How to Win Clients and Influence People

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I wrote this piece for a 10-minute “instant training” session.

How to Win Clients and Influence People.


Words and how you use them can really affect your relationships with your clients.  Before you start writing or speaking, you need to answer a few questions:

  • What difficulty will your product solve for her?
  • What joy will it provide?
  • What disaster will it prevent?

If you’re prepared, you can answer these questions before the client has time to articulate them.  That makes him or her like you and, as Robert Cialdini, in his book “Influence, Science and Practice” says, liking is one of the 7 tools of persuasion.  They are:

1 Reciprocation

2 Commitment and consistency

3 Social Proof

4 Liking

5 Authority

6 Scarcity

7 Automaticity


I give you something, so you feel morally obliged to give something back.  We’re trained to it from birth and feel injured if someone doesn’t play the game.

In business, this is where all those samples, money-off coupons, product-based competitions and the like fit in; also the 30-day free trials, free add-ons or price reductions, and joint ventures.

What can you offer your clients to make them want to reciprocate and buy from you?  It needn’t be very big – a pen or a mouse-mat will start the ball rolling.

Commitment and Consistency:

Once someone has committed to a product or brand they will tend to go on buying it, because we like to think of ourselves as consistent.  If you can get a person to commit to buying even something small, you’re on to a winner.  They’ll come back later for other, bigger, products or services.

One commentator, referring to Harley Davidson fans, said “If you can persuade your customers to tattoo your name on their chests, you’ll probably never have to worry about them shifting brands.”  If you’re in the sort of business where people normally make written commitments, you’re in a really strong position.  If you’re not, you can create the situation: when you do a quote for someone, get their written commitment to go ahead with it.

The principle of commitment is also useful to prevent no-shows.  Peter Thomson, who runs business training courses, has his bookers ask delegates, “If for any reason you can’t make it, will you please let us know?” and wait for an answer.  Delegates reply “yes” and, having committed themselves, are much more likely to turn up.  One restaurateur who changed from “please tell us” to “will you please tell us?” saw his no-shows drop from 30% to 10% – a subtle difference, but very effective.

Social Proof:

We decide what’s right by seeing what others are doing: “OK, so it’s that knife and fork for the first course”, or “if he’s got one, it must be good” – provided he’s cool. Hence celebrity endorsements.

Social proof works particularly well with groups that are perhaps not too sure of themselves, like teenagers, and for people with information overload who need a quick way to make a decision.

Social proof is the principle behind canned laughter on TV; the pennies in the bottom of the busker’s guitar-case; advertiser’s claims of “best-selling”, “fastest-growing”; and enforced queues outside nightclubs.

When I ran a shop, in quiet moments I felt like paying someone to come in and pretend to browse: when people see even one other person doing something, they feel safer to do it themselves.  For restaurants, it might be worth giving off-duty staff a free meal on quiet nights: a few full tables make the place look much more welcoming.


It’s often said that people buy people.  Obviously they tend to “buy” financial advisors or architects more slowly that ice-cream vendors, due to the element of trust involved in big-money transactions.

Creating liking is also important for web pages, blogs, and all your other sales materials.  If you can talk or write to the customer in their style, about their concerns, and show that you understand them, they are far more likely to buy from you.

So, for instance, you might say to a customer who’s been looking at a diamond ring in your shop for the past 10 minutes but hasn’t shown any buying signals: “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?  But most people look at the price and it frightens them – it’s a lot of money up-front.”  You’ve picked up on her concern and can start to talk about payment terms without her having to mention money, which makes her feel you understand her and start to like you.

Liking is the principle behind Tupperware/Anne Summers/candle parties; phone companies use the same idea, offering free or cheap rates to customers’ friends if they sign up to the same company.

Appearance comes under Liking – we tend to like people who are similar to ourselves, so we’re more inclined to buy from people of the same age-group or dressed comparably.

Similarity extends to hobbies, origin and so on.  Car sales staff are trained to notice things like sports equipment in people’s cars and comment on their own love of golf or squash or whatever, or to ask questions like “Your accent’s not local – where do you come from originally?” and then, surprise, surprise, discover that their wife/husband/auntie came from there too, or they went on holiday there last year.


is similar to social proof but using recognised experts to plug your product.  So you’ll see plugs from famous authors on book-jackets, or the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes promoting foul-weather clothing.  If you can present yourself as the expert no-one will argue.

A study in America showed that people unconsciously changed their speech patterns to reflect those of individuals in positions of authority – so if your clients start reflecting your speech patterns, you’ll know you’ve got them.  Speech demonstrates authority, which is probably why lots of politicians take elocution lessons – the “better” the accent the more power you’re seen as having, even now.  The same goes for clothes (would you trust a financial expert in scruffy jeans over one in a hand-made suit?), cars, and addresses.


“The only one of its kind”, “buy now while stocks last!”, “offer ends Thursday” or “price rise due on March 1st”.  This goes right back to prehistoric times, when scarcity could mean starvation.  We’re hot-wired to respond to it.  Fear of loss is one of the strongest pushes to action.

If things really are scarce, perceived value and price can both rise (diamonds, oil).  You’ll have noticed that every Christmas there’s one must-have kid’s toy that’s in very short supply, and people will pay well over the odds for it.  It’s engineered by the manufacturers, who spend millions advertising the toy, and then sell the “last few” on eBay for vastly inflated prices.

Then there’s the phenomenon of the boyfriend who becomes much more desirable when a teenager’s parents tell her they don’t approve of him, or the books that were “must-reads” in Soviet Russia because they were banned.  Procter & Gamble in the US discovered that only 2% of money-off coupons were ever used, so they tried selling products without them, reducing the price to what it would have been if the coupon had been used.  Customers revolted and P&G had to backtrack – people resented having something taken away, even though they never used the coupons. People really want what they can’t have.


the “instant decision” that shortcuts through all the information we’re bombarded with daily.  We get gut reactions to people or to things we read or hear, we do things we’ve done before in similar circumstances, we go to favourite restaurants or holiday spots rather than try new ones.  We play safe because we have too many choices coming at us from all sides.

So do our clients.  So if we can make them come to us in the first place, they’re more likely to stick with us because it’s the easy, safe option.  And the best way to ensure that they do is to use one or more of the other six principles of Influence.

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