Company Doctor: Tips to make your customers like you

Welcome to the world of sleuths, smugglers and bunglers. This is not a mystical world, but one in which we operate each day. These are not characters in a Harry Potter novel, but roles we play in everyday transactions with our clients and peers.

Sometimes we are bunglers and fumble away or don’t recognize potential influence opportunities. Many times we are smugglers who dishonestly import the principles of persuasion into situations that they don’t belong when dealing with existing or prospective clients. Some of us are sleuths, those who inform people into change by uncovering and using only principles that naturally exist in a given situation.

We don’t want to be bunglers and smugglers, but sleuths. These concepts were first addressed by Robert B. Cialdini, a local social psychologist from Bay View in his book, “Influence, Science & Practice.” In order to be a successful sleuth you have to learn to incorporate the strategy of “informing people into change” in your business dealings. He found that people like individuals who are like them. Praise produces liking. We like those who like us and say so. Liking is activated by similarity, praise and cooperation and is amplified by liking those around you.

If we can introduce the three principles of (a) similarity; (b) compliments; and (c) cooperation into your daily interactions with clients, we would see a difference in our ability to influence their actions and decisions. I would guess that in many cases you are already utilizing a number of these strategies. In defining each of the strategies below I will provide you with examples you can use to be a sleuth in your interactions with your clients and peers.


We like people who are similar to us. You can increase your ability to be liked by appearing similar to your client. One way to increase similarity is by exploring and noting how your background and interests are similar to your clients. Many sales training programs now urge trainees to “mirror and match” the clients’ body posture, mood, and verbal style. Sleuths value informal conversation because it allows one to search for and comment on areas of similarity.


As humans we are phenomenal suckers for flattery. A new car salesperson will flatter you when you come into the showroom by saying, “you would look great behind the wheel of this car” or a clothing salesperson would say, “you would look terrific in that ensemble.” The ability to generate a higher level of liking leads to greater social influence. Praise produces liking, we like those who like us and say so. The sleuth looks for and comments upon at least one genuinely praiseworthy feature of another individual before proceeding.


It’s not surprising that most successful professional negotiators spend 400 percent more time searching for shared interests and goals than their less successful counterparts. As stressed by Ury in “Getting to Yes” they seek out that “yes able” interest or goal that will build the momentum permitting the negotiation to go forward in a positive manner.

Cialdini demonstrated in his research that we most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. We can use a charity auction to serve as an example of the application of his principles. The strength of the social bond is twice as likely to determine product purchase, as is the preference for the product itself. The “friendship principle” is activated by the fact that the person hosting the charity affair has been asked to invite friends to this event. The development professional who is a sleuth uses the following three principles to increase the number of and value of auction items purchased.

Reciprocity. Food, entertainment and success stories before the bidding begins are used to establish the feeling that the participants need to respond in a positive manner to a request to bid on an item. In addition, the fact that you are among a socially selective group will enhance your self-esteem and make you more apt to behave in a positive manner during the auction.

Commitment. Participants are urged to share publicly experiences that they have had with the organization and its clients. This technique provides personal endorsements to the others attending the auction, which reinforces the positive aspects of participating in the auction and supporting the cause. These success stories personalize the issues being discussed and provide support for participating in the process.

Social proof. Each bid builds the idea that other similar people want the products or services being offered and builds the momentum. As one participant at the auction bids on a product, other participants decide that they should also bid on other products. As a result the amount of money bid increases as more participants get involved. In many cases items sell for more than their market value, because the bidding becomes a battle of wits. The winners will use the fact that the money goes to a good cause to rationalize the fact that they may have overpaid for items.

These same principles can be used in your business dealings with existing and potential clients. As a sleuth you could invite a potential client to join you at a social function where you will be able to introduce him or her to major players in the political or business community. The principle of reciprocity will come into play, when they invite you to meet members of their community. Your network will now be expanded and you can begin to look for that common denominator that will permit you to gain commitment to a course of action. As you both participate in similar activities, golf, tennis, eating clubs, chamber meetings, you activate the friendship principle and strengthen the social bond. Because this principle has been activated, the individual will find you more likeable and be more apt to say yes to a request to start a business relationship.

This whole process is similar to the “building up” that takes place in negotiations with members of the Pacific Rim business communities. There is a great deal of effort put into building a relationship of trust and mutual respect, before any business agreement can be concluded. In many ways western businessman found this process too time consuming and were impatient with the approach. So much of what we do in business is reflective of our own culture and values. By activating the friendship principle and operating as sleuths we have the opportunity to develop an appreciation for other cultures and their approaches to doing business.


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