We’re all vulnerable to the persuasion and influence of others. From teenage peer pressure to queuing conformity, our behavior is strongly informed by other people and societal expectations. The study of this—known as the psychology of compliance—is incredibly relevant, not only to academics and psychologists but to anyone whose job success is based on other people saying “yes”.
For bankers, knowing how to deploy psychological compliance techniques is especially valuable. The more often a client says “yes”, the more often a pitch leads to a mandate and subsequently, a larger bonus.
The psychology of compliance is a fascinating area of research, and any time spent learning about what it means and how to apply it won’t be wasted. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini is an excellent book to start with. Over the years, I’ve incorporated many of these techniques into my own pitch process—most of which warrant longer and detailed articles of their own—but the one I want to initially focus on is the “reject-then-retreat” technique and how it works with data visualizations. Basically, you ask for the ice cream sundae, but you’d be happy with the cone.
Say you’re an interest rate derivatives marketer. Your client’s debt portfolio consists of 5% floating-rate debt and you believe that a significantly higher exposure to floating rates would be better for the client and could lead to some executable trades for you (a win-win!).
After building the simulation model for rates and the company’s cash flows, the analysis shows that shareholder value is maximized at a 55% floating rate.
While this may be optimal for the client, pragmatically, it would be nearly impossible to convince the treasurer to do this, as such a dramatic change to financial policy would be viewed as a risky career move. So what do you do?
In situations such as these, I’ve always found it effective to combine a powerful data visualization with the reject-then-retreat strategy. Your end-goal is not necessarily to get the client to 55% but to sell a strategy that makes long-term sense.
Rather than focusing solely on the optimal point, the new visualization zooms in on the shareholder value associated with a variety of fixed vs. floating mixes and the proportion of the total shareholder uplift at each strategy—it shifts the focus from absolute to marginal. It also adds details of the company’s current board approved fixed vs. floating range. What’s interesting here is that it can be seen that the treasurer can capture 75% of the possible shareholder value by moving to the edge of the current policy, a strategy far more palatable to the client.
So why not just show the 30% strategy? Because it doesn’t show the depth and value of your analysis and excludes the client from the strategic process. Introducing the first visualization as the optimal strategy allows the client to agree in theory but disagree in practicality and opens the door for the second visualization and approach to be warmly welcomed.
It’s at this point that I want to stress that this isn’t being used to fool clients into something that doesn’t work for the company. This is a relationship business and your role as trusted advisor is paramount; misleading your client for a quick buck is not worth the pain in the long term.
This is a winning strategy because while 55% may be the theoretically optimal strategy, it comes with a host of practical hurdles, such as inertia and political capital risk, making it impossible for the client to agree. A 30% floating target captures most of the benefit of the optimal position and facilitates follow-on trades. What the reject-then-retreat strategy combined with the visualization has done is show the client that by acting today, the company’s position will improve and be on a positive future path. Basically, it’s now easier to say “yes” to what is a good strategy for the company, and the client feels involved in the decision.
There are a variety of compliance techniques that you can leverage to do right by yourself and by your clients. In fact, you probably already use some. I know that after I researched this area further, it was easier to apply small changes to my charts, page order of pitchbooks, and client conversations to make them more persuasive.
Social influence is present in almost every public situation and action—knowing what it is and how to use it can drive significant results.
What techniques have you mastered to tip the odds in your favor? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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