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16 Principles of Influence in Sales

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Written by John Doerr
Co-Founder, RAIN Group

The following is expanded content from our new book Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. In this piece, co-authors Mike Schultz and John Doerr explain that to improve sales persuasion skills, the underlying components of influence must be understood and applied. Read more about the book here.


When I was 6 I wanted a basketball for my birthday. I didn’t ask my dad for it myself. I sent in the big gun: my sister Allyson.

I gave her the 411 on what I wanted and why, and we proceeded with a white board session where we mapped out all of the possible ways to get the decision makers to rule in our favor. (OK, as talented an 8 year old as Allyson was, maybe there was no white board. But we did talk about it, and she was a mean sidewalk chalk girl.)

Shortly thereafter, we green-lighted operation Cedric Maxwell.

A few hours later, the qualified decision maker (a.k.a. Dad) came to see me. As he tells me the story, he asked me why I sent my sister in to lobby for me.

My answer, "She's the better convincer."

I wish I could say something like, "Since that day I began a life journey to unearth, study, and master the principles of influence," but, as I recall, I was distracted that afternoon with the magical world of Shrinky Dinks.

I did, however, learn that I’m not a natural influencer or persuader. Some people, like dear ole sis, are. But not me.

When my career path landed me in business leadership and sales, I started to notice a number of other naturally talented "convincers" around me, but they were outnumbered quite a bit by folks more like me; I might have known what I wanted, and known I wanted to influence people and events, but I was no better than average at it.

Not being a natural at it, I did start researching and studying. Fast forward a few decades and insert a career pursuit of figuring out what top sales people do, and we (Rainmaking Conversations co-author Mike Schultz and I) discovered the best sales people consistently employ 16 specific principles of influence:

16 Principles of Influence in Sales

  1. Attention: Top sellers capture the attention of busy prospects. They are memorable in prospecting and in sales conversations. They break through the noise. They highlight their differentiation. You can't influence someone if they're focused on something else.
  2. Curiosity: Once you have someone's attention, the easiest thing to do is to lose it. Your goal is to pique and hold the prospect's curiosity. Curiosity is a powerful concept. People know what they have, but they want to know what they are missing. Give them the sense they might be missing something and they'll naturally want to know more.
  3. Desire: Desire is the gap between where someone is and where he wants to be. The more you can stoke someone's desire to change his reality, the more you’ll be able to influence him. When buyers start to see what's in it for them, they start to become emotionally involved in wanting whatever it is.
  4. Envy: Desire is powerful. Envy is desire with a turbo boost. If your prospect wants something they don't have, their desires will drive them. If they want something that other people have, their unhappiness will eat away at them until they get it.
  5. Emotional Journey: People forget what you tell them, but they remember how they feel. Top entrepreneurs and sales people take prospects on an emotional journey, often through stories that evoke emotional responses. This emotional journey helps prospects to feel the pain of where they are, and feel what the happiness and fulfillment will be like in their better future.
  6. Belief: You'll have maximum ability to influence people when prospects believe that things could be better, should be better, and can actually get better if they buy from you. The more convinced they are that your solution will succeed, the more willing they will be to move forward.
  7. Justification: People buy with their hearts and justify with their heads. Even if you're able to capture the hearts of your buyers (through the emotional journey you take them on), if you can’t make the ROI case for working with you, you won't make the sale.
  8. Trust: The principle of trust works closely with the principle of belief. Belief is faith that something will work, trust is faith in you. Trust is the foundation of the sale. No trust, no sale. (And, with trust, don't just try to gain it. Deserve it.)
  9. Stepping Stones: Once people get on a path, they're much more likely to stay on that path. People are driven to be consistent. So if you can get them to try or buy something from you once, even if it's small, they're much more likely to buy again. Think of buying as a leap of faith. If you're always trying to sell something "big", then that leap can be too much of a jump for many buyers to take. You can shorten the leap of faith with stepping stones, getting people to start working with you in small doses and with less risky propositions.
  10. Ownership: Until an individual takes ownership over decisions, actions, and results, your ability to influence him or her is limited. Your job is to make it the buyer's agenda to move forward, not your own.
  11. Involvement: When you have a hand in creating something, you're more likely to be a passionate advocate for its success. Buying is the same way. Involve your buyers in in the selling process, and they'll be much more attached to seeing the solution come to life.
  12. Desire for Inclusion: People don't want to be left out. They want to feel included. If the best companies are purchasing a certain technology, they want to be in on it. If a new management method is sweeping the nation, people don't want to feel left out. The more you can help buyers feel included, the more they'll want to move forward.
  13. Scarcity: People value rarity and don't want to miss out on an opportunity. Rainmakers highlight differentiation, and make sure that buyers know when they may miss out on an opportunity.
  14. Likeability: People buy from people they like. They interact with people they like. Likeability creates and enhances opportunity for conversations at all stages. And, as we know, conversations are at the heart of sales success.
  15. Indifference: Indifference is emotional detachment to the outcome of making the sale. Indifference is often best understood in light of its opposite: neediness. The more you seem like you need the sale, the less likely a buyer will view you as a peer, and the more difficult it will be to sell.
  16. Commitment: Rainmakers are great at getting buyers to agree to next steps. Written and public commitments are stronger than verbal and private commitments. The best sellers ask for commitment at the right time, get signatures, and get buyers to communicate commitments publicly.

These are the 16 Principles of Influence in Sales. Study them. Master them. Do so and develop your ability to influence people, events, and basketball purchases.

Last Updated March 20, 2018

Topics: Sales Conversations