Your ideas will never fly if you can’t move people to action
Imagine you are the CEO of a multinational company, and you are propositioned by a young founder to leave your position to join forces with their four-year-old company that started out of a garage.
If you are anything like me, the decision would be a no-brainer: Why roll the dice on a “maybe” when your reality was a sure thing?
This too was the initial thinking of John Sculley, former CEO of Pepsi, when faced with the exact circumstances stated above.
However, Sculley’s thinking immediately changed when the young founder gunned a knockout pitch that simultaneously hit both his heart and head:
“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
When we think about how to build success, most people think about grit, determination, and patience. And don’t get me wrong, these characteristics are indeed important.
But if you want to be successful in 2019, we must also learn how to be more persuasive. This is for the simple fact that no matter how great your ideas, if you cannot move other people to action, they will never fly.
To get you started on your journey to be more persuasive, below are a collection of persuasive phrases that have helped me time and time again during my twenty-year career in sales, communication, and career coaching.
However, before we jump into the list, I want to make one thing clear: If you want to be more persuasive, you cannot see “No” as the enemy. The most persuasive people do not lose a wink of sleep when it comes to being rejected. But what does keep them up at night are the “I don’t knows,” aka — the dreaded undecided.
That being said, the purpose of the list below, is not to help you move everyone to action. The purpose of the list below is to help you move the right people to action. The people who already have a spear in the closet and are eager to finally have a chance to throw it.
Let’s dig in.
1. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you about this proposal?”
This may sound basic, but just hear me out. Most likely, when asking someone how they feel about a proposal, you will get a safe answer. Most people’s instinct is to then follow up that answer with the standard: “What can we do to make it a 10?”
But instead of moving north, flip the script and ask them why they didn’t say a lower number.
According to Daniel Pink, the New York Times bestselling author on motivation and human behaviour, this fun little switch accomplishes two things.
First, by forcing the conversation to start positive, the person you are speaking with will begin to justify for themselves why they should indeed work with you: “Well, I do like the time-saving aspect of your product.” “Well, it will save us money.” “Well, the company you represent does have a great reputation.” All of which are much more effective than you listing out the positive characteristics of your proposal.
Secondly, by starting with the positive aspects, it will make it much easier for the person you are speaking with to lower their guard when it comes time to talk about what is holding them back from making a decision.
Like I alluded to in the intro, the biggest impediment to progress is indecision. This nice little turn of phrase works like magic to cut through this confusion.
2. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how close are you to making a decision, but you can’t say 7?”
Over the years, Tim Ferriss has graced us with a million and one nuggets of wisdom. But when it comes to persuading others, the question above may be the most valuable.
In the world of persuasion, seven signifies “Let me think about it,” which if you ask anyone in sales, the number seven, 99% of the time, is just a polite way of saying, “No.”
However, the question above forces people to give you an answer. By reading their body language, and listening to their tone of voice, you can easily tell if a six really means — “Not a chance.” Or if an eight really means — “You got me, but I need just one more push.”
So force people to give you an eight. Then ask them what needs to happen for it to be a ten.
Or force people to give you a six. Then steal a line from Daniel Pink and ask them why it wasn’t a lower number.
Both of these questions will help you to better understand what the joy and pain points are of the people you are speaking with, while giving you a gauge of how close or far away they really are from moving forward.
3. “Here is what most people do next.”
If you want to move people to action, no matter how much you may want to shake someone and say, “This is what you need to do,” you can’t.
However, the words, “Here is what most people do next” serve the same purpose. But are cushioned in much softer language.
By using these words you gently guide people into having to make a decision as to whether they will take the next step or not. Again, their body language and tone will tell you everything you need to know. Are they pausing? Are they keeping eye contact? The signs are everywhere as long as you pay attention and ask people where they truly stand.
On top of that, the words, “Here is what most people do next,” also serves two more benefits.
First, they provide safety in numbers. This is because it shows that other people have made the same decision in the past — and it worked out just fine for them.
Lastly, these words get people thinking about what they would miss if they passed on the opportunity, which according to Robert Cialdini, author of Influence and Pre-Suasion, motivates people much more than simply listing what they will gain.
4. “If I can do A, B, and C for you, will you move forward?”
This is a simple way to measure interest and better identify exactly what the person you are speaking with both wants and needs. I used this phrase every day for five years in my first sales job, and it worked like a charm.
After getting clear on exactly what the person in front of you is looking to accomplish, simply end your conversation with the words — “From the time we have spent together, I can tell that A, B, and C matter a great deal to you. If tomorrow when we talk we can accomplish these three things, will you move forward?”
This question is very hard to walk away from. As a result, out of courtesy, most people are going to say yes. Since most people don’t want to break their word, you can use this courtesy to your advantage and use it as a way to hold them accountable if they begin to get cold feet.
5. “How open are you to…?”
If you were to ask the people around you if they considered themselves open-minded or close-minded, what do you think they would say?
So when gauging the interest of someone, use this to your advantage. Ask the people that you want to persuade how open they are to trying new things or how open they are to getting started today.
If they say they are, shut up and break out the paperwork.
If they say they aren’t, ask them the following question that everyone wants to know the answer to, but few actually ask…
6. “What is stopping you from moving forward?”
Hands down the biggest impediment to getting things done is not knowing exactly why someone is not moving forward.
So save yourself the headache and just ask.
The sooner you know where people honestly stand, the sooner you can identify if there is a real possibility of them moving forward with you or not.
7. “I bet you are a bit like me and…”
The easiest way to get people to say “Yes” at the end of your proposal is by getting them to say “Yes” throughout the conversation.
The beauty of the words, “I bet you are a bit like me” is they accomplish just that, while framing the benefits of your proposal in a way that makes them envision using it — which can be extremely persuasive.
“I bet you are a bit like me and you like to try new things?”
“I bet you are a bit like me and have little time to waste, so you jump at the opportunity to try out a new process to speed things up?”
“I bet you are a bit like me and love to save money while reducing the headaches in your life?
All of these phrases are very difficult to say no to, and as your conversation progresses, can also be used to warm the water of your clients if you feel that their feet are starting to get cold.
8. “Take a second and imagine…”
There is a reason I began this article with the word imagine. This is because it tells you that a story is coming, and much like the words “Once upon a time…” they immediately grab people’s attention. This is for the simple fact that all of us love a good story.
Not only that, but like I alluded to in the point above, people never do things without first imagining themselves doing it. So use this to your advantage and use the power of storytelling to help them envision their life with or without your product or service.
Imagine the smile of your wife’s face when she opens this gift.
Imagine how happy your boss will be when he/she saw that you took the initiative.
9. “I’m not sure if this is for you.”
Most people do not like to be pressured into making decisions. The beauty of the words above is they immediately take the pressure off and put people at ease.
However, if the people you are speaking with are anything like me, the odds are high that as soon as they hear the words, “I’m not sure if this is for you,” they will be immediately intrigued.
“I am not sure if this product is for you, but is there anyone in your office who would be interested in learning more about our team building platform?”
“I am not sure if this course is for you, but do you know anyone who is interested in learning how to write more effective copy?”
“I am not sure if my services are for you, but do you know someone in your network who is looking to create more opportunities?”
These questions immediately get people’s attention. And if they are indeed looking to accomplish what your proposal provides, they are sure to respond with the words every person in sales (which is all of us) long to hear — “Tell me more.”
Pulling It All Together
Over the last twenty years, I have worked across three continents. The one thing common to all the successful people I have met is they’re like Steve Jobs—they know how to move people to action.
But they didn’t leave it to chance. They took courses on how to be more persuasive. They had coaches that taught them how to give persuasive presentations. They took sales jobs despite being scared to sell.
They collected persuasive phrases like the ones above that benefitted them, and more importantly, the people they were working with.
In short, they did the work. And they did the work because they understood that their future depends on their ability to persuade today.
Most people have good ideas. The problem is most people don’t know how to sell them. Imagine if you were one of the people who could? How would your life be different?
Persuasion is a skill. The question then becomes: are you someone who is going to learn it?