Using Persuasion in Your Business
Jul 04, 2007
by Lowell Lamberton of Central Oregon Community College
As an entrepreneur, you might think that you don’t really have to be all that persuasive. The problem is that many of us have too narrow a view of what it means to be persuasive. Everything that you communicate to a worker, supplier, or client is in some way an attempt at persuasion. You are persuading others (for example) to agree with your opinion or assessment, to accept the information you are giving them, to provide resources you need, or to buy your product or service.
The most basic principle of persuasion is to “do your homework” before beginning. That is, know the issue, product or service you are talking about. If it is a product or service, its best feature will become the one you focus on, as its selling point.. Doing your homework before writing a persuasive message also means knowing your audience. Who are the people who will be on the receiving end of your message?
What is their educational level? What are their beliefs, talents, prejudices? A reader who already knows a lot about a product or service you are selling, for example, does not need the same level of detail as someone else who is unfamiliar with it. Someone who has been on the job for years will not need the level of introduction to the topic that a new employee needs. Some readers place a high value on honesty and disclosure, and will want all the details of the message presented up front.
Other readers respond better when they are presented with reasons for the request first, leading up to the details of the request. Knowing such preferences will help you frame your request.
Here are some questions to ask before sending a persuasive message:
Is this a new idea or product to your reader? New ideas or products need to be presented in such a way that they catch the reader’s attention and build their interest in learning more. If the product or service is not new to the reader, remind them of its best features and tell them how it has been improved. Are the recipients of the message expecting to hear from you?
Is your audience expecting this request, or not? New persuasive messages that are expected and requested are usually received better than unexpected messages. For example, you are likely to read a brochure that you picked up about a vacation trip that interests you. You are much less likely to read a brochure you received in the mail that has nothing to do with your vacation plans.
How will your reader use this information? What action do you want him or her to take? Make your request clear, in terms the reader can understand. Consider different audience groups this message may be going out to, and select the reasons and explanations that will appeal to specific audiences. Make certain your instructions for taking action fit with your audience’s expectations and abilities.
Are you using a positive tone? About 70 years ago, well-known public speaker and business consultant Dale Carnegie suggested some simple steps to help businesspeople increase their success. In his best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People he told readers, for example, to smile and to take an interest in others. Research in social psychology over many years has supported Carnegie’s ideas.
We are drawn to others who are pleasant and enthusiastic and who show a genuine interest in us. It may sound odd to suggest that you can smile in a written persuasive message, but written persuasive messages can take a positive tone. A positive rather than a neutral or negative tone will be more likely to create a positive mood in the person reading the message. This makes readers more likely to accept your persuasive message.
Think about how others would react to a neutral or negative message compared with a positive message. Your readers will not likely respond in a favorable way to a message that says “Most of our customers are turned down for lower interest rate loans, but we might approve a loan for you.”
They will more likely keep reading a message that starts with a positive tone such as “We’ll get you the loan you need, with an interest rate you can afford.” Even a message with an identical meaning, worded in a positive or negative way, is received differently by its readers: “40 percent success rate” sounds much more optimistic than “60 percent failure rate,” yet they mean the same thing.
Write Are you emphasizing reader benefits? Keep the focus on the reader in the body of the message. A message such as “We’ve hired more customer service agents” does not tell your readers exactly how this change relates to them. It doesn’t show a “you-emphasis.” But changing the message to “Our increased customer service staff means a shorter waiting time for you” clearly focuses on the reader.
These are only a few tips that can help you be more effective in persuasive speaking and writing. Remember that persuasion is a daily part of your life as an entrepreneur. Use is carefully, and you will increase the quality of your business.
Lowell Lamberton is professor of business at Central Oregon Community College. For more information, contact Professor Lamberton at 383-7714 or at