Getting Clients to "Yes" by Asking for Advice

Dr. Cialdini is a world expert on influence, persuasion, and pre-suasion. His books, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, and Pre-Suasion, have sold more than 7 million copies. He is Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.  

This video is excerpted from How to Get People to Say "Yes" (0:01 - 1:17) with Robert Cialdini being interviewed by Shane Parish in The Knowledge Project, #122. 


Research shows that when people are asked for advice, they favor the original idea and provide more constructive input. Asking for advice turns them into partners who want to see the project succeed.

Asking for opinions often returns criticism. 

Building Client Trust and a Partnership by Asking for Advice                               

To gather essential insights into a client's issues, experienced business consultants employ Robert Cialdini's principles to build trust, promote better communication, and get valuable information directly from stakeholders. The best way to improve communication and gather information is to build collaboration and knowledge sharing by seeking advice rather than merely opinions.

Begin by approaching people respectfully and acknowledging their experience while welcoming advice. Consultants can be viewed as intruders. By highlighting their position as an expert in the situation, you can emphasize the importance of their insights in helping shape solutions.

Open conversations or interviews with statements like, "Given your extensive experience in the field, I value your advice. We need to find a solution/service/product that will meet everyone's requirements. What do you think are the critical factors/obstacles/potential solutions in ..."

By positioning the client's stakeholders as knowledgeable partners, you can build a collaborative atmosphere that encourages everyone to contribute their expertise. Actively listening and engaging with all ideas gives you a chance to show your interest, respect their input, and learn different points of view. It builds trust, allowing all stakeholders to express their thoughts and provide feedback.

I have done executive facilitations where I started with private one-on-one discussions, then lead group brainstorming on the problem/solution, and finally, held open discussions that lead to decisions. This lets everyone be heard. Participants have later come to me in private and acknowledged that they didn't get the solution they most wanted, but that they now understood everyone's position, and the final solution was the best for the organization.

You can get crucial information on the desired outcomes and approaches you need by implementing Cialdini's advice and engaging users by seeking advice rather than opinions. This user-centric approach ensures your solution is better tailored to the client's specific needs. 

Importantly, it also strengthens your relationship with the client. 

Take-Aways Critical to Success                                   

 Asking for advice about the client's current situation, factors involved, and possible outcomes is important to any consultant who cares about their client. Here are basic take-aways and alerts to remember about this concept, 

  • As a consultant, you should use Robert Cialdini's principles to seek advice from your clients and stakeholders and build trust and partnership. 

    CTS ALERT: If you are consulting in an arcane, highly-technical area that the individual does not know, do not lose your expert credibility by asking them for advice on arcane topics you were hired for. Ask them about areas where they are experts or where they have the expertise to foresee outcomes and operational impact. 

  • Open communication respectfully, valuing the client and stakeholder's experience and inviting their advice. Any "arrogance" or "I'm the expert" will alienate stakeholders and complicate your engagement.

  •  Build trust by using active listening with thoughtful follow-up questions. It gives everyone a chance to speak freely and confidentially. 

    CTS ALERT: I have been in situations where the one-on-one interviews revealed internal dynamics and personal conflicts. Knowing these before you begin facilitation or deployment can help you overcome those obstacles.

  • Gathering feedback and advice from all organizational levels will help you build consensus and buy-in at all levels. Too many consulting solutions are never implemented due to lack of trust and buy-in. 

    CTS ALERT: In more than one engagement, I have gained executive and management agreement to include stakeholders from line managers to division Vice Presidents so we could capture all voices, ideas, obstacles, and capabilities. It's far better to get this upfront than at a late stage. 

Take Actions Critical to Success                                   

Asking for advice fosters cooperation and promotes a sense of partnership. Here is how you as a consultant, can implement this strategy,

  • Solving a Client's Problems
    Asking for advice on solving a client's problems could be like this, "Based on your experience here at <company>, what advice would you give on approaching this problem?" or "What strategies have you seen work in the past when dealing with similar issues?"

  • Understanding the Client's Situation
    To ask for advice about the client's situation, you might ask, "From your perspective, what are the crucial aspects we need to consider about this business situation?" or "Given your deeper understanding of the dynamics, what advice could you provide to help us understand these complexities better?"

  • Understanding the Problem's Impact 
    When trying to understand the impact of a problem, as a consultant, you could ask, "What advice do you have on assessing the impact of this issue on your various business areas?" or "From your experience, how do you think this problem is affecting the morale/productivity/sales of your team or business?"

The important thing to remember is to genuinely value the client's advice and feedback. The purpose of these questions is not just to engage the client but also to gather valuable insights that can inform the consultant's strategy. The benefit of this approach is twofold: it helps the consultant understand the client's perspective better and makes the client feel more involved and invested in the consulting process.

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