Episode 19- Sterling Valentine | Art of Persuasion
Ravi: Hello there, welcome to episode number 19 of Spontaneous Conversations. This is Ravi Gundlapalli, founder, CEO of MentorCloud. With me I have—
Rajesh: I’m Rajesh Setty. I’m a serial entrepreneur and I’m co-conspirator with Ravi on this podcast series.
Ravi: Today we have a very exciting guest, a genius in the world of marketing. Visiting us in Silicon Valley his name is Sterling Valentine. Sterling, thank you so much for joining our podcast today.
Sterling: Thank you for having me. And welcome everybody who’s listening wherever you are, whenever you are. We’re happy to have you.
Rajesh: Yeah, we’ve picked a topic which was very interesting Ravi. We first started with should we do persuasion as a topic and then Sterling said, “You should do something even better. Something that eliminate persuasion, something building products that don’t require for us to persuade people to engage with them or buy them.” So Sterling, what is the reason you picked the topic?
Sterling: Well, you guys were kind enough to ask me to do it, and I was happy to do it, but I wanted to make sure we would approach it at the highest level possible to get the maximum benefit for our listeners because everybody’s time is already being taken up by so many other things. My suggestion was instead of trying to master the art of persuasion why don’t we master the art of eliminating the need for persuasion in the first place. So the best way to do that would be to create situations that are so mutually beneficial that persuasion is completely unnecessary. So instead of– I always believe that the best way to solve a problem is to prevent it from happening. So we could master the art of persuasion, but that puts us in a confrontational position where we always have to persuade somebody to our point of view. So we become better arm wrestlers but I would love to not have to arm wrestle in the first place.
So how can we eliminate the need for persuasion and I thought that would be a good place to start a conversation we’re never going to completely eliminate the need for persuasion. But how can we set it up so that things are mutually beneficial and don’t need to be pushed or forced or cajoled into doing something.
Ravi: Yeah, because you know just the word persuasion itself almost implies that you are, whatever you do or going to say you’re going to have to make the other person move or, you know, take an action because persuasion, motivation. Motivate means to make somebody move so it always takes more energy to move somebody that instead if you inspire them and they move with their own weight, with their own desire, with their own beliefs, it’s almost happening at a zero force from your side. So if entrepreneurs can really learn that their products, their ideas, their companies naturally draw people there is really no need to persuasion. So that’s why I am so excited by this topic. So I think Sterling, what is one thing that you recommend entrepreneurs should think about to eliminate persuasion?
Sterling: Well, we start with the fundamental position of we need to get something done. We have a goal in mind, we have a product to sell. We have a non-profit organization cause to achieve. We want to make some transformation in the world. Some result we’re here. We want to be there, we analyze the gap. Who can help us get there. So if you sell aluminum siding, you need aluminum siding prospects to sell aluminum siding to if you have a non-profit organization you need somebody to donate and most of the time. I think this is where we start too far down the decision making tree, we start down at the part of. “Okay. Where do I find people that I can persuade to my way of thinking.”
That’s traditionally been the way it usually works but isn’t it wonderful when things are seamless. You know, I really believe that discipline is inefficient and whenever possible I’d rather replace discipline with joy. I’d rather replace immediate buy-in instead of having to make a persuasion in the first place. So how can we design our needs. How can we design these transformations that we want to have happen in the world in such a way that [inaudible 00:04:11] right in is you know benefit for somebody else. How can we make a mutually beneficial situation where the other party is already attempting to achieve goals that they would selfishly try to achieve anyway, except that when they do so it also benefits us.
So, in a very design of what we’re setting out to do before we set out one foot on to the journey maybe we can adjust the journey so that we don’t have to travel very far. So if we can roll back the decision tree one level and say, “Instead of how can I persuade people to do this or believe this or pay for this or whatever. Maybe I can look at how can I build it so that people flock to it naturally want to embrace it and I have to turn people away.” Eliminating the persuasion is a goal that we should have before we ever even set foot out to try to persuade people. We may not need to do it at all if we designed it right, make sense.
Ravi: Yeah, you know, in one of the conversations actually, you said something about, it’s not about us, it’s about you. And so if you make everything about the other person, then the other person is actually coming to you because you’re talking their language. Can you expand on that?
Sterling: Well, I love the concepts of the advocate and the avatar. I think these are very powerful frameworks that we can use in whatever it is we’re doing, whether it’s a traditional selling persuading process or even in the design of something that at the preliminary blueprints architectural stage the avatar is the person who we’re trying to influence or trying to achieve some kind of compliance from and the more we can put ourselves in their shoes, we can better try to see how what our project is could help them solve their problems. So, the less we put ourselves in our avatar’s shoes, the more we’re just hammering somebody on the head that we don’t really understand their position and the less rapport, connectivity, congruency we have with the other party, the less effective we’re going to be.
So pretty soon it basically becomes just buy it damn it. I don’t care if it makes any sense to you, it becomes a, you know, shaking them by the shirt. I just wanted to do whatever I want you to do. I haven’t really done the homework of paying attention if it’s actually any good for you. Just comply already, you know. So that’s like the worst case scenario down the spectrum. But if we can really place ourselves in the avatar’s shoes who is the person that we’re trying to help? What is their problem that they’re experiencing? What is their context? What does their life look like? Where are they trying to get to anyway? A great question is how can this project of mine help you achieve your goals?
This is a powerful question because now it’s a design question. I even ask people sometimes, “If you were designing this project, whatever it is, what would you do if you could wave your magic wand. How would you make it better for you to serve your own selfish needs not to do me a favor, but to help you get wherever it is you’re going.” Or if, another great question tool is, “If you own stock in me or my product or my napper, if you own stock, meaning that the decisions that I make put money in your pocket. If I make the right ones or cost you make, you’ve already paid stock you know have I dragged your investment down in the toilet if I did the wrong thing. What would you have me do if you were me?
Really putting ownership on and a lot you know really trying to integrate with the avatar in the other quickly, the other part about the advocate is, the more we try to put ourselves in the avatar’s shoes, the more we become an advocate for them and an advocate is different than the salesperson. An advocate imagine if you’re in a courtroom for example, and some something’s happening that affects you and your attorney stands up behind you, puts his hand on your shoulder and says, “My client deserves…,” You know, “Your Honor, I object…,” you know this is as if somebody advocating for on your behalf. This is somebody standing up for you. Having your back, caring for you. You know what happens to you, affects them, that kind of thing.
There’s a big difference between, by the way, the words customer and client. Customer is somebody who buys from you, a client is somebody who’s in your care. Big difference. So as an advocate for an avatar you already started out just by framing it that way at a higher level of service and connectivity and congruency than you ever would if, “Okay look I got prospects over here and I’m a sales person, that’s roll up our sleeves and do battle.” Already you’re down the decision tree. You’ve already made some certain decisions about your relationship. So, it kind in a sense started too late. You’ve established a conflict and, “We’re going to win this sales war, gentlemen. If we have to beat the clients into submission.” You know, that’s where you’re starting it but if you can say, “Who is our avatar, what do they need and how are we advocates for them?” Maybe you can come to a different better closer understanding higher level of service and maybe make it effortless come up with a different question, have a different answer and maybe they’re lining up to buy and you don’t have to do anything, makes sense?
Rajesh: Makes a lot of sense. Listening to [inaudible 00:09:00]. So he also talks about designing products in such a way that people don’t have to be persecuted. So one of the things that he may talked about was, he gave an example of an email. Nobody needs persuasion to use email because there’s this [inaudible 00:09:20] constantly checking, and they get an email and in fact when they send an email, they don’t get any immediate benefit. It puts a trigger for the future thing, did I get a response to that email.
Sterling: Opens a loop.
Rajesh: Opens a loop and they cannot close it, because in their mind they had to complete it. And it also talks about WhatsApp. No need to persuade because we all have global trends and then you want to talk to them, it makes it very easy to just add their phone number and make a phone call and after that you got stuck with it because now you’re always thinking, “What has come? What have my friends told us?” No need for any persuasion there. We design habit forming products, then only one time, you need to raise awareness for the products and after that they self-persuade themselves.
Ravi: Or in fact if you just use the example of WhatsApp, every user became an advocate of the platform. Right. So—
Sterling: Same as Hotmail and [inaudible 00:10:25].
Ravi: Same as Hotmail, you know. So another way to completely eliminate persuasion is it’s not the WhatsApp guy calling me telling me, “Ravi, you need to download WhatsApp.” My friend is telling me. The social proof automatically eliminates the whole process of, you know, the company persuading a customer.
Sterling: This is why partnering with your prospects, partnering with your people who you think need to be persuaded more earlier and more often in the process the more you partner with them, the more that they can design the process and the product and everything so that it benefits them from the start. Eric Ries talks about it in Lean Startup where he wants you to iterate and fail fast and reproduce have more and more Minimum Viable products that you test and then you come back and get the feedback and test again and release things in a minimum viable fashion because he wants you to partner with your potential buyers or users earlier and more often.
So instead of taking your funding going 18 months into the lab and not coming out until you finish your Frankenstein creation and then bring it to everybody and say congratulations. Happy birthday. Here’s your product and they say, you know, “We don’t want that,” that’s fail you know that’s not what we were interested in. You’ve burned through your money and your time. It’s too late. So he says, “Slap something together and in 30 days releasing to say what do you think of this? What would you change?” Go back in the lab so you can go back 18 times if you do a 30 day iteration cycle. By the 18th time you really partnered with your prospect or your user base or whatever, instead of just hoping to—“Now we made something. we’re going to have to take this thing and sell it and persuade because we didn’t partner with our user base, our customers or something.
Partnership is a great framework to look at instead of, you know, top down command and control. We’ve got to move these units. Look at it from a partnership of how would you like us to help you? How would you make this better? What would you design, if you had a magic wand? Partnership is a powerful framework.
Rajesh: Before the Lean Startup Reid Hoffman, the cofounder of LinkedIn, he has a famous quote saying, “If you’re not embarrassed by your first product release, then you launched it too late.”
Ravi: I was thinking that from an entrepreneur perspective, the art of persuasion of the act of it can actually be very expensive because, you know, some will some won’t and you run necessarily spending all your energy on your statistics and moving people. The strategy you are mentioning in the conversation today is truly brilliant because you can put the same amount of energy on the other end and your funnel will be much better because you are talking the language of the advocate. You’re talking instead of just saying, “I’m going to persuade 1000 people and I expect a 5% conversion.” It sounds so dumb in a way because you are to tally statistics. Why don’t you do 1000 maybe people intelligently so your conversion is 1000.
Sterling: This is where we learn from courses. When Gandhi did his famous Salt March, he didn’t send a memo to everybody with a poster [crosstalk 00:13:35]
Ravi: WhatsApp message. I’m walking. Everybody please follow me.
Sterling: He didn’t send a direct response copy written postcard of the features and benefits of why there Salt March would be a good idea. He just did something, created something or tapped into something that was in everybody else’s best interest to do as well and they voluntarily followed in behind him. He didn’t– it wasn’t a planned campaign or crusade where they went door to door and signed people up and got a petition. It just spontaneously happened because in that particular instance he was part of something bigger that other people felt the need to. So there was zero persuasion required. They persuaded themselves, they joined and you see this in many social movements as people just do it because it’s what they want to do.
So how can we how can we create desire instead of persuading. How can we tap into you know what’s in it for you. Why should you do this? Why would I do it if I were again the advocate and the avatar, why would I do it if I were you with this work on me? Persuasion is useful. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve spent a lot of time studying ways to do it but I prefer to not need it and I would rather have people study how to not need it than to be good at it. It should be a weapon of last defense when you’ve exhausted all the other possibilities instead of your first weapon because it’s inefficient compared to– which would you rather have? Sales that you got from Kungfu tactics and dark arts that you’ve learned or an army behind you marching to the same place that you’re going to that you never had to say it word to them? It’s a big difference.
Ravi: In fact, yeah–
Rajesh: We’re getting close to 15 minutes so should we all say last comment on this topic?
Ravi: Yeah. So I was thinking the basically what I’ve learned from the short conversation Sterling, we would definitely love to have you back is eliminate persuasion from the source. Basically entrepreneur doesn’t do the persuasion, do everything where your users persuade other users to use it. So we are essentially doing persuasion, but you’re not doing it.
Sterling: Or actually, you’re just allowing people to persuade themselves.
Ravi: Persuade themselves or tell other friends.
Sterling: I guess persuasion is happening if I’ve decided I want to do it because I want to do it. I guess I’ve had a conversation with my own self and persuaded my own self, but it’s a lot better. It’s the best ringing endorsement of all, if I can have Ravi persuade Ravi because you’re the one you’re gonna listen to most. You’re the key influencer.
Ravi: You are the key influencer and you love your voice and you listen to it.
Sterling: Yeah, great.
Rajesh: So last comment from me is that what I took away is that for any product, there are a set of people. The product is designed when there a set of people who will self-persuade themselves, which means rather than doing a spray and pray kind of campaign we just go back to the drawing board and see who are the people that require very low persuasion of somebody who will self-persuade themselves to say, “I love this product. Give it to me.” Where the hunt for those people that request more thinking.
Ravi: Excellent. Well, Sterling, thank you so much and have a safe flight today back home and this is Ravi Gundlapalli signing off. You can find more about me at mentorcloud.com.
Rajesh: This is Rajesh Setty and you can find more about me on my website rajeshsetty.com. Sterling, where can they find more about you?
Sterling: Stesterlingvalentine.com and of course listen to Raj and Ravi because I shouldn’t have to persuade you to– you’ve got any value, you’ve probably already persuaded yourself.
Ravi: What a great ending for Sterling, thank you so much.
Rajesh: Thank you very much.
Sterling: Thank you guys.
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