Mastering persuasion: the five approaches

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Decision-makers can be divided into five categories, requiring different methods of persuasion.

It is always dangerous to generalize, and particularly so with client psychology. What good articles on the subject can do is provide a useful introduction to the subject. One particularly good article by Gary A. Williams and Robert B. Miller, titled ‘Change the way you persuade’ in theHarvard Business Review, does just that

Williams and Miller, who ran a US customer-research firm, interviewed 1,684 executives over a two year period, dividing them into five different types. Although the study took place over a decade ago, these different categories can still be easily recognised:
1. Charismatics (25 per cent of those studied)
The authors describe such people as “initially exuberant about a new idea or proposal but will yield a final decision based on a balanced set of information.” They advise you use clear results-orientated language to get them excited, but also present a balanced argument because charismatics may have had bad experiences in the past making impulsive decisions, which they will be worried about repeating.
2. Thinkers (11 per cent)
“Can exhibit contradictory points of view within a single meeting and need to cautiously work through all the options before coming to a decision”, according to Williams and Miller. You need to appeal to thinkers’ intelligence, by presenting them plain facts and not being too pushy, which could lead them to distrust you.
3. Skeptics (19 per cent)
This group, warn Williams and Miller “remain highly suspicious of data that doesn’t fit with their worldview and make decisions based on their gut feelings”. Such ‘strong personalities’ need to be handled with care, and you need to establish credibility quickly: an endorsement or referral by someone they trust is an obvious way to do this.

4. Followers (36 per cent)
“Make decisions based on how other trusted executives, or they themselves, have made similar decisions in the past”, argue the authors. They suggest you show followers your solid track record, and use language which emphasises reliability, without being too patronizing about it – no-one believes themself to be were a follower.
5. Controllers (9 per cent)
This final group “focus on the pure facts and analytics of a decision because of their own fears and uncertainties”. Controllers may also be the hardest to persuade. Williams and Miller conclude that “in practice, the only way to sell an idea to controllers is not to sell it.” Simply supply them with the information to let them convince themselves.

Read Williams and Miller’s full article on the Harvard Business Review’s website.

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