Tag Archives: persuasion

Role of Persuasion: How to Sell ‘Sprouts’

Digital transformation is at the top of most carriers’ agendas. But as life insurance sales move from the adviser to online channels, are we forgetting the science of persuasion?

It is easy to sell candy. Candy tastes nice. It is full of sugar that our body craves, and we have to use our willpower to stop ourselves from overindulging.

If you want to sell me more candy, you just need to make it easy to buy and hard to avoid. You can ensure the packaging is bright, bold and colorful so that it grabs my attention and makes it hard to ignore my cravings. You can place the candy by the supermarket checkout so that it tempts me while I’m waiting to be served.

It is much harder to sell sprouts. Although they are good for you, sprouts just do not taste good to many people. We will not sell many more sprouts just by making it easier to buy sprouts. Wrapping them in beautifully colored packaging and placing them by the supermarket checkout is unlikely to lead to a dramatic increase in sales. Few people would find themselves unable to resist impulse-buying a pack of sprouts.

It is both fortunate and unfortunate that selling life insurance is much more like selling sprouts than selling candy. Fortunately, like sprouts, life insurance is good for you. It protects families from losing their homes and livelihoods and enables people to leave a legacy to future generations. Unfortunately, for most people, life insurance does not taste good. We do not crave it, and we do not have to fight an impulse to stop buying more of it.

So why, when we are creating digital distribution channels, do we assume that selling life insurance has suddenly become like selling candy? All the focus is on making it as easy as possible to buy life insurance by reducing friction. This is undoubtedly important, but it is not the whole picture. Carriers focused solely on reducing friction continue to see disappointing digital sales figures.

Part of the reason is that we are looking to the wrong industries for inspiration. I have heard countless speakers at industry events talking about what we need to learn from businesses such as Amazon and Netflix. But Amazon and Netflix sell very different products than we do. I want to listen to music, read good books and watch great content – it tastes good. So just make it as easy as possible to do and as hard as possible to stop (Netflix’s auto start).

See also: The 6 Principles of Persuasion  

Persuasion is not reducing friction

People who build digital systems are very good at reducing an activity to its core. They can identify waste and unnecessary steps to such an extent that experiences become so simple they are almost frictionless. But there is a danger to this approach: What digital designers see as friction may actually be persuasion. What might seem unnecessary may actually be core.

A technologist might look at a server in a restaurant and think: “We don’t need a person to do that job; we can automate that.” It is only a few months later when sales, return visits and customer reviews are down that they realize the server does more than take your order and deliver your meal – the server welcomes you, makes you feel at home and signals the status of the establishment. In automating the insurance purchase journey, we have forgotten that financial advisers and life insurance salespeople do more than facilitate a purchase – they persuade the customer to make the purchase.

We all know the oft-repeated adage that “life insurance is sold not bought.” But we seem to forget that when creating digital insurance platforms.

So how do we sell more life insurance online? What does persuasion mean? What is clear is that while many people have a problem that life insurance can solve, most do not realize they have this problem. To sell life insurance online, we must awaken the need for it – just as advisers and salespeople do.

Awakening the need for insurance

Prompting awareness of a person’s mortality and morbidity can awaken a need. Traditionally, we have accomplished this by asking difficult and even disturbing questions:

  • “Your family depends on you. Who would they depend on if you were no longer here?”
  • “You work every hour of the day to provide for and look after your family. Who will do this if you’re gone?”
  • “If you had died this year, would your family have been able to afford to keep living in your house?”

These questions provoke an instinctive emotional response. For some, the answers will be comforting: “I have $1 million in the bank, so my family will be fine.” But for many the answers are worrying: “I don’t know how they’d cope.” The questions awaken a need people did not realize they had. They become anxious and determined to solve the problem they are now very much aware of.

The challenge is to effectively replicate this approach online. Can a Facebook or Google ad grab someone’s attention and make a strong enough connection for these types of questions to work? Or will people react negatively to being asked such questions in this context? This still needs to be tested and proven either way.

It may be that digital channels need a different approach, one that matches the context and the mood of people as they interact online. Carriers and startups are focusing on using more positive messages and storytelling techniques to engage customers. But too often these approaches lack real emotional punch – to awaken the need, we might need to shout rather than whisper.

More fruitful could be approaches that work in a slower, less direct way but still use emotional intensity and tap into the inherent sociability of digital experiences.

See also: How Customers Really Think About Insurance  

For example, crowdfunding platforms that enable people to ask their friends and families to help pay their medical bills can help increase the demand for health insurance rather than reduce it as is often feared. Seeing a friend or family member suffer a serious illness prompts awareness of one’s own mortality and morbidity. Seeing them have to ask others to fund hugely expensive but potentially life-saving treatment makes people want to avoid ever finding themselves in the same situation. This awareness has awakened the need for life insurance and opened a potential sales channel. Mutual aid platforms using this approach are growing fast in some markets and appear to be increasing the size of the market rather than just winning market share.

The potential for digital insurance sales is huge, but so are the potential pitfalls, which is why we at RGA have made this an area of focus. What is already clear is that we need to stop making assumptions that are simply not true and hoping people will suddenly crave life insurance in a way they never have before. We need to start creating products, platforms and communications based on how people really think and behave rather than how we think they should. If we continue to design our digital journeys for the ideal person, in effect we are designing them for no one.

The 6 Principles of Persuasion

Why do you buy a product or pay for a service? What motivates your customers to say “yes” to what you are offering?

Have you ever thought about it, really?

The list in your mind is probably endless, but do you think it has anything to do with persuasion?

Yes, persuasion.

For a number of years many companies have persuaded us (the public) to buy their products or try their service using some very catchy ads like:

Proctor and Gamble’s “Thank you, Mom” campaign;

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The ever-so-catchy “Every Kiss Begins with Kay” that’s helped the jeweler sell loads of diamonds; and

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My local favorite, Digicel, “The Bigger, Better Network.”

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A lot of companies understand the science behind what makes you say “yes,” and you can thank Dr. Robert Cialdini for it. In his book ,“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” Dr. Cialdini showed that people do what they observe other people doing. It’s a principle that’s based on the idea of safety in numbers. For example, when I am feeling for a good doubles (a sandwich sold on the street that those of you not from Trinidad and Tobago are missing out on), I will automatically gravitate to the doubles man who has a lot of people around him. I will be very cautious of someone selling doubles who has just a few people buying.

But that is the science of social proof. If a group of people is looking to the back of the elevator, an individual who enters the elevator will copy it and do the same, even if it looks funny. Companies use this all the time. Anyone shopping on Amazon can read tons of customer feedback on any product. Some companies show their Facebook likes and Twitter followers.

Whether we admit it or not, most of us are impressed when someone has a ton of subscribers, Twitter followers, YouTube views, blog reviews, etc.

Calidini’s six principles of persuasion (which are very similar to mine, even though I didn’t know who he was until a month ago) are:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment and consistency
  3. Social proof
  4. Likability
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

If you are wondering if these principles are still relevant after almost 30 years, yes, they are. As a matter of fact, these principles are the foundation for many marketing campaigns, and many companies use them to get you to buy their product or service. Most people can’t explain why they made a particular decision. But Dr. Cialdini can.

After countless experiments and research, Dr. Cialdini identified those six underlying factors that influence decisions and explained how to use the factors to get more positive responses.

Let look at the factors and their applications individually in a business context:


According to Dr. Cialdini, reciprocation explains why free samples can be so effective. People feel indebted to those who do something for them or give them a gift. People who receive an unexpected gift are more likely to listen to a product’s features, donate to a cause or tip a waiter more. Give something — information, samples, a positive experience, etc. — and people will want to give you something in return.

A lot of companies have adopted this principle of reciprocity. Netflix, Amazon and Hubspot all offer a free service for a stipulated period of time. And some bloggers offers free downloads, free webinars, free ebooks. These companies and individuals understand that human beings are wired to return favors and, as a result, site visitors will be more likely to feel obligated to buy something from the company or individual’s website.

Commitment and Consistency

People take a lot of pride in being true to their word. Dr. Cialdini suggests that oral and written commitments are powerful persuasive techniques and that people tend to honor agreements — even after the original incentive or motivation is no longer present.

Cialdini indicated that people want to be consistent and true to their word. Getting customers or co-workers to publicly commit to something makes them more likely to follow through with an action or a purchase. Getting people to answer “yes” makes them more powerfully committed to an action.

Conversion Voodoo helped a mortgage company increase its completed application conversion rate by more than 11% with the simple addition of a commitment checkbox. That simple act of commitment propels the mortgage company’s customers toward making a larger commitment.

Social Proof

We dealt with social proof above. People will normally follow the crowd (safety in numbers).


Dr. Cialdini explained that likability is based on sharing something similar with people you like. People will naturally associate with people who are like them, and this applies to businesses as well. Customers tend to buy from companies they like. Everyone has a favorite brand that appeals to them — the more similarities there are between the customer and brand, the more positive that relationship will be over time.

A lot of companies conduct extensive research to segment their market, target their niche and position the company to appeal to its target market. These companies design their products, services, logos, websites, outlets, etc. to mirror their customers. We are influenced by a product or service we like.

See also: How Customers Really Think About Insurance  

Likability may also come in the form of trust. Being fair, open, genuine and honest in your actions and having a general interest in people and their welfare will begin to build that trust with your staff, which is one of the branches of likability and respect.


Are you more likely to take instruction from a person who you perceived to be an authoritative person? According to Dr. Cialdini, job titles such as “doctor” can infuse an air of authority and, as a result, this can lead the average person to accept what a person is saying without question.

If you take LinkedIn influencers, for example, their posts attract thousands of views and comments simply because people considers the influencers to be people of authority in their field because of their success. According to Dr. Cialdini, “When people are uncertain, they don’t look inside themselves for answers — all they see is ambiguity and their own lack of confidence. Instead, they look outside for sources of information that can reduce their uncertainty. The first thing they look to is an authority. We’re not talking about being in authority but about being an authority.”

Nike is one of the most coveted brands in the world, and one of their major strengths is their association with very successful athletes who are considered an authority in their sport. So, quite naturally with that association, Nike has become an authoritative brand in the world of sports apparel.


In economic terms, “scarcity” relates to supply and demand. The less there is of something, the more valuable it is. According to Dr. Cialdini, the more rare and uncommon something is, the more people want it.  For example, a lot of companies use phrases like “Don’t miss this chance,” or, “Book your spots early; Limited seating available.”

Many companies may manufacture a limited amount of a product in an attempt to generate a sense of limitation to the general public. Have you ever notice the long lines for a new product? People camping outside a store? If you create that environment of scarcity, you will create a demand for your product or service.

See also: How to Exceed Customer Expectations  

The six principles I’ve mentioned are very powerful simply because they bypass our rational mind and appeal to our subconscious instincts. A good seller will always refer to the positive opinion of other users and how successful the product is. Or the seller will give customers a free trial, etc.

But it is important to note that if you are unethical and are trying to con your customers, people will see right through your scam. These principles will only be effective if you are genuine in your efforts and you deliver on your promise to your customers.

To gain more insight into the use of persuasion, you can secure a copy of my Kindle eBook, “The 6 Principles of Persuasion Everyone in Business Should Know, Release the Trigger of Compliance in Your Staff and Customers.” You will learn influential strategies that many successful companies use to increase their sales, attract more customers, manage their employees more effectively and communicate to influence others.

The 5 Personal Persuasion Styles

Can you imagine a world where everyone was inspired to go to work? Do you inspire your team to greatness as a leader, or are you one of those leaders who are quite comfortable with your staff coming to work every day without any sense of purpose? The No. 1 problem facing many organizations today is leadership.

A Simon Sinek YouTube video titled “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe” tells the story of a group of Marines that came under heavy fire from three sides in an ambush in Afghanistan, when one Capt. William D. Swenson repeatedly ran into the line of fire to bring injured men to safety and saved at least a dozen lives. A GoPro on one of the medics captured Swenson and a comrade carrying a wounded Marine to a helicopter for evacuation. After putting the man down, Swenson gave him a kiss on the forehead and then ran back into the kill zone.

I said to myself, wow, if a man is willing to give his life for me, I will follow him to the ends of the earth. (Swenson received the Medal of Honor.)

While a business environment is obviously not a war zone, even though we sometimes use war as an analogy, the sort of deep-seated love that Swenson showed needs to be present in a workplace, and it is missing in many organization today. People don’t feel safe, and they do not believe their leaders will have their backs when they are in the line of fire.

The greats of leadership have a persuasion style that allows them to sell their ideas and inspire people to follow their vision. One of the most critical skills in the repertoire of any leader is the power to inspire and influence people by their words and actions rather than coercion.

See also: How High-Performing Salespeople Persuade  

In a fascinating book, The Art of Woo, Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas, by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa, the authors discuss five different leadership personality approaches to persuasion: Driver, Commander, Promoter, Chess Player and Advocate. Some people are comfortable using three or four of these styles, while others prefer to play only one or two.

This book draws from many other brilliant authors and expertly highlights the value of authenticity and self-awareness in your ability to persuade and influence. The book says you need to make two basic choices: Are you other-oriented or self-oriented? (In other words, are you going to tailor your messages for your audience, or are you going to make unmodified announcements rather than spin them for each audience?) And, will you be loud or quiet?

The book then goes through five styles; one of the keys to great leadership is understanding your unique persuasion style. While you are reading, consider your present environment, your employees, values, etc. and ascertain which communication approach is best aligned to your natural persuasive leadership personality.

Driver (Higher Volume and Self-Oriented Perspective)

According to Shell and Moussa, when individuals are high-volume and prefer to announce their perspective without a lot of adjustment for their audience, other people are likely to experience them as demanding. They can be overly one-dimensional and prefer to persuade people by saying things like “Do this my way, the right way or you can hit the highway.”

I remember working as a plumber’s assistant in my younger days, and all the employees called the founder of the company Frank Sinatra — because he liked everything his way.

But if drivers are dedicated to the organization mission, they can be effective persuaders. The book mentions former Intel CEO Andy Groves, who personified a high-volume, self-oriented CEO and was hugely successful.

Grove kept a wooden bat near his chair. One day, just after a meeting had gotten started, several executives slipped into their seats. Grove fell silent at their arrival, then grabbed the bat, slammed it onto the table, and shouted, “I don’t ever, ever want to be in a meeting with this group that doesn’t start and end when it is scheduled!” Intel was subsequently famous for on-time meetings.

See also: Should You Use a Coach/Mentor?  

Grove wasn’t a nut; he was very aware about his communication style and the culture he wanted to create at Intel.

Commander (Low Volume and Self-Oriented)

A commander speaks from a position of quiet confidence and authority, using expertise combined with finesse to make a point in an understated way. The book highlighted J.P. Morgan as someone who conducted himself from a position of quiet confidence and credibility.

You don’t have to be an aggressive Driver when you want people to know exactly what you think. Indeed, a quiet, understated demeanor can often be much more efficient. People listen. The Commander keeps his counsel and puts a premium on maintaining as much control over decisions as possible.

In a financial panic in 1895, Morgan played the Commander with finesse, saving both America and his financial empire from a fiscal catastrophe.

The Promoter (Higher Volume and Other-Oriented Perspective)

Promoters are outgoing, optimistic and assertive. They are friendly. When played well, this role features a gift for gaining and maintaining a wide circle of relationships. The CEO of SAP, Bill McDermott, immediately comes to mind.

During his 17 years at Xerox, where he became the youngest divisional president, he was assigned to turn around the Puerto Rican unit, which was ranked 64th out of 64 divisions in the world. The following year, that same division was No. 1 in the world.

When asked about the spectacular turnaround, Bill McDermott said that he listened to the people, because they know why things aren’t working. McDermott said people told him two things:

  1. They wanted a vision, so they could be inspired when they came to work.
  2. The staff wanted their holiday party back.

When the division went from 64th to 1st in the world, they got their holiday party back, at the Old San Juan Hotel.

The Chess Player (Lower Volume and Other-Oriented Perspective)

The Chess Player style involved plotting a set of moves that brings about the desired outcome. Leaders with this type of personality prefer to operate in more intimate settings, quietly managing strategic encounters behind the scenes. A Chess Player is an effective strategist who is less extroverted than the Promoter but shares with the Promoter a keen interest in what makes other people tick.

Shell and Moussa point to John D. Rockefeller. In 1865, Rockefeller wanted to end a partnership with four men, but the firm could be dissolved only if all the partners consented.

Rockefeller went to work behind the scenes, lining up support from some banks. When he got the support required, Rockefeller provoked a quarrel over an oil industry investment and quietly extracted himself from the unsavory business partnership. If Rockefeller was more prone to a driver personality, he may have engaged his partners in a shouting match or threatened litigation, demanding they release him so he could follow his dreams. However, Rockefeller took the path of the Chess Player by carefully plotting a set of moves behind the scenes.

The Advocate – Moderate Volume and a Balance Between Self-Oriented and Other-Oriented Perspectives.

The Advocate uses a full range of tools to get her points across. The Advocate strives for balance — persistence without shouting, being mindful of the audience without losing perspective. A classic example used in the book is the founder of Wal-Mart, Sam Walton.

Walton visited one of his stores and noticed someone at the front greeting customers. Walton was fascinated with the idea and told his team that all the stores should have greeters. Now, Walton could have simply ordered people to do what he wanted. But he was seldom the Driver that Andy Grove was and instead relied on a more moderate combination of vision, persistence, relationships and reason to get people to see things his way.

There was a lot of conflict over this new initiative, and Walton went to lengths to explain why this greeters program would be good for the company. He let the debate go on in an attempt to fully explore all the ideas. After 18 months of discussion and experiment, Wal-Mart finally adopted the practice company-wide.

Walton did not dictate or say things to his executives such as “Don’t you trust my judgment?” or “Don’t you think I know a thing or two about what is good for Wal-Mart?” Instead, Walton sold his vision, and his team eventually brought into the concept.

As a leader, you need to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses in persuasion. You need to understand your preferred communication channels, and likewise, you must take into consideration the dynamics of your environment, your organizational values, culture, people, etc.

Some companies are fierce guardians of their business values, and if there is a misalignment it can cause havoc within the company. For example, you cannot be an Andy Grove in a culture that promotes family values, teamwork, collaboration, etc. The culture is completely different.

See also: Systematic Approach to Digital Strategy  

Woo-based persuasion is all about aligning interest, values and relationship as people find it easier to say yes rather than no. Regardless of your personality, when your team trusts you, when you figure out which channels of communication your counterparts are best attuned to, your will gain tremendous credibility within your company.

My personal persuasion style is more of a Chess Player. I prefer to quietly managing strategic encounters behind the scene. What is your personal persuasion style?

How Customers Really Think About Insurance

Since presenting on the topic and writing an article for the Chartered Insurance Institute’s’ Journal, I’ve continued to hear a demand for more understanding of Behavioral Economics (BE). It appears the majority of insurers have delegated the challenge of understanding behavioral economics to their risk and pricing teams, and few are engaging actively with their marketing and customer insight teams.

I think this is a missed opportunity, not just for better compliance with Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) expectations, but also for the commercial gains to be made from better-designed communications.

That said, I suspect the majority of you have at least heard of BE. In recent years, the success of popular books on the subject has ensured plenty of media coverage and social media debate on implications and appropriateness. Easy-to-read books, as introductions to the subject, have included “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. More comprehensive and challenging is a classic text like“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahnemann. Both are well worth reading, and there are now many others to choose from.

What makes this subject of greater relevance to the financial services industry is the influence of behavioral economics on the thinking of both the UK government and the FCA. Government policy is being influenced by the work of its “nudge unit.” Meanwhile, the FCA has said that it expects companies to consider how their customers actually make decisions.

So what exactly does behavioral economics teach us with regard to how people make decisions? There are numerous experts and many slightly different approaches, but I believe the categorization proposed by the FCA is a good place to start. In its first occasional paper on the subject, the FCA proposed the following list of 10 behavioral biases:

  1. Present bias. This is an overvaluing of the present compared with the future. This might be manifest in choices that look like immediate gratification or in ones that look like procrastination. An insurance example might be customers only considering premium cost now, not a full comparison of the cover provided for the future.
  2. Reference dependence and loss aversion. Loss aversion can be seen in tests where people will consistently seek to avoid a loss that is certain, even if having to take a gamble or pay more to do so. Reference dependence is the assessing gains or losses in comparison with a subjective reference point. Retailers use this a lot. I’m sure you’ve experienced supermarket product pricing manipulated to make a relatively expensive choice look more mid-market by comparing that choice with higher, “dummy prices.” For an insurance example: Customers might make different decisions if just shown the costs of monthly or annual premiums on a renewal letter, as opposed to seeing a comparison with last year’s premium, as well.
  3. Regret and other emotions. Here we are dealing with irrational actions to avoid experiencing such negative emotions in the future. This might involve procrastinating on important decisions, like being checked out by a doctor, or willingness to pay for products that avoid decision making (like premium products promising to cover everything you need). A worrying example for insurers is consumers’ unwillingness to engage with a need for life insurance, because of their discomfort with imagining the death of a loved one.
  4. Overconfidence. That is, overconfidence about the likelihood of future events or our abilities, or rationalizing past events (with the benefit of hindsight). For instance, almost all drivers believe they are above average. Another example is what’s called the planning fallacy, where most people consistently underestimate how long it will take them to get something done. Within insurance customers, we can see this bias at work in consistent under-estimating of cover needed or assuming an ability to self-insure or financially cope without protection.
  5. Over-extrapolation. Here we are dealing with making predictions on the basis of too few data points. A classic example is in the behavior of most investors. Most people will underestimate the level of uncertainty and buy or sell shares on the basis of insufficient data to make a robust forecast. One could say that the same behavior is also exhibited in consumers’ use of insurance comparison sites. Undue importance can be given to simply the cheapest price or known brands, to shortcut decision-making time, rather than make a rational comparison of cover, service, recommendations, etc.
  6. Projection bias. This is the expectation that your current feelings, attitudes and preferences will continue into the future. So, you underestimate the potential for change. A classic example of this is the effect of the weather on sales of houses and cars. The feel of a house, or looks of a car, on a sunny day is projected into the future and bought without sufficient investigation — leading to higher sales on sunny days. An insurance example could be seen in the low engagement of the working population with critical illness cover or health insurance, because of a projection of current good health into the future.
  7. Mental accounting and narrow framing. This is the behavior whereby people treat money or assets differently according to the purpose assigned to them, and consider such decisions in isolation rather than look at the overall impact. For instance, people not paying off debts while putting funds into savings accounts with lower interest rates. An insurance example is perhaps the estimates made of sum insured, which are more driven by impact on regular premium and budget allocated, rather than purchases made and value of possessions.
  8. Framing, salience and limited attention. This means reacting differently to essentially the same choice, because it is presented differently, partly because of limited attention to all but the most salient points. For example, shoppers are more likely to buy meat labelled 75% lean than meat labeled 25% fat. For an insurance example, consider the different responses to financial statements when the same information is simply presented in different ways. Simpler presentation that causes the most important information to be salient can change engagement and action.
  9. Decision-making “rules of thumb,” or heuristics. This is the tendency to simplify complex decisions by choosing more familiar, status quo or less ambitious questions instead. An example is where interviewers will choose candidates most like known colleagues or be swayed by stereotypes. For insurance, one sees customers simplifying many decisions in this way, for instance: “Is my pension fund performing well, and do I need to increase my contributions to achieve my goal?” can be simplified to: “Is anything wrong, and do they say I have to do anything now?”
  10. Persuasion and social influence. This behavior includes being persuaded because a seller is likable or comes across as a good person. There are examples of people being unduly swayed by apparent social norms, like increases in recycling because local government shares the percentage of others in your area who are recycling. For insurance, the change in consumers assuming that they “should” use comparison sites to shop around, because of an impression that everyone does so now, has been influenced by consistent advertising on TV and other media. It is interesting to see this reflected in customers who make a buying decision first, then find some evidence on a comparison site to justify the choice afterward.

There is much more I could share on BE, but this is a long enough post that I hope you can judge your interest in this topic. Do comment if you’d like to see more on this topic, especially how to apply this theory in practice.