Book Review: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

by Mr. Cheap

“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” is far and away the best sales / marketing book I’ve ever read. Truth be told, it’s close to the only sales / marketing book I’ve found to have been worth my time to read (off the top of my head the only other two I could name would be “Crossing the Chasm” and “Raving Fans” and this is far better than either of those). Rather than presenting information in “sales speak”, the author (Robert B. Cialdini) takes a very academic approach to how we persuade one another, providing the techniques themselves, examples of how they are used in the real world, how to counter them when they’re used on you, psychological experiments that have investigated the behaviour and anthropological justifications to why these are useful behaviours (that are often exploited for malicious purposes).

His original motivation for studying these behaviour was when he got tired of being taken advantage of everywhere he went. Finally, he decided to try to figure out why he, as a reasonably intelligent man, was so susceptible to sales pressures. He presents his ideas in the context of “learn what people are doing to try to exploit you so you won’t fall for it”.

At the very beginning he gives some examples from the animal kingdom where animals can be tricked into doing bizarre things. One experiment (by the animal behaviourist M. W. Fox) involved a mother turkey that would attack a stuffed polecat (a natural enemy of turkeys) if it was shown to her, but if they put a sound recorder inside it playing “cheep-cheep” noises, the mother would gather it underneath her and take care of it as if it was a baby turkey. Cialdini asserts that while we may laugh at this strange behaviour of turkeys, we have just as many “cheep-cheep” reactions to situations where we behave predictably irrationally.

Broadly he breaks the techniques into 7 groups: reciprocity (someone gives you something and you feel indebted to them), commitment and consistency (you feel you have to do what the person wants in order to be “true” to your previous behaviour), social proof (where a group believes something and it pressures you to agree with them), liking (when you do something for someone because you like them), authority (when you’re convinced someone is an expert and you should do what they tell you to), and scarcity (when we agree to something because we’re afraid of losing the deal).

I gave one example from this book in a previous post, where a supply of gemstones started selling much quicker after the store owner accidentally doubled their price. A friend of mine was recently talking about selling two used vehicles he has, and I suggested something Cialdini’s brother Richard used to do in college. He’d buy used cars, fix them up (and clean them thoroughly), then he’d advertise it for sale and line up the viewings at the same time. When each person came to view it, he’d tell them it’s theirs to buy if they want it. While the first buyer was humming and hawing and trying to haggle him down, the second buyer would show up. Robert would say to both buyers that he “had” to give the first buyers first opportunity to buy, since he was there first. Apparently buyers would become visibly agitated (both of them) at the prospect of losing the vehicle to the other. If the first buyer remained undecided, usually the arrival of a third buyer would be enough to push them over the edge.

I think EVERYONE in sales or marketing needs to read this book, and anyone who is a consumer should as well. Mrs. Pillars and I are both book lovers, and we’ve discussed home libraries. She couldn’t give her’s up, which I am very sympathetic to. However, after having lugged tons of books between multiple dwellings (I move quite often) I got sick of it and trimmed down my books to the bare necessities (now I give away books to friends after I read them). “Influence” is one of the few books that I keep in my trimmed down library (and have no intention of getting rid off).

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 anon

I’m just curious, what are some of the other books in your trimmed down library?

2 Four Pillars

I’ll definitely have to check this out – I’m one of those “suckers” who falls for various sales tricks.

3 Mr. Cheap

Anon: Thanks for your interest! I also keep “”The Pragmatic Programmer”, “Design Patterns” (aka “the gang of 4 book”), “The Alchemist” (it was a gift from a friend), and a number of John T. Reed books (unfortunately I’ve loaned a couple out and they weren’t returned – humph!).

Most other books I have will eventually find a new home.

4 Writer's Coin

This is a fantastic book. I did my senior thesis in high school on it and it was an eye-opening experience. There is no book like it!

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