem like it's only good, and the behavior that you don't want people to do seem like it's only bad. Or, the “my stuff is great and their stuff sucks” method.

You think George Bush is going to say anything nice about John Kerry?

I watched the Apprentice show a week ago where the candidates needed to interview with Trump's team. Did they talk about any of their own weaknesses? Even when asked about what those are? No. Our culture has taught us that when you want to persuade you should only talk about the strengths of the things you are trying to get people to do, and only talk about the negatives of the things you don't want people to do (in this case, the interviewees wanted Trump to hire them and not their competitors. Persuasion skills at the highest level).

Why is this such a predominant method of persuasion? Well, it works. That's why advertising only discusses the positive aspects of a product and none of the negatives. Does McDonalds ever talk about the fact that eating its food will make you fat? No.

Ever talk with a PR person at a company? This is what they were trained to do. Only talk about the positive aspects of their company, never admit negatives. They believe that if you ever admit the negative aspects, it puts you in a position of weakness that your competitors can exploit. They believe it isn't the best way to persuade people to buy your products or support your company.

But, is this really the best way to persuade someone to do something?

I look at two recent experiences in my life where I was persuaded to do something using another method that I'll call “the authority method.”

First, when I was buying a car I was predisposed to buy a Japanese model. Why? Cause of years of Consumer Reports. Because of personal experiences with American cars in the past. Because of feedback from my friends and my family (my brother, Alex, still can't believe I didn't buy a Honda or a Toyota).

But, when I actually went and looked at cars, the Toyota and Honda guys tried the “our stuff is best, the rest is crap” method on me. After all, that method has worked for years for them. The problem was that I had read Consumer Reports and they had said the Ford Focus was their favorite pick in the class. So, what happened? These salespeople lost credibility with me. I didn't feel comfortable. And when they pressured me to buy a car, I saw they were self interested and didn't care about me all that much.

Then I got to the Ford dealer (Bellevue Ford). First off, he admitted that Ford had had a quality problem in the past but that they were working on making it better, which resulted in an improved Consumer Reports score — he didn't avoid the issue and said “we also offer our cars with a 100,000 mile warranty.” Turned a negative into a neutral. He also said “don't feel pressured to buy, go and compare us to everyone else first.” And everytime I asked about how the Ford compared to the Toyota or Honda, he answered the question and accurately too (I had just come there from checking out Toyotas).

If he had tried to play the “my stuff is the best and the rest is crap” line, he probably would have lost the sale. Instead, he played “I'm an authority and I'm looking out for your best interests” and that hooked me. He got the sale.

By the way, I've put 1800 miles on it without a problem and I really love the car. I've turned into a Ford evangelist.

Another story? Let's go to Sonoma last weekend. My parents took us to a half dozen wineries. I spent $35 in each one, except for one, Christopher Creek, where I spent $150. What happened there?

First off, in Sonoma, the wine is very high quality. At all the wineries. I didn't have a bad glass of wine all day long. The product there really is a commodity. You could buy any bottle of wine from Sonoma and be pretty guaranteed that it's a decent glass of wine. Yeah, some wines do rise above the rest, but that's not why I spent $150 at one winery. Not at all. Translation: wineries need to compete on something other than the quality of their product, since the guy next door probably has just as good a product as they do.

How did I find Christopher Creek? The first winery I was at “J” recommended them (I only asked after buying a bottle of their wine). I asked the greeter at J “if you were showing your family around Sonoma, where would you take them?” The first greeter tried to play the first persuasion method. She said something like “I'd just bring them here.” Oh, please. But she admitted she didn't really know the area that well, so called over a more senior guy who took the authority route. He recommended Christopher Creek. And saved the day for “J.”

Note how I will mention only two wineries here, out of half a dozen or so. This stuff makes that big an impression on me.

Anyway, when we got to Christopher Creek, the greeter (Rob) met us out in the parking lot (it was a little slow, so he was out making sure the grounds were presentable) and he had a great attitude “how about we go to the pool and drink a great bottle of wine?” Totally didn't take a “are you going to do something for me” attitude, but rather set up that he was looking out for our interests and wanted us to have a great time.

Needless to say, we didn't quite end up at the pool, but ended up in the tasting room (we had to pick out the perfect bottle of wine for the pool, after all). Where we started to have a great conversation. He was totally an “authority guy.” Told us all about the history of various wineries and, without prompting, told us “go over and check out this place, they have a great Merlot, and check out this place, they have a good Cab, check out this place, they have the best tasting room” (he recommended “J” and his advice was correct, J had the nicest tasting room we'd be in all day long).

Even admitted when his product didn't come up to his own quality standards. And, he was passionate about his product (actually he was passionate about wine overall, which made him even more special). He opened two new bottles and tried them first. “Oh, that is good” he said, after trying one. “Oh, that is better” he said, before pouring each in our glasses. He was right, too. No other tasting-room people gave me the opinion that they enjoyed their own product.

One other thing happened at Christopher Creek that persuaded me to spend four times more there than at any other winery.

Hey Church of the Customer people listen up!

A customer walked in to pick up a case of wine. Amy was her name. She was obviously on first-name basis with the staff here. That instantly communicated to the eight people now in the tasting room that she was intimately knowledgeable about the product and the company. Rob asked her if she'd like to try the latest Petite Syrah they had produced. She said “I can't resist” and started talking with the rest of us. “Why do you like Christopher Creek?” I asked her. She said that she lives in Petaluma (nearby) and has an inventory of hundreds of bottles of wine and that she liked their wine and the company the best — she was picking up a case of “futures” which demonstrates that she wanted to be an authority on wine.

She could have stopped right there. I was convinced. But then she told us all about their production process, about their parties, about their buying club. About the experiences that she's had.

And she sold us on the lifestyle of wine. It gives her great joy, she told the eight people sitting at the tasting room bar. I'd never met a wine evangelist quite like Amy before. But she convinced us that we should try more wine in our lives, and that Christopher Creek is a great place to start.

It made such an impression on me that I'm still thinking about Christopher Creek, and their customer evangelist, a week later.

Anyway, back to the topic. How do you persuade? In a weblog world where everyone has access to all the information on your company/ideas/you/your products/ etc.?

Do you take the “our product/idea/meme/service/etc is the best and the rest are crap” point of view? Or do you take “I'm an authority on this topic and I'm looking out for your best interests” point of view? Which is more likely to persuade you to change your mind?

Are you also looking to help customers become so passionate about your company and your product that they'll do a better job of selling your ideas/products/company than you ever could?

I'd love to have a discussion on the best way to persuade people. What do you think?  [Scobleizer: Microsoft Geek Blogger]

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