Book readings

The Psychology of Persuasion

Read Time:8 Minute

In the “Read & Grow” series, MMA organised a discussion on Robert B. Cialdini’s book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. Mr Sreenivassan Ramaprasad, Director, CADD Centre Training Services, led the conversation with Mr Pravin Shekar, Chairman and CEO, KREA and Mr Kiruba Shankar, CEO, Breathe Digital.

Ramaprasad: I’m a sales enabler and for sales to be successful, influence is one of the most important things that we do. All of us want to influence people around us. We also get influenced and end up buying things which we never wanted. What is that psychology behind our behavior? Robert Cialdini talks about how our brain is wired and how we get influenced easily. He gives an example of mother turkey and how she shares her compassion and cares her chicks, just by hearing their sound. Another example he gives is about our behaviour in a queue. When somebody jumps the queue, normally, we resist that person but the moment the person gives a reason, 95% of the people accept and allow him to jump the queue. He has come out with seven levers of influence and they are:

  • The law of reciprocity: We feel obliged when we are given a favour. When you are given something, you are immediately obliged to give back something.
  • The principle of scarcity: Scarcity creates demand. When you say only two seats are left, the price is going to change.
  • Commitment and consistency:  When people give commitment, they generally like to be consistent with that commitment.
  • Social proof: We all like social proof. Whenever we buy anything in Amazon, we see whether it’s five star rated or how many have liked this product. Whenever there is a conformity or there is support from your neighbours, we also try to align to that. If somebody is hurt on the road and if a passer-by does not care for that person, others also don’t care. So, it’s important for the person who’s got hurt to specifically address somebody, instead of asking for help in general. This is also a concept of social proof. 
  • Likeability: If there is somebody like you, you’re likely to buy from them or get influenced by them. There is a sort of affinity towards each other.
  • Authority: From a position of authority, you’re likely to influence people.
  • Unity: We all tend to belong to the same class. For example, there is unity among people who come from a similar kind of organization.  

Pravin Shekar: My biggest takeaway is likeability. The more we meet, the more we will begin to like each other. If I want to be a good influencer in a particular area, then I need to meet the people in that area quite a few times to get the likability quotient. Second is the need for social proof. I have been invited here because there is some social proof that exists. That would be my second biggest takeaway. And the third, is on negotiation. When somebody asks us for the price, we always say, ‘Why don’t you tell?” Because we are afraid that we will go far beyond the zone to quote something. As a parent, I must know what to expect from my kid or as a business owner, how much I can push and how much I can ask for. There is a difference between saying, “I am in authority,” and “I am an authority.’ When you are in authority, it is the designation that matters but if you are an authority in a particular topic, you can generate better, deeper influence. I would rather be an authority with social proof.  

Kiruba Shankar: About two weeks back, Ramprasad conducted a workshop and I attended that. He is an authority with a huge amount of passion, depth of knowledge and willingness to learn. When a person of authority comes and invites you, there’s an almost an immediate ‘yes,’ out of sheer respect. Pravin Shekar is a generous giver. When others benefit out of his generosity, they want to go back and help back Praveen. That is reciprocity.

Last night, I took a flight from Bangalore to Chennai. At the Bangalore airport, I walked into the men’s restroom. The guy in charge of cleanliness of the place, on seeing me, pointed to a cubicle that was free. He walked, opened the door, went inside, took a roll of toilet paper and cleaned the toilet seat. With his mop, he cleaned the floor and said, “Please use now.” I instantly tipped him. He smartly influenced me by the likeability factor. He’s done me a favor and I can’t just walk away. I need to appreciate the fact that he’s taken that effort. Imagine if he’d done this for about 50 people in a day. So, all the 7 levers can be seen in front of us.  

Ramaprasad: When I park my car in a common area, there will be a security who will take utmost care so that you come out carefully and he directs you. I can’t resist giving him a 10 rupee note. The guard does a genuine service. It’s up to you to give him money or not and he’s not going to sulk if you don’t give. Yet you are compelled to give because of the service he renders. Kiruba, which of these 7 levers do you resonate with? 

Kiruba Shankar: The most I resonate with is social proof. I’ll give you an example. My grandma (my mother’s mom) is 90 years old. She, along with her daughter—that’s my mom, who is 72—have started a farm stay in a small little picture postcard village near Tindivanam. When people come and stay here at the farm house, they always meet grandma and praise her food. My mom and grandma are the ones who cook for the guests. The guests always say it’s been a brilliant experience. Some of them take blessings from grandma when they go out.

Here’s a very interesting observation. Almost not a single person would go and leave a review on Google or TripAdvisor. Because, by nature, we rarely go and acknowledge things online while we are perfectly fine telling it face to face. I’m a digital marketer and run a digital marketing company. So, what I did, I asked my mom and grandma to tell people, when they say positive things about their stay, to leave a review in Google. Just a simple request and it worked. We now have about 1166 reviews as of today and 4.9 out of five rating. That drives more people to come in. That is a classic case of the power of social proof. 

My advice to the college students who will graduate out is to focus on your LinkedIn profile and testimonials. Even for entrepreneurs and professionals, it is important to build a social proof. 

Praveen Shankar: When somebody is in need, you have the possibility to go ahead and help and that person in turn helps somebody else. The positive circle comes back when you are struggling and searching. Somehow, somewhere, a person appears who provides the solution. I’m into marketing. We happily recommend a whole lot of other marketers and people have come and asked us, “Sir, isn’t that competition?” I would say, “No, the cake is really big.” They say a rising tide lifts all the boats.  

Kiruba Shankar: I use the lever of ‘authority’ in running my digital marketing business. When a client is looking for a solution to a problem, that client has multiple options to choose who they want to hire. It is important for us to think, why that client should choose us. To answer that question, you have to put yourself into the client’s seat and ask, ‘What would I do, if I were to choose?’ What would we do if the child is sick? We would go to a pediatrician, rather than a general doctor.

The reason is they’ve really focused hard and deep into their line of work and hence they have better experience and knowledge and are able to serve much better. Should we not be that pediatrician, as an authority in our subject? My favourite line is, ‘Go two centimeters wide and two kilometers deep.’ Pick one area of niche and become the absolute best in that niche, so that people will be willing to pay a premium to hire your services.

Praveen Shankar: All the seven levers are beautifully connected. This is a legend and I am not sure if it is true or wrong. Several decades ago, some of the volunteers of the ADMK party were disgruntled with something that was happening. This reached the ears of the then CM Mr MG Ramachandran, who then organized a feast, invited all the people, heard them and then served them the feast personally, on plantain leaves. After that, the rank and file were so enamoured with their leader that all their problems seemed really small and they let it pass through. Not only was the leader consistent, he quadrupled his likability quotient by that one exercise with his followers. So, whether you are a leader, entrepreneur, or student, see what you can do to improve the likability quotient. 

Ramaprasad: Are these levers of influence still relevant and applicable?

Kiruba Shankar: Absolutely.

Praveen Shankar: They are all the fundamentals. You cannot survive without them. And you cannot fake them. One of the key levers is consistency. I can’t decide to be a nice guy today and an erratic person tomorrow. ‘Commitment with consistency’ is one of the key levers that puts all the levers together.