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The Six Weapons of Influence

Are you struggling to sell your services?

Let’s face it: As business owners, we are always in sales, whether we want to admit to it or not. That means that we are pitching our services to potential clients, and we are hoping to make sales.

Persuading these prospective clients to say “yes” and sign a contract is key to our continued success. Knowing how to do so ethically (without making false promises or using some other underhanded tactic) can boost our sales and our business.

Learn how to influence and persuade others

If you have never heard of Dr. Robert Cialdini, you should get to know him. He has literally written the book (several, actually) on ethically influencing others to comply with our requests. “Influence: Science and Practice” is a short, fascinating read, and I highly recommend it.

Cialdini has researched the field of influence and persuasion for years, bringing results of fascinating social experiments and real-life evidence in the realms of psychology, sales, fundraising, advertising, cult behavior, and more.

The six weapons of influence are based on mental shortcuts or heuristics that people employ to get through life easily. These heuristics, over time, evolved to keep us safe (so that we can escape danger quickly).

And in today’s modern world, as we are bombarded with information from all directions, having these heuristics helps us navigate the inherent complexities.

The six weapons of influence identified by Cialdini are:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Let’s get into these weapons in some detail.

1. Reciprocation

We naturally try to repay in kind what someone else has done for us, because receiving a favor gives us a feeling of future obligation. Those of you who, like me, enjoy The Big Bang Theory, will remember Sheldon Cooper’s theory of gift giving when Penny announces she’s giving him a Christmas gift.

And let’s not forget religious organizations who used to accost airport travelers with a gift of a flower, only to ask for a donation afterward. Or how about receiving a small gift (address labels, branded pens, etc.) in the mail from charities asking for donations? This weapon applies to even uninvited first favors, and can compel the “giftee” to agree to a much larger act or gift  in return.

2. Commitment and Consistency

Most people have a profound desire to be and appear consistent in their words and deeds, for a variety of reasons. One such reason is that it’s highly valued by society.

Therefore, those who can secure an initial commitment from a prospect (even if it is to get them to say “yes” to a trivial request or question) often get them to agree to a much larger commitment at the end.

Even more so, if the “commitment” is in a public setting, the prospect will be unlikely to change their mind. Examples of prospects who fail to say “no” include dangerous and sometimes fatal initiation rites and hazing at school fraternities.

3. Social Proof

From laugh tracks on a sitcom that prompt the viewer to think it’s funny to “best-selling” ad claims to get us to buy the latest widget, we can be persuaded to do what other people are doing.

That’s why it is a good practice to “toot your horn” on your website and elsewhere with testimonials provided by satisfied clients, awards, degrees, and certifications. When prospective clients are cruising the Find-A-ProAdvisor site, those five-star ratings and testimonials will mean that these aren’t cold prospects; they have been pre-warmed.

4. Liking

We are more likely than not to say “yes” to someone we know and like. We are also more likely than not to say “yes” to someone we feel is like us. That’s why Tupperware parties have been successful for decades; we are invited by a friend, who gets commissions.

And, if someone is trying to sell to us and they identify some commonalities with us (growing up in the same area, being of similar age, having similar interests), they are more likely to get a sale. That’s why the small talk that precedes or accompanies a sales pitch is so important; the seller is looking to identify with the buyer.

The six weapons of influence are based on mental shortcuts or heuristics that people employ to get through life easily. These heuristics, over time, evolved to keep us safe (so that we can escape danger quickly).

5. Authority

Why are there celebrity and/or expert endorsements in advertising? That’s because people respect authority.

As a case in point, Cialdini refers to a 1974 experiment by Stanley Milgram at Yale University. In this experiment, participants were asked to shock “test subjects” when they gave wrong answers to questions. The participants were given instructions by the  “people in charge,” who wore white lab coats to support their positions of authority.

While the shocks delivered were not real, the “test subjects” pretended to receive very uncomfortable shocks up to 450 volts, screaming in agony and begging to be released. The unwitting participants doing the “shocking” couldn’t say no to the “people in charge,” despite the perceived pain they were causing. That’s because of their respect for authority.

You can use this weapon of influence ethically, with testimonials from recognized authorities, to persuade prospects to buy from you.

6. Scarcity

This weapon probably speaks to me the most. People want what they cannot have, or what is about to be withheld from them. Potential loss is a huge emotional motivator. Even though it is more prevalent in two-year-olds and teenagers, resistance to being told we cannot have something lasts a lifetime.

That’s because things that are difficult to attain are considered more valuable. Even more so, these scarce items are considered even more valuable when they are newly or recently scarce. In addition, we are drawn to scarce resources when we have to compete with others to get them. This sounds like a clichéd high-school tactic to get someone to notice you, but clearly it is based in sound psychology.

The Bottom Line and Beyond

One very interesting feature about this book is that, while Cialdini describes how each of these weapons of influence can be used, he also provides useful tips on how to defend ourselves against them.

From a later book of his, I understand that Cialdini has uncovered a seventh weapon of influence: Unity. It is somewhat related to the Liking weapon of influence, but with a slight twist.

Unity can involve influencing someone in your family or telling a prospect something, and adding that you would provide this same advice to your own family members (“I would advise my own children to do the same…”).

Esther Friedberg Karp is an internationally-renowned trainer, writer and speaker from Toronto, where she runs her QuickBooks consulting practice, EFK CompuBooks Inc. Consistently in Insightful Accountant’s Top 100 ProAdvisors, she has been named to the Top 10 twice. EFK CompuBooks Inc. Consistently in Insightful Accountant’s Top 100 ProAdvisors, she has been named to the Top 10 twice. 

A ProAdvisor in three countries, she has traveled the world with Intuit, spoken at QuickBooks Connect in San Jose and Toronto, among other places, and has written countless articles for Intuit Global.

Esther has been named one of the “Top 50 Women in Accounting,” a “Top 10 Influencer” in the Canadian Bookkeeping World, and is a repeat nominee for the “RBC Canadian Women’s Entrepreneur Awards.” She counts among her clients many international companies, as well as accounting professionals seeking her out on behalf of their own clients for her expertise in multi-currency and various countries’ editions of QuickBooks Desktop and Online.

She can be reached at or 416-410-0750.

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