Sep 252011

Selling Tip #1 - You Had Me At Pathos

Selling Tip #1 – You Had Me At Pathos

Today’s selling tip is the first in a series, which should help get you, your sales team, and your company on track to closing more sales.  This tip was prompted by a flurry of requests I’ve received lately for sales meetings and purchases, from people I hardly know, or don’t know at all.  How presumptuous, don’t you think?  It never ceases to amaze me how some people will get in touch with you, and in that initial contact, they will ask you to buy something from them or do something for them.  The standard answer is, you guessed it, a resounding “NO”!

We’re going to take a quick journey back to ancient Greece, in order to understand why such an approach will ALMOST NEVER work, at least under “normal” circumstances.  Who would have thought that the Greek philosopher Aristotle could help you be a better salesperson?  Well, if you want to be more persuasive, and by extension better at sales, marketing and negotiating, it’s worth thinking a bit about three categories that Aristotle used to describe means of persuasion.  Those categories are Ethos, Pathos and Logos.  The descriptions below are from a longer article I wrote focused on Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

Ethos refers to the character or credibility of the speaker – or writer – the person trying to get their message or argument across.  The listener or reader is going to have an impression of the level of credibility of the person trying to persuade them.  This impression will be based on past interactions, reputation, and the manner of communication, among other factors.

Pathos relates to emotion.  It is an attempt to persuade by appealing to the emotions of the person(s) you are trying to persuade.  This appeal can be based on analogies, metaphors or stories that evoke the emotions of your reader or listener.  It is well known that humans are accustomed to learning and passing on knowledge and wisdom through stories, so being able to weave a good story that touches someone emotionally is an excellent way to win them over.

Logos refers to logic.  In this case, you are trying to persuade someone by using a well-reasoned, logical argument.  You are persuading based on the belief that your audience will respond to an appeal that is structured in a logical, left-brain manner.  Using this form of persuasion is seductive, as it gives you the (usually false) sense of comfort that if you can just make your argument “tight” or “bullet-proof” enough, then your audience will have no choice but to be persuaded.  Unfortunately, it’s not usually that simple.

As you’ve undoubtedly realized by now, these three categories usually do not work well independently.   In other words, it’s unlikely that by just using one of these forms of persuasion you are going to persuade your audience, or at least not as consistently or to the extent you would like to.

Ok, so how can you apply this is in your selling scenarios?  This is a selling tip after all, right?  Here are some thoughts on making ethos, pathos and logos work for you when you are selling, or just persuading in general.

First, do not just show up and ask for the sale.  I do not “know you from a hole in the wall” at the very beginning.  Would I buy from someone I know nothing about and who knows nothing about me?  Not usually.  The circumstances would have to be quite unique, or I’d have to be under some sort of duress.

Next, think about how you can establish your credibility, or ethos.  Why should I listen to you?  Who are you?  Don’t go into a huge diatribe about how you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread – that will only alienate me further.   Instead, give me a few points about your background that will be relevant to me (assuming I’m the prospect or the “persuadee”).  As I said, don’t go over the top, or I’ll think you’re an ego-maniac and tune you out.

Third, think about how you may be able to touch me emotionally (pathos), or make some sort of emotional connection with me.  Frankly, you may want to try to do this before you go into a bunch of information about your background.  If you make an emotional connection first, I’ll be more interested and more likely to listen to your description of your background, making it easier for you to establish your credibility (ethos).

A word of caution here:  you MUST really care.  Any fakeness or lack of sincerity in trying to make a connection with your prospect will be sniffed out early and easily.  Human beings have a built-in “B.S. detector” and when they think someone is “putting them on” or “snowing them,” defense mechanisms will be put up so quickly that you won’t know what happened.  So, if you’re insincere and just looking to make a quick dime off people you meet, change your ways, or find a new profession.  You are a dinosaur in the selling profession and most any other position that involves persuasion.  True empathy and connection are the only effective and reasonable approach in today’s “connected world”.

Fourth, notice that it’s only after ethos and pathos are in place that you move into providing the logic of why someone should buy from you or take some other action that you want them to take.  As I said at the outset, if you show up and don’t establish credibility and a connection with your prospect, but instead just move right into “sell mode,” you are likely to have less than impressive results.

The ethos, pathos, and logos approach I cover in this selling tip are equally applicable online and in-person.  Regardless of the medium through which you are communicating with your prospects, if you don’t establish a connection and your credibility before trying to sell or persuade, you are not likely to get anywhere.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin


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  • Margaret (Peggy) Herrman

    excellent as always 🙂

  • Colleen Kelly Mellor

    Ethos,pathos,logos…the “3 Musketeers” (Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, and “How Am I Remembering This?”) of selling…I like. And might I add: It works in any arena. I was schoolteacher and one must incorporate there, too, for I was seling my message that they should want to learn and incorporate the knowledge (kids don’t know that, of course, and can’t see beyone the 50 minute period).

    I am blogger Biddy Bytes who is and @biddybytes. I am new to all of this and just begin to reach out to fellow bloggers. I like your material. Well-written and interesting.

  • Grady Pruitt

    These are great tips!

    I personally don’t believe I’m the “greatest thing since sliced bread”, because I know I have a long way to go to reach where I want to go. But I do realize that I have some experiences I can draw from and share to help people on the way as well. And I try to be up front about it.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Paul,

    1) The site looks great – very inviting, even more so than the last time I visited.
    2) The first thought that came to mind as you mentioned the authenticity of the emotional appeal is Dale Carnegie’s principle of flattery versus genuine praise. I would have to agree that people do indeed have a built-in B.S. detector, and a very effective one at that.

    I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating it can be when a blogger or online marketer attempts to make me a sale right after I have joined their distribution list – it is a huge turnoff and often results in me unsubscribing almost immediately.

    Great post though, and certainly something to keep in mind as I move towards having a product for sale.

  • Thanks for your kind comments, Peggy!

  • Thanks, Colleen. I agree – it can be used in many different arenas. Ethos, Pathos and Logos are tried and true. 🙂

    I will stop by and take a look at your blog as well. Thanks again for stopping by.


  • Thanks, Barrett. I appreciate your comments about the site! I agree with you about the sales pitch right after initial contact — it’s a major turnoff. It happens so much though, that you tend to just tune it out. That, of course, is not the reaction the marketer / salesperson was looking for, so their approach was completely ineffective. It’d be to their benefit to listen to Aristotle a bit, before going straight to why you can’t live without whatever they’re offering.

  • Thanks, Grady. There is nothing wrong with being up front about what you have to offer. The main point in selling and marketing with the “ethos, pathos, logos mindset” is that it’s important to have credibility and a connection with your prospect or target market, before you try to “sell” them anything – an idea, a product, a service, whatever it may be.

  • Tom

    Another thought provoking post. I’ve nothing to add, just wanted to say I really enjoy your writing. Just subscribed.