Experienced salespeople already know how sweet the sound of one’s own name is. Lots of sales pros have formed the habit of using the buyer’s name – “This could really work well for you, Larry” or “Sue, I can promise you an increase in productivity of at least 20% when you install our equipment” – as a means of persuasion.
But aren’t reps taking something of a risk when they do this? Isn’t there a chance the buyer will find this repetition of his or her name cheap and cheesy, especially if the rep does it over and over again? Isn’t there a chance that this approach will actually hurt the sale instead of helping?
Probably not. The persuasive effect of hearing one’s own name or seeing it in print — or even hearing or seeing a name that resembles it — is so powerful that it influences people even when they know what you’re up to. That’s the conclusion that emerges from some interesting research out of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX.
The similar-name effect
The lead researcher, Randy Garner, ran a series of experiments in which some participants were asked whether they would do a favor for a given individual. Others were asked to comply with a request for help from an individual. Some of these individuals were real people with names different from those of the participants, while others were fictitious people with a name similar to that of each participant. For example, a research subject named Randy might be asked to help someone named Sandy.
The results were striking.
When the other person had a name similar to their own, participants in the first part of the study were almost 25% more likely to say they would help. And when asked to do something — in this case, fill out and return a questionnaire — 38% of the participants in the similar-name scenario did so, compared with just 20% of the others.
Perhaps most interesting of all, Garner’s research team found that participants didn’t seem to consciously grasp that name similarity influenced their preferences or willingness to take action. Name similarity “was apparently not identified as a conscious consideration in complying with the request” in the case of the questionnaire, the study concluded. And in the experiment where participants were asked about their potential willingness to do a favor, only a very small number indicated they’d been influenced in any way by the name similarity. They were more likely to say they had found the person with a name like theirs “nice” or “trustworthy.”
Use early and often
What’s all this mean for sales managers?
I think it means that you can, without second thoughts, encourage your reps to use buyers’ names regularly and frequently. Will the buyers notice it? Probably. Will it make them feel manipulated and react in the opposite way you want them to? Unlikely.
The pull of one’s own name — or even a similar name — is so strong that people are drawn by it no matter what. As a means of influence, it’s easy and has little downside. So why not use it?
Source: “What’s in a name? Persuasion, perhaps,” by Randy Garner, Sam Houston State University, Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2005.
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