Robert Cialdini advocates that the consistency principle can be a powerful tool to encourage people to say “yes” to your proposition. The principle also provides a psychological underpinning of the fact that it is much easier to retain than attract clients — and we don’t have to be super-great business people (and we certainly don’t need to offer “excellent customer service” to retain most of our clients.
The argument is that we don’t like to change. So, when we express an action or decision in a certain manner, we will want to do anything we can to avoid contradicting ourselves. We’ll be consistent.
Consistency is related to habits. These can be truly hard to change. So we start purchasing something, or dealing with certain individuals, and (especially if we’ve been “satisfied” in the past, then we’ll continue.
This is good news if you have a solid current client base, of course. You might even want to be careful about changing things to “improve” them for these clients — they might suddenly discover you aren’t behaving consistently, and think about running for the hills. As an example of change gone wrong, consider the former Canadian retailing giant Eatons. As the heirs to the Eaton family fortune spent their time and money on polo ponies, the department store chain ran into troubles. New customers were avoiding the place, and the old customers were, well, getting VERY old. So the store management decided in a last gasp before pushing the place into bankruptcy, to redesign their store and market to appeal to younger, “hipper” people. Big mistake. The new customers never arrived and the old ones decided now was as good a time as any to leave.
Conversely, if you are new kid on the block or want to attract new clients, your best strategy is to encourage them to buy (or at least try) something, anything and — if you can — get them to say some good things about you in a comment or observation which they are ready to make public. There’s lots of conditions on that one — it will be a challenge to get everything right — and this approach will always work best for activities where the client is expressing support for a cause or higher objective than simply saying wonderful things about your product or service.
This explains why your marketing is far likely to be more successful if you can frame it within your current and prospective clients’ values and ideals — especially when they’ve expressed them publicly — than if you just tell them how great you are. In some cases, I would advocate that making clear your religious or social values public might be helpful — if your clients belong to the designated group(s) and are not among those who oppose these groups. Giving potential clients a “wish list” form where they could circle/choose options for your product or service before they actually purchase it may result in enhanced conversions or sales when you actually seek the order. So, if you have an interior renovation business, you might give them an option list for cabinets or fixtures and ask them to select their favourites before closing the deal.
Finally, if you are working in the public sector/proposal environment, remember that consistency can be equivalent in many ways to minimum bidding requirements — make sure your RSP response complies to EVERYTHING the requester asks; then look at how your presentation, style, and proposals can be consistent with what you know both the respective organization and its decision-makers have said publicly is important to them.