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Creating More Sales Through Active Participation

By Kurt Mortensen,
the CEO of the Persuasion Institute in Orem,
a professor of public speaking and persuasion,
S. Orem UT, U.S.A.


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Kurt Mortensen photoPeople have an innate desire to feel wanted and needed. When you fulfill this need, you open the door to persuasion, a fact that has been proved beyond a doubt by records kept on industrial workers. Workers who have no voice whatsoever in management, who cannot make suggestions, or who are not allowed to express their ideas simply do not do as much work as workers who are encouraged to contribute. The same is true in families. Dr. Ruth Barbee said, "It is surprising how willingly a child will accept the final authority of the father, even if the decision goes against him, provided he has had a chance to voice his opinions, and make his suggestions, before the final decision is reached."

Store and mall owners understand the concept of participation. They attempt to get you participating by making eye contact with you, by arranging their stores to force you to spend more time in them, and by saying hello as you pass. When you shop for goods in Mexico, for example, the storeowner knows that if he can get you in the store and get you involved, there is a greater chance of persuasion and a purchase. As such he will make eye contact and do everything in his power to get you in the store. If you don’t go in the store, he might follow you for blocks, showing you his products and trying to get you to buy.

The amount of time one spends in a store is directly related to how much they will buy. The more time spent, the more money spent. For example, in an electronics store, non-buyers averaged about five minutes and six seconds shopping time while buyers averaged nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds in the store. In a toy store, the longest any non-buyer stayed was ten minutes, while shortest time spent for a buyer was just over seventeen minutes. In some cases, buyers stayed up to four times longer than non-buyers.

Many other arrangements are made by stores to persuade people to get interested and get involved. For example, hallways and walking paths at malls are made of hard marble or tiles. But the floors of individual stores are soft and carpeted -- encouraging you to stay longer. Have you ever noticed that it is easy to get disoriented in a mall you are unfamiliar with? Malls purposely design their structures with hexagonal floor plans, which are the most difficult to navigate: complicated hallways, confusing angles, and consistent temperature and lighting. The Mall of America in Minnesota, the largest mall in America, wants you to get lost -- you can walk forever and still not know exactly where you are.

This is also the reason why malls place department stores at opposite ends of each other. Department stores are draws, so for people to get from one to another, they will have to walk past every other store in the mall before they reach the opposite one. Grocery stores place their milk at the back of the store so customers have to walk through the rest of the store to grab a carton. All of these techniques increase the time that customers spend in the store. And as we know, increased time in a store means increased sales.

One technique to get your audience more involved is to use role-playing. This technique has proven to be effective in getting people to actually convince themselves of something. Role-playing is the single most powerful way to induce attitude change through vicarious experience. In essence, you are getting people to make up arguments against their own beliefs. Do you want to know just how powerful role-playing is? One experiment used role-playing to convince people to stop smoking. The subjects role-played cigarette smokers having x-rays, receiving news of lung cancer, and coughing with emphysema. When compared with a control group of smokers, those who role-played this situation were more likely to have quit than those who passively learned about lung cancer.

In another study, students were tested to see what types of persuasion techniques were most effective in delivering an anti-smoking message. One group was assigned to write, stage, and put on the presentation, while the other group was simply required to watch the presentation. As you might imagine, the group that was more involved in the presentation held more negative feelings about smoking than did the group who had just passively listened.

During World War II, the U.S. government had to ration traditional meats such as beef, chicken, and pork. However, Americans tend to be very picky about the meats they eat and often do not accept meat substitutes. The Committee on Food Habits was charged with overcoming the shortages of popular foods. How could they overcome the aversion to eating other meats?

Psychologist Kurt Lewin devised a program to persuade Americans to eat intestinal meats. Yes, your favorite -- intestinal meats. He set up an experiment with two groups of housewives. In one group, the housewives were lectured on the benefits of eating intestinal meats. Members of the committee emphasized to them how making the switch would help the war effort. The housewives also heard fervent testimonials and received recipes. The second group of housewives was led in a group discussion about how they could persuade other housewives to eat intestinal meat. This group covered the same main topics as the other group. Of the group that was more involved in "role-playing" and discussing the question of "how they would persuade and convince others to eat intestinal meats," 32 percent of the housewives went on to serve their families intestinal meats. This was compared to 3 percent of the first group.

Another way to get people to participate with you is to ask their opinions or advice. Simple phrases such as, "I need your help" "What is your opinion?" "What do you think about…?" "How could I do this?" "How would you do this?" "Do you think I am doing it right?" and "Do you have any ideas?" can immediately spark the interest of your listener.

Watch how another person brightens up when you ask for his or her advice. For example, if you ask your neighbor, "Frank, how about helping me fix my fence?" he will probably tell you he is busy and has plans for the next twelve weekends. But suppose you said, "Frank, I have a challenge with this fence that I can’t solve. I don’t know what I am doing wrong and can’t seem to get anywhere. I am not sure if I am doing it right or what to do next. Do you have ideas about how I could mend this fence? Could you come take a look?" You will see a marked difference in response between the first request and the second.

About the Author:

Everyone persuades for a living. Whether you’re a sales professional, an entrepreneur, or a stay at home parent, you must convince others to your way of thinking. Find out more at and get my free report "10 Costly Mistakes."

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