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By Steve Schenck

In 1997, while taking one of his business courses, Robert Allen urged me to read the book, Influence by Robert Cialdini. Eight years later, in 2005, I reviewed the notes from my conversations with Robert and decided to read it.  I have been rereading and using this book ever since.

Robert Cialdini is a Regents’ Professor in the Department of Social Psychology at Arizona State University. He did research in the lab for years, then had an “ah ha moment.” He decided he wanted to test the lab research against what he would encounter in the world of commerce and interactions with customers. So, Professor Cialdini “went undercover” for a few years. He got jobs selling automobiles, insurance, vacuum cleaners door to door, portrait photography over the phone.  He worked in ad agencies to see how they wrote effective copy. He worked with charities to hear what the fundraisers do to get us to say “yes.” He also interviewed recruiters and political lobbyists to understand how they think. He looked for what repeatedly came up in both the research literature and in his personal experience in the business world. He discovered 6 universally used principles in both academic research and in the world of commerce.

Influence, published in 1984, has had many updated editions and has sold over 3 million copies. The NY Times listed it as one of the 75 Smartest Business Books.

Why have I been using and referring people to this book for the past 12 years? More importantly why are savvy small business owners and huge corporations using Cialdini’s teachings?  The principles are easy to understand and there are always new opportunities to put the principles into practice and get results. The other reason that I refer people to this book is that it helps people understand how to distinguish between unethical and ethical influence, as Cialdini always brings up the Golden Rule and its importance in our dealing with people.  Additionally, Cialdini shows us how to be more aware of how others are influencing us.

Let’s start with the first principle, reciprocation.

This is the principle of returning a favor, particularly to people outside of our family and close personal friendships.  Here are a few examples.  Do something nice for someone and they will do something nice for us. Give a good business referral to a person in our business networking group and someday we’ll also get a good referral from someone they know in the local business community. Do a food product sampling in your store and your sales of that item will increase. In exchange for a potential customers’ email, offer to send them a monthly newsletter, a discount on their first order or the like. Volunteer to help on a business associate’s project and “make a deposit into their emotional bank account” from which we can withdraw in the future when we ask for a favor.

Think of several ways that the business can give away a product sample or a coupon or give them an initial discount. How about a free service or valuable information or content? What about a free estimate or a free training course?  This can be done at a “brick and mortar” business location or online. What could we offer our potential clients that they would find valuable but costs you little to nothing?

The next thing to do it test, test and continue to test. Repeat what works and brings more sales. For what fails, rework or reject and create something new. Remember that people love change and many things do not need to be changed very much to be appealing to create interest and new sales.

The other five principles of influence will be covered in future articles.