Chapter 5 - Committing To Change

I'm adding this note of caution to each page of my notes because the title is misleading: the author advocates a softer approach to persuasion, but his tactics are often still manipulative. In many instances he proposes a subtler form of manipulation, but one which is still manipulative. I don't expect he has bad intentions, but lacks sufficient knowledge in the areas of rhetoric and psychology to correctly identify and avoid manipulative tactics entirely.

Manipulative people demand commitment from others without committing themselves to anything. Influential people recognize that commitment is something that has to be earned - and once it has been earned, it does not have to be demanded: people commit themselves, quite willingly.

The author speaks, in an oblique way, about "rights" in interacting with another person. You must earn the right to enter into a conversation, to consume someone else's time, and to probe into the sensitive areas of their life. You do not gain trust by acting as if you have it without having done anything to earn it.

Anyone who's visited a car dealership has heard the question of "What's it going to take to get you into this car today?" - generally well before you've even decided that you want that particular car at all. Or when a salesman calls your office, he asks whether Tuesday or Wednesday would be a better day for you to meet with him, offering you no option to refuse a meeting. Salesmen are trained to get a commitment to take an action as soon as they can - well before they have earned the right to ask for a commitment.

Earning a commitment is the goal of the salesman: they begin by identifying a need then motivating a person to solve that need, but those steps come to nothing if the prospect doesn't commit to taking action. However, they are still necessary to getting to the close.

The author runs through some of the previous steps in the process:

  1. A prospect usually recognizes a problem in the context of a situation (real or imagined) where they are unable to achieve a goal
  2. Your best approach is not to suggest a solution, but to talk about the situation and what they desire to achieve - such that the prospect will recognize for himself that there is a problem
  3. When the prospect recognizes the problem, you can then identify the solution and motivate them to accept and pursue it - sooner rather than later.
  4. When they have made that decision, they are then ready to commit themselves to taking an action - but not before.

It's difficult to assess whether a person is ready to make a commitment - so the author suggests asking them outright: "Are you committed to making a change?" There are various ways to phrase that question depending on the situation - but it's critical to get a "yes" before you move a person toward a commitment they are not ready to make.

If the answer is "no" it is a clear sign that you have not taken enough time to understand their goals, to explore the problems in their way, to convince them the solution is right, or to convince them that they need to take action immediately.

(EN: there are a few things that have been missed, primarily in the nature of evaluation. Is it important to solve the problem at all? Is solving that problem more important than solving other ones they may have? Is the proposed solution worth its cost in money and effort?)

The author confesses that "I have little interest in the solution" insofar as salesmanship is concerned. Which is to say that the solution is less important to closing the deal than earning trust and gaining commitment - this is why a good salesmen isn't locked into a specific product, but can apply his skills of influence across a broad array of products.

There's a bit of a digression in which the author suggests the a salesman should seek to be able to say two words to a prospect: "you said." A salesman who is trained to use this phrase must first develop a practice of actually listening to the prospect. And when he sues it, he gains attention and focus - a person doesn't need to be convinced that something they said themselves is actually true.

(EN: It occurs to me now that some shortcut the process, and insist that "you said" something that they did not actually say - whether they are rephrasing something that the person said or suggesting that they said something they did not actually say. This backfires, as it's immediately offensive to the other party - and if they do not recall having said it, it's immediately obvious they are dealing with a dishonest person.)

Switching back: a common sales myth is that the more you ask someone to make a commitment, the greater your chances of success. As such the old-school sales approach of "always be closing" is geared to wearing down the prospect by nagging them to make a commitment.

Unfortunately, this approach does not work in the present day, and it very often backfires. The author mentions a study done at Xerox, which demonstrated that each time a salesman asked for a commitment that the prospect was not ready to make, their chances of closing the deal fell by 24%. This means that if you ask prematurely four times, you have virtually guaranteed you will never get a sale.

The author supposes it has something to do with ego - once a person says "no" they have committed to refusing, and dig in and resist attempts to change his answer because it's a matter of pride to maintain their position against others attempts to change it. Asking someone to commit over and over again merely hardens their position.

Many sales "tricks" focus on getting the prospect to make a commitment - there are lots of books on the subject, and the author feels all of them are misguided. There is a process to earn trust, and there aren't a lot of variations and certainly no shortcuts.

The Summary Commitment

A digression: salesmen are a superstitious lot: many of them have a favorite tie, a favorite pen, a favorite place to meet, and so on. He's asked if they have a favorite way to ask a person for a commitment, and that usually takes them aback. The irony is that they place a lot of emphasis on being consistent in unimportant ways, but fail to apply the same principle to the things that are the most important.

The author describes a four-step approach for asking for a commitment, which he feels is "a natural fit" to his process and can be practiced consistently. There's a great deal of flexibility in the approach, so it's not a script but rather a process that can be adapted.

As a reminder: at this point in the conversation, you should have identified the problem, described the way in which your product solves the problem, and suggested that the prospect needs to take action now.

Step 1: Confirm

The first step is to summarize the conversation so far - this functions to remind the prospect of key points from the discussion, which is critical if it has been an extended conversation that has ranged over various topics.

Another benefit of confirming is that it prepares them to make a transition. There is the distinct sense that the previous part of the conversation is concluded and you will now be moving on to the next step.

Finally, confirmation enables the salesman to detect any points of discomfort that might cause the person to refuse to commit so that he can address them before asking for a commitment. Per the earlier note, each time they refuse a commitment makes it less likely they will ever commit, so it's very important not to back them into a corner by asking prematurely.

Step 2: Ask for a Commitment

Well, what do you know? At last, it's time to ask for the final commitment. It's amazing how easy gaining a commitment really is when you've earned your right to ask the question. As I mentioned before, your strategy here should be to aim for the highest realistic level of commitment.

But how do you ask for a commitment? What words do you use? My recommendation would be to do it as simply as possible. This is a natural step, and the person you are influencing expects you to ask, so do it!

I'm always surprised when I work with people who persuade for a living; it seems that few of them have a favorite way of asking this question. I'm not a person who is very fond of canned or scripted responses, but I would recommend that you not search for your words here. There's a lot on the line, and you don't want your words, tone, or even facial expressions to betray you.

Step 3: Discuss Next Steps

The author mentions hearing a sales manager instruct his staff "once you've made the sale, get out of the house." His thinking was that the salesman has gotten to a point of commitment and any further conversation can only disrupt the process and cause uncertainty on the part of the prospect. The author completely disagrees.

Once the commitment is gained, many salesman feel their job is over, and they can walk away assuming that other people will guide the prospect to following through on their commitment. This is a dangerous assumption, and the author attests to having seem "months" of his work getting a client to sign go down the drain after the deal was struck because of poor follow-up.

As a result, the customer who has just made a commitment is left adrift, not quite knowing how to act on it: how to make payment, how to take delivery of the goods, how to use the goods once they have been delivered. The easiest way to escape uncertainty is for them to back out of the deal - or if they have singed a contract and are trapped, they will almost certainly be dissatisfied with the outcome and you will have made your last sale to that customer.

Step 4: Reassure

Reassurance is "the most forgotten step" in the sales process, and a significant cause of customer churn. The general notion is that buyer's remorse "just happens" - but given that the salesman was critical in helping the buyer decide to buy, he is also culpable when they are not happy with what they bought.

Reassurance is merely a matter of touching base with the client after the sale was made to ensure they are getting the benefit they expected from the product they just purchased. Most salesmen fear hearing that the customer is dissatisfied - but if they did a thorough job of understanding the customer's needs and matching the product, this should not happen.

Reassurance is necessary during the "next steps" of the present purchase, to make sure that the client keeps their commitment to you and that your firm keeps its commitment to him. It is also critical to getting repeat business, because any failure (regardless of whose "fault" it was) leads to dissatisfaction and poisons your reputation with the customer - they will not be back to buy again, and may encourage others to avoid you as well.

To put a positive spin on it: if you reassure the client and help them get the benefit of your product, they will be pleased with the purchase and are more likely to return again, and recommend you to others.

Random Tips

Having described the process, the author offers a few other tips:

(EN: All of this seems good, but is also quite vague. Other writers have devoted a chapter to each of these topics.)