The Three Pillars Of Persuasion

Aristotle’s advice for sales people today: What you can learn from Pathos, Logos & Ethos – or heart, head and cred.


Twenty-four hundred years ago, Aristotle described the three elements needed to move an audience – logos, pathos, and ethos – the intellectual appeal, the emotional appeal, and the speaker’s character and charismatic appeal. These classifications are just as applicable for today’s sales people as they were back then.

In today’s marketplace, where little difference exists between products, Aristotle would advise sales people to employ not only logos, but more importantly pathos and ethos to persuade today’s customer to buy.

1. Logos The Intellectual Appeal

All competent sales people can recite their products’ features, benefits, and specifications. Their companies have trained them on the business reasons to select their products, identified processes to educate customers, and established procedures to determine customers’ technical requirements.

Related: You, The Advisor

How to make an intellectual appeal more compelling:

  • Provide independent confirmation of your facts wherever possible with quotes from authorities (customers, analysts, and
    the press).
  • Quantify beneficial claims with specific numbers and use real-world examples, which are more powerful than hypothetical statements.
  • Keep it simple. Remember the concept of Occam’s razor: the simpler explanation is always preferred.
  • Be prepared for contradictory facts from other vendors and have factual responses ready.
  • Create your own euphemisms that reflect the importance of your product or a particular feature. For example, a rubber band could be called a ‘multipurpose business instrument.’
  • Quantify results from adverse consequences (for example, loss of revenue due to equipment downtime).
  • Use alliteration – repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent words – so that concepts are more easily remembered (for example, Architecture, Applications & Automation). Or you can use words that bring rhythm to the flow of speech (for example, durAbility, dependAbility, and adaptAbility).
  • Use the rule of three: whenever you make a claim, support it with three different facts.
  • Brighten up the facts with interesting graphics that represent them pictorially.
  • Become a storyteller, not a human dictionary. Use metaphors to explain concepts. Instead of saying ‘customers prefer us three to one,’ say ‘Harris Poll surveyed four thousand buyers from across the country and found that three thousand, or 75%, thought our solution was far superior and here’s why…’

Logical arguments alone, no matter how well you present them, will not change sceptics into believers. Finessing customers to change their opinions requires an emotional appeal to their human nature.

2. Pathos The Emotional Appeal

Most sales people equate the emotional appeal to viscerally trying to persuade prospective customers to buy from them. However pathos is far more complex. It is creating a favourable disposition in potential customers through an emotional or psychological appeal and thereby casting your competition in an unfavourable light.

The term ‘benefaction’ refers to the psychological benefits that determine a person’s actions. Customers purchase products that increase their happiness, esteem, power, or wealth. They rationalise these psychological decisions they make with logic and facts.

Four core psychological drives determine selection behaviour:

These four benefactions are physical wellbeing, pain avoidance, self-preservation, and self-gratification.

1. Physical wellbeing. The will to survive, is one of our strongest desires. It weighs heavily on the minds of both customers and competitors. Making customers feel their careers are safe in your hands is a top priority. Ideally, you would like them to believe that the competitive solutions are actually threats to their livelihood.

‘More than one hundred of their customers have moved to our solution because of their major security flaw.’

2. Pain avoidance. When something is hurting you badly, the desire to eliminate the source of pain can be all-consuming. Pain avoidance is one of the best purchase motivators because customers are forced to act quickly and decisively to eliminate it.

‘We can eliminate that bottleneck and save you from experiencing that frustration ever again.’

3. Self-preservation. We naturally seek the approval of others. Self-preservation, the desire to be recognised for our unique talents while still belonging to a group, applies to customers and sales people alike. Customers purchase items that they believe will enhance their stature and protect their group position.

‘90% of the Fortune 100 companies use our solution.’

4. Self-gratification. Everyone has a selfish ego, and self-gratification is our desire to put our own needs before
everyone else’s. Customers will go to great lengths to purchase something that makes them feel better about themselves and superior to others. Egos drive the business world. Unfortunately, most sales people are taught to sell solutions based upon customer pain when, in fact, ego and self-preservation are the real motivators behind large enterprise purchases.

‘I would like to arrange a visit to our worldwide headquarters so you can meet with our CEO and other key company executives.’

Never forget…

It’s not solely your product’s performance, ease of use, or efficiency that customers will fall in love with. It’s you. In other words, you want customers to view you as the only person who can address their personal needs, solve their business problems, and help them achieve their career hopes and life’s desires.

Related: Sell Like A Human

3. Ethos Character and the Charismatic Appeal

All sales people are trying to earn the customer’s trust. They’ll lend a sympathetic ear and try to become a trusted advisor. To prove they’re dependable, they follow through on their commitments. To show integrity, they will speak the truth.

The foundations of ethos are wisdom, virtue, and goodwill. When sales people share their experience and opinions with customers, they are using their knowledge to their advantage. Ethos is charisma as well as character. The sales people’s definition of ‘charisma’ is ‘transparency,’ the ability to be exactly who you are and the propensity to
be perfectly frank about it.

Here’s are some examples of Ethos:

‘Over the past ten years helping clients for my company I have seen many different situations like yours. The course of action I would recommend is…’

‘Based upon my experience working with hundreds of companies, I would strongly suggest…’

‘Our company has more than 10 000 successful installations around the world, what we’ve learned is…’

Over two thousand years ago Aristotle wrote, “All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire.” Given the competitive nature of selling today, understanding the ancient wisdom of Aristotle is more relevant than ever. In fact, the only thing new is the history you don’t know.