On Ways to Persuade Others to Act

How do you get groups of people to take non-sales related actions? Is it a matter of using a catchy graphic or video to tell them what to do? Or interrupting them while they are doing something else? Or applying pressure with multiple reminders?

Sales and marketing professionals aren’t confused: persuasive messaging is required to sell products and services. However, if you aren’t a salesperson and you need to persuade a group of individuals to take a certain action, what skills should you employ?

Perhaps you even hate to use the word “sales” in reference to what you are trying to accomplish. But the task remains daunting: you must still say or write stuff that causes people to act. Whether they are employees, peers, board members, customers, the public or another stakeholder, where do you start?

In my column of November 17, 2019, I offered a solution. Begin by analyzing the “Unmet Needs” of individuals in the target group you are trying to influence. When their needs aren’t being met, people’s typical response is to co-opt a low-quality substitute into playing a “better-than-nothing” role. 

However, knowing these needs is just the beginning. The fact is, we live in a world of distracting messages and influences. Whether cash payments are involved or not, you must compete against these distractions for your subject’s time. Even your free offerings need to displace Facebook, Netflix and the news in order to be effective, going up against the millions those entities spend to get attention.

If you are willing to win the battle, I suggest a four-step framework from Michel Fortin, the experienced copywriter. For example, let’s assume that you are trying to arrange a Neighborhood Watch meeting for your community.

Step 1 – Enumerate the Features
These are elements that make your event attractive. They are factual: visible to the naked eye, incontrovertible and distinct. Make a list of these features such as: “The meeting is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 4pm” or “The nice policeman who drops in occasionally will be there.”

Step 2 – Detail the Advantages
Each of the features you listed can do something that makes your product special. In other words, it provides an advantage. To craft them quickly, simply add “so that” to the end of each feature, and then complete the sentence. For example, “We have scheduled the meeting for Sunday afternoon so that everyone can attend.”

Step 3 – Compile the Motives of Your Prospects
These are the deep psychological drivers, motivations inherent in your targets’ minds. As such, they lie dormant even before the prospect is aware of your solution. You may find these within the Unmet Needs, and they should help you understand why they will take action.
For example, your targets may have a “Hassle-Free” motive for the meeting. Therefore, avoiding the busier days of the week should help.
Continue mapping motives to advantages until the list has been exhausted.

Step 4 – Craft Benefits
The final and most important step is to develop benefit statements you can use in your verbal, written or visual messages. These are practical outcomes which occur when features, advantages and motives are combined to produce a meaningful result. I use the phrase “which means” as a prompt.

For example, “The meeting is on Sunday so that everyone can attend, which means that we can finally come together to plan detailed strategies to protect each and every unit from the thieves living across the gully.”

In benefit statements, I often describe what will happen if the action I want fails to be realised. In the example above, I’m trying to imply that those neighbors who miss the meeting are putting their homes at risk.

When these statements are stacked together, the end-product can be quite persuasive. It should be. After all, it began with your prospect’s Unmet Needs.

However, many individuals don’t want to exert the time and effort to do such rigorous thinking. “De people dem fi know dem need fi come a di meeting” is used as a reason to avoid the hard pre-work needed to craft convincing statements. In the minds of those who are already persuaded, all that’s necessary is a nice, simple flyer.

Unfortunately, most flyers include little more than a list of features; hardly enough to produce the desired result. In a world of relentless demands on our time punctuated by rude surprises, that approach won’t do.  Don’t arrogantly assume your targets should know better and complain when they refuse to comply. Instead, plant the seeds of your success from the start by doing the in-depth work required to convert unmet needs into action. 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To search prior columns on productivity, strategy, engagement and business processes,  send email to [email protected]

How to Reward Your Employees Effectively

Could you make a mistake and offer the wrong gift to employees during the holiday season? What if it’s based on outdated assumptions that do more harm than good? Here are some findings from recent research to ensure your organization makes the most of the occasion.

The season for giving gifts to staff is fast approaching and, right now, someone in your company is making an important decision. What gifts should workers receive? It may seem like a small-time concern, but take a closer look: it’s tied up with management’s idea about what motivates employees.

In some years, managers get this wrong, thereby amusing or even insulting staff with their choice of gifts. In others they get it perfectly right, and it resonates in a way that lifts morale and engagement. What can you learn about employee motivation that results, at the very least, in doing no harm?

The big finding is that there’s a huge paradox at play:  the story employees tell their managers about gifts just isn’t true. To wit, when surveyed, most staff members say they prefer cash rewards. With regards to money, most respond with a knee-jerk, cultural reaction – of course they “want more of it”, as soon as possible.

 However, when employee performance is measured after the fact, cash turns out to be less effective in changing behavior than verbal praise or other visible rewards.

Why is that?

I believe that, when surveyed, employees are literally reporting what they should want, rather than what actually produces higher performance. This is especially true for complex or creative work which can’t be quantified easily.

In fact, monetary awards undermine intrinsic motivation in these situations in a phenomenon called “crowding out.” It implies that staff becomes distracted by the money, focusing away from the job at hand. This ruins quality and productivity.

Part of the reason this happens is that raw cash, when rewarded, offers only a temporary spark. In no time, it devolves into a commodity to be traded for ordinary goods and services such as JPS, NWC, rent and phone bills.

However, this isn’t true for other kinds of gifts which have more staying power. Here are some examples and the reasons why they perform better than one-time cash rewards.

1. Luxury Items

These are identified as goods and services which the recipient wouldn’t purchase for him/herself. Apparently, the fact that the gift is a luxury allows an additional level of indulgence. After all, once a reward has been given, it cannot be returned. Instead, it must be consumed and enjoyed which prolongs its effective life, even after completion.

In addition, the luxury gift grants permission to the recipient to partake in an “impractical” expenditure which takes them outside habitual behavior. This heightens the experience, usually increasing a sense of gratitude.

However, one-size-doesn’t-fit-all. Each person has their own ideas about what’s special. Choosing the right gift means knowing something about their personality and making a proper match.

2. Hedonic

Another element which augments the effect of a reward is an intention for it to generate positive emotions. In particular, in the workplace it could evoke feelings of being “included, appreciated, invested in and feeling valued.” This is so important that some researchers have attributed 80% of voluntary attrition to a lack of recognition by employers, echoing similar studies performed here in Jamaica.

In this context, sometimes the most meaningful rewards have no real tangible component whatsoever. Instead, they hit other emotional chords which are more powerful. For example, the words spoken when the gift is given should be accurate and specific, focusing on the unique contribution. This increases the impact.

3. Social

Finally, it’s also best if the reward is public, so that others can honor the individual. 
Furthermore, try to choose something that’s perishable, such as a physical object; not a dinner for two.

Such visible rewards keep doing their job long after the event is over and can continue to be a talking point. Its line of sight reminds people of the reason the gift was given and continues to honor the recipient.

Too many companies treat their employees as if they are simpletons who just want more money or food (e.g. Christmas cake and Easter bun). It’s a not-too-subtle form of classism which needs to be traded in.

But don’t stop at changing the gift you give. Examine the underlying theory managers harbor about the motivations of their staff. Challenging this old thinking may avoid a problem this holiday season.