Have you ever thought about what it takes to sell a product successfully to potential customers? Well obviously, in order to make a sale, salespeople often have to make the product appealing to the eye of the customer not just by describing its benefits but also persuading the customer that purchasing that particular product would definitely be worth their while.

Now when we say that a salesperson must make the product appealing to the eye of the customer in order to make a sale, it does not involve ‘tricking’ the customer into making a purchase; instead, it refers to the fact that the salesperson must make use of the persuasion technique to convince the customer.

You must be thinking about how you can also use the science of persuasion to become a successful entrepreneur or marketer; so here is everything you must know about the science of persuasion in order to master it.

Using the Science of Persuasion to Become a Successful Entrepreneur

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In this article, we will learn 1) the principles derived from the science of persuasion that help doing business as well as 2) essential persuasion techniques that are used in fundraising and commercial advertising.


An American Psychologist at the Arizona State University named Robert Cialdini was the brilliant mind that came up with the key principles of persuasion. He wrote a book in which all the key principles were discussed in detail, ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ in 1984. Till date, Robert Cialdini’s book on persuasion is considered a bible that every marketing expert reads at least once before designing a persuasive marketing strategy.

According to Professor Cialdini, it neither takes luck nor magic to influence someone. In fact, there is a whole science to it based on the six universal principles that can be used to influence people easily and effectively. If you ask most people, they cannot exactly explain how and why they made a decision to buy a particular product.

But over a period of thorough research done for almost 30 years, Robert Cialdini proposed six different steps that may be implemented in a marketing strategy to influence the thought process of the potential customers. The six universal principles of persuasion are reciprocity, consistency, and social proof, display of authority, likeability and scarcity.

Till date, Cialdini’s book has been listed on the list of Business Bestsellers List of New York Times and has landed a spot on the list of 75 Smartest Business Books list by Fortune Magazine. This brilliant marketing psychology masterpiece has been translated into more than 26 different languages and has sold more than 200 million copies over the years.

If you are still not sure where the science of persuasion can be applied, here is what you need to know. Anyone from an entrepreneur to a salesman to recruiters, marketers, advertisers and fundraisers implement the persuasion technique to convince people without making any faulty promises. Take a look at the detailed explanation on each of the six different principles of persuasion and how they are helpful in running a successful business. However, it is important to understand that using these principles for selling shoddy goods unethically may backfire and result in a huge loss. So, entrepreneurs must always use this influence technique while upholding all the tenets of good business ethics.

#1: Reciprocity

Humans have a tendency to return favors, repay debts and treat other people on the basis of how well they treat them. The idea of reciprocity is simple yet profound for it explains how we would want to offer discounts and concessions to others if they offered them to use in the first place. The reason why we tend to behave this way is because humans feel uncomfortable knowing that they are indebted to someone. For instance, if one of your coworkers assists you in completing a difficult task that you otherwise would not be able to do on your own, you automatically want to help them the next time around when your coworker is in a similar situation.

Similarly, in the world of marketing, it is believed that distributing free samples, information or simply making your customers feel valued is important because it makes them want to reciprocate by building a positive association with your brand in their mind.

A 2005 experiment was carried out by a social scientist named Randy Garner, who tried to get people to respond to a survey simply by using sticky notes. One-third of the respondents to the survey received a handwritten sticky note that requested them to complete the survey while the second group of respondents got a blank sticky note, and the third group received nothing. The results showed how a thing as insignificant as a handwritten sticky note had the power to make the highest percentage of respondents to complete the survey with a response rate of 69%. While only 34%, respondents made an effort to fill out the survey without receiving a sticky note.

The principle of reciprocation, therefore, has a significant impact on the psyche of the potential customers. If they receive a free sample or an unexpected gift, they are more likely to listen to what benefits the product offers or donate generously to a cause. The gift may not be pricey, but the impact that it will leave on the minds of the customers will be far greater than the price of the gifts given.

#2: Consistency

According to Prof. Cialdini, we crave consistency in everything we do; especially our commitments. This is one of the reasons why we feel more inclined to fulfill our commitments once we have made a verbal or written agreement. Prof. Cialdini believes that humans strive to remain consistent with their commitments while keeping in mind pre-existing values, attitudes, and actions.

In 1987, an experiment was carried out on the Election Day – Eve where potential voters were asked if they would vote or not and to provide reasons for their decision, by a social scientist named Anthony Greenwald. 100% potential voters said that they would cast their vote, but that was not the case when the Election Day arrived. 86.7% potential voters went to their respective polling stations while only 61.5% of those who were not asked went to cast their votes; thus showing how consistency affects our decisions.

Since people strive to remain true to their word, marketers can make sure that the customers follow through with a purchase or any required action by having them commit to it. Once coworkers or customers commit to doing something publicly, there are higher chances of them fulfilling their commitments.

However, using the principle of consistency is not a piece of cake, and there are certain technicalities that one must fully understand. For instance, in order to get a higher response rate from your target audience, it is important to have people say ‘Yes’. For instance, never say something like ‘Please call if you are not able to come’ instead, ask a question to which you can have them respond to in the affirmative like ‘Will you please call if you have to cancel?’ The answer to this question will automatically be ‘Yes’ and so, you will have them more powerfully committed to an action.

Another important consideration that you must look into when applying this principle practically is that age plays an important role in how we value consistency. The older you get, the more inclined to are to keep your word; making it more difficult for older people to change.

This piece of information is very useful when designing marketing strategies for older customers in the corporate world. A 2005 study ‘Evidence of a Positive Relationship between Age and Preference for Consistency’ authored by Stephanie Brown showed that as you age, you become more ‘set’ in your ways and resist change.

The only solution to addressing this problem and making older customers more receptive to a new idea or product is to praise them for the ‘good’ decisions they have made in the past. Marketers must build links and connections between the values they hold close to their heart along with new purchases that are consistent with their values and preferences.

#3: Social Proof

We all believe in one thing – ‘safety in numbers’. We are more likely to work late if everyone in the office stays back. Social proof is how our decisions are affected by what others are doing. Whenever you are uncertain about making an important decision, you tend to look at what others are up to; this is how your decision is affected by the actions and decisions of your peers.

Cialdini believes that social proof is the very reason why laugh tracks exist in comedy shows. In order to test how people’s decisions are more likely to get influenced by what others are doing, Cialdini carried out an experiment with his colleagues. The experiment was simple – they tested four types of signs in order to gauge which sign would encourage most people to reuse towels during their stay at Arizona Hotel. The four signs stated the following:

  • Environmental reasons are what make visitors at Arizona Hotel reuse their towels.
  • A portion of the laundry would be donated by the hotel to support an environmental cause.
  • The hotel had already donated money to save the environment and encouraged visitors to help in supporting the environmental cause.
  • Most visitors reused their towels at least once when staying at Arizona Hotel.

The results showed that the fourth sign that stated ‘most visitors reuse their towels at least once when staying at Arizona Hotel’ influenced 48% of visitors to take a similar action and reuse their towels. This shows that we are more likely to comply with a request when we already know that others are doing it. This cost effective strategy helped Arizona Hotel in saving a significant amount of money each year.

Now this key element of social proof can easily be used by marketers when persuading new customers to make a purchase by using testimonials from satisfied customers. Once potential customers read testimonials from happy customers, there are higher chances of them becoming new customers themselves.

#4: Display of Authority

We feel a strong sense of security when we know that a product or service is endorsed by a highly qualified professional or expert in the field. For instance, pharmaceutical companies usually get their medicines endorsed by famous doctors, physicians, and surgeons in order to create a strong image of the brand and build credibility.

A psychologist named Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment in 1974 to test how authority affects our decision-making process. In the experiment, people were asked to shock victims whenever they gave wrong answers to certain questions asked. The ones who were responsible for shocking the victims were made to wear white lab coats to exhibit high level of authority. The participants said that the shocks given were increased 15 volts in terms of intensity each time the respondent gave a wrong answer. In reality, the shocks were only imaginary, and the respondents were only acting. As shocking the victims continued, the respondents faced high levels of discomfort until they finally screamed and demanded to be released.

It was found that surprisingly only two-thirds of the participants ignored the screams of their victims and inflicted a full dose of 450 volts. Milgram was of the opinion that the real culprits of this experiment were the participants who were unable to defy the orders of their boss who urged and directed them to perform their duties despite the physical and emotional pain caused by them.

In the world of business, marketers can build a strong image of their brands by having them endorsed by people of high authority in their respective fields. For instance, women are more likely to buy a cosmetic product of so and so brand if it is endorsed by a famous female celebrity.

#5: Likeability

According to observations and research done by Cialdini, likeability is another key element that affects our decisions greatly. People usually say ‘Yes’ to those whom they like or aspire to be like them. We also tend to favor those who are good looking and similar to us. Likability affects our decision-making process so much that even having the same name as someone may increase the chances of making a sale.

In 2005, Randy Garner conducted an experiment to see how we react to those around us who share certain similarities with us. The experiment involved sending surveys to people with a note signed by someone with a similar name to theirs. For instance, Robert Ames may receive a note from Bob James.

The result of the experiment was quite astounding. It showed that people were rather likely (56%) to fill out survey forms sent to them by someone with a similar sounding name. The question now remains, how can marketers use the principle of likeability to increase their sales by persuading their target audience effectively? The answer is simple; they can relate to the audience by reporting honestly how similar the people who are providing these products and services are to their target audience.

Marketers should stress on the fact that the people who have designed the products or services are well aware of the people’s preference, dislikes, challenges, and expectations.

#6: Scarcity

The principle of scarcity indicates that we tend to go for products that are available in a limited quantity in order to boast its uniqueness. For example, there are higher chances of you buying a product when you know it’s the last piece left or when you know the promotional offer is going to end soon.

Simply put, the less there is of something, the higher the value it is perceived to have. The principle of scarcity can also be applied in creating a foolproof marketing strategy by emphasizing the unique qualities a product has or the potential for a wasted opportunity when the product is not bought instead of just advertising the salient features of the product.


The science of persuasion is not limited to the business world only where you can apply the six techniques simply to ‘up’ the sales volume. In fact, it can be used effectively to raise funds for a cause or a new startup too. Here we have come up with considerations you must look into when raising funds keeping in mind the principles of persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

  • Reciprocity – Do not always try to get something out of the investor; try to give something of value in return too.
  • Social Proof – When an investor wants a huge chunk of equity in your business, do not take it lightly. Having a few investors on board will automatically bring in new investors.
  • Likeability – Always begin the first meeting by appreciating the opportunity given to you by the investor. Try to find something that you truly find admirable about your prospective investor.
  • Authority – When you meet your investors, establish your credential as soon as you can to create a credible image in the mind of the investor.

Now when it comes to persuasive ads, here are some key elements in which the science of persuasion is used.

  • A short, memorable, positive slogan;
  • A strong narrative story;
  • From what perspective the target audience sees the action;
  • The color psychology used the color scheme;
  • Who is given the power in the ad and who isn’t;
  • The subtext of the ad.

Worldwide ads that highlight success stories like that of Pantene are no accident. They are executed and created carefully by implementing the principles of persuasion in their commercials after thorough research. The four main persuasion principles are the endorsement, appeal to emotions, solutions, and character/storylines.

  • Appeal To Emotion – This technique focuses on eliciting positive associations with a brand by leveraging the power of emotions. Such ads stir up desirable emotions in the viewers and focus on nostalgia, security, happiness, relaxation, sadness, intimacy, etc.
  • Endorsements – Endorsements give an extra nudge to those potential customers who are still in limbo when it comes to making a purchase. Testimonials by people of authority or happy customers can make a world of a difference.
  • Characters/Storylines – Powerful storylines involving imaginary characters can be used to attract and engage the customers enough to recognize the benefits and advantages of using a certain product. Depictions and stories of the everyday lives of people also help in making customers interested.
  • Solutions – In our problem riddled world, solutions are more than welcome. By showing a positive relationship between a product and the problem it solves can easily make a product more attractive in the eyes of the customers and make them purchase it.

You now know the secret that has helped thousands of businesses reach the pinnacle of success – the science of persuasion. You too can reach out to your target audience more effectively by using the six principles of persuasion. However, you must never use the persuasion technique to deceive people and trick them into buying shoddy goods as it will bring down the credibility of your brands instantly and kill the pristine image of the company in the mind of the consumers.

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