We’ve all fallen for this sales technique (even though it’s so obvious)

Have you ever walked into a pharmacy, asked to buy a particular drug and the pharmacist or attendant brings you an overpriced brand of the drug you requested?

Stay with me now.

When you asked for a cheaper brand, did they bring you a slightly cheaper one, maybe about ₦200 — ₦500 cheaper than the price of the first one? Did you buy this cheaper one? If yes, then you’ve fallen for a technique called the reject-then-retreat technique.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone, it has happened to all of us. And I put it to you that there’s probably a cheaper brand than the one you bought that is just as effective but you never bothered to ask because you were grateful to have a cheaper option.

You’re probably thinking back to all the times you’ve been manipulated like this but never thought much of it even though it seems very obvious, in retrospect.

Well, what can I tell you? Our minds have been conditioned in certain ways by social constructs and more often than not, we can’t help it.

I know this because I’ve been reading a book titled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by American Professor of Psychology, Robert Cialdini. I’ve always been fascinated by human psychology but I’m reading this book because of my interest in marketing and selling to people — as my bio says: “aspiring Product Marketer.”

Full disclosure: I’m barely 15% into the book and I’m already fascinated by how the human mind is so easily manipulated and how “compliance professionals” wield so much power over lowly mortals like us.

Robert Cialdini explains the reject-then-retreat technique as a play on our social conditioning of reciprocity. You know how someone gives you something or does you a favour and you feel indebted to them whether or not you asked for this favour?

When you feel indebted to someone, you always want to pay back and sometimes, you pay way more than you were given. It’s not your fault — blame social conditioning.

Anyway, some people have mastered the science behind this conditioning and use it to their advantage. These are the people that the good Prof. refers to as compliance professionals. In the book, he gave an example of a Boy Scout who approached him to buy a $5 ticket.

“I was walking down the street when I was approached by an eleven- or twelve-year-old boy. He introduced himself and said that he was selling tickets to the annual Boy Scouts circus to be held on the upcoming Saturday night. He asked if I wished to buy any at five dollars apiece. Since one of the last places I wanted to spend Saturday evening was with the Boy Scouts, I declined. “Well,” he said, “if you don’t want to buy any tickets, how about buying some of our big chocolate bars? They’re only a dollar each.” I bought a couple and, right away, realized that something noteworthy had happened. I knew that to be the case because: (a) I do not like chocolate bars; (b) I do like dollars; © I was standing there with two of his chocolate bars; and (d) he was walking away with two of my dollars.”

Smart right? Yes, if you’re not holding chocolates you don’t want after parting ways with money you didn’t plan to spend. Maybe also if you’re an aspiring compliance professional like me.

This technique has many variations and ties well with other persuasion techniques that can help you sell anything to anybody. For example, there’s the larger-then-smaller request technique which works like this — I want you to give me ₦5,000 but I ask for ₦15,000 first which I know you’d say no to. But when you say no, I ask for N5,000 which you’re more likely to say yes to because it is a smaller request. I get the amount I really want; I win, you lose.

And there’s the contrast principlesee me throwing “techniques” and “principles” all over the place like some psychologist.

Anyway, the best way to explain the contrast principle is to look at the way estate agents operate — tactless Lagos agents left the building.

Prof. Cialdini explains how estate agents have a particular house they’d like you to buy or rent but show you ugly houses that they know you’d never take. So that when you finally see the one they want you to have, it looks better than it actually is because somehow, your brain compares it to the ones you’ve seen prior.

Or when you go into a fashion shop and end up buying an expensive dress. If the salespeople know what they’re doing, they’ll try to sell you a pair of earrings or shoes. And guess what? You’ll most likely buy these additional items because their prices pale in comparison to that of the dress.

And the crazy thing is that studies have shown that even though you see beneath these manipulations and lose trust for these people, many people fall for them. That’s gotta be good news if you’re a compliance professional.

As for the rest of you — sorry dears, I’m now a compliance professional — fight the power! You might not win but it’s worth the try.

Are you seeing all the things I’ve learnt from just 15% of a book? I know, it’s very exciting and I look forward to sharing more interesting lessons as I proceed.



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Startup founder || Half the time, I don’t know what I’m doing, the other half, I’m building two potentially successful startups || Obsessed with The Office.