This is an excerpt from the book Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini, the best-selling author of Influence and the most cited social psychologist of our times.
The premise of his book is, “optimal persuasion is achieved only through optimal pre-suasion. In other words, to change “minds” a pre-suader must also change “states of mind.” [Amazon Reviewer] By preparing people to be receptive to a message before they experience it, they will be more likely to be persuaded by the message.
Like its predecessor Influence, it has lots of entertaining and enlightening stories and anecdotes but I found this one about sofa sales to be one of the most intriguing. I am a conversion rate consultant after all, and my job is to help clients generate significantly more revenue by running well-designed A/B tests!
On an ecommerce website selling sofas, two sets of A/B tests were run.
Test 1 used the following versions of the furniture catalog
Furniture catalog with plain background
Furniture catalog with clouds in the background
Result: Visitors to the site bought the sofas with softer cushions, perceived to be more comfortable
Test 2 used the following versions of the furniture catalog
Furniture catalog with plain background
Furniture catalog with pennies in the background
Result: Visitors to the site bought more of the cheapest sofas. The pennies in the background triggered price sensitivity and, ahem, penny pinching!
The other interesting finding is that the participants refused to believe they were influenced by the background images when told about the experiment design. They insisted that they just bought what they liked and the background images played no part in their choice!
Most people say that ads and ‘subliminal messages’ do not influence them but this study and the paper published about it suggests otherwise. The experiment attained statistical significance and adhered to the most rigorous scientific standards, having been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Other interesting examples of presuasion from the book are: Showing a Much Larger Number Just Before Asking for a Sale Leads to a Higher Success Rate
A firm sells a $75,000 consulting engagement to companies in its industry. After going through the sales presentation and highlighting all the benefits of the engagement, adding the following preamble leads to a higher closing rate and less price resistance:
"Of course we are not going to charge you $2 million for this"
One the next slide they then show the price of $75,000. Because it is much smaller in comparison it more palatable to the buyer and leads to more closed sales.
Cialdini is usually rigorous in designing and conducting his experiments so I am assuming it is a statistically significant result.
Sneaking Out and Let Himself Back in to the Prospect's House Is The Reason the Top Salesman Outperforms all his Peers
In this case Cialdini shadows the top performing salesperson for a home fire protection system to find out what he is doing differently from the other salespeople.
The basic sales protocol for all the salespeople upon arriving at a prospects home is:
1. Exchanges pleasantries
2. Explaining procedure to prospects i.e. they will be required to read some materials for 10 minutes then take a short test to gauge their knowledge of fire safety procedures
3. Do sales presentation
4. Try to close the sale
The top performing salesperson has another step he always performs after step 2. He does/says the following:
"Silly me, you would not believe this. I forgot an important document in my car. Is it okay if I take your house keys so I can let myself back in when I return? You see, I don't want to interrupt you taking the test."
The prospects always agree and he goes on to retrieve the 'forgotten document' and then performs steps 3 and 4.
This baffled Cialdini and so finally he asks him about this odd behavior. The sales ace retorts:
"Think about it. Who do you allow to let themselves into your house? Only people you trust. And once they trust me they will buy from me!"