A Surprising Rule For Winning Client Loyalty

The other day I stumbled across a surprising rule that could be applied to how you go about motivating your clients to buy, surprising in two ways. First, it comes from a book primarily on graphic design, not on sales, the book being Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Second, the principle itself is counterintuitive; at least, that is the way that I see it. The rule appears as the authors are describing cognitive dissonance in the context of marketing. The rule can dramatically affect how you present to people with the potential of becoming your long-term clients. I wish I had had this piece of information years ago.

Before offering the rule, the authors remind us that cognitive dissonance occurs when there is inconsistency among attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs, and that people work hard to alleviate such dissonance. There are at least four ways for a person to alleviate cognitive dissonance:

  1. Eliminate the dissonant idea from the mind
  2. Reduce the relative importance of the dissonant idea
  3. Add countervailing consonant ideas, diluting the dissonant idea
  4. Change the interpretation of the dissonant idea

Sales proposals and offers are often the source of dissonance in the minds of our prospects. The only time that this is not the case is when a prospect initiates a sales conversation. If a sales person initiates the conversation, then dissonance is a common occurrence in a prospect’s mind. A good salesperson will find a way to help her prospect alleviate the dissonance he feels. In the context of hoping to win a long-term client, the key alleviation strategy for insurance agents is strategy 4: changing the interpretation of the dissonant idea. Before getting to the quote, let me narrow the meaning of a couple of its key terms, unpleasant tasks and incentives. In the context of insurance sales, prospects generally find spending time, thought, and money on researching and purchasing insurance unpleasant, even though they often know it should be done. Incentives involve the things that a salesperson offers to facilitate the sale: the value of the product, a winning personality, education, financing, and so on.

Here is the quote that presents the rule:

When a situation involves incentives, it is interesting to note that incentives of different sizes yield different results. When incentives for an unpleasant task are small, people reduce dissonance by changing the dissonant cognition (e.g., “it is okay to perform this task because I like it”). When incentives for an unpleasant task are large, people reduce dissonance by adding a consonant cognition (e.g., “it is okay to perform this task because I am paid well”). When incentives are small, people are inclined to change the way they feel about what they are doing to alleviate dissonance. When incentives increase, people retain their original beliefs and alleviate dissonancy by justifying their participation with their compensation. A small incentive is usually required to get a person to consider an unpleasant thought or engage in an unpleasant activity. Any incentive beyond this small incentive reduces, not increases, the probability of changing attitudes and beliefs—this critical point is known as the point of minimum justification.

When I read this, I suddenly understood why I have been rejected more frequently than I care to admit despite my offering killer deals. My killer deals with their huge incentives solidified the dissonance felt by my prospects. I also understood why an initial killer sale did not turn into follow-up sales. In both cases, buyers had not changed their attitudes about the buying process, the product, or me as a salesperson. My presentations had allowed the dissonance to remain unchanged, or to change just briefly.

So, a good question to ask at this point is, “what constitutes a small incentive in an insurance sale?” Well, good sales people know a myriad of answers, but let me suggest a few to start your thinking, because, in the end, you have to decide what the small incentives are and how you will offer them.

  • Figure out how to genuinely like your prospects before you talk with them. If you can feel appreciation for them inside of youself, they will see it in your smile and hear it in your tone of voice. Better yet, they will reciprocate.
  • Find a story that has nothing to do with the sale and tell it to them in such a way that they enjoy listening. Everyone likes to hear a good story. Make sure that it has a good beginning, middle, and end. Work on the ending especially, so that you can transition easily to the reason for the visit. Such stories have to fit smoothly into many conversation topics and will have to skirt the thorny issues of the day.
  • Work on your presentation so that you can educate without sounding like a teacher. This takes quite a bit of work, especially if you are tightly regulated or if there is quite a bit of technical jargon to communicate. If you can figure it out, it will stand you in good stead.

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