Elli St. George
Elli St. George

To say that persuasion is misunderstood may be an understatement. For decades, people have been looking for ways to be more effective at persuading others.

However, these conversations often start with the mindset of “I want you to agree with ME.” This mindset is fueled by passion for your idea, strategy, your product or service, or simply out of personal gain.

Popular literature about persuasion often promotes getting another person to say yes to you by using their emotions, biases, and decision-making style to achieve your desired outcome. Unfortunately, this approach undermines trust, vital in any sales conversation, and creates tension.

Ethical Persuasion is different

Ethical Persuasion fosters long-lasting relationships founded on trust, honesty, and mutual benefit. A growing body of research supports favoring ethical persuasion over traditional sales techniques.

A 2005 study published in the Journal of Business Research found that perceived ethical sales behaviors play a significant role in affecting the quality of the buyer–seller relationship. They found that there is a positive effect on customer satisfaction, trust, and commitment to the salesperson.

In a 2023 study from UC Berkeley, one of the factors that keeps a listener engaged in a persuasive conversation is that “the sender cares about their reputation for competence/honesty.”

You want me to sell? Ugh!

In many professions, selling and business development are common expectations. This has led to many non-traditional sellers feeling a disconnect between authenticity and common sales practices.

Some people, including salespeople, feel reluctant to identify as sellers due to the perceived deceit and manipulation associated with the role. Others believe that they must adopt a different persona to fit the stereotype of a salesperson. However, these notions are unfounded.

Selling conversations happen all the time and, most of them, are genuine and above board.

The communications specialist who meets someone at a networking event, the public relations manager who speaks with a current client about renewing a contract, or the social media coordinator who gets a direct message from a connection are in position to have a selling conversation.

However, it is not unusual for communications professionals to have no sales training or pick up various selling concepts along their career path. As a result, they end up using ineffective or outdated selling behaviors.

What could this look like?

A few years ago, The Nova Consulting Group recognized the need to revamp its brand and sought the services of a digital marketing agency. We knew our marketing strategies were not yielding the desired results and wanted professional guidance.

During the meeting with the agency's representative, we were bombarded with messages highlighting our weaknesses and the need for change, even though we had already acknowledged this. By focusing on our problems, she missed our willingness to adapt and explore new options. As a result, we opted to engage a different marketing firm.

Although the digital marketing professional was in a position to persuade us to consider a completely different marketing plan, she failed to listen to understand.

Conversations that utilize Ethical Persuasion involve two activities – gathering information and listening to understand. When you do both, you show that you respect the other person's viewpoint, strengthen the relationship and build trust.

Studies show that speakers who feel understood are more likely to perceive the listener as competent and trustworthy. These factors are crucial in B2B sales as they help the seller appear genuine and demonstrate expertise.

Other benefits of Ethical Persuasion

Empirical evidence highlights several advantages of Ethical Persuasion including:

  • Enhanced Client Relationships – Sales goals align with clients’ needs by focusing on honesty and understanding. This supports robust and durable business relationships.
  • Improved Brand Reputation – In a hyper-connected world, a company’s reputation is paramount. Commitment to using Ethical Persuasion enhances an organization’s reputation leading to positive word-of-mouth, increased referrals, and higher customer retention.
  • Increased Sales Performance – Ethical Persuasion boosts sales performance as satisfied buyers return for more business and become brand advocates.

As an agency firm, you may face competition from multiple sources, such as companies managing their promotional activities, self-help resources, AI, and other firms like yours.

It is easy to get caught up in feeling pressured to push your own agenda and use sales concepts that are approaching or gone past their use-by date. However, your clients trust you to empathize with them and perceive the world from their perspective when it is time to increase brand awareness or manage a public relations crisis.

With transparency, honesty, and a deep understanding of your client's needs, you can make selling conversations easier and establish a solid foundation for your business.

Ethical Persuasion in action

One of our clients, a large advertising agency located in the Northeast, faced a challenge when a major client hired a new Chief Marketing Officer.

The CMO believed that a new direction was necessary for the company. In meetings, it became clear that there was a great deal of tension and misunderstanding. After receiving training and coaching in the Advanced Sales Conversation Model©, the lead account manager was able to gain insight into the CMO's concerns and aspirations.

As a result, they expanded the advertising campaign's scope, and the CMO ultimately decided that this agency was the best fit for her organization.

Ethical Persuasion creates trust

To gain your buyer's trust, it is essential to actively listen, be genuine, and transparent about working together. Persuasion is not about getting the person to say yes to your agenda. Coaxing and manipulation undermines their confidence in your agency's competence and suitability.

Ethical Persuasion focuses on your buyer’s concerns, aspirations, and, even, opinions so that a mutually beneficial relationship is built. Selling conversations are really decision-making conversations.

Be the guide and advisor who builds robust relationships through honesty, transparency, and authenticity.


Elli St. George is Senior Partner at The Nova Consulting Group, a performance and development practice.