Influence and Persuasion Are Not the Same Thing

There is a big difference between influence and persuasion. Salespeople who understand this difference consistently outperform those who do not.

There’s a reason Dale Carnegie didn’t title his classic book How to Win Friends and Persuade People.

To persuade means to prevail on someone to do something by argument, entreaty, or expostulation. To prevail is to gain ascendancy by strength. In other words, to coerce a buyer to do something, which just reinforces their negative image of sellers as sellouts.

If your primary job in sales is to listen to understand what the most important thing is for your buyer, and then help them get that, then what value does persuasion offer? Are you going to persuade the buyer to change their mind about what is most important to them?

Similarly, if your buyer’s job is to quickly gather and make sense of the information they need to make a decision to get what is most important to them, then how does persuasion help them achieve that?

Become a Source of Value

Your buyers want you to be a source of value that helps them make informed trade-offs and decisions about how to achieve their most important thing. Which means that your persuasive coercion is of no value to your buyer.

Persuasion is not a sales skill. It’s a blunt instrument of last resort that sellers use when they don’t understand how to influence the choices their buyers make. In that sense, influence is the antithesis of persuasion in sales.

Influence is defined as the mental and emotional aptitude to change the actions, understanding, and behavior of other people without the apparent exertion of force. In other words, we use our Connection, Curiosity, Understanding, and Generosity to influence the actions, understanding, and behavior of the buyer.

Sellers who believe that their job is to persuade buyers to purchase their products or services are selling drills. Sellers who help their buyers identify the problems they need to solve and define their options for achieving their desired outcomes are selling holes.

The Influence Mindset

Having an influence mindset rather than a persuasion mindset alters the nature of how you interact with a buyer. Influence has a positive impact on the experience your buyer has with you. (In contrast to the universal human resistance to being pushed, prodded, and persuaded.)

Here’s a simple way to think about the difference between persuasion and influence: If you’re a persuasion-based seller, you believe your job is to change the minds of your buyers to buy your product. If you’re an influence-based seller, you believe your job is to first understand your buyers and then help them make up their minds about how to solve their problem and achieve their desired outcomes.

Selling Out vs Selling In

Persuasion as practiced by most sellers is a zero-sum game. If you’re trying to persuade your buyer to change their mind, you are telling them, in essence, “I know better than you. I’m right. And you’re wrong.” That’s Selling Out. Which is not exactly a productive way to strengthen your connection with the buyer.

Contrast that with the buyer’s experience with Selling In. The person Selling In doesn’t operate on assumptions. Instead, they focus on making the buyer feel heard and understood before recommending a solution. Understanding this difference between influence and persuasion is one of the keys to delivering a better buying experience. 

Check out Andy Paul’s hit new book Sell Without Selling Out: A Guide to Success on Your Own Terms

About the author

Andy Paul

Andy Paul is a bestselling author, sales leader, speaker, and global sales advisor focused…

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