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SALES PITCHES: DON’T LET SMOOTHIES CAPITALIZE UPON YOUR CIVILITY, SYMPATHY, FEAR OR SENSE OF OBLIGATION

SHARE SALES PITCHES: DON’T LET SMOOTHIES CAPITALIZE UPON YOUR CIVILITY, SYMPATHY, FEAR OR SENSE OF OBLIGATION

Robert B. Cialdini wrote his book about sleazy sales techniques to warn consumers to be on guard. Now he's frequently invited to speak to the people in charge of the selling.

The 43-year-old professor of psychology at Arizona State University in Tempe spent three years researching his book, "Influence: The New Psychology of Modern Persuasion." He became a used-car salesman, peddled products door-to-door, sold advertising, made "cold calls" on the telephone, learning all the sales pitches.He says he has a natural interest in the subject since he describes himself as a typical patsy for a sales pitch.

But he says he's not alone. He maintains that we are socialized in such a way that if someone gives us something for free, such as a Hare Krishna flower at an airport, we feel we must reciprocate in some way. Or, we are taught not to interrupt, so we subject ourselves to a long telephone pitch because we are too polite to just hang up.

Cialdini's research shows how the salesmen capitalize on these civilities without the consumer being aware.

In his own research, he found a fire safety sales pitch among the seamiest. The salesman would come in for a free inspection of a home and the lucky homeowner would receive a free fire extinguisher.

"First, the salesman would show pictures of burned children," he says. "It was just awful."

After the inspection, he would ask the homeowners to fill out a questionnaire while he went out to the car to get something.

"He would always say, `Stay seated. I'll let myself out and come back in.' That's very important. Think of it. Who do you let in and out of your house? Someone you trust. So the salesman has established himself as a trusted person by this simple technique."

Then came the pitch. It went something like, "Charles, do you think your wife and litte girl here are worth $2,000?" What other way can you answer that?

If the potential customer was still resistant, the salesman would ask permission to call his office and report he had failed at another sale, a failure he explains that might cost him his job. But then the front office, all part of the central plot, would explain that he could offer them the products for $500 less since his job was on the line.

Cialdini also took breathing lessons so he could make a pitch on the telephone without taking a breath, thus not allowing the other party to interject, "I'm not interested."

He regrets that consumer groups showed a lack of interest in his book, but he says the interest of corporate America changed his life.

He gets $3,500 per lecture, or $5,000 for half a day, but he's had to cut his speaking down to twice a month. He's back teaching psychology after a sabbatical.

Cialdini says he's pleased that the book did not turn him into a "pop psychologist" and that he did not lose academic standing because of it.

The book, published in 1984 and reissued as an academic text in 1988, outlines the six "triggers" people respond to in decision-making: authority, reciprocity, scarcity, commitment, consensus and liking.

In discussing the authority technique, Cialdini offers an ethical and unethical use.

If nine out of 10 doctors really did prefer a certain brand, that's one thing, he says. But it's something else to have an actor whom the public identifies with the physician he portrays endorsing a decaffeinated coffee.

Cialdini describes the difference as the "detective" approach and the "smuggler" approach. The detective approach is to find naturally hidden triggers in the product. The smuggler approach is to create them, such as the actor in a white doctor's coat endorsing a product.

Let's say you have spent about half an hour with a used-car salesman. Do you feel as though you like him? If the answer is yes, watch out. You are being manipulated. The question is whether the price on the car is a good deal.

That technique explains the success of such products as Tupperware, Avon and Mary Kay, he says. The seller of those products is likely to be a friend, or at least an acquaintance.

Let's say you are looking at a house to buy and your real estate agent becomes aware that another family is also interested. He tells you that someone else might get it. That is perfectly legitimate. He's acting in your best interest. However, in an unethical scenario, there is no other buyer out there, but the agent creates one to get you to put down a firm bid.

How do you know when it's real?

Unfortunately, often, you don't.

"That's why all salesmen tend to get tarred with the same brush and end up ranking down there below undertakers," Cialdini says.

"When I talk to business groups, the point I make is that they are going to do better in the long term by being ethical," he says. "Then they sit up and take notice."

He uses as an example a trusted mechanic who told him the repairs necessary on his car would be $45. The previous mechanic had estimated $500.

"He was very ethical and he now has me as a customer for life," Cialdini says.

Although he's back teaching now, Cialdini says that the research he put in on his book gave him one more advantage.

"I can say no a lot better now."