As one of my mentors often says, “We’re all in sales.” She probably got that from Daniel Pink’s book, To Sell Is Human. The idea is that “sales” can be found in any human interaction, from making a good first impression with a new neighbor to parting with former treasures at a garage sale to selling a used car rather than trading it in.
While Pink’s book is worth a read, it’s not the one that’s stuck with me throughout my lifetime. That honor goes to Influence by Robert Cialdini, which has impacted my professional and personal life for more than 30 years. I’m a sales-skills coach for fee-only advisors. You need to know that upfront.
To understand just why Influence has, well, had such an influence over my life, let’s head back in time to 1989. I was a commercial real estate broker in Santa Barbara, California.
The brokerage office was abuzz one day with news that Tony Robbins’ Mastery of Sales course was coming to town. By then, most of us had read one or two of Tony’s books. We trundled down to a nearby hotel with a huge ballroom to enjoy the live video training by Tony.
As I recall – Google has helped here – the course was about mindset, building rapport, creating a process, overcoming objections, and closing the deal. I took copious notes. I was pumped. (That’s an expression we used in the old days.)
When I got back to the office after the first session, I ran into a much more senior broker and told him how excited I was about the training. He paused for a moment and then said, “Would you like to know where Tony got most of his ideas?” “Of course,” I replied.
“Influence, by Cialdini,” he proclaimed.
The library was only a few blocks away. Not an hour had passed before I was in possession of Professor Cialdini’s book. Updated as recently as 2021, this book has been a trusty companion (I bought a copy a few weeks later) in the many sales positions, including as a financial advisor, I’ve had since 1989.
Here are the book’s six themes and how I incorporated them into my 20-year career as a financial planner.
People feel naturally obligated to return a favor. I internalized this as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” from my Sunday school days. My father always said, “You give, then you get.” The phrase, “if you want a friend, be a friend,” from Ralph Waldo Emerson is fitting. I learned as a financial planner to help prospects, especially those in a crisis, even before they signed up to work with me. Most eventually did, and I felt good about that.
People value things that are hard to get. Think of toilet paper and how difficult it was to find during the early part of the pandemic. Time is the scarcest resource for both the advisor and the prospect. You can only take on so many new clients, but that limitation can be used to your advantage. When your prospect understands that your time is limited, it creates a sense of urgency as they make their decision to work with you.
People follow an authority or expert in a field. That was the number one reason why I became a Certified Financial Planner™ professional in 2000. I could have added a few more initials after my name, but CFP® seemed sufficient. My ability to answer most prospect questions during a discovery meeting usually confirmed my expertise. Writing articles and being quoted in national publications including the Wall Street Journal reinforced this principle. Creating or appearing in YouTube videos and podcasts also fills that expert dimension.
People like to be consistent with their past behavior and commitments. I implemented this practice by asking prospects what they were worried about and what they wanted me to work on first. Once they made a commitment to proceed, it was rare to have a client end an engagement prematurely.
People are likely to be persuaded by people they like. This was very new to me when I was first reading Cialdini’s book. How do you become likable? His answer was simple: smile. I also make an intentional effort to be interested in the person I’m speaking to. I often reminded myself of Steven Covey’s quote, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood,” before beginning an initial prospect interview. Finding similar pastimes or experiences with prospective clients helps cement a budding relationship. Cialdini reminds readers to be curious about others, as that’s a quality others like.
- Social proof
People influence others with what they say and do. Especially in areas like finance where their expertise is lacking, prospects turn to “influencers.” Testimonials from work colleagues, centers of influence, friends, and family guide people to advisors who have produced desirable outcomes for their clients. Every advisor should have the goal of transforming clients into “raving fans” (as author Ken Blanchard calls them) to increase referrals.
I have used these principles to please my family, friends, and financial planning clients. In fact, I tell my coaching clients if you buy this book and don’t like it, I’ll buy it from you. I hope you found this review helpful. All advisors should read this book to improve their communication skills and help others more effectively.
After retiring from a 20+ year career as a fee-only advisor, Jim Ludwick helps other financial advisors improve their sales skills via coaching, books, and public speaking. For more information visit procrastinationjunction.com