Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Aristotle's Rhetoric Revisited -- 5 Ways to Improve Your Closing Ratio

A good friend of mine, Ken Keller, is a retired CEO who I greatly admire. Ken invited me to lunch last week. He has been following the growth of Chief Executive Boards International since I bought the business from its founder in 2004. At that time, he immediately recommended CEBI to one of his business coaching clients, who remains a member to this day.

We were talking about things we at CEBI have learned about marketing, positioning and selling CEBI over the past 5 years. I made the observation that our selling breakthrough has been the realization that selling even a simple membership in a great organization is a relationship-building process. Like myself, Ken learned to sell large-ticket items through personal visits, buying lunches, etc. That simply isn't practical, selling a lower-ticket annual membership to people across half of the US.

So we've learned to build relationships electronically -- first through fax-back, then phone, then email, then newsletters, more email, etc. A lot of electronic "touches" that get us closer to prospects and also keep us closer to our members.

He said, "You know, Aristotle's Rhetoric described all that in the 4th Century BC." And I thought this E-Marketing stuff was new! Ken's a well-read guy.

He went on to explain that Aristotle's Rhetoric was an essay on the art of persuasion, sometimes called The Rhetoric, The Art of Rhetoric, or A Treatise on Rhetoric. Some historians believe it was never intended for publication, but may have actually been a collection of his students' notes, taken at his lectures -- Sort of an ancient forerunner of blogs.

Ken's lunch-table summary of the Rhetoric was:

  • Good Character
  • Good Will
  • Good Sense

Sometimes more academically described as:

  • Credibility (ethos)
  • Emotions and psychology of the audience (read: prospect) (pathos)
  • Reasoning (logos)

Curiously, sales training and sales people have spent an inordinate amount of time on the third element -- the "good sense" or "logic" of the sale. Hence "features and benefits", demonstrations, calculations of ROI, economic justifications, and on and on.

Aristotle's point, and Ken's as well, was that these actually need to be taken in order:

  • First -- Good Character. The prospect has to trust you and believe that what you say is true. There's a credibility-building phase in a relationship that has nothing to do with your company or what you're selling.

  • Second -- Good Will. The prospect has to believe that you do, in fact, care about an outcome that's at least as beneficial to herself as to you. It's important that he believe you're more concerned with a good outcome for him than an order for yourself

  • Third -- Good Sense. Ultimately, you'll need to roll out the features and benefits, the economic justification, the ROI calculations, etc.
    Another good friend of mine, a career sales person of big-ticket capital equipment, once said, "In most cases, the buyer decides what he wants to do and who he wants to do it with, and then works up a set of numbers that justify his original decision. Roughly translated -- decision made on the basis of Good Character and Good Will, then justified by Good Sense.

    A Sandler Training franchisee said it another way: "A customer has to trust you enough to give you money to solve a problem."

There are other instances of Aristotle's Rhetoric, sometimes to define organizational values. Rotary International has a code of conduct for its 1.2 million members called the "4-Way Test":

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  3. Is it fair to all concerned?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

It's not hard to connect the dots between Aristotle's Rhetoric and those ideas, is it? Besides a code of conduct, I believe the 4 Way Test was also intended to persuade people that Rotary was a group of people to whom they would want to belong.

So, how can you use these ideas in your business and your selling activities? Here are five ways you can deploy Aristotle's Rhetoric -- a set of selling principles known for 2400 years:

  1. At the outset, ask the prospect about herself and her company -- find out what matters to her. She'll tell you what she will buy if you can let her do the talking. This is very difficult for most sales people.

  2. Find some "common ground" -- something in common that would build her trust in you. Perhaps your prior experiences that relate to what she's doing, what your kids do, who your spouses know, mutual acquaintances, etc. People tend to see others being of good character if they have things in common -- particularly mutual acquaintances.

  3. Help her understand that you're there to help her -- if that results in an order, fine. If not, you've done what you came to do -- help her become more successful. Good will is just that -- the willingness to help someone whether there's an order in it or not.

  4. Then go for the logic -- the features, benefits, ROI, etc. Enough said -- you know how to do all that, or you can find an army of people in your company who do. Many of them claim to be sales people -- they just don't sell very much.

  5. And, above all, behave in a manner that always underscores your Good Character, Good Will and Good Sense. Your prospects and customers instinctively apply that value system, even if they don't articulate it themselves.
If you have some ways you keep Aristotle's three elements of persuasion in their proper order, please click "Comments" below and share them with us.

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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