The turnaround was drastic. In only a few moments, I had completely flip-flopped from staunch refusal and impassiveness to shoveling heaps of money from my pockets like a pooper scooper in a rodeo parade. With just a few clicks, I had relinquished thousands of dollars, never to be seen again.
That was how I became a member of the Earn1K program by Ramit Sethi (see his website). It’s an 8-week online course dedicated to assisting novice freelancers in identifying, developing, and marketing their services and ideas.
Sounds pretty cool, but I’ll admit, it was a bit spendy. What took an unsuspecting, 24-year-old male with minimal assets but a big heart from adamant opposition to buying without a second thought? Was it manipulation or simply genuine persuasion at its finest?
Robert Cialdini’s popular book titled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, discusses a number of persuasive techniques used by stereotypical salesmen of varying sleaziness. Ramit used several of these techniques to overcome my objections and beckon the bills from my wallet, like a Pied Piper playing a magic pipe that happens to attract wads of cash.
Before we explore these techniques, please note that I am absolutely not trying to bash Earn1K or Ramit’s authenticity. Also, this isn’t meant to be some glamorous “Aha! Caught you!” blog post exposing the scandalous use of basic everyday persuasion.
In truth, I am fascinated with sales and persuasion, and am tying together what I read with a recent real life scenario involving a masterful salesman in order to learn something.
Let the games begin!
Whether you’ve been faced by famine, drought, or the last doughnut in the office break room, you have felt the threat of scarcity. Think of that time. Perhaps you recall feeling some form of anxiety or fear of loss. Was it about money? A relationship? Time? Your reputation? An opportunity?
Oren Klaff, author of Pitch Anything, relates this to a time frame, which is a time constraint that pressures the prospect to act NOW or else lose the opportunity.
For example, starting a sales pitch with: “I can only be here 20 minutes. I’ve got another meeting to run to.” Bladow! Time constraint to the face! We see this everywhere, from weekend sales to countdown timers in infomercials – all aimed to pressure us into buying.
Here’s how Ramit threatened scarcity: he opened the Earn1K course sign-up window for only a few days. Anyone who missed the deadline would not be admitted into the course, with NO EXCEPTIONS. Not even for a billion billion dollars in quarters.
Ramit sent a promotional email each day for the entire week leading up to the program launch. One of these emails contained a short survey. The last two questions prompted the user to reflect on the near-future feelings and rewards of successfully using the program versus the consequences of not using it.
My mind immediately darted to something I had read about in Cialdini’s book – consistency. This is our natural inclination to be true to our word in order to appear trustworthy and honest.
Cialdini described how American POWs during the Korean War were slowly coerced into spreading propaganda against their own country and beliefs.
It started with small admissions of truisms about America: “Of course the U.S. isn’t entirely perfect. No country is.” Then, the prisoners made trivial admissions about how Communism may have some minor good points.
Next, the prisoner would be asked to write and sign this admission which would be displayed publicly. Eventually, prisoners were holding discussions or giving speeches that were sympathetic toward their enemies and the very beliefs they initially fought against!
To put it simply, the actions of the prisoners were driven by their need to be consistent to their written word.
Now I’m not saying Ramit is a communist brainwashing us into abandoning our own nationalistic beliefs and opinions – this was just an intriguing example I recalled on the topic.
But here’s how he used consistency:
In Ramit’s survey, I told him in my own words how it would be beneficial and smart for me to purchase his program, and how I’d miss out if I didn’t purchase it.
How could I back out now after saying myself how good it would be for me to join? I now had a commitment not only to him, but more importantly to myself to be true to what I said. I also imagined myself owning the product, which helps influence me to subconsciously identify as a buyer.
If I broke this consistency, I would either seem unreliable, dishonest, or idiotic.
“If we can force people to declare themselves publicly for something, we have usually also brought them to the point of declaring themselves for it privately.”
3. Minimizing Risk
The ol’ money-back guarantee – a remedy for dealing with penny pinchers, misers, and indecisive young chaps who aren’t used to handing out rolls of 100-dollar bills to smooth-talking strangers. Ramit offered an unprecedented 60-day money back guarantee to minimize the risk to anyone on the fringe of buying. Inconceivable! I could basically complete the entire course and get my money back.
Consider it sold.
As the saying goes, we always want what we can’t have.
Our brains are wired to seek the unattainable – a hard-won prize, not something that’s needy, desperate, and easy to get.
Simply put, prizing is like playing “hard to get” in the dating world.
In this case, you, the salesman, act like you are the prize and that your consumer should be seeking your approval rather than vice versa. You do this by telling prospects something like: “I’m selective about who I allow into the program. I don’t need your business. You may not qualify.”
This tends to make them want to prove you wrong, and soon they’re selling you on why they should buy.
In my case, after hearing about Ramit’s earth-shattering 60-day refund policy, I asked Ramit’s staff if I’d have to pass through a “brutal gauntlet of proofs and justification” in order to show the program didn’t work and if my refund request could be denied.
The paraphrased response: “If your first question is about refunds, then this course isn’t for you.”
Reread that last part: “…this course isn’t for you.”
I had been smacked hard by the haughty hand of self-righteousness. Not for me? What do you mean not for me!?
I thought I held a seat of authority. They had to sell themselves to me – to beg for my approval! Not the other way around! Instead I had been violently usurped from my pompous throne.
The effect: not only was the program exclusive, I was no longer the prize! I felt the natural urge to show I was indeed qualified to enter a private world of superior thinking where ambitious young freelancers set themselves up for success rather than anticipate failure.
The bottom line: whether you’re pitching an idea, selling a product, or prancing around the club looking for a date, neediness is a huge turn off and will make your customers flee to the hills. After all, if you’re popular, you don’t have to beg for friends; if you’re confident you don’t beg for validation; and if you’re doing well, you don’t beg for customers.
Instead, make yourself the prize and show you’re selective in your customers and they will fight to qualify to your standards.
5. Social Proof
Social proof is self-explanatory: testimonials, reviews, and recommendations from friends all show that other intelligent people like us are using the product with great success and satisfaction.
We naturally look at others similar to us in order to make difficult choices, especially in times of uncertainty or inexperience. When judging a new product or service, a positive review can go a long way in reeling in a new buyer.
Ramit used social proof by absolutely slathering his emails and posts with golden testimonials. This alone didn’t make me want to buy the program, but having a positive review or two (or 101 in this case) certainly helps if you’re on the brink of buying.
6. Law of Contrast
All of the previous sales tactics primed my buyer instincts. However, the law of contrast is what really prompted me to purchase.
My main objection was about the massive cost of the full program – or rather that I wasn’t sure of its value. I had been fretting about dropping a small fortune on an internet course by some personal development guru who I’d never met. I stared at the checkout page steeped in uncertainty when suddenly my heart leapt.
Listed just below the first lucrative product was a second option – the full course without some extra bonuses for less than half the price!
I felt a wave of relief – I didn’t care about those added bonuses anyway – and I purchased the second option with almost no hesitation.
This shows the power of the law of contrast.
My fear was attuned to the high starting cost but as soon as that threat was removed, or halved, my fear dissipated and I plunged forward into mindless consumption. Besides, the difference in the two options was negligible and not even something I cared about. In retrospect, if I had been presented with the second, “cheaper” option first – I may not have purchased it so lightheartedly.
7. Target Audience
This is not really a tactic, but it is a highly important factor in any sales campaign: being immeasurably familiar with your target audience.
What age are they? What do they do for fun? What do they want? What keeps them up at night? When are they home alone….
Without a target niche, your marketing will be too broad and will fall on deaf and uninterested ears.
Defining the target audience is a technique that Ramit has mastered. How do I know? Because he taught me about it through online courses! However, the real proof is in his advertisements.
Ramit’s promotion of the Earn1K program was dead accurate in terms of who I was, what I wanted, and what I had experienced in the past. He basically voiced all the thoughts and concerns I had like he had been watching me over the past few years and taking diligent notes….
Determining a target audience takes immense research. Suffice it to say that Ramit knew his audience, knew their pain and struggles, knew their desires and psychological triggers, and knew how to speak their language and get into their heads. All of this makes for a compelling sales pitch.
With all this in mind, I’m not saying that I bought Ramit’s program based on trickery. These ideas are all basic persuasion techniques and we all use and fall for them every day. To be honest, part of me wanted to be convinced to buy the product, and these techniques just helped win me over.
As the legendary sales trainer Grant Cardone says, people always experience self-doubt when making decisions. The object of the sales person is to help the customer through this self-doubt and into finding a solution to their problem.
- Scarcity: establishing a deadline for when the program closes and the opportunity is lost
- Consistency: having the prospect admit (in writing) the benefits of buying the program and the losses of not buying
- Minimizing Risk: a whoppin’ 60-day money-back guarantee
- Prizing: being selective in choosing our clients – you may not qualify
- Social Proof: showing the hundreds of other people like you who have done this and had good results!
- Law of Contrast: here’s the expensive, over-the-top program; now here’s the cheaper one
- Target audience: know your audience better than they know themselves
***To learn more about how to influence and persuade other people, check out Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini.***
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