The Negotiator Magazine

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The problem was, how could we run the biggest sale of the year, twice a week, year round. Soon, we'd lost all credibility with our customers. The salespeople would try to close a sale by saying, "Get it now, while it's on sale." Only to have the customer respond, "Yes, but you'll have another sale next week." You'll recall that Sears ran into the same problem. And eventually made the switch to year round low pricing.

There's a law of diminishing returns that's directly tied to diminishing credibility. Of course you have to be excited and enthusiastic in making your case, but the moment your claims pass the point of credibility, your chance of persuading them drops off abruptly. The principle of "never tell them more than you think they'll believe," may sound folksy and cute. But it's supported by a great deal of sound research.

For example, for decades, psychologists have conducted studies to determine the effectiveness of fear, as a persuasion tool. To their surprise, early studies indicted that people were just as persuaded by mild threats as they were by powerful threats. Curious, they continued to conduct studies that nearly always produced the same conclusion. Finally, they realized that fear is a powerful persuader, only up to the point where people feel genuinely threatened by it. The moment they begin to doubt that the threat is as great as it is being made out to be, the power of fear as a persuader diminishes.

So a fundamental rule for building credibility is, "Never tell them more than you think they'll believe." You may genuinely have a product or service that will far exceed their expectations. However, if you can't make them believe it, you're better off to temper your claims.

CREDIBILITY TIP 3: TELL THE TRUTH, EVEN IF IT HURTS

Some brilliant advertising people have taken advantage of this. Remember the old Volkswagen sedan, the round top one that didn't change design for twenty years or so? It was one of the ugliest cars ever made. Nor did it have any extra features about which an advertising person could brag. Only in later years did it even have a gas gauge: you could get so many miles per gallon of gas, that you simply drove it until it ran out. Then you switched to a small reserve tank, which was more than enough to get you to the next gas station.

When the Doyle, Dane, Bernbach Advertising Agency won this account they must have groaned! What could you say about the car? It only had two features. It was cheap to run and it was reliable-but everybody knew that. What more could they say about it? Then they hit upon a brilliant flash of inspiration. They decided to tell the truth! I can imagine every advertising person in America, coming off their chairs and saying, "You're going to what!!??"

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