Blaise Pascal was a prominent French thinker who lived during the 1600’s. He was a child prodigy who showed an amazing intellect for mathematics and science. During his short 39-year life, he made significant contributions to philosophy, mathematics, fluid dynamics, and physics. He even invented several calculating machines that were centuries ahead of their time.
He also worked in decision theory, which ultimately helped lay the foundation for modern economics. Not surprisingly, part of his work on decision theory involved research on how to persuade people. This was also centuries ahead of it’s time – the first experimental psychologists to formally study persuasion did not appear until the 1800’s.
Now, his publications on persuasion are being reexamined by psychologists. Amazingly, his work is now backed by modern psychologists and is being applied to the practical world of sales, marketing, and business.
Pascal writes in Pensées, section 9:
When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.
He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides.
Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.
Later on, he adds:
People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.
First Point: Empathize with the prospect
Essentially, Pascal is first stating that if you want to begin to persuade someone, you have to first point out the ways in which they are right. Otherwise, your sales pitch will devolve in to an argument, which is possibly the worst way to influence someone to buy.
For example, if you are pitching someone and they are hesitant to buy because they feel like they are getting great customer service already, empathize with the prospect. Tell them that you agree – their current provider does offer great customer service and that you are appreciative of recognizing good service.
This will not only disarm the prospect, but will also show the prospect that you are truly listening. You can then restate the argument back to the prospect in a manner in which you can overcome.
“Mr, Smith, I’m really glad that you are getting great customer service. Is that the only thing that is holding you back though?”
“Fantastic – we actually scored higher than that company did on our customer service scores with a 95% customer satisfaction rating based around our 24/7 service. I know that they do provide good service, but I believe we can be there for you when they can not”
What you did there was take an objection, agree with the prospect that they have great customer service, restate it back to them in a way that you could handle it, then overcome the objection. Had you just shot back “Well we have better customer service”, it would cause the prospect to dig deeper in their beliefs and you would not have a good chance at changing their mind.
This is a tried-and-true method of overcoming objections called the E.C.I.R.R. Method, which you can read more about here.
Second Point: Plant the seeds of an idea, but let the prospect harvest it
The second point that he makes is a little more difficult to accomplish during a sales pitch, but it’s extraordinarily powerful if you can pull it off. He is stating that if an idea comes to your mind, you have ownership of it and are more inclined to act on it compared to an idea that comes from someone else.
Put simply, if you are presenting a product to a prospect, try to present the product in a way where the prospect can bridge the gap in their own head between the benefits of your product and their individual needs.
Rather than telling someone “I see here that your machine press breaks down a lot. You should purchase this because it will help your machine press run smoother and it will have less down time”, try saying “I had a similar situation where my client’s had some troublesome machines, but production became 30% more efficient from using this.”
The prospect should be able to bridge the gap between the 3rd party story and their similar situation. You planted the seeds, but the prospect harvested the idea that they can use it on their old machine entirely on their own. They will take ownership of the idea and will have a more likely chance to act on it.
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