Persuasive Sales Negotiation (Part III of III)

This article provides your business with valuable insight to enhance your sales training for any negotiation. It examines how scarcity and authority influences how individuals perceive information.

This article follows on Persuasive Sales Negotiation - Part I and Persuasive Sales Negotiation - Part II.

Parts 1 and 2 of the preceding articles in this series examined 4 of the 6 principles of persuasion described by Dr Cialdini, and shared on our Sales Negotiation Training Courses. The principles of reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof and liking were examined and how they might be utilised in our sales negotiations. In this final article, we will discuss the the final two principles, authority and scarcity to maximise our sales negotiations to our best advantage.


Modern day society stresses that people conform to the requests of an authority. Dr Cialdini asserts that the power of this tendency to submit to legitimate authorities stems from methodical socialization practices created to infuse into members of society the awareness that obedience consists of proper behaviour. Additionally, such conformity is often adaptive to submit to the directives of legitimate authorities as these people have an extensive depth of knowledge, wisdom and power. Because of this, deference to such authorities can occur in a mindless manner as a form of decision-making shortcut.

Studies have shown that when responding to authority in an habitual manner, people tend to react to the mere symbols of authority as opposed to its substance. Studies have also revealed that there are three kinds of symbols that lrso significantly effective in this regard and are comprised of titles, clothing and automobiles. Other research has examined the effect of these symbols. It was discovered that people who possess one or more of these symbols (and no other legitimising credentials) were given more deference or obedience by those they encountered. Furthermore, in each case in point, people who deferred or obeyed underestimated the influence of authority pressures on their behaviours.

While studying conversations, communication researchers have discovered that people unconsciously alter their voice and speech styles toward the styles of those in positions of power and authority. One research study examined this phenomenon by analysing interviews on the Larry King Live television show. As King interviewed guests who possessed significant social standing and prestige (for instance, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barbara Streisand), his voice style altered to conform to theirs. Yet, as he interviewed guests of lesser social status (for instance Dan Quale, Spike Lee and Julie Andrews), he voice style was unchanged, while their voice styles shifted to match his (Gregory & Webster, 1996).

You might be asking yourself how we can apply this knowledge to improve our sales negotiation skills. Perhaps the best means to enhance the endeavours of our sales efforts is to have our value proposition endorsed by a recognised individual of authority. More importantly we must recognise that this authority must be relevant to our industry and value proposition. Several successful organisations have understood this principle for some time as demonstrated by their employ of celebrities to endorse their products. Consider the products endorsed by sportsmen & women such as Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Venus Williams etc.


People who collect everything from antiques to stamps also realise the principle of scarcity's influence in establishing the value of an item. The general rule of an item is that as it becomes rare or is becoming rare, the more its value increases. Dr Cialdini states that "opportunities seem more valuable to us when they are less available

We also understand that individuals appear to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of like value. College students, for example, experienced much stronger emotions when asked to envisage losses rather than gains in their romantic relationships or in their grade point averages (Ketelaar, 1995). The threat of a potential loss exerts a strong role in human decision making, particularly under conditions of risk and uncertainty.(Tversky & Kahnemann, 1981; De Dreu & McCusker, 1997).

The most direct application of the scarcity principle probably occurs in the 'limited-number' tactic. In this scenario a client is told that a particular product is in short supply that is not guaranteed to last long. In accordance to the scarcity principle, people attach greater value to opportunities when they are scarce. Applying this principle to profit can be observed in such compliance techniques as the 'limited number' and 'deadline' tactics. Here, practitioners attempt to persuade us that access to what they are offering is restricted by amount or time.

Dr Cialdini asserts that "The scarcity principle holds for two reasons. First, because things that are difficult to attain are typically more valuable, the availability of an item or experience can serve as a shortcut cue to its quality. Second, as things become less accessible, we lose freedoms. According to psychological reactance theory, we respond to the loss of freedoms by wanting to have them (along with the goods and services connected to them) more than before."

In addition to its impact in how we evaluate commodities, the scarcity principle also applies to the manner in how we rate information. Studies suggest that the act of limiting access to a message results in people wanting to receive it more and to become more favourable to it. This last finding, that limited information is more persuasive, appears to be more surprising. In considering censorship, this effect occurs even when the message has not been received. When a message has been received, it is more influential if it is perceived as containing exclusive information.

The scarcity principle is almost certainly to be upheld under two optimizing conditions;

  1. Scarce items are heightened in value when they are newly scarce. In other words, we hold dear those things that have become recently restricted more than those that were restricted all along.
  2. People are most attracted to scarce resources when we compete with others for them.

We can apply this principle to the sales situation by sharing scarce topical information with our sales prospects when this information is still new and therefore scarce. Were our products and services to have a genuinely scarce component or character, we should stress this scarcity as a feature of our sales communications.

[Part I] [Part II] [Part III]

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