The Six Principles of Influence And How to Use Them To Become A 10x Sales Rep or Marketer

Everyone is looking for the secret to growth.

We spend a ton of time trying to hack it. A/B test it. Or–if we’re lucky–we’ve already found that illusive bright spot, and now, all we have to do is exploit it.

But long before we were trying to understand human behavior in the digital world, psychologists like Robert Cialdini were studying it in the social one to understand how humans make buying decisions. For almost three years, Cialdini researched the training programs of people in so-called “influence positions”–like sales and marketing–to uncover exactly how some people got others to “say yes” so often.

The result of that research was Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Originally published in 1984, the book has seen multiple editions and become a seminal work on the social psychology behind buying. So it comes as no surprise that fans of the book include marketing and sales professionals around the world, and Drift’s CEO, David Cancel.

In a recent episode of Seeking Wisdom, Dave Gerhardt and David Cancel sat down to talk about the book, and walk us through the findings of Cialdini’s ground-breaking research.

“If you’re a marketer and you’re listening to this podcast, and you have not read this book, you’re a poser,” David Cancel says.

Strong words–so I suggest you check out the full podcast right here 

But in the meantime, let’s chat through Cialdini’s six secrets for getting people to say yes.

The Psychology Behind the Buying Process

#1 – Reciprocity

When someone pays you a compliment or does something nice, how do you feel afterwards?

If you feel like you need to return the favor–even if it was uninvited–then you’ve experienced what Cialdini says is the human inclination towards reciprocity. Obviously, reciprocity greases all sorts of social interactions in our daily lives. But in situations where a specific outcome is desired–say, the buying process–reciprocity can be a universal tool for driving a specific outcome.

Take, for example, the experience of shopping at Costco. Those samples you see everywhere are more than just a handout–they’re powerful catalysts for providing reciprocity.

“If you take a sample from someone at Costco, you’re more inclined to want to do business with that person, or even buy that product,” DC explains.

Same thing happens in B2B sales and marketing. When you give a prospect something of value first–information, advice, a potential solution to a business challenge–you increase the odds that they’ll giving you something back in return.

#2 – Social proof

In the B2B space, it’s not enough to have the best product or the most effective demand gen campaigns. You must also have social proof, like testimonials and stories from your best customers. That’s because, according to Cialdini, one of the ways humans determine what is correct is to figure out what other people think is correct.

“If you go to Amazon and you go buy a product, you’ll see the ratings and reviews and the reason the ratings and reviews are there is to trigger social proof,” DC explains.

By looking to others to help define what is “right”, we invoke the wisdom of the crowd to make important buying decisions. It’s the same when you feature the faces of customers on your website. Those faces provide social proof that others came to the same decision about purchasing a product you’re also considering.

#3 – Commitment

Humans decide to do things that don’t always make sense.

Looking at Cialdini’s ideas around the commitment bias, we start to understand some of the reason for how that influences decision-making.

Here’s an example: If I join a gym but never go, the most sensible thing would be to cancel my membership, right?


But as a human, I’m locked into that membership because canceling it has the potential to say more about me than I care to admit.

Canceling my membership effectively contradicts my psychological commitment to the idea I might  workout someday.

“Once we make a decision, we are more likely to stick to our decisions and be stubborn about that decision, and that’s called commitment consistency. As soon as we make a commitment, we have a bias to want to stick to that commitment, and not retreat from it,” Cancel explains it.

#4 – Authority

According to Cialdini, people fall for even the perception of authority during the buying process.

“Always works,” says DC.

That’s why it’s so powerful in the context of sales and marketing, and particularly when it comes to getting people to say yes to a purchase.

Whether it’s pulling in top customers as references to close a deal, or featuring testimonials from prominent C-level executives on your website, you’re capitalizing on people’s innate respect for those with power or authority.

#5 – Scarcity

Ever go to buy something online, but when it comes to pulling the trigger, you just can’t do it?

Nine times out of ten when the merchant adds an element of scarcity to that product description, your purchase suddenly becomes 10x more urgent.

I’m talking about the:

“Only two left!”


“Hurry, they’re almost gone!”

And also the:

“Order in the next hour and get it by tomorrow!”

Inject a little potential for scarcity into the buying process, and people start making decisions. But it’s not the product that motivates them to do it. It’s the reality of losing out on it entirely.

“What I learned from this is–and thinking about how we apply this–is that the loss is more powerful than the gain,” Dave says, referring to the psychological need for action when a resource is scarce.

The potential loss is what drives the behavior, and that’s hugely influential on people during the buying process.

#6 – Liking

People are easily persuaded by other people that they like, says Cialdini.

“The more likable someone seems to you… the more willing you are to do business with them,” explains DC.

The reverse is also true, as he points out.

“One of the traps that we fall into with this bias, this liking bias, we are often–all of us–unwilling to learn from people we don’t like,” he points out.

And this is a missed opportunity because people–even those we might find unlikable–can teach us something and help us grow.

The Podcast Is As Good As the Book

Now that DC and Dave have broken down Robert Cialdini’s book, it’s time to listen to the full Seeking Wisdom episode.

Subscribe to Seeking Wisdom on iTunes and listen to the full episode on the six principles of influence.

P.S. Join 20,000 of your peers. Subscribe to the newsletter for hypergrowth.

Every Sunday evening we'll send you a roundup of the best content and events from Drift and around the web. Make sure you're ready for the week! Subscribe now.

Subscribe Here