WIIFM – Is It Always The Motivation?

Salespeople like to say everyone’s favorite radio station is WIIFM. In case you don’t know it, WIIFM is an acronym that stands for “What’s In It For Me?” The assumption salespeople make, and most other people for that matter, is humans are always motivated to act in their best self-interest. State Auto’s former Chief Sales Officer Clyde Fitch put it this way, “Self-interest isn’t the only horse in the race but it’s usually the one to bet on.”

In the absence of certain factors people do act in their best self-interest quite often. But the smart persuader knows there are many decades of research from social psychologists and behavioral economists that refute this claim.

This was brought to the forefront of my mind as I reread Robert Cialdini’s new book Pre-suasion. He highlighted a study conducted by Adam Grant and David Hoffman. These two looked at the hand washing behavior of doctors. If anyone knows the importance of hand washing to prevent the spread of germs it would be doctors. Despite their knowledge, doctors wash their hands about half as often as they should. That’s not good for doctors or patients!

In an effort to see if they could motivate more hand washing to prevent the spread of germs and disease Grant and Hoffman tried two different approaches. One appealed to WIIFM and another appealed to why most people chose to become doctors – to help patients.

In the WIIFM scenario doctors saw signs that read, “Hand hygiene protects you from catching diseases.” In the patient focus appeal the sign said, “Hand hygiene protects patients from catching diseases.” So the difference was a single word – “you” vs. “patients.”

The WIIFM approach caused no change in hand washing behavior but the patient focused approach cause a 45% increase in hand washing!

What does this mean for you? It’s easy to default to WIFFM and that leads to typical ways to motivate – salary increases, bonuses, rewards, etc. Make no mistake, those traditional approaches do change people’s behavior but sometimes there are better, less costly ways to motivate a behavior change. Taking time to know why people do what they do then tapping into that can be far more effective.

Most people don’t become doctors to make lots of money or for fame. Those are nice by-products but not the motivation. Usually people get into healthcare because of a personal experience that leads them to want to help others.

Teachers certainly don’t get into that profession for the money. A love of learning and desire to help kids are big reasons people become teachers. Coaches usually choose that profession because of a love of sports and the impact a coach had on them. They want to pass along the love and impact people the way they were impacted.

When you discover someone’s why and craft your persuasive appeal around it you’re tapping into a powerful principle of influence – consistency. When your persuasive appeal reminds them of their why it’s much easier for them to say yes to you.

My encouragement for you this week is to pay attention to those you interact with, see if you can discover their why then make sure your attempt at persuasion incorporates that knowledge. Do so and you’ll be far more successful when it comes to hearing yes.

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