Use The Authority Principle To Boost Sales


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My former boss was an MIT professor at one time and always reminded us of it – he even insisted that we had lunch at the MIT faculty club. Even though I thought he was a bit ridiculous, it taught me an important lesson about the influence of authority.

While my boss was doubling down on his image as some sort of Professor X of technology and we were snickering at the water cooler, he knew exactly the kind of Jedi mind trick he was playing on us. He was simply appealing to one of the most primitive psychological triggers used by everyone from the police to parents. I like to call it the “because I said so” principle.

A Powerful Psychological Trigger

Obedience to authority is deeply ingrained in us since birth. It starts with your mom and dad and expands to the rest of polite society – your teacher, your soccer coach, the security guard who caught you and your friends trespassing when you were trying to imitate Steve-O… Yeah, we’ve all been there, and you probably learned that going against authority has some sort of uncomfortable consequence. That’s exactly the point.

The authority principle is so powerful that it can cause people to do things that would normally conflict with their most deeply held values. If you’ve taken a basic psychology class in college, you’d remember the ultra-creepy Stanley Milgram experiment that showed how regular people would hurt others if told to by an authority figure under certain conditions.

In sales we use authority all the time to build confidence in our prospects. Whether it’s by having a swank office, a professional answering service, impressive credentials, or years of experience and big-name endorsements.

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Put Some Swagger in Your Step

Social selling master of the universe Dr. Robert Cialdini outlines the authority principle in his book Influence. A sharp suit, a badge, a nice car, an entourage, graduate degrees – most of us accept these as tokens of authority. People subconsciously respond to these signals with trust or respect when faced with a less-authoritative alternative. For example, the average person is more likely to give money to a person on the street wearing a uniform than he or she is to a person dressed in sweatpants. It’s just human nature.

What this really means is that looking and acting like a boss will make people think that you’re a boss. Pretty basic, huh? But Hell hath no fury like someone who’s been tricked into thinking you know what you’re doing when you don’t, that’s why it’s important to walk the walk AND talk the talk.

Back Up Confidence with Capability

Credible, knowledgeable experts exert the most influence as authority figures because they can back it up. While Dapper Dan is out there racking up leads, his wiser and more capable partner is closing deals because he’s gone past exhibiting superficial signals of authority and cultivated a relationship of trust by being the real deal.

Cialdini illustrates this in an experiment with a real estate agency that changed the way they referred prospects to agents. They were able to increase the number of property appraisals and contracts they wrote by starting off with their agency’s credentials, such as “Joe has 25 years experience in the micro-log cabin market, let me transfer you to him.” This “expert” intro led to a 20 percent rise in appointments and 15 percent increase in signed contracts. This small change was ethical and costless to implement.

Now that you know the power of this simple psychological tool you’ll notice it in use all around you. Try incorporating it into your sales approach but, remember, no one likes a liar. Only go so far as you can back it up or rely on someone who can. If you get someone to listen to you and then drop the ball, you’ll lose trust and never get it back.

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adam Honig
Adam is the Co-Founder and CEO of Spiro Technologies. He is a recognized thought-leader in sales process and effectiveness, and has previously co-founded three successful technology companies: Innoveer Solutions, C-Bridge, and Open Environment. He is best known for speaking at various conferences including Dreamforce, for pioneering the 'No Jerks' hiring model, and for flying his drone while traveling the world.


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