The Oldest Form Of Manipulation In History… And It Still Works

In sales, marketing or persuasion we often get carried away with facts and details. One is never enough. Two is never enough. Can too much spoil your message?

I ran into this problem last night.

My wife prepared lamb burgers for dinner. She got these “pita like” pockets called salad pockets. This surprised me. We try to eat healthy unprocessed food. I questioned her about it.

“Salad pockets?” I asked

“Yeah. I was shocked. There are only a few ingredients. It seemed a better choice than pita bread.”

I studied the packaging for a moment. I noticed something unfamiliar.

“Fumaric acid. What on earth is that?”

“Let me see. No idea.” She said

Before my comment about fumaric acid, my wife thought she made the healthy choice. The package claimed minimal processing. It had only five ingredients. That was enough information to create a story. She believed these salad pockets were the healthier choice.

It Doesn’t Take Much To Create A Story

When I looked at the packaging I added one more element to the story. I mentioned the fumaric acid. That extra piece of information changed the story.

One extra piece of information changed our opinion from sort of healthy to unhealthy.

Her omission of fumaric acid was unintentional. Professional manipulators use selective omission on purpose.

They use it to frame their narrative so you come to the desired conclusion.

Your audience creates stories from limited information. It took only two pieces of data to trigger a narrative about the health aspect of salad pockets.

We Can’t Help Ourselves

We all do this. It takes conscious effort to step back and avoid drawing conclusions until you obtain more information.

With only a few pieces of information, you create a nice, neat story with no holes. The data play nice with each other.

The more information you add, the more the story changes.

Look at successful marketing messages. They’re simple stories with one or two pieces of information. They’re not complex whitepapers. It’s the only way they control the story you construct in your mind.

Compare these two examples. This is a fictional company but notice the conclusion you draw in each story.

First story: Jim Smith took over a software company near bankruptcy

He sold off non-performing divisions

He went all in on partnering with Google before they became a household name

The company is now worth billions

What story did you construct in your mind about Jim Smith?

Revised story: Jim Smith took over a software company near bankruptcy

Debt holders went to court and forced him to sell non-performing assets

He tried to sell the B to B software to division but couldn’t find a buyer

He opted to partner with Google to help cut expenses

He tried to sell his company’s interest in the partnership for $50 million. No takers

He tried to sell his company’s interest in the partnership for $25 million. No takers

The partnership started making money so he took it off the market with plans to sell it for $100 million

When it became clear this would be the cash cow for the company, he ended all plans to sell it

The company is now worth billions.

Now, what’s your opinion of him? How did your story change?

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Desperate people repulse us. This is true in dating, sales and marketing, and life. We crave what’s scarce. We’ve all been on both ends of the spectrum. I saw this scene play out last night.  Here’s what happened.

My wife and I couldn’t get out of the house fast enough. The kids were in good hands. We went out to a nice local restaurant for a short-term escape.

After we ordered, another couple sat down at the table next to us.

This is is a big restaurant with separate small dining areas. We could hear their conversation. It was obvious they were on a first or second date. As I eavesdropped on their conversation, something else became obvious. 

The Date Wasn’t Going Well

They lacked chemistry. The guy rattled off question after question about her job. She answered dutifully. It all seemed mechanical in nature.

I give the guy credit. He kept at it. I know the feeling. You hope that if you just give it time things will change.  One more question. One more benefit to show your awesomeness.

Of course, that never works. It only makes things worse. It makes you sound needy and desperate.

It’s no different in marketing or business. The more you try to impress the more needy and desperate you sound.  That’s a turnoff in dating, marketing and life.

Take Your Power Back

What’s a better approach? If you sense your audience, reader or date lacks interest, do two things.

  1. Recognize it
  2. Make yourself unavailable.

“I get the feeling you’re not ready to take action on … Feel free to unsubscribe.”

“I think we both agree. This date is going nowhere. Let’s call it a night and get on with our lives.”

This is a win-win approach. There are two possibilities.

Worst case, you cut your losses and save time.

And the best case? Your sudden carefree attitude may make you more desirable. We’re drawn to what we can’t have (people who shun us). We disdain the clingy and needy ones.

In Thomas Green’s 48 Laws Of Power, Law 36 advises us to “Disdain What You Cannot Have. Ignoring Them Is The Best Revenge.”  In this context, it means don’t chase what you’ve been denied. Ignore it. Shun it. It means nothing to you. By losing interest in the other person, it makes you more desirable. It’s one of those quirks in human nature. We crave what is scarce.

You see examples of this all the time.

We desire to do business with the busy salesman, not the one begging for customers.

And my own experience: Before I started dating my wife, I struggled to get dates. Once I was off the market, women showed more interest in me. I know I’m not the only one with that experience.

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We’re Always One Final Hurdle Away From [Fill In The Blank]

Just one more hour and we’ll be in the clear. That’s what we said to each other as the surgeon went into the operating room. My son had a minor procedure done. As a parent, any surgery is a nail-biting experience no matter how minor.

An hour later, the doctor emerged. He told us everything went well. They brought us in to see our son,  He was scared, groggy and confused.

“In a few hours, he’ll be back to relative normal.”

Sure enough, a few hours later he was playing like nothing happened. It was a relief.

The doctor told us to expect an interrupted night of sleep. The Tylenol only lasts four hours.

“He may wake up from the pain.” 

At 3 AM, he woke up crying and coughing. With a little coaxing and pain meds, he went back to sleep. We knew it would just be one or two bad nights and we’d cross the final hurdle.

With each challenge, we were one final hurdle from getting back to normalcy and relief.

The Final Hurdle Illusion

That’s how things are in life. There’s always one more hurdle before you reach relief, success or any other goal.

It’s true for kids, parents and adults of all ages.

It’s motivating to think that way when we’re shooting for a goal.

“Just one more skill and I’ll land that dream job.”

It’s comforting to think this way in times of trouble.

“Just one more night to get through before things are back to normal.”

I’ve repeated a similar phrase in mind countless times in my life.

“One more course on writing and I’ll be a good writer.”

“One more customer and I’ll feel secure in business.”

“One step away from crossing that threshold to [fill in the blank]”

The Marketing Advantage

I’ve wasted a lot of money on books and courses I didn’t really need. Some were useful but not really necessary. In marketing, we call it

The Final Hurdle technique.

The seller presents their product as the last book you’ll need or the missing link to fixing your problem. It almost always works.

By instinct, we all feel there’s one more hurdle to overcome before we reach our goal. By presenting your product as the final hurdle before reaching their goal, you confirm what they already believe (or want to believe).

This is true for all of us, myself included.

Is it ethical to use this technique?

Like any other tool, it depends on the context.

Does your solution make it possible for your customer to reach her goal or solve her problem? If yes, use it as you see fit.

Sometimes our solution solves the first or second problem among a string of goals. In those scenarios, avoid using it in your pitch. Not every tool fits every situation. This is a powerful persuasion tool in the right situation. Force fitting it weakens your overall message.

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The Art Of Apologizing… With Strings Attached

I’m now three weeks into my new gym membership. I don’t recall this practice at my previous gyms. Maybe I failed to notice.

A lot of apologies take place at gyms.

“Were you using this rowing machine? Sorry, I didn’t realize it.”

“Oh no. I just left my towel over here. Sorry for the confusion.”

That was a small exchange yesterday with another gym-goer.

A few minutes later I witnessed another apology. A woman apologized to another woman for almost getting in the way of her crunches.

There’s nothing wrong with these small apologies. It’s part of the human experience. What makes these apologies pleasant is the backdrop. They’re among strangers in a public place. Plus, the stakes are small. You lose nothing with an unnecessary apology.

Where Apologies Go Wrong

Compare that to the apologies we hear and tell in business or relationships.  These aren’t simple ones like we hear at the gym among strangers.  This kind of apology comes with strings attached.

Never Ruin An Apology With An Excuse – Benjamin Franklin

In business or personal relationships, you risk something when you apologize.

If I apologize for poor service, he may ask for a refund.

If I apologize for missing my deadline, I may lose my job

This fear influences the apology.  We add an excuse to relieve ourselves of any responsibility.

Sorry for missing the deadline. The finance department was three days late in giving me the numbers.

Benjamin Franklin despised these apologies in the 1700’s. Must of us share the same opinion today.

At the gym, among strangers, we risk nothing with a simple, no excuse apology.

In business, we feel the need to add an excuse to every apology. Common sense tells us a straight up apology fares better than one with excuses. Still, it’s hard to resist the lure adding in that excuse.

Let’s Test Which Apologies Work Best

I would love to split test these opposing apologies.

If you deal with customers, try this out.

For half of your apologies, try the following verbiage:

“Sorry. I screwed up. No excuse. Let’s see what we can do to fix it.”

For the other half of your apologies, try this alternate formula:

“Sorry your inconvenience…” + [add in your excuse]

Change the words around to match your personality if you wish.

Evaluate the response after each apology. Do you get a more favorable response with or without the excuse?

Let’s find out after two-hundred-fifty years. Did Benjamin Franklin have it right?

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I hate when people talk about their “superpower.” I find the term so arrogant.

Now that I took a stand, allow me to be a hypocrite. I claim two superpowers in life. I don’t talk about them much because neither power serves any useful purpose.

My first power isn’t that unusual. A friend of mine has the same one. It makes for interesting dinner party conversation. That’s where the usefulness runs out.Whenever I go out to eat with a group of friends, I always remember what everyone orders.

Whenever I go out to eat with a group of friends, I always remember what everyone orders.

A few weeks ago, I recalled a time we went to dinner. It was a group of eight. Seven of us ordered the herb crusted salmon. One ordered the shrimp scampi.

The first time my wife and I went out for dinner after buying our house I ordered the braised lamb with cannelloni beans.

Like I said, it serves no useful purpose.

But if you think that power is useless, wait until you hear this one.

For some reason, I remember the name of almost all obscure musical artists of the 1980’s.

Yesterday, the song “I just died in your arms tonight” played in the background of some movie on television. I was upstairs at the time. I heard my wife tell my son that she forgot who sang it.

“It’s The Cutting Crew who sings it,” I yelled downstairs. Nobody heard me. I didn’t get the recognition.

The Superiority Effect

Here’s my confession.

Despite my superpowers’ lack of utility, I enjoy when someone recognizes me for it. We sometimes call this the superiority effect. We crave recognition for the skills which we feel superior.

It’s a form of validation.  It feels good when someone recognizes you for your awesomeness.

We all feel it to some degree and in various aspects. We also look kindly on people who recognize us in the areas we feel superior.

There’s a catch. Overt or fake praise backfires. They see where you’re coming from.

Subtlety Wins Out

Instead of writing or saying

You are so knowledgeable about xyz. Tell us what you think.”

Write

“I’ll defer to your judgment for any question about xyz.”

It’s a way to recognize their superiority without being showy. The receiver of that communication appreciates the recognition and validation of her expertise.

This works whether you communicate to a market, coworker, prospect or friend. If you write to a group of financial advisors you should be able to find out what skills they value most. All it takes is a bit of research.

Win A Supporter For Life

Pay attention to what they write, what they say and the questions they ask. That kind of unsolicited communication reveals more about what they value and where they hold themselves in the highest regard.

If you see a Facebook profile that reads “I bring home the bacon for Company XYZ” – You can bet that person thinks he owns superior sales skills.

Use your observation skills to gather what’s important to them. With subtlety, recognize their superior skill. You’ll win a supporter for life.

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Can we really predict the future? Maybe humans are so predictable it leads us to believe in our supernatural abilities?

Anyone who’s ever sold or marketed something will identify with this experience.

You’re in the middle of a sale. Your prospect promises you an answer by the end of the day Friday.

Friday morning rolls around. You think to yourself:

“No big deal. He’s got the rest of the day to respond.”

You avoid nagging your contact. You don’t want to appear needy.

Now, it’s mid-afternoon on Friday. There’s no communication. You sense it. The deal is off. You don’t know it for sure but your soul feels it.

Most people hate delivering bad news. It’s uncomfortable. Instead of delivering bad news, we shy away from it.

The end of the business day closes in. Still nothing. I send an email.

“Hey Tim – Let me know if you want to move forward. I have someone else asking about your timeslot. What should I tell her?”

With that email, I accomplished two things. I made it easy for him to say “No.” By mentioning someone else was interested in hiring me, it takes the pressure off. Second, it let me push him for an update without sounding needy.

I heard nothing the rest of the day.

The next morning, I received a terse email sent from his mobile phone.

“Go ahead and take the spot. Going through some internal re-alignment. The project is on hold.”

At least I had an answer.

That’s one way of dealing with predictable behavior. A mentor of mine long ago taught me a more valuable lesson.

The Art Of Unpredictability

This mentor made his living off unpredictability.

When you act, write or talk like others expect, they dismiss you with little effort. They do it on autopilot because they’re so experienced at it.

When you act, write or talk in a way incongruent with your counterparts expectation, they lack the experience to deal with it. There’s no autopilot response. They need to think about it first.

Incongruity Holds Interest

When we write incongruent things it holds the attention of our readers. They need to stick around and see how it all plays out.

A story about a Wall Street Trading Wiz who graduated from Harvard is predictable. Nobody cares. They’ve heard it before.

A story about a Wall Street Trading Wiz who immigrated here from Africa and never went to high school is unpredictable. There’s an incongruity with becoming a trading wiz, never going to high school and immigrating from a poor country.

How did he do it?

What’s his secret?

If someone like him could do it, so can I.

We feel an urge to find the answers to those questions.

Create Your Own Unpredictable Stories

Here are two strategies add unpredictability.

It requires just a small amount of creativity and thinking.

In regular business or personal communication, ask yourself these questions.

How will my [prospect, peer, clinet] expect me to react?

How can I react counter to their expectations and make it easy for them to respond in a favorable manner?

In a sales and marketing situation, you want to use incongruity to create unpredictable stories that hold interest.

What is unusual or out of place or out of the ordinary?

What will make my reader think: “Wow. I gotta know how this happened?”

 

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Don’t you love a great book? It feels like it makes you smarter. Lightbulbs go off. You know you’re on to something. When you finish you can’t wait to recommend it to your friends, peers and family.

A week later, you’ve forgotten everything and you’re now on to your next book.

Everyone says most non-fiction books can be summed up in ten pages or less.

Sure, there’s a few outliers so full of insight you need to read them multiple times. Most books, even great ones, give you a handful of useful bits hidden among its three hundred or so pages.

Here’s a simple method I use to glean the most important teachings from books. Learning is only half the battle. Gaining knowledge is useless unless you put it into practice. Once I nail down those lessons, I integrate them into my personal or professional life.

These five steps accomplish both goals.

Step 1 – While reading

As you read your book keep a pen handy. You’ll use this to make notations in the margins. If you’re reading on Kindle, use the highlight feature. Whenever you come across one of those “A-Ha” moments make a small notation in the margin. I make a little “-“ by the important words. Sometimes I’ll use a large < symbol to denote an entire paragraph.

Be a bit judicious with your notations but don’t worry if you’re doing too much. You’ll filter later.

Step 2 – From Book To Paper

After you finish the book, go back to the beginning. Flip (or scroll) through each page and stop where you see a notation. Read the surrounding sentences and determine if it’s worth keeping. If so, write out the main point in your document in bullet form. Do this for the entire book. I find that half the stuff I notate does not make it into the document. Often, I find the ideas presented are redundant. Other times, the information loses importance with the benefit of reflection.

Do this for the entire book. I find that half the stuff I notate does not make it into the document. Many of the ideas presented are redundant. Other times, the information loses importance with the benefit of reflection.

For an average size non-fiction book, you’ll end up with two to five pages of bullets.

Step 3 – Edit Your Document

Take a second pass through your notes.  You’ll  find more redundancies. You’ll find bullets that lack real impact and others superseded by later examples. Filter out all that extra junk.

Tip: For each learning, I keep one example. Most non-fiction books pack several examples or stories for each lesson it teaches. This is part of the redundancy. You only need one example to see how each lesson works.

When you finish this process, you’ll end up with one to two pages of notes. For real in-depth books, you may end up with as much as five pages.

Step 4 – Put it into Action

Pick one lesson and put it into practice each day. If your book is on improving your writing, try out one lesson each day in your daily writing. If your book is about productivity, add in one lesson each day to improve your productivity.

Measure the results of your actions. If it works for you, then it’s a keeper. What if it fails? Maybe you need to practice it in order to see results. Make sure you followed the instructions. Give yourself a few opportunities to keep or reject each lesson. When you reject a lesson, delete it from your document. This streamlines it even more.

Step 5 – Reinforcement

Each month I look over documents from a particular category. One month I look at productivity. The next month I review my copywriting notes. Spend time reading through each document in a category and evaluate which lessons work. Eliminate the stuff that’s not working. Focus on the ones you have yet to try.

Bonus TipI also use this process with podcasts and interviews. It’s a great way to keep valuable teachings that otherwise disappear in the netherworld of your brain.

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A few weeks ago I wrote a story about all the books I’ve read at least twice. That story encouraged me to browse through my library (past and present) and search for other classics that deserve a second reading.

Many of the new books on the market become hot trends. We talk about them on social media, in our workplace or with our friends. Will today’s books stand the test of time?  Will they hold relevance fifty years later?

Books that last offer timeless advice. The wisdom survives changes in trends, tastes and technology.

A few of these books I read long ago. I found them useful at the time but forgot the valuable lessons with the passage of time. For others, I also read them long ago but perhaps I wasn’t ready to listen to the message. Maybe now I can benefit from the sage advice.

To qualify for this list, the first printing must be at least fifty years old.

Here Are My Five Classics

1. How I Raised Myself From Failure To Success In Selling by Frank Bettger, 1952 — You may find the language a bit dated. The lessons on sales are timeless. He covers everything from strategy to psychology. A mentor guaranteed my skills would improve if I followed its advice. Once I left the sales arena I tucked this book into a corner to collect dust. The minute I saw this book I knew it would be the first one on the list.

2. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker — Published in 1967. This is one of those books I read in my 20’s. I was too young to hear the message. I wish I went back to it years ago. Drucker focuses on getting the right things done, setting the right priorities and managing time. I need help in all three.

3. The Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith, 1776 — It’s as old as our nation and still revered as a classic. Here’s the truth. I first got this book in College. I read it because I had to. My mind wasn’t in a place to gain anything from it. Now, I will read it by choice. Some of our leaders today can learn from his message “..the ability to self-regulate and to ensure maximum efficiency, however, is limited by externalities, monopolies, tax preferences, lobbying groups, and other “privileges” extended to certain members of the economy at the expense of others.

4. The Richest Man In Babylon by George Clason, 1926 — Sure, it’s not a typical business book. It’s super short and fictional. Here’s why I include it. For all the complex and nonsensical books on personal finance, this simple story provides practical advice that never goes out of style.

5. The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, 1949 — I finally had some money to invest. I heard Warren Buffet recommend this book so I bought it. At the time day trading was all the rage. That was too much stress for me. I didn’t read this cover to cover but I’ve gone back to read portions of it every so often.

What are your favorite classics?

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The One FEAR Nobody Likes To Talk About

Each year, our town sets aside one week for a bulk pickup. Trucks come and pick up all the junk, old furniture and broken appliances for disposal.

It always starts with a tinge of excitement. We talk about it for weeks. It’s our once a year chance to reclaim much-needed space. We go through all the stuff that’s been lying around and make decisions on what to trash. When we finish, I always feel disappointed we’re not getting rid of more.

“I thought we’d have more junk to get rid of,” one of us says.

A few weeks after the pickup we regret not getting rid of more stuff.

It’s only a minor regret in the scheme of life. Still, I’ve noticed how that regret impacts decisions over the course of the year.

The Big Fear Nobody Talks About

We’ve decided against various purchases out of this fear of regret.

“We’ll never use it enough. It’ll just take up space until the next bulk pickup.”

It’s not the regret itself that impacts us, it’s the fear of regret.

You may not like to admit it, but fear of regret plays into many of our decisions, buying or otherwise.

“If I buy this unknown brand and it fails to perform…”

“If I buy this car, I’m stuck with a payment for sixty months. I’ll be kicking myself for committing to this.”

“If I support candidate “x” and he goes back on his word…”

These subconscious thoughts interfere with our decision-making process, sometimes for good reason. It may keep you from making a bad decision.

High Or Low Stakes

In a sales or marketing situation they get in the way of your success. It’s the size of the commitment that matters.

Let’s pretend you sell a $7 ebook. Fear of regret is not an issue. The stakes are not high enough. Few people break a sweat over $7.

Now, let’s suppose you sell a $2,000 course on marketing. The stakes run higher.

“What if it doesn’t work out? I will have wasted $2,000. I’ll never forgive myself.” 

That’s fear of regret rearing its head.

Lucky for us we have a tool to render fear of regret harmless.

The Justifiable Benefit

Let’s go back to our $2,000 course.

Your prospect thinks:

“What if it doesn’t work out? What if it doesn’t pay for itself in the next three months like he promised?”

We offer a justifiable benefit to address that fear.

Here’s an example:

What if you choose NOT to maximize its potential and rake in the extra $700 per month in sales? I don’t need to tell you this. This industry is changing fast. The info in this course guarantees you at least hold steady. Job security will be scarce for anyone who doesn’t make this part of their skill set. 

Now he thinks:

“At least now I can justify the investment no matter how it works out.”

That justifiable benefit provides your prospect an abstract benefit. This allows him to answer the regret fear swirling around in his head. Removing that fear of regret gets you past one more obstacle on your way to a sale.

 

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When The Kiddie Pool Closes For “Emergency Maintenance” – Yeah, You Know What That Really Means… And The Art Of Reading Between The Lines

The scorching temperature had us itching to get to the pool. After a mild start to the summer season, we finally have a pool day. Fifteen minutes after we dive in there’s an announcement.

Please Clear The Lower Pool For Emergency Maintenance.”

Emergency maintenance for our town pool means only one thing. A toddler pooped in the pool. Making a direct announcement would rouse every kid under the of thirteen. Instead, they opt for a “code” phrase.

When you see all the parents rush their kids out of the pool, you know there is no misunderstanding.

The pool management made use of our most powerful persuasion rule.

The First Commandment Of Persuasion

“People may accept your claims, but they will never doubt their own conclusions.”

 

You can use brute force to make a sale or win an argument. That’s what most people try.

You can lead people to conclude on your own that your product, idea or belief is the right move.

We call this the Mindleading.

Mindleading is a stronger form of persuasion than brute force. Your prospect or opponent believes he came to his decision on his own. When he does that, he owns it. When you use brute force, you convince your opponent until he gives in. He’ll credit you or blame you for convincing him. In either case, he doesn’t own the decision. That makes your victory tenuous.

There is a downside to Mindleading. He will never credit you for changing his mind. He’ll believe he did it all on his own. You get the win. He won’t give you any credit. Your ego needs to be okay with that.

Mindleading Versus Brute Force

Leading your prospect or opponent to conclude rather than convince is too complex to cover in one article. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Avoid fact based arguments.  If you’ve ever been in a political argument, you know proof doesn’t matter. Your opponent counters your facts with his own. If he can’t, he’ll attack the source of your facts.
  2. Instead of throwing facts and proof in his face, ask questions. Ask questions that position you as someone in search for answers.
  3. Connect-the-dots. Rather, connect some of the dots. Repeat a few of the points that lead to a favorable conclusion for you. Do not draw the conclusion on your own. This is harder than it sounds. Fighting the urge “to be right” takes self-control.
  4. Poke holes. Avoid the big bang approach. Go for tiny victories. Create the tiniest of doubts in each encounter. Let each little doubt churn in his head before your next encounter.
  5. Patience. In the brute force approach, you attack until submission. This method requires patience. You lead them down a path. You cannot force the pace.

Success comes later when he’s taking a shower or driving his car. All of the sudden, he connects the dots. He reaches a tipping point where his original belief begins to crumble. Don’t expect a phone call or email admitting your right. He’ll never know it was you.

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