Recently, I was speaking to a group of students about rhetoric. I asked them, “What do you want to do in life?” After each of them talking about various aspirations in business, government, science and arts, I explained that rhetoric is about doing things or making things happen. Virtually every occupation can benefit from the art of rhetoric. Especially sales.
Aristotle said, “Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” He teaches his students to observe, learn, and apply the appropriate tools of persuasion in a given situation. This sounds a lot like sales.
Aristotle suggests that there are three forms of appeal that work together in a persuasive address. “Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.” He calls these ethos, pathos and logos.
These three simple ideas have helped trained many speakers, writers, artists, and thinkers to impact their audience and move them to act. When these are absent, people tend to feel manipulated and controlled by the persuasive encounter. When they are absent in a sales situation, people feel pressured by an aggressive salesperson who appears to be more interested in “closing a deal” than in helping a client.
Here’s a quick way to remember the three appeals:
Ethos – Appeal to credibility. The salesperson must be trustworthy. They must stand behind their word. They must be people of character.
Pathos – Appeal to emotions. The salesperson must make an emotional connection with the customer. But more than that, they must discern the appropriate emotional appeal.
Logos – Appeal to reason. The salesperson must demonstrate why purchasing the product and/or service makes sense.
All three are important and all three work together. If one is absent, the sales encounter may not be convincing. If I don’t trust the person talking to me, then I will be hard to convince no matter how many statistics they site, how many charts they show me, or how many reasons they give me to act.
Let’s think a bit more about ethos. Quintilian said that “Rhetoric is the art of a good man speaking well.” For him, the fundamental building block of rhetoric is character. The challenge of developing ethos is limited to the sales encounter. Character takes time. Even if the customer does not know that I have cultivated honesty over time, it is still often communicated in the way I speak and act. And dishonesty can ripple preventing multiple potential customers from ever even listening to the salesperson.
The wise king tells the young prince, “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19 ESV). If the young prince is to become a trustworthy leader, he must cultivate this as he grows. In a moment, a lying drains the credibility of a speaker.
On the other hand, a person who has established a reputation of credibility, gains authority in their words and relationships. In sales, this can turn into a lifetime a repeated sales. Making one sale and delivering what the customer expects can open into multiple repeated sales over time. Repeating this one pattern across multiple customers can grow in a lifetime of success.
There’s more to explore about how ethos operates in the sales moment that I’ll try to explore in future posts as well as considering the tools for developing pathos and logos. But for now, remember that ethos, one of the most powerful elements in a sales business, is formed in the life of the salesperson long before and long after the sale.