Believing in the product you are selling is, of course, a strong motivator, but when tapping into the power of persuasion it is important to consider how other motivating factors may lead to self-deception.
Roger Dooley, author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing, observes via a recent blog post that “there’s solid science behind the importance of believing in your product”.
Dooley points to a study that he says confirms “we are more persuasive when we believe in what we are selling”, but he also stresses the research’s “darker side”.
“The same study also shows that we deceive ourselves when we are financially motivated to be persuasive,” he writes.
The role of incentives in decision-making
Dooley explains how the study involved an experiment that saw subjects write a persuasive speech about a fictional male character, with two groups asked to portray the character as likeable or unlikeable. A third group didn’t receive any specific direction and was asked to portray the character according to their own impressions. All subjects were told they would receive a bonus based on the speech’s effectiveness.
The subjects were shown short videos including favourable and unfavourable examples of the character’s behaviour, with the option to stop watching at any time. The different groups were shown the videos in different orders, commencing with either the mostly favourable or unfavourable.
While the subjects who were encouraged to support one view of the character stopped watching earlier when the videos mostly supported their position, the opposite held true for subjects who were shown videos that didn’t support their position.
“The subjects did write more effective speeches when they expected a bonus for supporting a particular view of the character, according to the study,” Dooley writes.
“Those who saw videos mostly supporting their position first apparently stopped watching when they felt they had enough helpful evidence. They avoided watching more content that might have made supporting their conclusion more difficult.”
Dooley observes that this was considered by the scientists to be a form of self-deception.
Recognising the bias in sales situations
“No doubt this ability to deceive oneself explains how some salespeople seem to be both untroubled and even successful when they sell bad products,” Dooley observes.
“They ignore evidence that the product doesn’t work well and seek out evidence that shows it does.”
In examining how this knowledge can be harnessed in an ethical way, Dooley says it should be recognised “that financial incentives foster self-deception”.
“Whether we are a customer, a sales manager, or the salesperson, we need to recognise the bias inherent in most sales situations and ensure that it doesn’t affect our decision process,” he writes.
Dooley recommends not being “afraid to point out a shortcoming or two”, as “including a small amount of negative information has been shown to make an argument more persuasive”.
“If your salespeople believe in your product or service, they will be more persuasive,” he advises.
“Just ensure that these beliefs are based on true and accurate information.”