Persuasion ROI in marketing and sales: what is data from 33 experts saying?

Updated: Apr 27

I bet that you have tried at least once to convince someone to say"Yes" to you. So let me ask you this question:


What was the ROI of your persuasive techniques?


Did you achieve your result? Are you happy with the outcomes?


Were you a master of persuasion? Or maybe you didn't reach your goal?


I have reached out to 33 of the best of the best marketing and sales professionals around the world and asked pretty much the same questions.


These experts have answered 14 questions (the average survey took 15 minutes to complete) and I was able to gather amazing data, which we believe will help many businesses and other professionals better understand persuasion and how to apply it correctly.


The amount of data that I have collected was overwhelming and it took me months to develop meaningful results and put this into a blog post.


So, first of all, a massive thank you to everyone who participated. This post would not exist without your help!


About this research:


For many individuals looking to grow their companies, it not really a revelation that the principles of persuasion can help increase their conversion rates and sales (sometimes in double-digits), get past objections, and better understand human decision-making processes.


But how can you apply these techniques to advance your business?



Definition of the 6 principles of persuasion


Before we get into the meat of this report's findings, let's go over the meanings of each strategy so we're all on the same page.


Reciprocity - In Cialdini’s words, the rule for reciprocation “says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us."


Cialdini often uses the following historical example as an example:


In the aftermath of an earthquake in Mexico in 1985, Ethiopia provided tens of thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid. Despite the fact that Ethiopia was in the midst of its own drought and civil war, this assistance was in exchange for Mexico's diplomatic support when they were invaded by Italy in 1935. In dire straits 50 years later, Ethiopian leaders were motivated by the force of reciprocity to repay Mexico's generosity.



Social proof - Especially when they are uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own.

Here no surprise instead, this tactic is overly used and the most popular examples are reviews.


Liking - People prefer to say yes to those that they like. This is probably the most obvious of all the techniques, would you buy a product from a company or a person you don’t like? Well, you could argue there are exceptions, but if you could avoid it, you probably would.


Consistency - People like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done. Again, this technique is very popular, so no comments are needed here.


Scarcity - Simply put, people want more of those things they can have less of. This about gold, the only reason why is so precious is that there isn’t enough if compared to the demand. We were expecting that everyone knew about scarcity, so it comes as a revelation to us that is not as popular as the others.


Authority - This is the idea that people follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.



Do you need persuasion training to master it?


Surprisingly, none of these highly experienced and successful pros had any formal education in the persuasion principles, but they were all acquainted with Dr. Cialdini's best-selling book "Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion".


This is shocking, given that Harvard Business School discovered that what people learn in formal education, whether it's an MBA or a vocational course, has a long-term effect on society and their businesses (at least with regards to business education).

This implies that educators and trainers should be conscious of their position and ability. I could write an entire book on this topic, let's leave it on the side for the moment and go back to the survey results.



What made you start using persuasion?


At first, I wanted to focus on how these pros got started with persuasion.


Rand Fishkin

I love what Rand Fishkin, CEO, and Founder of SparkToro, has replied, persuasion saved his business from bankruptcy many years ago:


“Early failures in my career, especially going nearly bankrupt for a long time when starting my first business.”

This is a strong sentence that highlights the potential of persuasion and influence and it explains (partly) how Rand built the most popular blog in digital marketing in the world, based on excellent content and the principle of reciprocity (you give away for free your knowledge and experience to others).

He then pushed his personal profile to become one of the most influential SEO authorities in the world.



Navah Hopkins

Along the same lines is Navah Hopkins, Director of Paid Media at Justuno:

“Nothing can advance without cooperation - being persuasive and harnessing one's persuasion power is how we get more accomplished.”


How can we not agree with Gianpaolo Lorusso, founder of ADworld Experience, the largest PPC conference in Europe?

“If you are in business you have to, in any sector.”


Here we have the reply from Grant Simmons, VP of Performance Marketing at homes.com, who read Cialdini’s book:

“Read Cialdini’s book 18 years ago and it fundamentally changed how I was marketing my clients (had an agency at the time) with ‘better’ messaging”.


Difference between persuasion and manipulation


Saying that someone is manipulative is a criticism of their behavior. What is wrong with manipulation? People influence each other all the time, how can you tell when someone is manipulating from when he is persuading?


My survey also highlighted some other negative opinions of persuasion, closely related to manipulation.



Let’s see what Jill Konrath, Sales Strategist, Keynote Speaker and Author of “Agile Selling” replied:

Using persuasion techniques is a two-edged sword. While it can be helpful in sales/marketing, it can also be highly manipulative and self-serving.”

Jill has a strong but valid point.



On the same line is Christine Schachinger, SEO Consultant:

“Generally, I do not think about it outside work. That is manipulation and unless dealing with a child who needs help and guidance, I do not practice it with adults who have their own agency. Honesty is the best approach in personal life.”

There is certainly a degree of manipulation but only for the non-ethical part.


Manipulation attempts are made on a regular basis. Here are a couple of examples. Gaslighting is when a manipulator encourages a victim to question her own judgment and instead rely on the manipulator's advice.

Guilt trips make a person feel a lot of guilt for not doing what the manipulator wants her to do. Charm offensives and social pressure cause someone to be so concerned with the manipulator's approval that she will do whatever the manipulator wants.



We couldn’t say it better than Sean Sheppard, Managing Partner at U.Plus:

“The first time I tried to convince someone to do something I realized that persuasion is a powerful tool for everyone in business and in life.”


Rudy Bandiera, TEDx Speaker, who even wrote a book about the topic (unfortunately available in Italian only, for the moment):

“[I have used persuasion techniques for] Strong relationships […] with people, relationships of trust”.

And there is nothing manipulative in all of this.


What counts in determining if someone is being manipulated is whether the leverage is being used to place the other person in a better or worse position to make a decision.


As a result, if we want to spot manipulation, we must look at the motive of the individual doing the manipulation, not the method of leverage. The nature and basic immorality of coercion is the desire to degrade another person's decision-making situation. Using trust and authority for evil becomes unethical.


Examples of manipulative persuasion


It might be that this science has been applied in manipulative ways, especially during the COVID-19 times, there are many examples of doctors faking their qualifications (at least in the UK).