Six Tactics to Persuade Prospects

By Heather Baldwin

Presentations are all about persuasion – persuading audience members to buy, moving to the next step in the competition, setting up a meeting with the CEO. Simple, right? Now consider that entire books have been written on the science of persuasion and that many psychologists devote their lives to studying persuasion. How can you, a sales professional, be expected to grasp the intricacies of influence and then use that knowledge to move prospects’ opinions – all in a half-hour presentation?

That’s where Dave Lakhani comes in. Lakhani, president of Bold Approach, Inc. ( and author of Persuasion (John Wiley, 2005), offers these six tactics you can apply now to help move your prospects to the decision you want.

1. Social matching. Also known as social proof, this concept states that we determine what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct. Present your audience with proof or examples of what other people are doing in relation to the idea you are presenting. You’ll find this is a powerful way to get people to take some action when they are unsure what to do, says Lakhani.

2. Concurrence. Closely related to social matching, concurrence is simply an agreement in opinion. You need to show prospects that someone else like them or someone they respect shares their opinion. Start the presentation with a shared opinion and you’ll find it much easier to move to a place of agreement on ideas that are new to prospects.

3. Inconsequence. Persuading prospects to accept one big idea in one big chunk is a near impossible task. Instead, focus on getting them to accept little ideas and small changes first. "Once they have accepted one or two small ideas, it’s much easier to get them to agree on the next," says Lakhani. Keep in mind, however, that this isn’t about getting your prospects to say yes to a bunch of unrelated things and then throwing in your idea with the hopes their string of yeses will continue. It’s about building up small, related ideas so that by the time you’ve created the whole big idea, it feels like an easy decision and logical next step.

4. Likeability. You’ll never persuade anyone if they don’t like you. People want to do business with people they like. The good news is that likeability is something you can learn. One trick Lakhani uses to boost his likeability with prospects is to pick up two or three of whatever all the celebrities who populate the trade shows he attends are signing. It doesn’t matter what it is. The reason is simple. "Imagine," he says, "what happens when you admit that you are a huge fan of the pro wrestler Goldberg and a couple days later I send you an autographed 8×10 color photo. You like me, probably a lot."

5. Giving to receive. If someone gives us something, we feel obligated to give something in return. What can you give your prospects during your presentation that takes advantage of this law of reciprocity? A product sample? Pads of paper with your logo on them for taking notes? It doesn’t even have to be something concrete: How about making a concession? If you make a concession, it can lead to many good returns. Just don’t make too many concessions or buyers will push for more. Also, don’t be in a hurry to make them. Agonize for a bit before you make it and the concession will be more valuable to the recipient.

6. Accountability. The simple act of keeping your word, holding yourself accountable and holding your prospects accountable for actions can go a long way toward persuading people. "In virtually every persuasive transaction I complete I get solid next-action steps regardless of the level of commitment," explains Lakhani. "More importantly, I then follow up to let my prospects know I am paying attention to the next steps and keeping track." As a sales rep, Lakhani says his calls were taken by prospects with predictable regularity because he had a commitment to call at a certain time and the people with whom he dealt came to expect him to keep his word. So make sure your presentation concludes with some next steps and a timetable for them. Then stay on top of them for both you and your prospect. You’ll go a long way toward persuading them to buy from you.