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The Four Steps to Persuasion

Posted by on October 2nd, 2013

The Four Steps to Persuasion
Many people seem to think that creating and selling a product is some kind of dark art. It’s easy to look at people who are successfully selling their own products and think they must of only got to that point because they had a brilliant idea.

Whilst I’m sure some people do have an epiphany for a magical new product, the process isn’t really very magical at all.

In fact, there are only really four main steps to finding a problem and selling your solution.

These four steps can be categorised as “The Four Steps to Persuasion”.

In this post I’m going to look at the four steps that I think are critical to creating and selling a new product on the market. However, these four steps are not just for creating new products, they can also be universally applied to any situation where you are solving an important problem but you need buy-in from another party.

Persuasion is both an art and a science, but it needn’t be a mystery.

Why persuasion?

Why do you need persuasion? Well, creating an amazing new product is not going to be a surefire way of becoming a success. It’s pretty naive to think that you can just create something and people will beat down your door to get it.

Similarly, if you have ever recognised a problem at work, you will appreciate that you often still need to persuade your manager to act on your recommendations to fix it.

You can’t rely on a brilliant idea to do all the work of selling.

Instead, you need to understand the four steps to persuasion.

This isn’t a gimmicky marketing ploy or a scummy advertising strategy. Trying to coerce people to buy your product when they don’t really need it is always going to be a losing battle.

In order to effectively sell your solution, it needs to be founded from a deeper root pain and follow along the natural flow of persuasion.

What are the Four Steps to Persuasion?

Persuasion is not about selling your idea, it is about discovering a problem worth solving. If you are not solving a real pain for someone you are going to be fighting a losing battle with them to buy your product.

Once you recognise this simple pattern, discovering problems worth solving and finding a solution worth selling becomes easy.

Here are The Four Steps to Persuasion:

  1. Recognise a pain
  2. Create a solution
  3. Describe the benefits
  4. Show how pain compounds

1. Find a pain

The most critical step of this process is finding a pain worth solving. If you make a half-arsed attempt at this stage, there really is no point in continuing with the other three steps.

Products usually fall into one of two categories, vitamins or pain killers. Taking vitamins each day will make you incrementally healthier and improve your life, but they don’t solve an immediate nagging problem like a pain killer does.

And that is the problem. Customer won’t change for an incrementally improvement if the thing you are targeting is not really broken. That’s why you see thousands of products that offer a better solution to a non-problem never gain significant traction.

In general, consumers don’t switch products when there is no perceived problem. It’s too much hassle and there is the inherent risk of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

One the other hand, consumers will pay for a product that solves a painful problem. If you can recognise and solve a big painful problem, consumer are going to be more than happy to pay you to take it away.

This should act as a reality check if you are trying to sell a product but you are receiving a lukewarm reaction from the market.

More often than not, the consumer will recognise that she has a problem and she is looking for a solution. However there are instances where consumers can be oblivious to a problem that could be solved because they have become so ingrained to it. This is sometimes a tricky problem to solve however, but it is a real situation to be aware of.

2. Create a solution

Now that you have discovered a problem worth solving, you need to build a solution that specifically caters to the pain. This isn’t an article on Customer Development, so if you want to learn more about building products that solve a problem I would recommend you read The Four Steps to the Epiphany, The Lean Startup and The Startup Owner’s Manual.

Generally though, when going through the Customer Development process there are some things to keep in mind.

Firstly, you should try to understand the pain intimately well as soon as possible, even if you haven’t experienced it yourself. To be honest I would probably advise that you solve a problem that you have experienced because it’s going to make this process a whole lot quicker.

Secondly, always describe the pain before you start talking about a solution. If you start describing a theoretical solution before you have agreed on the thing you are trying to solve you will often lose the attention of the person you are talking to.

And thirdly, always get customer feedback to adjust your course. If you start to stray from true north whilst developing your solution to the problem, it’s going to be a lot harder to sell your product to that same customer.

3. Describe the benefits

Once you are ready to start selling your product to your target customer, it’s important to understand how you should sell it. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about mistaking features for benefits so I won’t go over too much of the same ground here. If you want to learn more about that common pitfall, you should go and read that post first.

When selling a product, it’s usually always better to sell the immediate benefits. Customers often have unrealistic expectations of a solution to a problem and most will favour instant gratification. If you can show that your solution can solve a problem today, rather than at some point later down the line, you should probably highlight this on your landing page.

4. Show how pain compounds

If you have found a real pain to solve, there will usually be ongoing consequences for the customer if they do not take action. For example, if you are offering a product that solves the problem of managing your accounts, it’s pretty easy to see that not getting on top of this problem will have consequences later down the line.

There is a fine line between highlighting the consequences of not solving a problem and being a slimy sales person. To illustrate how pain compounds you should tie it into the benefits of your product.

For example, a benefit for an accountancy packaged could be:
Simple stress free finances management, so you don’t have to worry at the end of the tax year

Real pain compounds over time and so you can use this as a strong motivator for buying your product.

Conclusion

As I mentioned at the top of this post, the four steps to persuasion aren’t just about creating and selling new products, the same framework can be used in any situation where you are trying to “sell” an idea.

For example, I’m sure there are employees at every company in the world that can see a big problem that needs to be solved. Often management can’t see the same problems that you can see because they aren’t in the trenches with you.

If you have an idea for solving this problem, you can follow the four steps to persuasion to convince your manager to take action.

Organise a meeting with your manager and use the following as your agenda:

  1. Agree that there is a problem
  2. Offer a solution that solves the problem
  3. Describe the benefits of your solution, not the features
  4. Illustrate how the problem will compound over time if you don’t take action now.

Using these four steps, you can make a much stronger case for your manager to allow you to step up and solve this problem for the company.

Persuasion is not a dark art, it is just four little steps.

Philip Brown

Hey, I'm Philip Brown, a designer and developer from Durham, England. I create websites and web based applications from the ground up. In 2011 I founded a company called Yellow Flag. If you want to find out more about me, you can follow me on Twitter or Google Plus.

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    You Sir are a true master of the Dark art of Selling.

  • What about when your prospective customers don’t even think of the pain they are in as a pain? I mean, these customers have been doing, what you want to make better, so long and it has become so commonplace, that people have accepted the pain as “standard procedure”? How can you get them to think out of that box they’ve ended up accepting to be stuck in?

    Scott

    • It can be really difficult to try to convince a potential customer that they have a pain they don’t even consider to be a pain.

      It probably depends on the situation, but I would continue to research the problem and talk to customers until I found something that really resonates with a section of that target market.

      Sometimes as an outside you can see how a problem can be more efficiently solved, but a lot of the time, it’s just not that big of a problem for the customer.