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Posted on May 12, 2011

Was Aristotle The First Great Salesperson?

Aristotle the First Great Salesman - Franchise HelpAristotle was a scholar who taught extensively about successful communication (most specifically, how to influence a person's views).  He was so effective with his communication techniques that most of his precepts are still being taught to law and philosophy students today.  Franchisees and business owners can use these same techniques to overcome sales objections and influence a buyer’s decisions.  Let's have a look at why Aristotle's techniques were so successful, and how they remain relevant to those running a franchise opportunity today.

Aristotle said that all persuasive arguments have 3 common elements, and he gave these elements some great names (which suspiciously sound like the names of the Three Musketeers):

  1. Ethos
  2. Pathos
  3. Lagos

Ethos refers to the person delivering the message, and this person needs to have a couple of very distinct attributes: they must appear both credible and likeable.

Aristotle himself was rumored to have been trained by the classical world's equivalent of nuns, marking him as a credible source of information.  In addition, the name “Aristotle” is a “smart name,” as people in ancient Greece associated the name with nerdy, bookwormish tendencies.  Essentially, the name "Aristotle" struck the ancient Greeks much in the way “Poindexter” strikes people today.

In addition to preaching the importance of credibility, Aristotle taught that an effective communicator must be relatable or likeable.  Always one to follow his own advice, Aristotle was known to possess a dry wit.  When students praised his superior intellect, he would often say things like, “Hey, don’t put me too high up on a pedestal.  I don’t want you to look up my toga!”

Logos means that the communicator must be rational.  The person delivering the communication, or salesperson, has to make sense and draw logical conclusions from the available data.  They can use this data, logic, and sound reasoning to prove their point, disprove another’s point, or to challenge the status quo.  Rational buyers faced with more intelligent solutions than they are currently using will often gravitate towards the better solution, so long as their budget allows.

For example, at one time public schools used to teach phonics to elementary school children.  Then one day a text book company came out with “the whole language” approach to teaching English.  Needing to make their quotas, text book salespeople eagerly pointed out to school boards, “If phonics were so important, why do they spell it ‘phonics’ instead of ‘fonix'?’”  Nodding in agreement at their flawless logic, school board members eagerly snatched up the new text books like drunk fraternity brothers grabbing for the last slice of pizza.

Pathos means the communicator should craft a message which leaves the listener emotionally engaged.  If the person that the communicator is courting cannot personally connect to what is being said, the communication gets filtered out and it will be dismissed.

For instance, in the movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen's character snuck into the bedroom during a friend’s party to watch a basketball game on TV.  Annie Hall (played by Diane Keaton) happened upon him and sat down to watch the game and strike up a conversation.  Looking for something in common, Allen's character asked her if she liked or played sports.  Annie Hall replied, “I swim,”  to which he replies, “Swimming isn’t a sport.  It’s what you do so you don’t drown.” Allen's character couldn't care less about swimming, so Annie Hall didn’t score any points with him.  Perhaps this isn’t such a tremendous example, since as the movie progressed, the characters engaged in a love affair. In the end, however, they endured a painful break-up, so maybe the example holds after all.

You may not be the product of a nun-based educational system, you may not enjoy the nerdy credibility of a name like "Poindexter," and you'll probably never star in the blockbuster remake of Annie Hall, but ultimately, if you follow Aristotle’s three guidelines for effective communication and persuasion, you can dramatically increase your sales success -- no matter what your business is.

Joe Mathews is the founder of the Franchise Performance Group and has over 20 years experience with such national chains as Subway, Blimpies, Motophoto, and Entrepreneur’s Source.  Mathews specializes in the area of franchisee recruitment, sales, and franchisee performance.  He is a regular presenter at IFA conferences and is an instructor with the ICFE (Institute of Certified Franchise Executives).  Mathews is author of two books, Street Smart Franchising with Don Debolt and Deb Percival and Meaning of Life Project.

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