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Great Idea? Two Tips on Using Persuasion

Imagine being Jeff Bezos in 1994 – I think I’ll give-up a promising career in New York as an investment banker and start an on-line book store called Amazon. There were many people he spoke to who thought his idea was crazy, a long-shot.

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Imagine being Jeff Bezos in 1994 – I think I’ll give-up a promising career in New York as an investment banker and start an on-line book store called Amazon. There were many people he spoke to who thought his idea was crazy, a long-shot. And there were some, who thought it was brilliant.

So, imagine how you would go about persuading senior executives or investors to “invest resources” in that idea?

Many times in your career you will want to persuade someone to back or buy your idea. I have two tips for you.

First Tip – An Idea from Professor Baba Shiv. If you are working in an organization and you have an idea that requires someone in upper management to approve it, Professor Shiv from Stanford University has these two suggestions:

  1. “Figure out if the person you’re trying to pitch is really open to new ideas. If not, find a champion in upper management who you think might be.” (As published in Shiv’s article The Art of the Imperfect Pitch on the Stanford Business School website and referenced in Build magazine.)
  2. “Don’t provide your champion with a polished pitch. Let it be a little bit rough around the edges. This may seem counterintuitive, but having something that leaves room for expansion inspires people to get involved in your vision. Having the ‘perfect solution’ on the other hand, tends to inspire critique.” Very interesting advice.

Second Tip – Understand the Five Styles of Decision-Making. Gary Williams and Robert Miller published a very interesting article in the Harvard Business Review called Change the Way You Persuade. Their research of 1,600 executives indicated there are five types of decision-makers and each is persuaded differently.

Here is a summary (% indicates what percentage of total sample these types represent):

  1. Charismatics (25%) – Easily enthralled by new ideas, but life experience has taught them to look for balanced information and not rely on emotions. They are risk-seeking but wise. They absorb lots of information easily. Often they are visual learners. Persuasion strategy – Get to the point quickly and focus on results and use visual aids to describe features and benefits.
  2. Thinkers (11%) – Like arguments supported by data and don’t like risk. However, they like to know what the risks are so they think around the pitfalls with you. Slower to make decisions. Persuasion strategy – Use lots of data, research, surveys, and a cost-benefit analysis.
  3. Skeptics (19%) – Suspicious of data especially if it conflicts with their view of the world. They can be disruptive and disagreeable. Persuasion strategy – Get an endorsement from someone the skeptic trusts.
  4. Followers (36%) – Tend to make decisions based on prior decisions and experiences or decisions made by other trusted executives. They, too, don’t like risk. Persuasion strategy – Use references, testimonials, and how others were successful.
  5. Controllers (9%) – Hate uncertainty and want to control events. Only accepts details presented by experts and will shut down when confronted with pushy techniques. Persuasion strategy – Give them facts and let them decide.

As you think about persuasion I’m sure you will note that these tips can apply to both promoting an idea you might have and selling a product or service to a customer. It’s also is advisable to try and get a sense of what kind of decision-maker you are dealing with in advance – it can make all the difference.

Persuasion reminds me of these words from Henry David Thoreau, “Thaw with her gentle persuasion is more powerful than Thor with his hammer. The one melts, the other breaks into pieces.” Melt away!

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