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Furniture Sales Pre-Suasion

Furniture World Magazine


It's a new and revolutionary way to influence and persuade. What if your sales people knew exactly what to say and when to say it before they make an appeal of any kind?

“Every Battle is Won Beforeit is Fought.” -Sun Tzo

We have been told by the great communicators that the best way to win over the confidence of a client is to achieve the role of a “trusted advisor.” The down-side to this advice is it takes time–days, weeks even months.

Robert Cialdini’s new book, "Pre-Suasion", suggests that there is a shortcut. His thesis is that the best communicators are able to enhance their effectiveness and elevate their successes by learning exactly what to say and when to say it before they make an appeal of any kind.

This seems almost counterintuitive. I have always assumed the way ace performers out-perform other retailers is by developing desirable product features and associated benefits with clarity and logic. Not so, according to Cialdini’s research. “Much more than their less effective colleagues," says Cialdini, "they didn’t rely on the legitimate merits of an offer to get it accepted; they recognized that the psychological frame in which an appeal is first placed can carry equal or even greater weight.

The Principles of Influence
My job has always been to discover new, legitimate ways to persuade customers to say “yes.” The article "6 Principals of Influence" in the March/April edition (www.furninfo.com/Furniture-World-Articles/3673) featured Robert Cialdini’s book, "Influence". Written ten years ago. His book is rich with promotional ideas and marketing tactics. Yet very few furniture retailers were aware of it.

There are six key tools of influence:

1. Reciprocation: When we are befriended we tend to want to reciprocate in some way.

2. Liking: We like and want to do business with people who seem to like us.

3. Social Proof: We identify with people from the same hometown, the same country, the same political party, etc.

4. Authority: We tend to respect symbols of authority such as uniforms, badges and certificates.

5. Scarcity: The perceived value of an item increases if it is in limited supply.

6. Consistency: When we make some sort of commitment, no matter how modest, we are much more likely to agree to a larger commitment along the same lines.

Using Pre-Suasion at Retail
Cialdini’s newest book, “Pre-Suasion”, contains more priceless information for independent furniture stores who want to exploit the weakness of the Big Box franchises. The Big Boxes continue to use the same-old price-item, race to the bottom tactics in their current presentations.
The question is, are Cialdini’s ideas just psychobabble or is there a practical way to apply them to your existing programs? There is indeed.



To prove this I will present a retail case study of a furniture store that successfully used a few of Cialdini's six Principles of Influence married to the new concepts of "Pre-Suasion". Then, this article will give you some additional ideas for applying the principles of Influence and Pre-Suasion.

Memorial Day Challenge
Memorial Day always presents a challenge for retailers. How can you frame a sales promotion around a special holiday that honors our fallen heroes? Last year, one major Big Box franchise promoted early in the month with a weak price-item, extended interest sales flyer. The only reference to Memorial Day was in the heading.

The question of how to frame a respectful and appropriate Memorial Day event came up for a local client. Leather by Design, a high-end independent retailer, that was offered a great deal from the local newspaper… a two page “wrap” that would run as a broadsheet on four different days prior to Memorial Day weekend.

We developed an ad that did not ignore the meaning of Memorial Day. It was strongly promotional, but featured no prices. A section of the presentation was devoted to honoring Memorial Day by giving away free roses for the graves of veterans (see the exhibit). An illustration of a military cemetery was shown along with a rose. The copy went like this:

“Dear Friends and Neighbors: Leather by Design will partner with our community to put long-stemmed roses on the graves of veterans for Memorial Day weekend. We have purchased a supply of long stem roses with the sole purpose of giving them away to anyone who wishes to decorate the grave of ANY veteran. Again, the roses are FREE. No coupon required. Just stop in during our normal business hours and pick them up. There is absolutely NO obligation to purchase furniture. The roses are even located near the front entrance so you may breeze in, pick yours up and exit. This is our small, humble way to say, “Thank you, veterans!”

Framing Pre-Suasion Identity
Leather by Design frames its Pre-suasive identity around being family owned and operated, and an independent, hometown merchant.



A few years ago the store moved from a large mall to a free-standing building. Traditionally we know that furniture stores get a great deal of overflow mall traffic from larger stores, but this traffic consists of overwhelmingly casual “lookers.” Once Leather by Design moved to a free-standing location it became a destination. Customers who pulled into the parking lot had already made a commitment to at least look and listen to their offers. This may seem a moderate commitment but as was explained in the previous article, it can be significant as one of the six principles of influence. Having made a small commitment, people are more likely to make a larger one to achieve Consistency. The key is to follow through in media, social media and personal relationships.

Operations Manager Steve Lent has developed a greeting that helps utilize Social Proof, another of the tools of influence. Steve never fails to mention that Leather by Design is a hometown store, family owned and operated. He weaves in phrases like “We are fanatic about customer service at Leather by Design” and “No sale is complete until you are satisfied.”

Pre-Suasion Principles
Pre-Suasion is about timing, the privileged moment. It’s about setting up situations that improve your chances of success. These must be evidence based, tested and proven. For example, if you ask an individual if she is adventurous and willing to try new things she will be very likely to say “Yes” according to Cialdini’s research. And on the average, she will be 75.4 percent likely to then comply with your request for information, as opposed to 33 percent if not asked that “Pre-Suasion” question first. In another study Cialdini learned that if individuals were asked the “Pre-Suasion” question, “Do you consider yourself to be a helpful individual?” they would be far more likely to then volunteer for a survey than those who were not asked the question beforehand.

Attention is crucial to communication. If you detect that an individual is multi-tasking while they are conversing with you on the telephone, (you hear the clicking of computer keys or the sound of newspaper pages turning) it advises you that your information is relatively unimportant. That describes the importance of active listening. Successful communicators are great listeners. When they want to make an important point they pre-load it with importance.

Selling by Pre-Suasion
There was an important case history in Cialdini’s book regarding selling furniture online. In the study the scientists addressed this question: How does one get an online client to focus upon the quality and comfort of a particular sofa in preference to a lower priced but inferior product? This was especially important to me because Leather by Design’s key brand is Stressless, a high-end product imported from Norway. We describe it as “The world’s most comfortable furniture.”

The study revealed an attempted solution. The research team put a background of fluffy clouds on a website splash page. Unfortunately the team members were not graphic artists and the cloud background made the copy on the page almost illegible. Although Cialdini agreed with the solution, I prefer to emphasize comfort by illustrating attractive men and women enjoying the comfort of Stressless recliner units.



One finding was surprising regarding banner ads. Seemingly dismissible information presented in the background captures a valuable kind of attention and allows for potent, almost uncounted, instances of influence.

Pre-Suasion Communication
If you want to emphasize a particular point, should you raise your voice? No, not according to the famous psychiatrist Milton Erickson. When interviewing a client, he would actually lower his voice when introducing a crucial concept. To hear what Erickson was saying, patients had to lean forward into the information–an embodied signal of focused attention and intense interest.

You may have noticed that TV advertisers have increased their scene switches or “cuts” dramatically by over 50 percent. Viewers end up confused as to the point of the ad and become irritated by having their focus rapidly and haphazardly whipped around. Even though cut-happy TV commercials attract more attention, they produce significantly less memory for the ads’ message and persuasive power. A much better solution would be to use cuts to swing attention to the part of the message you want them to focus on.

Holding Attention
How do you hold attention once you have it? The communicator should fasten his audience’s focus on the favorable elements of his ad. This effort will likely go unchallenged by opposing points of view which get locked out of the viewers’ attention as a consequence.

Key to holding interest is the ever-prevailing question in a prospect’s mind: “What’s in it for me?” Copywriters who haven’t fully investigated the importance of weaving the consumer’s self-interest into their work should be embarrassed. For example, there follows copy that failed, yet after slight changes it became overwhelmingly successful:

Failed copy: “After all these years, people might accept that antiperspirants just aren’t going to get any better. They might even accept the ugly stains on clothes from hot days and hard work. They won’t have to anymore.”

Revised copy: “After all these years, you might accept that antiperspirants just aren’t going to get any better. You might even accept the ugly stains on clothes from hot days and hard work. You won’t have to anymore.”

The lesson is simple: Information about the self is an exceedingly powerful magnet of attention.

Motivational Images
This one surprised me. Research, however, indicates that when individuals are subtly exposed to words like win, attain, succeed, master, it increases their performance on an assigned task. Moreover, it more than doubles their willingness to keep working at it. Like Cialdini, I believed it unlikely that motivational signs and images would work. Research has proven they do. For example, a test indicated that callers raising funds for a university were greatly influenced by a successful image. A control group was given a plain script, and another group received a script that also included an image of a runner winning a race. Remarkably, after a three-hour shift, the group with the adorning photo produced 60 percent more revenue than their coworkers. Your sales team may want to brainstorm ways to use motivational messages to inspire their efforts.

I had an interesting and amusing experience with Pre-Suasion here in St. Augustine at the Farmers Market. I noticed a booth offering neck and shoulder massages. There seemed to be no action going on. I suggested to the young lady in charge that they change their sign to read: “First three minutes are FREE.” She did so and a line of takers quickly developed. Later I saw my wife had joined the crowd. She told me the young lady giving the massages had given her a card that offered house calls. My wife thought she might schedule one. So a couple of weeks went by and the young entrepreneur showed up at our door. As she prepared to give a massage she told my wife that things were pretty dull at the Farmers Market until some “marketing genius” came by and told her to give the first three minutes free. “After that my business really took off” the young lady said.

The Opportunity
In summary, the opportunity for the independent furniture store has never been more exciting. At this writing consumer confidence is higher than it has been for many years. If most independent furniture retailers take a step back and examine the shopping experiences they are creating, they will realize that they have a huge advantage over their larger competitors. They can pre-frame themselves as hometown, family owned and operated institutions, with a mission to improve the lives of our clients and their families.

At every touch point in the shopping experience there is an opportunity to generate a positive, uplifting message, and position your store as a trusted advisor for clients. Never, in the history of our industry has there been a more exciting prospect for independent furniture stores to frame themselves favorably and enjoy the resulting prosperity.

*Thanks to Scott Davis of the Furniture AwareHouse in Greencastle, Indiana for both the Memorial Day roses giveaway idea and the copy he crafted.

Larry Mullins is a contributing editor for Furniture World and has 30+ years of experience on the front lines of furniture marketing. Larry’s mainstream executive experience, his creative work with promotion specialists, and mastery of advertising principles have established him as one of the foremost experts in furniture marketing. His affordable High-Impact programs produce legendary results for everything from cash raising events to profitable exit strategies. His newest books, THE METAVALUES BREAKTHROUGH and IMMATURE PEOPLE WITH POWER… How to Handle Them have recently been released by Morgan James Publishing. Joe Girard, “The World’s Greatest Salesman” said of this book: “If I had read Larry Mullins’ book when I started out, I would have reached the top much sooner than I did.” Larry is founder and CEO of UltraSales, Inc. and can be reached directly at 904.794.9212 or at Larrym@furninfo.com. See more articles by Larry at www.furninfo.com or www.ultrasales.com.