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How to Effectively Persuade Your Clients and Colleagues

Published: Sep 27, 2021

People often associate “sales” functions with floor personnel at car dealerships. However, sales is not exclusively limited to sales professionals. Whether you realize it or not, you perform sales functions almost everyday in your working life—selling ideas to prospective clients, selling proposals to colleagues, and even selling your candidacy to hiring managers. And, no matter what you’re selling, a key requirement for pitching your ideas effectively is being persuasive. So, here are three ways to be more persuasive.

1. Carry the burden of proof

“Burden of proof” refers to your obligation to establish the underlying thesis on which you intend to persuade your stakeholder (client, colleague, hiring manager, etc.). You fulfill this obligation by seeking an intrinsic proof, extrinsic proof, or, preferably, both.

For example, if a client is losing market share and you suspect their lack of focus on customer experience is the problem—and you need to persuade your client of this—you might conduct a data mining exercise by reviewing the client’s business. In your research, you find that poor customer experience is indeed depleting the client’s market share—this is an intrinsic proof. Also, you might look at other companies in the same industry to see how their lack of focus on customer experiences reduced market share—this is an extrinsic proof.

Offering a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic proof in support of your assertions will make you come across as more persuasive in your arguments.   

2. Avoid paradox of choice

“Paradox of choice” is the expression popularized by the American psychologist Barry Schwartz, who demonstrated that when inundated with choices, people typically become extremely indecisive—having too many choices paradoxically becomes a problem rather than a solution.

Consequently, if you want to persuade people on the efficacy of an idea, don’t inundate them with numerous ideas. You might think that offering multiple ideas will help your case, as you might be able to establish the superiority of your idea. However, introducing too many ideas can render analysis-paralysis and, ultimately, indecision.

For example, if your team is contemplating holding an off-site team-building event, and you all need to agree upon one destination, don’t make a list of a dozen places and then start offering pros and cons for each. Instead, do your research first and narrow down what you think are the two or three best destinations—and then only offer those as possible choices to your team. That way, it will be easier to settle on one prime destination.   

3. Don’t be afraid to focus on potential losses rather than potential gains

In 1979, behavioral economists Amos Tversky and Noble Laureate Daniel Kahneman coined the term “prospect theory,” which underpinned the idea of loss aversion—people are more motivated to avoid losses than they are to acquire gains.

As for how to use this to persuade others, say a client is more comfortable with the status quo and is not persuaded by your proposal that would increase their market share. But are they willing to lose market share? Maintaining the status quo and not increasing share might not motivate them to change, but the prospect of losing share if they don’t act is highly likely to motivate them. And, therefore, your “sales” pitch would focus on that.

Recipient of the Presidential Award from The White House, Vibhu Sinha is an intrapreneurial and bottom-line driven senior management professional with experience in leadership roles across banking and capital markets, advising institutional clients on corporate strategy, idea generation and pitching, financial planning and analysis, M&A, investor relations, and ESG. Vibhu developed his acumen in a master's degree program in Behavioral Psychology at Harvard University. He also earned an M.B.A. from UCLA Anderson.

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In management consulting, you’re expected to quickly get up to speed with a client’s market position, competitive advantages, financial standing, and overall business model. Clients pay top dollar for consultants, expecting them to offer meaningful insights and actionable plans.