Partnership-Based Persuasion

We may convince others by our arguments, but we can only persuade them by their own. -Joseph Joubert

The above quote about persuasion was written by a Frenchman in the 1820’s, but of course we humans have tried to persuade each other “by our arguments” well before language was invented. The methods of persuasion in the pre-language times likely weren’t so subtle. On the other hand, think of “The Godfather” saying, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” That’s not so subtle either. Come to think of it, I’ve seen sales people try to persuade clients in ways that would shame the Godfather himself.

What do we mean by persuasion? Persuasion can be defined as a purposeful attempt to influence others to think or act a certain way. We can learn something important from Monsieur Joubert’s quote: no matter how artful our attempt to persuade clients may be, ultimately our clients will have to persuade themselves by their own unique logic and emotions.

Have you tried to persuade clients to accept your recommendations, or change their current direction? Hundreds of books have been written on how to do so, most of them advocating manipulative, silly and hard to apply techniques. In our training course “The Power of Partnership”, we raise an important question: how can you persuade a client in a way that builds trust, and demonstrates integrity and respect? The answer is that your persuasion must allow your clients to make a free choice. Your role must be to support them with information and realistic options that allow them to choose—because they will have to choose anyway, and if they believe you “made” them go a certain direction they will resent your forever.

Persuasion without manipulation isn’t as easy as it sounds: when we persuade clients we naturally want to change their minds and actions. In others words, persuasion means we have an agenda, and if that agenda is too overpowering it can pollute a relationship. Persuasion done the wrong way can build suspicion and drastically decrease your chances of building a real partnership with your client. On the other hand, persuasion done correctly builds long-term partnerships that yield repeat business and cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

No matter how you do it, you’ll have an agenda when you attempt to persuade clients; otherwise, you wouldn’t care at all what they do! Our course teaches participants how to persuade with an agenda, but without games. We stress that above-board partnerships are the key to client relationships, repeat business and smoother projects.

You act as a true partner with your clients when you inquire enough to deeply understand their needs, beliefs, values and fears about the issues in question before you try to persuade them. You attempt to persuade them only when you believe your recommendations will genuinely help them reach their goals. At the same time, you have to show that you accept your clients’ objections without judgment or argument. (Clients feel the way they feel, and you may be “right” but being right doesn’t produce results.) Furthermore, you can influence clients best by pointing out the consequences and benefits of their potential choices–using stories and examples to make your points– and then support them in their decision whichever way they choose to go.

All of this requires learning new skills and practices. We’ve found that our clients learn our partnership-based persuasion skills quickly, and many of them are thrilled that they finally can let go of the burden of selling others through trickery and argument. Our experience is that persuasion is easier and more profitable when you let go of trying to “sell” your clients, and instead help them make good decisions.

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Authored For S3 Solutions by Marty Friedman

Marty FriedmanMarty Friedman is one of the architects of the “Power of Partnership”, a training course for consultants and solution sales professionals who want to sell bigger deals and have smoother projects. He has co-presented this training for clients such as HP, Accenture, and Bell Canada as well as many mid-sized companies and start-ups. Find out more at

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