Author Archives: Jack Malcolm

Persuasive communication

Who Do They Think They Are? How to Make Persuasion Last

One of the key themes of Practical Eloquence is that it is far, far better to get people to do things for their own reasons than for yours.

You’ve heard the trite old saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for life.” It applies to persuasion as well as teaching. When you provide external incentives to get someone to change their behavior, it’s like giving them a fish. It’s easy to get people to do things to gain rewards or avoid punishments, but the desired behavior only lasts as long as you have the ability to a) monitor the behavior and b) furnish the necessary reward or punishment.  If you want to drive lasting behavior change, you’ve got to find ways to get people to do things for their own reasons, and the best way to do this is to use their sense of who they are to provide internal, long-lasting motivation.

I actually first learned this when I was 15, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was a member of the Jack Nelson Swim Club. Nelson had been an Olympic swimmer and Olympic coach, and was a legend in swimming circles. I wasn’t good enough to be coached directly by him, so when I was summoned to his office, I was terrified. I had been a smart-aleck and all-around pain in the rear to my coach and pretty much ignored his yelling and threats, but now I knew that I was in for it. I was already figuring out how I was going to tell my parents I had been thrown off the team.

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Unlocking the Value

In Part 2 of this series on dealing with the price objection, we saw that the first key to getting out of the commodity trap is to find points of differentiation and then connect those to customer benefits. Thus the two most important words in sales are: “SO WHAT?”

Suppose I say, “Our product is engineered to be the most reliable in the industry.” I might instead say, “This means that you know it’s going to work when you need it.”

Notice something subtle about that last paragraph. Thinking “so what” changed the pronoun from the first person to the second person. They don’t care about you—they care about themselves.

The next step is to get the right people in the customer’s organization to agree to the value. So, ask the next two critical selling words are: “HOW MUCH?” And, just as we saw that there are many ways to differentiate when you take a broad look at the offering, we will also see that there are many ways to assign value to these benefits.

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Book reviews - Presentations

Book Recommendation: Confessions of A Public Speaker by Scott Berkun

I resisted buying Confessions of A Public Speaker because I know how unglamorous the life of a speaker can be, and I didn’t think I could learn much from it.

I was wrong. Berkun grabbed my interest right away with Chapter 1: “I can’t see you naked” in which he demolishes that old bit of speaking advice and reassures the reader that you don’t need to be perfect to be successful.

In Chapters 5 and 6 he grabbed my respect when he stressed what I consider to be the two most important principles of successful speaking: clear thinking and practice. While these may be obvious, and as Berkun says: “…old ideas said well have surprising power in a world where everyone obsesses about what’s new.” Here are some of the old ideas said well:

“All good public speaking is based on good private thinking.” (p. 57)

“The more effort you put into the clarity of your points, pharmacy the easier everything else about public speaking becomes.” (p. 68)

“If you’re too lazy to practice, expect your audience to be too lazy to follow.” (p. 86)

“No matter how much you hate or love this book, you’re unlikely to be a good public speaker.” (He wisely saved this one for p. 140—his point is that it takes a ton of practice.)

As you can see from that last point, this book pulls no punches, and that’s what makes it a good read. In addition to these big ideas, there are also many useful tips for speaking in tough rooms, what to do when things go wrong, dealing with nerves, etc.

One caveat: keep in mind that CAPS focuses on public speaking, as opposed to internal presentations. There is a lot of good sense that will help you in any speaking situation, but you won’t find much about organizing your points for persuasive intent or about preparing for Q&A. What you will find is an entertaining and useful book.

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There Is No Such Thing As a Commodity

There is no such thing as a commodity. Whenever I make this statement in a classroom, it’s usually good for an argument, and I expect to start one with this article.

First, a couple of definitions: A commodity is an offering that is only differentiated by its price, so that customers would be silly to pay a penny more for one offering over another. The word offering is also important, because no product exists by itself—it’s always part of an offering. Offering comprises every possible aspect of the buying and ownership experience that will affect your customer.

We’ll begin with your offering. For the price your customer pays, they get much more than the physical product itself. That’s why even products that are physically indistinguishable can command price premiums. When is the last time you bought bottled water? You can get it as much as you want from a tap for about three-tenths of a cent per gallon, or you can drive to a store and pay up to $4-5 per gallon. Is it worth it? Apparently people are willing to pay for the “difference”: global bottled water sales are expected to top $86 billion in 2011, about equal to the GDP of Bulgaria.

People are willing to pay the difference because sellers tout differences in purity, taste, packaging, and image—even when those differences are undetectable in blind taste tests. If they can do it with water, you should have no problem.

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