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Commitment and Consistency for Sales [Selling
Posted on May 27, 2013 @ 07:18:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I'm slowly making my way through Robert Cialdini's book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" (1984, Quill, New York). This is considered a classic book on sales techniques. Previously I discussed a chapter from that book about using Reciprocity for Sales. The next chapter in that book discusses using Commitment and Consistency for sales which is what I want to discuss today.

Cialdini argues that the principles of Commitment and Consistency are used when car sales people use the low-ball technique to make sales. The low-ball technique involves quoting a lower price than the actual sales price for a vehicle and letting the customer make up their mind to purchase based upon that price. This charade can go on right up to the point where final agreements are being signed. At a certain point, however, the sales person announces that a mistake has been made and that the actual price is higher than the low ball price (e.g., perhaps after returning from a final check with the "boss"). Or, the sales person might say that some critical feature is not part of the deal and that you have to pay extra to include that feature. In some cases the customer will be on to the ruse and will walk away from the deal, but often what happens is that the customer starts to build up other reasons as to why it is a good idea to buy the vehicle so that when the low-ball price is removed, they can cite other reasons why they were going to buy the car anyway. They retain consistency with their earlier decision to purchase based upon other reasons they generated once they decided to commit.

A similar example involves an energy conservation experiment in which interviewers called up people, gave them tips about how to conserve energy, and then asked them to conserve. They were also told that if they agreed to conserve their names would be published in the newspaper. This inducement had a big effect on their energy consumption one month later. Shortly after the first month they were told that their names would not be publicized after all. Nevertheless, when the experimenters examined their natural gas usage at the end of winter they observed that they actually conserved more fuel than they had when they thought their names were going to be publicized. So here we have another example where people are falsely induced into making a decision and when that inducement is removed, the people continue to act in ways consistent with their earlier decision. The people created other reasons for why the were being energy-conserving citizens beyond the original inducement so that when the inducement was removed, they had other reasons to act in an energy-conserving fashion.

When we make a commitment to act in a certain way we often generate a multitude of reasons to support why we are acting in that way. The pattern of behavior can be resilient against one of those supports disappearing because of our tendency to generate more than one reason for our behaviors. I'm not advocating that everyone go out and start using low-ball techniques to make sales as it strikes me as unethical in many ways (although it is used in car sales all the time). It does, however, illustrate in a particularly vivid way how the commitment and consistency principles can be used to influence behaviors in a big way. Less ethically questionable forms of the technique might involve asking people to enter a contest that involves saying why they like a particular product or service. This can induce them to eventually purchase the product or service or purchase more of it. Proctor and Gamble and General Foods ran contests where they solicited testimonials and awarded the person with the best testimonial a large prize. The primary purpose of these contests was to generate sales from those who submitted to the contest.

It is important to know about some of these sales principles to protect yourself from those who are effective at using them. Cialdini offers some suggestions about how to recognize and respond to those who would use these techniques to try to manipulate you into behaving in ways you might regret. I'd encourage you to read the book for much more detail about how commitment and consistency influence behavior in many other contexts than sales (e.g., winning over prisoners-of-war to getting children to behave in desired ways).

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