My former boss was an MIT professor at one time and always reminded us of it – he even insisted that we had lunch at the MIT faculty club. Even though I thought he was a bit ridiculous, it taught me an important lesson about the influence of authority.

While my boss was doubling down on his image as some sort of Professor X of technology and we were snickering at the water cooler, he knew exactly the kind of Jedi mind trick he was playing on us. He was simply appealing to one of the most primitive psychological triggers used by everyone from the police to parents. I like to call it the “because I said so” principle. Let me try it on you – try Spiro because I said so!

A Powerful Psychological Trigger

Obedience to authority is deeply ingrained in us since birth. It starts with your mom and dad and expands to the rest of polite society – your teacher, your soccer coach, the security guard who caught you and your friends trespassing when you were trying to imitate Steve-O… Yeah, we’ve all been there, and you probably learned that going against authority has some sort of uncomfortable consequence. That’s exactly the point.

The authority principle is so powerful that it can cause people to do things that would normally conflict with their most deeply held values. If you’ve taken a basic psychology class in college, you’d remember the ultra-creepy Stanley Milgram experiment that showed how regular people would hurt others if told to by an authority figure under certain conditions.

In sales we use authority all the time to build confidence in our prospects. Whether it’s by having a swank office, a professional answering service, impressive credentials, or years of experience and big-name endorsements.

Put Some Swagger in Your Step

Social selling master of the universe Dr. Robert Cialdini outlines the authority principle in his book Influence. A sharp suit, a badge, a nice car, an entourage, graduate degrees – most of us accept these as tokens of authority. People subconsciously respond to these signals with trust or respect when faced with a less-authoritative alternative. For example, the average person is more likely to give money to a person on the street wearing a uniform than he or she is to a person dressed in sweatpants. It’s just human nature.

What this really means is that looking and acting like a boss will make people think that you’re a boss. Pretty basic, huh? But Hell hath no fury like someone who’s been tricked into thinking you know what you’re doing when you don’t, that’s why it’s important to walk the walk AND talk the talk. (And to have an app like Spiro telling you what the hell you should be doing.)

Back Up Confidence with Capability

Credible, knowledgeable experts exert the most influence as authority figures because they can back it up. While Dapper Dan is out there racking up leads, his wiser and more capable partner is closing deals because he’s gone past exhibiting superficial signals of authority and cultivated a relationship of trust by being the real deal.

Cialdini illustrates this in an experiment with a real estate agency that changed the way they referred prospects to agents. They were able to increase the number of property appraisals and contracts they wrote by starting off with their agency’s credentials, such as “Joe has 25 years experience in the micro-log cabin market, let me transfer you to him.” This “expert” intro led to a 20 percent rise in appointments and 15 percent increase in signed contracts. This small change was ethical and costless to implement.

Now that you know the power of this simple psychological tool you’ll notice it in use all around you. Try incorporating it into your sales approach but, remember, no one likes a liar. Only go so far as you can back it up or rely on someone who can. If you get someone to listen to you and then drop the ball, you’ll lose trust and never get it back.

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About the Author Adam Honig

Adam is the co-founder and CEO of Spiro Technologies. He is a natural sales leader with a mission to help salespeople make more money using artificial intelligence — or any sort of intelligence for that matter. Adam has been a founder of four companies which resulted in two triumphant IPOs and two legendary mergers. He is best known for speaking at various conferences including Dreamforce, for pioneering the ‘No Jerks’ hiring model, and for flying his drone while traveling the world.

7 Comments

  • Jeffrey says:

    Yes but what threat does one yield when the seller and consumer are on the same social level? There is no perceived possibility of punishment.

    • Adam Honig says:

      Hi Jeffrey,

      I understand your concern here, but I think the idea that we were trying to get across is about creating the perception of authority. Using authority to show your command of a domain or product area is one way to help your prospect see you as an authority.

      Adam

  • Rick says:

    What is the basis of authority. If it is fear from consequences then you are off base. Bosses that lead by authority and far less productive than people who lead by example. We train daily that perception is not reality. We want our sales people to know why they are doing things, not because we just tell them. I hope this is a paradigm shift.

    • Adam Honig says:

      Hey Rick,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      Sometimes the “fear from consequences” can be a good thing. Let me explain:

      A consequence might be making the wrong decision, costing your company in wasted time and money.

      If a salesperson is perceived as expert in their field, they will come off as an authority, and can explain to the prospect credibly why they might be making a mistake by going with the competitor.

      (Hopefully they actually are an expert by the way!)

      So, in this way the authority of the salesperson showed the negative consequence of a bad decision to help make the sale.

      Does that make sense?

      Adam

  • 3 Psychological Factors That Directly Impact Online Sales | usefullink.info says:

    […] birth. It starts with your mom and dad and expands to the rest of polite society…” writes Adam Honig, a serial entrepreneur. “The authority principle is so powerful that it can cause people to […]

  • 3 Psychological Factors That Directly Impact Online Sales | Change Of Venue Worldwide LLC says:

    […] birth. It starts with your mom and dad and expands to the rest of polite society…” writes Adam Honig, a serial entrepreneur. “The authority principle is so powerful that it can cause people to […]

  • 3 Psychological Factors That Directly Impact Online Sales - Change Of Venue Worldwide LLC says:

    […] birth. It starts with your mom and dad and expands to the rest of polite society…” writes Adam Honig, a serial entrepreneur. “The authority principle is so powerful that it can cause people to […]

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