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Top three sales frameworks to persuade your prospect by Nick Kolenda

Wrapping up on all of my notes, here are the top three sales frameworks that Nick Kolenda recommends to persuade your prospect.

#1: AIDA

This is not his framework, but one that’s quite popular. And, he recommends it:

  • A: Attention (Capture Attention)
  • I: Interest (Spark Interest)
  • D: Desire (Create Desire)
  • A: Action (Spur Action)


If you want to see more on this framework, see Methods of Persuasion.

  • M: Mold Their Perception
  • E: Elicit Congruent Attitudes
  • T: Trigger Social Pressure
  • H: Habituate Your Message
  • O: Optimize Your Message
  • D: Drive Their Momentum
  • S: Sustain Their Compliance


And, this is a framework that can be applied specifically to sales situations.

D: Disguise / De-emphasize your persuasion

“...customers can’t feel like you’re trying to persuade them or control their behavior in any way. If they feel that intent, then they’re going to become more defensive and resistant.”

An optional quick read for more background/context on this:

Kolenda: “Whenever you’re trying to persuade someone, it’s very important that you try to remove the perception that you’re trying to persuade need to give the impression that they’re in control of the decision and that you’re not trying to guide or change their behavior in any way. That approach is important because of a concept known as the ‘persuasion knowledge model’.”

Research/Study: “When people perceive that someone is trying to change their behavior, they become defensive. They resist that persuasion attempt.” (Friestad and Wright, 1994)

De-emphasizing your persuasion also aligns with the “power-through” approach of pulling people toward a certain action as opposed to the more obvious “power-over” approach of pushing someone into doing something.

So, here are some ways to de-emphasize your persuasion:

(1) Prolong the start of your pitch

“In any context, a lot of salespeople have a tendency to immediately jump into the selling portion, but if you jump straight ahead to that section you’re just reinforcing the perception that you’re trying to change their behavior.”

(2) Incorporate a self-generated inference

For example:

In the "direct" headline, prospects need to trust the marketer that Tide cleans clothes really well.

In the "indirect" headline, the marketer isn’t making a direct claim. So, it’s up to the prospect to determine the meaning of the marketer’s statement (a self-generated inference).

So, if the prospect is able to infer that Tide cleans really well from the marketer’s indirect statement, then the prospect is the source of that information since they made the inference. 

And, that’s far more persuasive than making the prospect trust you with a direct claim.

“And, that’s one reason why metaphors can be so powerful. That strategy overcomes [the] persuasion knowledge [model] because it suddenly changes the source of that information.”

(3) Ask rhetorical questions

Asking a rhetorical question:

  • Implies the strength of that question
  • Sparks the receiver to elaborate on the idea and generate inferences on their own

Here’s an example you may recognize from when someone was making the case for whether or not college is necessary:

Him: “You know, if you look at, say, people like Bill Gates or Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs...these guys didn’t graduate from college. But, if you had a chance to hire them, of course, that would be a good idea.”

In this persuasion attempt, there was a missed opportunity for the rhetorical question because listeners would need to trust this person that hiring those people would actually be a good idea. 

So, imagine if this man had instead said, “If you look at people like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, or Steve Jobs, these guys didn’t graduate from college. But, if you had a chance to hire them, would that be a good idea?”

In that rhetorical question, he isn’t making a direct claim. So, it’s up to you to determine the meaning of his statement (a self-generated inference).

That’s where, on your own, you might start to generate claims that it would be a good idea to hire billionaires to work for you. And, those claims would be coming from you, not him, making it more persuasive. (And, naturally, agreeing that he's right with his rhetorical question there nudges you toward inferring he might also be right about his opinion on the necessity of college.)

Therefore, in a way, rhetorical questions are also self-generated inferences. 

*Note: Another reason asking rhetorical questions is persuasive is because they also increase engagement in your message—because questions are inherently engaging and interactive (see “the question pitch”).

(4) Describe the drawbacks of your product

Kolenda describes this part so well, I won’t mince words:

“A lot of salespeople are afraid to mention negative information about their product, but there’s a lot of research showing that two-sided arguments—arguments that present both sides of an argument—are usually more persuasive. And, that’s why you see websites like Amazon that present both positive and negative reviews upfront.

Plus, when you present negative information, you’ll also trigger a spotlight effect. People tend to fixate solely on the information that’s in front of them without really considering any information that’s off to the side. So, if you present negative information, people will assume that that’s the only negative information about your product. 

If you didn’t present negative information, then people would be wondering about the drawbacks and they would feel more compelled to keep researching the alternatives. And, your competitors won’t be as kind when they present the drawbacks of your product.”

Kolenda also adds that this is a great strategy for interviewing for a job because “if you present the drawbacks, you can control the positioning of those drawbacks”.

Kolenda: “So, if you’re interviewing for a job, for example, and they ask you about your weaknesses, you don’t just, you know, explain your weaknesses and then leave it at that. You explain your weaknesses, but then you give them a positive spin. You explain what they are and what you’re currently doing to overcome them.” 

And, Kolenda recommends you follow that same approach with sales.

Here’s a final tip that Kolenda gives on how you can soften the blow of negative information when you want to deliver it:

Kolenda: “There’s also research showing that you can soften the blow of negative information by using what are called ‘dispreferred markers’. So, these are disclaimer types of statements like, ‘I’ll be honest, but…,’ or, ‘I don’t want to be negative, but…’. The study called it ‘the dispreferred marker effect’ [Hamilton, Vohs, and McGrill, 2014].” 

“Those statements convey that the salesperson knows that they shouldn’t be giving away the information, but they’re giving it anyway. And, because of that, those statements make those people seem more credible and trustworthy. 

So, when you present that blunt honesty and you’ve earned the customer’s trust, you can then present your final recommendation to buy the product, and those customers will have a lot more trust in your judgment because you’ve demonstrated that you have their back.”

(5) Mention the competing products

“So, just like with negative information, if you don’t mention your competitors, customers will feel like they’re missing information and they’ll be more likely to continue their search. 

And, research shows, in the mere act of searching, customers infer that they must not have liked the product if they’re searching for alternatives (see congruent attitudes)...people’s behavior of searching leads them to develop the attitude that they didn’t like your product.”

So, avoid all of the downsides above by mentioning your competitors and how your product is better than theirs.

(6) Emphasize their freedom to choose

“When you eventually ask for the sale, you should make sure to emphasize their autonomy in the decision.”

Kolenda: “In one study, researchers asked people to donate money and they quadrupled the amount of money they received when they emphasized people’s freedom to choose by saying, ‘...but you are free to accept or refuse.’ [Guégen and Pascual, 2000]

Kolenda: “There was even a follow-up study that was done that looked at 42 different studies on persuasion. And, they attributed a lot of success to those four critical words, ‘...but you are free…’.”  [Carpenter, 2003]

So, Kolenda recommends making sure to add similar wording when you ask for the sale:

  • “...but you are free…”
  • “’s up to you…”
  • “’s your call…”
  • “ can decide…”

A: Agitate the Problem

“You need to remind them of the emotional pain that they experience from that [their] problem...Once they feel that pain and they ask themselves, ‘Do I need this product,’ they’ll be more likely to answer that question as ‘yes'.”

Now, Kolenda mentions that we can feel happy and sad at the same time. It’s possible to feel multiple emotions at once. 

So, before we can ask ourselves how to agitate the problems of our prospects, we must first ask ourselves what emotions we want our prospects to be feeling (since they can feel more than one at a time).

And, Kolenda recommends creating a concoction of emotion in your prospect:

Ingredient #1: Instill a belief and emotion that the underlying problem is painful.

The example Kolenda gives is if you’re selling a product on productivity, rather than explain why productivity is important, you need to explain why being unproductive is painful.

“You need to reinforce their disdain and annoyance with the underlying problem.”

And, make sure to reinforce the negative aspects of the core problem and not the surface problem.

For example, two people have the surface problem of being unproductive. 

  • Person 1: Core problem of feeling lazy (= lack of motivation)
  • Person 2: Core problem of too much work on their plate (= lack of organization or prioritization)

Don’t treat person "one" and "two" the same in the sales process.

Seek out each one’s core issue and reinforce the negatives specific to their individual situation.


  • Person 1 (Problems to Reinforce): Boss thinks they’re incompetent, low self-esteem, missing important deadlines
  • Person 2 (Problems to Reinforce): Stressed and overwhelmed, missing important deadlines, less time with family

Ingredient #2: Instill a belief or emotion that they’re trying to overcome their problems.

“Sure, the problem might be painful, but a lot of people live with pain.”

If you want prospects to buy your product, you need to instill in them a belief and motivation that they do want to take action to overcome their problem.

How you can do this is by reminding them of everything they’ve tried in the past to solve the problem. This will reinforce a congruent attitude because “we usually infer our attitudes from our behavior”. 

So, when you remind them of all the steps they took to get here to solve their problem, it reinforces the belief of how important solving this problem is to them. And, as a result, they’ll be more likely to act congruently with that belief—that attitude—by taking action (see congruent attitudes). 

Kolenda offers some possible examples:

  • They traveled to your store
  • They visited your website
  • They filled out your online form
  • They tried other products

Ingredient #3: Instill an emotion that the problem is difficult to solve.

An example is in infomercials where you see people in a scene that’s black and white, struggling with their current product/situation.

You want to give them the impression that there’s no hope in overcoming their pain through the competing options. (You want to avoid letting them feel like they can resolve their pain somewhere else.) 

R: Resolve the Problem

“Here, you present your product or service as the solution to their pain. And, you can explain all of the relevant benefits from the benefits hierarchy.”

In other words, by this point in the DARRP framework, you’ve already identified their core pain. So, it’ll be easier to identify the benefit of your product/service that would apply most to them.

  1. Start at the benefit most relevant to your prospect in the hierarchy, and work your way down to the features level in order to position your product as the solution. 
  2. Or, you can start at the features level and work your way up to their benefit. Either way works.

R: Remove the Obstacles

“In sales, this probably would be the equivalent of addressing the objections that customers might have. And, you should do this early on, immediately after presenting the solution.”

P: Push Them Forward

“If you’re talking to a customer in person...your push forward can simply be in the form of describing the pain that people will keep feeling if they don’t purchase your product.”

Lucio Buffalmano and Matthew Whitewood have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoMatthew Whitewood
Quote from Ali Scarlett on July 24, 2021, 2:25 am



Accidentally made a typo here—it should be "DARRP".

Lucio, could you make this quick edit, please?

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

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