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How to Sell Your Side of the Story
by Victor Antonio

In any line of business you might be in, at one time or another you’ve found yourself having to present your side of the story and explaining to the client why they should buy from you. Your competitors are also going after the same business because the potential client has asked that one question we all dread hearing, “Tell me why I should buy from you and not your competitor?” How do you best present your message so that it has a lasting impact? How do you attack it? Do you talk about what you can do or do you begin by telling the client what your competitors can’t do?

There are psychological factors that will determine if the client will listen to your side of the story, or buy the other side. Understanding how these factors work, will allow you to craft a persuasive message and better position you to close the deal.

Let’s begin analyzing the situation by stating the obvious; every argument or proposal has at least two sides; one for (our product or service) and one against (the competition). The question is how to position your message so that the client will buy into your products or services and not leave the door open for your competitor to win the business?

The first question you need to ask yourself is, is the client in a receptive state of mind to really think about resolving their problem? A client is in a receptive state of mind if they are “motivated to think” about the problem. What do I mean by motivated to think? A person who is motivated to think (i.e., will have a tendency to give the subject careful thought) when the proposal is personally relevant. If the proposal is of little or no relevance, the client will not give the subject thoughtful consideration and therefore not be in receptive state (i.e., motivated to think about the proposal).

Knowing whether or not a client is motivated to think is critical. For instance, if the client is not motivated to think about the proposal, you may be talking to the wrong person or the client doesn’t feel a sense of urgency on his part to give the matter thoughtful consideration. In both instances you would be wasting your time pitching your product or service.

The second question we should ask ourselves is, what will the client remember most (i.e., have more impact) what I present first or last? When a person is swayed by what is presented first, that is called the Primacy Effect. If presented with a two sided argument, a person will favor the first argument. If the person is swayed by the last or most recent argument, that is called the Recency Effect. If presented with a two sided argument, a person will favor the second (last or most recent) argument.

The research in the domain of persuasion is clear. When we are motivated to think about a subject, we will side with the primary (first) argument we hear. If our motivation to think is low about a subject, we will side with the most recent (last) argument.

Persuasion theory
Motivation to Think Effective Effect
  • High Primacy
  • Low Recency
Why is this so? Research has shown that when someone who is motivated to think listens to the first argument, they have a tendency to consolidate the information and form an opinion (attitude toward) about the first argument. Consequently, when the second argument or proposal is mentioned, a motivated thinker will be resistant to attitudinal change.

For low motivation thinkers, a pause or break between messages (i.e., after you’ve spoken about your company and will now talk about your competitors) signals to the listener (client) that important information is about to shared and maybe they should listen. Now the low motivated thinker is in a high state of thinking and will grasp the second argument (recency).

Advertisers Get It
Medical commercials are good examples of how using the effect of primacy can be effective in convincing viewers to buy their products. Think back to a viagra-like commercial that you may have seen on television. One that I saw recently made me laugh. It showed a man in his late fifties or early sixties throwing a football through a car tire hanging from a tree. No metaphorical explanation is needed.

The narrator, in his mellow reassuring voice, tells men how they don’t have to live with the embarrassment or worry of not being able to perform. The commercial then briefly cuts away to a close-up of the wife who is sitting on the front porch smiling affably watching her husband indicating to the viewers that she is ‘satisfied’ with the results.

Then with five seconds left on the commercial clock, the narrator switches verbal speed and in a dismissive tone tells you the viewer about the possible side effects of using their product and how you should consult a doctor if you have one of a series of conditions.

By the time the narrator gets to this point, the initial message has been delivered and received by the viewer who according to the effects of primacy has already consolidated an opinion and proceeds to dismiss or minimize the narrators warning (recency) at the end. The commercial is aimed at men who have sexual dysfunction so they're “motivation to think” is very high which is why the key message is presented first.

Now, if you’re not having problems (i.e., it’s not relevant to the viewer), then you’ll probably pick up on the narrator’s warning at the end. But advertiser’s don’t care about low motivated thinkers because they’re not the target market the commercial is going after (i.e., men with sexual dysfunctions is their primary target and they are highly motivated to think about the message in the commercial).

Now let me transition from sexual dysfunction to sales function. Sorry, no good way of doing a smooth segue here.

Sales Strategy
So if a client asked you the question, “Why should I buy from you and not your competition?”, the implication here is that the client is 'motivated to think' about making a decision. So what you now have to do is deliver your message effectively.

First, begin by letting the client know that you will be presenting your product first and how you’re going to cover all the relevant features (and benefits). Second, show how your product or service is superior to your competitors. Your response to the question, “Why should I buy from you and not your competition?”, might go something like this:

John, I get that question a lot and I am more than happy to answer it. So here’s what I’m going to do. Let me first tell you about our product and what makes it a good choice and fit for your business. And then I’ll talk a little bit about what our competition offers and let you decide which is more suitable. Is that a fair approach?

Much like the commercial, what you’ll do is first present the features and benefits of using your product and how it can help the client resolve many ongoing issues. And then, once your message has been fully delivered and understood, take some time to cover what your competitors have to offer. Do it in such a way that it minimizes, if not dismiss altogether, what your competitors have to offer.

Exercise: Think of a situation or instance where you have to present two sides of an argument and ask yourself how you could improve your argument by using the principles described. It doesn’t have to be a business situation per se, it can be a personal situation where you have to convince someone else of your point of view.

This comparison between your product and your competitors also invokes a rule of persuasion called “Contrast” which really makes this overall approach that much more effective.

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