Persuasion in Sales with sharks

Persuasion in Sales

Regardless of what kind of sales that you are doing, persuasion in sales plays a large part in convincing your customer to purchase your product or service. Whether we know it or not, we are constantly persuading others of the things we say. It can be as simple as telling a new acquaintance of our work, or as complex as closing a million dollar deal. But what is persuasion, and how do we effectively persuade others?

According to Merriam-Webser, to persuade is “to move by argument to a belief, position, or course of action.” We must make the correct points to convince a customer that our product or service will benefit them. This process culminates in several phases. We have to open customers up to a conversation, discover their pain points, and make them agree to a close. This blog post is going to focus on getting people to be agreeable to what you have, and focuses on the little yeses that lead to a big Yes.

Diving into Persuasion

In Robert Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” he describes various techniques that makes people persuasive in their day to day lives. His examples can be quite surprising, as he doesn’t simply use salespeople but children, animals, and ecosystems to describe the base elements from which persuasion emerges.

In one example, he describes mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship between sharks and the remora fish. Sharks are carnivores that are on the top of the food chain – they live by eating whatever fish crosses their path. But there is one animal that is not a target for them. The remora fish swims alongside the shark and feeds off parasites on the shark’s skin and eyes. The relationship benefits both animals – the shark doesn’t have to worry about health issues, and the remora fish gets a free meal.

While this relationship developed over thousands of years through evolution, how does the remora fish avoid the shark? It isn’t that the shark doesn’t notice this fish and think that it could eat it – the fish actually performs a dance that triggers the shark not to attack it. This series of movements activates the brain of sharks to inform it not to attack.

Persuasion in Sales: Finding the Right Answers

How does this inform our sales process? Sales, when done in an honest manner, is also a mutually beneficial relationship. We provide our customers with a service for a price, and they benefit from it. The key comes from triggering the correct response from them. Customers all respond to certain things that they like and dislike, and learning these things as quickly as possible will allow you to determine what works for them. Some customers like to have an extremely personal relationship with sales reps. Others simply want the facts, and how it will save them money.

Like the remora fish, we as sales people need to determine what triggers the best response. The best way to do this is asking the right questions as quickly as possible. Impressions form very quickly and are difficult to shake – taking one approach and switching to another in the course of a conversation may be an ineffective way to win over a customer, and make you seem unworthy of their trust. Start simple, and learn as much as you can to adapt to them. Once they are open to having a conversation, you can proceed forward with selling your product.

For many people, this “dance” can actually be triggered by getting people to say “yes” to things. People that say “yes” to smaller things often find themselves subconsciously opening themselves up. These “yeses” can be small – even saying “yes” when responding to their name counts. But as the questions that you ask get gradually bigger and the “yeses” more pertinent, they will automatically be more receptive to what you have to offer.

Persuasion in Sales: an Exchange

“You do me a solid? Drinks are on me.” Human culture emerged around people working together to build something greater from the sum of disparate parts. As a result, our concept of debt is thoroughly ingrained in our culture. This isn’t just on the level of taking out loans – if you do someone a favor, they feel that they must oblige you back. When you find my lost dog, I feel obligated to reward you handsomely for it.

Without going into too many details, I once did an extremely generous thing for a friend of mine. I responded that I required nothing in return. Rather than simply accepting the favor as an act of kindness, it had a negative effect – months later, he still felt that he owed me, and insisted that he do something in exchange. When a contract of indebtedness is not fulfilled, it causes immense anxiety. It is a powerful tool.

Free Samples and Other Methods of Indebtedness

So how can this be used responsibly in sales? Cialdini uses the example of a time that he was duped into buying a bar of chocolate by a boy scout – adding that he hates chocolate. Once on the street, he was approached by the boy and asked to buy a ticket on Saturday for a carnival. Having no desire to attend, he declined, at which point the boy scout asked if he would like to buy a bar of chocolate instead. Feeling a sense of guilt for turning down the boy, he purchased the bar, and realized the power of what had happened.

This has been implemented quite effectively in sales. Whether it involves free samples of food at a grocery store, or a monk placing a bracelet on your wrist in the Chicago Loop and not returning it, people feel the need to reciprocate. In the instance of a long sales cycle, consider giving a complimentary gift before going for the final sale. Whether that be a small discount on a product or swag, these tools can have a powerful effect on your customer base.


These are only some methods that can be employed to persuade your customers to purchase your product or service. We all put on tough faces, but humans are vulnerable animals. We respond to triggers in our environment, and are not as free to make choices as we believe we are. Persuasion in sales should always be considered alongside the responsibility of your actions.