Inoculation, the Secret Persuasion Strategy to Lock Down Your Sales and Reinforce Decisions

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Have you ever convinced someone to do something only to have that person change his or her mind a little later? If so, join the crowd, and I do mean crowd. It happens to every one . . . and in a lot of different situations such as sales, getting your child to do something, promoting an idea, trying to change people’s attitudes, or helping someone make a decision.

I remember going on a sales call with a prospective marketing client. We really hit it off, I had a great program for her business and we finished the afternoon with agreement to move forward on a big large retainer based consulting program. I left elated. Well, my bubble was burst the next morning when she backed out of the deal. Why? Her operations manager convinced her the consulting cost too much and that he could do the marketing. Unfortunately, I knew they really needed the help, the fee was actually very reasonable, but I wasn't going to get the job.

Just one extra step at the end of my sales call could have locked in the sale. That extra step is something that you can use whenever you want to reinforce a sale or reinforce a belief. Imagine what it would be like to finish sales call or perhaps a discussion where you helped someone reach a decision and know there is a high probability that the sale or decision will stick. That is what you get with this technique. It's called INOCULATION.

"Inoculation" involves getting your target to defend against a weak attack on the belief, attitude or decision that you actually want to reinforce. You can look at it as similar to when you get a flu shot. The doctor is actually injecting a weak dose of the virus that he wants your body to defend against. This stimulates the production of antibodies to that virus and actually helps your immune system fight it off in the future.

Inoculation in persuasion helps the target resistance any attacks on a belief, attitude, decision or behavior.

Inoculation involves three steps:

1. Warn The Target Of An Attack On Their Belief, Decision, Attitude, Etc. This important part of the process gets the target thinking about the attack and generating ideas to defend his or her position. The tendency to defend current decisions (law of consistency) will move the target into a defense mode. Because the target doesn't know what the attack will be, lots of creative ideas may be generated that begin to reinforce the belief, decision, attitude or behavior in question.

2. Provide A Weak Attack On The Target. The idea here is to present weak attacks that the target is likely to face later. If the attack is too strong, you might actually sway the target to change their position. An example of a weak attack would be to tell a teenager who has agreed that smoking cigarettes is bad that when they get to school kids will say it's really cool to smoke, it's fun, and it really doesn't do anything to you. An example of an attack that might be too strong is to say “when you get to school, you won't fit in at all if you don't smoke, you won't be cool, no one will want to hang out with you . . . " You get the point.

3. Get The Target To Actively Defend The Belief, Decision, Attitude or Behavior You Are Trying To Reinforce. Again, tapping into the law of consistency, the more the target defends a decision, the more that target’s decision is reinforced. It is important to let the target come up with his or her own defense. Don't provide the defense, let the target do it. After providing a weak attack, you might simply ask “how are you going to deal with that when it comes up?"

Let’s look at a quick case study. A number of years ago, I was consulting with a coating company. Coatings here refer to high-end alternatives to paint that last much longer (potentially the life of the home) and are much more durable. They are also 2-3 times the cost of regular paint. The problem we were having was that our sales people would sell a coating job but in many cases have it cancelled the next day because friends, family and/or neighbors said the client had paid too much.

I had our sales team just add this simple ending to the sales call: “Mr/Mrs Jones, before I go, one thing I want to mention is that we find that since your friends, family and neighbors haven't taken the time like you have to learn about all the benefits of coatings which give them a real value advantage over paint they often question our clients decision to buy this coating (this is the warning - pause and let the client think and respond). One specific area that gets questioned is the cost (this is the weak attack). I'm just curious, if this comes up, how will you address it (this is the defense)?" Typically, at this point the client would review back to the salesperson many or all of the benefits of the coating that were discussed during the sales presentation. This really helped reduce the number of next day order cancellations.

That's about all the time we have for today. Add Inoculation to your persuasion arsenal, it is simple and very powerful.

If you want to learn more about inoculation and other cutting edge principles of persuasion, I highly recommend Kevin Hogan's Science of Influence series.

Until next time make every day a great day!

By Preston Campbell

Preston Campbell has been a professional in marketing, sales and persuasion for over 20 years and is an expert in applied persuasion. He is a clinical hypnotherapist and PhD candidate. He has created one of the leading web sites on persuasion and influence resources at

The Persuasion Toolbox - The Ultimate Collection of Resources for Persuasion and Influence


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