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Robert Skrob: It’s All About Future Gain


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As selfish people, we are always thinking about what we want. We want our customers to complete surveys, to confirm their opt-ins and to upgrade their memberships.

Our customers are selfish people, too. While they may like us and may be willing to do us a favor, they are much more interested in doing themselves a favor.

Every time you need a favor from your customers, whether it’s completing a survey, RSVPing for an event or bringing in a completed form to facilitate your on-site event registration, you must always ask by telling them how the action will benefit them.

The survey is so you can provide training suited to their tastes. They are RSVPing to ensure there is a seat reserved for them. And they are printing and keeping up with their forms to speed up their time in the registration line on site. The fact that each of these may help you in your business is irrelevant; instead, always talk in terms of what your customer has to gain by doing these favors for you.

In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini says one of the triggers to influence people is reciprocity. If you give something of benefit to a person, even if they didn’t want it, they are more likely to give you what you want.

I tried this once with a survey I wanted my customers to complete. I emailed everyone a bonus report as a gift for completing the survey. It was a terrific bonus, and I got a lot of appreciative notes and positive comments about the gift. However, I received few completed surveys. There was no reason to, they already had the gift.

So I decided to tweak Cialdini’s theory of reciprocity. The next time I told my customers I’d give them the gift after they completed the survey, and I received 12 times more responses by withholding the gift than I did by giving it to them in advance. People are always motivated more by the prospect of future gain than they are by reciprocity for what they’ve already received.

I see this in the association world all the time. Associations will attempt to convince you to become a member based on the great breakthroughs they have already achieved. For instance, they’ll ask you to renew your membership for 2015 based on the great breakthrough law they got passed in 2014. That may be nice, but it’s not very compelling. Before members pay their dues for 2015, they want to know what they have to gain in 2015. Appreciation for past results isn’t enough to motivate them to get out their wallets and pay you money.

I’m always trying to figure out how I can word my request so it sounds like people are doing themselves a favor by giving me what I want. I recommend you try it. While finding the right words is often a challenge, it becomes a mindset that will serve you well. Everyone around you is more likely to give you what you want when they understand how it will benefit them.

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