By Chloe Kent
Image courtesy of Pixabay.
After graduating from college in 2005, BTR DJ Meredith Rifkin started working for a marketing company selling cosmetics door-to-door. She found that in spite of her shy disposition she possessed a knack for sales, thanks in part to the company’s rigid, by-the-book methodology. She soon began taking on eighty-hour workweeks and arriving at the office before sunrise for training sessions.
“I never worked harder in my life,” she recalls. “There was something so contagious and positive about the energy that was in the office and going home at the end of each day with a large wad of cash kept me coming back for more every day!”
Rifkin became so well attuned to each aspect of the traditional sales call that she was promoted to train other salespeople and promised a promotion to run her own office. She found that the extensive sales training prepared her for every possible occasion.
For instance, when would-be customers angrily pointed out an area’s no soliciting laws, she would remind them, as prompted by the company, that she was not, in fact, soliciting, but offering a promotional opportunity. Or, when a potential client opened the door to their home, the key to success, so policy dictated, was to never give them a chance to say “no” by always asking questions that elicited a positive reaction.
Nick Kolenda, a stage mentalist who combines stage tricks with elements of psychology, explains that techniques such as these are common not only in the realm of sales, but in everyday social interactions as well. In his book, Methods of Persuasion: How to Use Psychology to Influence Human Behavior, he explained that one significant key to exuding influence involves “priming,” a psychological principal in which exposure to one idea carries over to the next. Kolenda frequently used the concept to execute a trick in which he asked an audience member to think of a number between one and ten.
“While I was asking that question I would nonchalantly draw a seven in the air with my hand because I was trying to prime the audience to think of the number seven with that visual gesture and I found that most people were thinking of the number seven every time I did that,” Kolenda wrote. “Fast-forward a few years, I found out that seven was the most common number to think of and my gesture didn’t really have much to do with it.”
Kolenda also performed a trick involving four envelopes, three empty and one containing a $100 bill and would then bring three people onstage and instruct them to pick one, using psychological principles to ensure he was ultimately always holding the envelope containing the money. Body language priming, when done properly, can also condition a customer to be more open to product pitches. Kolenda cited a study in which subjects were told to sit upright during a game of blackjack with increasingly risky results. In another, subjects were asked to read from a passage holding a pencil in their teeth, causing them to smile, and reported increased levels of interest in the reading.
“If you want to make someone more open to your product pitch, we’re a little more defensive when we have our arms crossed,” he said. “If the person you’re trying to influence has closed body language, you should give them something to hold or wait until they uncross their arms.”
In addition to subconsciously improving their body language, giving customers something to hold in their hands provides a greater sense of ownership over the product being sold. This “ownership effect” is especially significant in persuasion as it triggers social pressure. In the seven-step persuasion process outlined in his book, Kolenda’s third step, eliciting social pressure, is a well-known sales tactic that is employed often.
“If you can get someone to claim they’re holding a specific attitude–if you can get them to state what they need–you have a much stronger chance of persuading someone to do or believe what you want them to,” Kolenda explained.
As for Rifkin, despite long hours and promise of a promotion, the company ultimately did not make good on their word, and Rifkin left. Soon after quitting she discovered online forums debunking the company’s pyramid system, which lured employees, like herself, under false pretenses.
Despite her experience, she maintains, “I don’t regret my time there. It definitely taught me how to work hard, improve my communication skills, and excel at sales. I learned so much and will use this system for the rest of my life.”