The Credibles

By Heather Baldwin

Your job during a sales presentation is to convince audience members that your product or service is a smart choice for them. To convince them, you need to sound credible. Yet sales reps often face an uphill battle in establishing credibility because many audiences are instantly wary of anyone trying to sell them something. To get over that hump and sound convincing, Robert Mayer, author of How to Win Any Argument (Career Press, 2005) suggests four methods for establishing credibility in any presentation.

1. Be precise. Where something can be quantified, quantify it and you’ll sound more believable. For example, saying your company is rarely late on deliveries is not nearly as convincing as saying you have a 98% on-time delivery rate. Saying he is really reliable is a judgmental conclusion that doesn’t convey credibility the same way as saying he hasn’t missed a day’s work in 12 years. Or, say you sell cleaning products. If you say during your presentation that hardly any germs survive our tough cleansers, you’d sound like milquetoast. If you say instead that our cleansers kill 99.9% of bacteria and viruses you sound credible and convincing. The bottom line: Be specific and quantify your claims. “The specific is more credible than the generic,” says Mayer.

2. Who else says so? By letting audience members know which companies have experienced success with your product you add credibility to your claims. After all, if big-name organizations have used your product audience members likely will think it’s good for them, too. This power of influence lets your audience “put their decision-making processes on autopilot,” says Mayer. “They simply pick up on what others have seen fit to do. We are influenced by the power of who else says so.” When Mayer and his sister began looking at managed care facilities for their father they toured many beautiful, well-appointed facilities. Ultimately, they chose a fairly spartan one with “an antiseptic quality,” Mayer says. The reason: When conducting the tour the facility manager introduced the author to occupants he identified as a former editor of the state’s largest newspaper, a former top-level executive at Bank of America and a once-prominent UCLA professor. If the facility was the choice of these prominent citizens’ families, Mayer thought, then surely it would be the best place for his father. That’s the power of influence at work.

3. Use testimonials. Testimonials take the concept — Who else says so? – one step further by showing audience members how the product or service you are selling transformed a client’s business or life. Think of it as an infomercial. “We are influenced when we see what people who are similar to us have accomplished. It’s the logic of: If I can, you can too,” says Mayer. Tell a story about how someone with a challenge similar to that of the audience members used your product to solve that challenge and what kind of success they’re experiencing today. Use an example to which the audience can fully relate, both in terms of the size and type of company and the challenge itself.

4. Appear to be in the know. This is a bit more nebulous, but basically a credible appearance comes down to looking and acting like you are in the know. For example, Mayer often is asked by clients to form a corporation for their new start-ups. Rather than doing so for tax reasons, however, many clients do so because it’s easier to make deals as the president of a corporation. It’s a position of authority and instantly suggests credibility. Consider this: A study found that three and a half times as many people will follow a jaywalker in a business suit than will follow that same jaywalker dressed in a worker’s shirt and pants. In a suit the man looked credible and thus people were willing to break the law and follow him. So come in prepared, confident and dressed as someone with authority and you’ll be viewed as such. Being credible is as much about how you look as what you say.