What changes in your organisation would create the greatest advantage for you?


The cost of getting the selection wrong is at least three, if not seven times salary

Coach or Train

What skills do your people need to make the greatest sustainable improvement?

How to steal the march on your competitors

Thin slicing and fast thinking

In his book, Blink!, Malcolm Gladwell refers to something that you do every day. It’s called “thin slicing”, and it’s that instantaneous decision you make about something else based on the flimsiest of evidence. You catch a glimpse, and you draw a conclusion. You get a whiff, and that reminds you of an entire meal. But in every case, you make a judgement based on a small part of the whole. And that’s because you’ve learned what to expect. Daniel Kahneman* refers to this as fast thinking – deciding to do something automatically, without feeling the need to mull over it.

It’s important that you recognise not only that small decisions are made like this, but also it is used to sign off on large contracts.

  • How can you persuade anyone to buy your products or services without them having to think much about it?
  • How can you influence them to choose you over someone else?

The answer is that it’s all in how you present your proposal.

There are several steps that are necessary to do this. Get these right, and you’re practically assured of success. Get them wrong, and you might as well take the rest of the day off.

Consider four straight forward steps

  1. Liking
  2. Social Proof
  3. Contrast
  4. Scarcity

Step One - Liking

The first thing you need to do is to make the most of the small talk. This is your chance to “break the ice” – “build rapport” and pleasantries can do just that because during the small talk you can demonstrate common ground or similar interests. Your primary goal is to get them to consider you as similar to them in some way, as like them. Robert Cialdini** refers to this as ‘Liking’. When people like you, then it’s entirely normal for them to trust you, and to consider buying from you.

Step Two - Social Proof

The next step is ‘social proof’. This is where the bigger companies sometime have the advantage. The sheer weight of their reputation, (not to mention their burly consultants), and vast range of projects give them ‘authority’ on a grand scale. This is where your client list is wheeled out. In most cases, just by having worked with X,Y or Z, you look more like a viable option. This, too, increases trust. Give two or three verbal case study examples of people or companies, a before and after story. Make them as relevant as possible so they can sense someone else in their exact same shoes, with a very similar situation made a decision in your favour and benefitted well from it.

Step Three - Contrast

The next step is contrast. Here you compare the benefits of what you can do to your competitors. There will be aspect of your proposal which will be the same as that of your competitors and there will be aspects where you differ. Here is where you need to position yourself as an expert whose strengths more closely match the needs of your prospect and add significantly more value with much less risk. Remember the fear of loss is greater than the desire for gain so not only do you need to be the best option you also have to be the safest option.

Step Four - Scarcity

Even if the consider you as ‘like them’ – even if three other clients had exactly the same problem as them and now thanks to you are living on cloud nine – even if there is a massive return on their investment and zero risk you may still need to provide another reason for your prospect to buy. And that is scarcity. This widget is only available from you, or only available at this price in this form for today, some aspect has to be ‘scarce’. Find one key aspect to tip the scales in your favour right now

The qualifier is that they must decide quickly, otherwise you will be too busy later. Quite often, a little urgency is all it takes to get prospects to make a decision, provided that you’ve effectively implemented the other steps. Then you can ask for the order.

In summary

If your prospects like you, recognise your authority, see the relevance of your client case studies, accept that you are better positioned to solve their problem than your competitors, and feel the need to use you as soon as possible, and then you’ll win the business. But, if you get any of these steps wrong, then you’ll disrupt their thin slicing and force them into slow thinking. They’ll have to concentrate on what you’ve said, and then discuss their options with other decision makers. The longer this process goes on, the less likely it will be that you’ll win the business.

Instead of stealing the march, you’ll be lucky to keep up...


If you would like to discuss any of those ideas, or other ways to influence your success, please contact me here

  • * Kahneman, Daniel. Of 2 Minds: How Fast and Slow Thinking Shape Perception and Choice.
  • ** Cialdini, Robert. Influence: The Power of Persuasion
  • Further reading: Granger, Russell. The 7 Triggers to Yes!

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