The art of persuasion and the fine line of deception

I have a dress in my closet that I bought while on holiday in San Diego a couple of years ago. It was a trendy shop in the heart of the city. I was in a shopping mood and wanted to buy something unique and a bit risqué. I spotted a short black dress with ruffles along the edges and skin tight. This was not my usual conservative garment. I wasn’t sure it looked all that great on me but when I emerged from the change room the sales girl went gaga over how terrific I looked. She even went so far as to say that she had seen many people try it on but it looked the best on me. Of course I was flattered and even though I didn’t really think I liked it or that it looked overly great I plunked down $500 and walked out. That dress is still hanging in my closet with the tag on it.

I suppose it would be easy to blame the sales girl for my purchase and think that she intentionally tried to deceive me. Maybe she was telling the truth and I did look stunning or maybe her salary was based on commissions and she needed to up her sales quota. Perhaps she knew that if she complimented me that I would be in a better mood and more likely to buy. Whatever her reason for telling me the dress looked great, I bought into it and thus bought and expensive dress that is hanging unworn in my closet.

It’s interesting the tactics people use to convince, persuade, coerce and deceive people in order to get them to buy. I am particularly intrigued by the foot in the door tactic which basically goes like this. You ask for something small, get them to agree to it then ask for something bigger. Here’s an example. About twenty years ago, I filled in a raffle ticket at a coffee shop to win a vacation to Las Vegas. I was extremely excited when I got the call saying that I had won the trip for two but not to Vegas, to Mexico which was even better. All I had to do to claim my prize was sit through a ninety minute timeshare presentation. They got their foot in the door with the free vacation and the bigger prize for them would have been the sale of a time share, which by the way I did purchase but that’s another story. I’m not the only one who has fallen for this type of persuasion. Has someone ever asked you to help them pack and then asked if you are free to actually help them move? Did you find yourself saying yes even though you probably wanted to say no?

Fitness clubs are notorious for using the foot in the door tactic. They offer free trials to entice new members into the club or a $10 a month deal on membership. Then they sit the prospect down and tell them that the $10.00 a month membership only applies if they want to use the washroom. If they actually want to use the club then they have to pay another fee and if they want to attend classes they pay yet another fee and if they want to come in during a specific time of day then they pay another fee. Before the poor member leaves they are bombarded with fees and their $10 a month membership is now $50, $60 or even $100. They were lured in with a small offer and then once they were through the door, sequestered into a small windowless office then got suckered in and felt obligated to buy even though they didn’t want to.

You may think I made that story up, well the bit about the $10 bathroom membership I admit is not true but the rest of it absolutely is. Of course we need to sell membership, personal training and other fee for service items, it’s the approach and the tactics used to persuade people that walk a fine line between persuasion and deception.

The door in the face approach is another favourite in the fitness industry. With this method you start with the highest possible price and then start working your way down until you arrive at the actual price you were hoping for anyway. For example, you may tell a prospect that a year membership is $1500 plus a $500 initiation fee. They also need to purchase twenty personal training sessions at $2000 otherwise they won’t get the results they want. They should attend classes to round out their program and the best option is to pay for unlimited access to spin, yoga and TRX but that will cost them another $500 year for a grand total of $4500. How would you like to pay? The prospect is most likely freaking out at this point and just before they walk out the door you cut the price in half saying that you could get in a lot of trouble if your manager found out but they seem like a nice person and you really want to see them get healthy and fit. Plus instead of paying it all upfront you can do monthly payments which would be easier and you will waive the $500 initiation fee so all they have to pay now is $2000.  They may still be hesitant but because the price dropped so significantly and it seems like you are doing them a favor they will likely sign up.

Do these tactics make you feel kind of queasy? Have you been asked to persuade people to buy in this fashion? Do you feel like you are walking a fine line between helping the customer to make an informed, lifestyle decision or deceiving them because your base salary is so low and you rely on commissions to eat? Or maybe you are being persuaded to use these tactics because there is pressure on you to sell in order to make your quotas for yourself, the team and the organization. How are you being persuaded, what tactics are being used on you and do you feel management is walking a fine line of deception?

One of the most popular workshops I’ve ever given and have since turned into an e-book is entitled, “How to Sell without Selling” and it’s popular because there are no tactics, ploys, deceptions or unethical persuasions. Instead the approach is people-centered and focusses on coaching, changing habits and lifestyle behaviors. Identifying obstacles both personal and professional and recommending services that compliment not only the individuals’ lifestyle but their actual budget and economic reality. It’s a softer approach and works with the client and does not badger, cajole or intimidate them into buying. It leaves the buying decision in the hands of the buyer where it belongs. People don’t want to be sold, they want to be educated and then make the decision for themselves.

The art of persuasion is helping people to make sound decisions that enhance the quality of their lives, physically, emotionally and financially with no deception.