Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily
What’s one of the best ways to persuade people to buy your product or service? It goes beyond describing the features and benefits. Professor Vishton explains.
Why Broadcasting Expertise Works
Professor Vishton recommends that your expertise should be broadcast, made known, before you try to persuade someone about something. The main goal is to convince the person that he or she should trust you, by tapping into that person’s unconscious decision-making process. The person will follow your lead as a trusted expert who has the information needed, rather than taking extra time for more research.
“Now, if you want someone to trust you, it’s often not the best thing to walk into a room and begin blustering about how accomplished you are,” Professor Vishton said. “Indeed, it will often come across as bragging, or worse, it might come across as you intentionally trying to persuade someone to do what you ask. It might not cause the person’s thought processes to align with your own, but rather to become extra vigilant and suspicious about the things you say.”
A key to broadcasting your expertise, then, is to get the information across without doing so personally. A number of studies have found that this expertise effect is substantially stronger if the information is delivered by someone else. The boost in the effect is even greater if the information is delivered by someone who does not have an apparent, vested interest in the goals of the expert.
Results from a Well-Known Study
Perhaps the best example of this effect comes from a study conducted with a real estate firm. People would call the firm, often asking for information about properties for rent or for sale. For many years, the firm had tracked the number of calls they received. They kept data on the percentage of calls that resulted in a sale or rental contract.
When calls would come in, a receptionist who answered the phone would ask about the caller’s needs. Then the receptionist would ask the person to hold while the call was transferred to the relevant person in the office: “OK, you’re interested in rental properties. Let me transfer you to Bob. Just one moment, please.”
The researchers in this study asked the receptionist to add one small sentence to this standard interaction. In addition to mentioning Bob, the receptionists were instructed to provide a line about the realtor’s credentials.
Thus, the receptionist might say, “OK, you’re interested in rental properties. Let me transfer you to our expert in this area, Bob. He’s been working with rental properties in this area for over 12 years.”
Highlighting Expertise Matters
The number of calls received stayed the same during the course of the study, but two very notable increases were found. Twenty percent more people agreed to set up an appointment to come into the office to meet with the realtor. Also, signed contracts went up by a boost of 155 as a result of the in-person interactions.
Just subtly highlighting someone’s expertise about something can make people more receptive to suggestions and requests. In this intervention study of the phone greeting, it only took a few seconds for the receptionist to make a suggestion to the caller about the real estate agent’s level of expertise. The given information was also true, not falsified or exaggerated.
The realtors, of course, did have the level of experience that the receptionist described on the phone. Obviously, it would be unethical to describe experience and expertise that was false. In summary, if a secondary person speaks of someone’s level of expertise, then sales clients will lean on that perceived expertise during their decision-making process about purchasing a product or service when speaking with the salesperson.
Peter M. Vishton is Associate Professor of Psychology at William & Mary. He earned his PhD in Psychology and Cognitive Science from Cornell University. Before joining the faculty of William & Mary, he taught at Northwestern University and served as the program director for developmental and learning sciences at the National Science Foundation.