Persuasive Selling – What is Pre-suasion?

January 27th is the targeted release date for Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance AgentsSelling isn’t confined to those with “sales” in their title. Company underwriters must sell their decisions so these concepts are for them! Claims adjusters know settling a claim is definitely a persuasive conversation, so these ideas will help them settle claims fast, fair and friendly. 

In short, if you’re an insurance professional you will benefit from understanding how to apply influence throughout all phases of the sales cycle. If you’re not in the insurance industry, I’ve no doubt you’ll still benefit from understanding the intersection of influence and selling – especially for people in the financial services industry. To whet your appetite, below is another short excerpt from the book.

What is Pre-suasion? 

Imagine there are three buckets in front of you: a red bucket with scalding hot water, a blue bucket with icy cold water and a green bucket with room temperature water. If you put your right hand in the red bucket with the hot water then immediately put that hand into the green bucket with room temperature water, your hand will suddenly feel cold. But, if you put your left hand in the blue bucket with cold water then plunge it into the green bucket, that hand will feel hot. So one hand feels cold but the other feels hot even though they are both experiencing the very same temperature water. What you did beforehand, literally, impacted how you experienced what came next. That physical example applies to the mental as well.

In his New York Times best-seller Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, author Robert Cialdini writes, “pre-suasion is the process of arranging for an audience to be receptive to a message before they encounter it.” I like to call it “setting the stage” for more effective influence. What can you say or do beforehand that might make it easier for someone to say yes before you even attempt to persuade them? This is where it’s important that you have a high level understanding of how the brain works when it comes to attention, mindset and triggers. 



Phone numbers were originally seven digits because most people couldn’t remember more than seven numbers. I don’t know about the validity of that but it is true that most humans have a hard time holding much information in their working memory. According to the latest research it’s not seven items but more like three or four things unless you practice extensively. If you’ve ever gotten off the couch, walked into a different room to get something, only to forget what you were looking for, then you’ve experienced the limits of your working memory coupled with distractions.

Memory is like a muscle in one respect – you can improve it with training. Humans may have a certain amount of natural strength and endurance but through exercise, like weightlifting or running, we can get stronger and increase our aerobic capacity for endurance. The same can be said of your working memory. Through training and certain techniques you can learn to hold lots of information in your working memory but it’s not easy. It’s probably a good bet most people you interact with have not been to the memory gym.

Consider this quote from Henry Ford: Thinking is some of the hardest work there is and that’s why so few people do it.”Your brain is only about 2% of your bodyweight but takes up around 20% of your daily calories. When it’s engaged in active, cognitive thinking it ramps up its usage by 400%. To say your brain is an energy hog is an understatement! Using your brain is some of the hardest work there is so your brain is always looking for shortcuts to save precious calories. 

If you think back over the course of evolution, the calories our ancestors conserved when their brains “powered down” might have been the calories they needed to farm, fight or flee. While survival may not be on the line today as it was for our ancient relatives, the human brain, and its limits, operate essentially the same today as it did 40,000 years ago.

Remember, attention is very limited so do whatever you can to grab it and hold it! 


If learning how limited your attention is depresses you, then brace yourself for this news: despite what you may believe, you cannot multitask. That’s right, it’s a fallacy to think you can watch ESPN, read texts and have a conversation with someone all at the same time. When you engage your brain with multiple tasks it’s never really doing three or four things simultaneously. It tackles one task then switches your attention to another. Granted, it may switch so fast that you feel like you’re doing multiple tasks at the same time but according to science you’re not. You’re engaged in task switching and every time you switch there’s a brief period where your brain isn’t focused on either task. Consider it a dead zone.

This switching is analogous to texting while driving. When you take your eyes off the road to read a text, even briefly, bad things can happen. The more you continually switch from texting to driving and back to texting, the higher the likelihood of an accident. Science also reveals, the more you engage in task switching the more mistakes you will make. On top of the mistakes, it will also take longer to complete the tasks you’re engaged with. Not a good return on your effort.

To be most efficient and accurate, focus on one thing at a time. Once you’re finished, or reach a good stopping point, then make a conscious choice to switch to something else. Do so and you’ll make fewer mistakes and save yourself a lot of time over the long haul.

It’s not enough to grab someone’s attention. Have them focused on the right concepts and your chances of getting to yes will improve greatly.


Our brains are funny in that, once we focus our limited attention on something we give the object of our focus more importance than it actually deserves. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, one of the foremost experts in the world on the human brain and decision making, put it this way: “Nothing is ever as important as you think it is while you’re thinking about it.”

Here’s an example you may relate to. You’re getting ready for a beach vacation and hear a story on the news about a shark attack. You turn to your partner and say, “The kids aren’t getting in the water!” It seems like a wise decision – why risk it? – until you step back and analyze it. You and your kids stand a much greater chance of being hurt or killed in a car accident than being attacked and killed by a shark. Despite that reality, you get in cars every day without a second thought as to the dangers. When your limited attention gets focused on something, you cannot see the forest for the trees.

Knowing that someone’s limited attention focused correctly will add to the importance of your proposal, think about exactly what you want foremost in the prospective customer’s mind. 

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 100,000 people around the world. His blog, Influence PEOPLE, is read by people in 200 countries across the globe.


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