Philip Hesketh| Interview | Podcast | Maria Franzoni | MFL Global

Interview with expert in the psychology of persuasion and influence, Philip Hesketh

This week Maria’s guest on the show is Philip Hesketh who is an expert in the psychology of persuasion and influence. He combines a powerful mix of well researched persuasive techniques in buying, selling, persuading and influencing. He is best known for his ‘can-use-today’ techniques to be more influential. Philip is a psychology graduate from Newcastle University and a sales graduate from Proctor and Gamble. In 1986 he was creator, new business director, and managing partner of an advertising agency, Advertising Principles. He sold his interest in the business after 16 consecutive years of growth, with the agency billing 48 million pounds, and employing a 150 people.

Philip Hesketh talks to us about how the sale of soap and shampoo inspired him to move into advertising, how he became a full time professional speaker and how he changed the weather in February!!! Philip explains the difference between negotiation and discounting and shares some of his persuasion techniques. All this and much more…

Maria:

So, my guest this week is Philip Hesketh who is an expert in the psychology of persuasion and influence. He combines a powerful mix of well researched persuasive techniques in buying, selling, persuading and influencing. He is best known for his ‘can-use-today’ techniques to be more influential.

Philip is a psychology graduate from Newcastle University and a sales graduate from Proctor and Gamble. In 1986 he was creator, new business director, and managing partner of an advertising agency, Advertising Principles. He sold his interest in the business after 16 consecutive years of growth, with the agency billing 48 million pounds, and employing a 150 people.

Two of his books ‘How To Persuade and Influence People’ and ‘Persuade’ are Amazon number one bestsellers. Phil is a visiting fellow of Newcastle University and current holder of Vistage UK’s Outstanding Performer, Most Requested Speaker, and TEC Australia’s Overseas Speaker of The Year award.

Well done Phil! That’s fantastic. Thank you and welcome.

Philip Hesketh:   

Thank you very much. Good to be here.

Maria: 

So, Phil, let’s go back to early career and let’s go back to psychology and Procter and Gamble. So why psychology?

Philip Hesketh:                   

I was going to be a civil engineer. I did Maths, Further Maths, and Physics, and didn’t do well enough because of … well, I just didn’t study hard enough. So I got a summer job on the dustbins and I met a guy who did psychology at York University. I also knew a friend of my father’s who was a psychologist and I thought, yes, that’s what want to do. I don’t want to be walking around with a yellow hard hat on, I want to be a psychologist: so that was the plan.

Maria: 

Fantastic. And how did you get to be employed by Proctor and Gamble, I mean, a great organization to be with?

Philip Hesketh:

Well I was going to become a psychologist and I did 12 months in a psychiatric hospital, I was working there, I wasn’t a patient, and decided I didn’t have the empathy for it. And I was looking around for what to do, and I saw an ad in the Daily Telegraph, I can picture it now, saying “Are you …?” and it was list of all your criteria, and I thought, “Yes, that’s me,” and it was a company called Procter and Gamble. So, I applied, and I didn’t know how lucky I was to get a position at P&G, but it was a great start.

Maria: 

Yes, no, fantastic. Brilliant. And so why then did you go on and create an advertising agency?

Philip Hesketh: 

I became genuinely academically interested, almost, in the sale of soap powder and shampoo and conditioner and so on, and how advertising impacted on that, more than I could as a sales person. So, I became interested in the advertising, so moved into advertising, it was a natural move.

Maria: 

So, you built that business for 16 years and it grew and grew every single year. I mean that’s phenomenal. And then you decided “I want out.” I mean was that a bit of a crazy idea, to leave then?

Philip Hesketh: 

I was searching for the ‘what next’ and I put myself on a course at Harvard Business School, and I met a guy there, Professor David Bell, who was bright, articulate, as you’d expect, but also very funny, and I thought “That’s what I want to do. I want to be a professor at Harvard. Or if I can’t do that, I can do the next best thing: part comedian: part teacher.”

Maria:  

And, in fact, that’s what you did, you became a professional speaker, and I think you’re one of the few full-time professional speakers we work with, actually. So, how do you go from that to getting your first paid gig? How did that happen?

Philip Hesketh:       

It’s a great question. There was a bit of good fortune, as always with these things. Basically, I made the presentations in the advertising agency and clients would say “Can you come and speak at our conference?” And then, eventually, more and more they were saying “Can you come and speak at a conference on anything, because you’re very good and very funny?” So, I said “Look, I’ll have to charge for this.” And they said, “That’s fine.” “Really? Oh, you get paid for doing this? I didn’t know!”

So, when I made the leap I already had one or two clients and potential clients who said “Phil, if you ever were to do that, I’d book you.” And, in fact, I recall I reserved a whole Monday and a Tuesday to phone clients and potential clients before we told anyone else about my leaving, and I got five paid speaking gigs just during those two days. And then one thing led to another.

Maria: 

That’s interesting. It does go to show that if you’re out there on stage speaking, that’s the best way to actually get more work. You need to be on stage to get more stage time, is great advice.

So, you’re also, you touched on it, that you’re a little bit of a comedian. I think you’re a very funny man. And you also, you’re a bit of a musician, so can we ever see you in concert, perhaps, doing either of these things?

Philip Hesketh:   

I wanted, when I was a kid, to be the next Ralph McTell, the next Paul Simon, the next Tom Paxton, and I learned to play the guitar, and I went busking in London. I got paid a little bit, Maria, but never very much. I was good enough to know I wasn’t good enough.

So, I still play the guitar, in fact one of my sons is a professional musician and we play together. If I can play live with Ralph McTell at the Royal Albert Hall that would be my pinnacle, but it’s far easier speaking and getting people to laugh than it is getting people to appreciate my singing.

Maria: 

Is it that bad Phil?

Philip Hesketh:  

It’s just … as I say, I’m good enough to know I’m not good enough.

Maria:

OK. Alright. I wish some of the people who go on ‘X Factor’ would know that … but.

Philip Hesketh:  

Yes. Sure.

Maria:                                        

So, you famously said that your goal was to change the weather in February, because obviously we live in the UK, for anybody that might be listening outside of the UK, and the weather in February’s pretty pants. Have you achieved that?

Philip Hesketh: 

A lot of people ask me this “How do you get to be a speaker in Australia?” And I always say “Well, you buy a ticket,” and they always laugh. And I say “That’s stage one, that. Because if it’s important you’ll find a way, and if it’s not you’ll find an excuse.”

So I had had this vision, I’d had this dream, and a client of mine from First Direct said “So Phil, when does it start?” And, I thought, well it needs to start straight away. I remember that particular day I’d just left the business, I went and booked two tickets to New Zealand with no work, no idea of how I was going to get the work, I just committed myself to doing it. And then I started the work of finding speaker bureaus and so on.

Luckily, I fell upon someone who wanted to try me and wanted to book me and so I went to New Zealand, had two gigs. Whilst I was there, because I had spoken, I got another gig, and then eventually realised Australia’s a lot bigger than New Zealand. And every time I speak I usually get somebody else to say, “Can I book you for next year?” So, now a third of my work is in Australia and I live there January, February, March.

Maria:   

So, you changed the weather in February for yourself?

Philip Hesketh:    

Yes. I’ve changed it for me. I haven’t seen a day in February in England now for 15 years.

Maria:                                       

That’s brilliant. I love that. And I love the fact that you just, sort of, take that leap and trust that it’s going to happen. That’s very courageous

So, you write a wonderful blog. Yours is one of the few blogs that I religiously read, because I really enjoy it, and it has so much humour in it. Can you give us a bit of advice about how we can interject humour into our writing, into our blogs, do you think? Any tips?

Philip Hesketh:   

There’s really only one gag, Maria, and the gag is always about misdirection: you plant a seed, you’re going in one direction, and then you go in another. Like “Velcro. What a rip off!” So, you say that in such a way that you mean one thing and actually the brain works out you mean something else. And so, if you just plant that seed in your mind “I need to misdirect people here, so that I can trick them,” then that becomes the easy humour.

The key, I think, is not to do too much. In a typical blog I might have two or three gags, but not “A man walks into a pub with a crocodile under his arm,” type gags, but just deliberately misdirection or sexual innuendo.

Maria:     

Yes. And what’s great is you also have a lot of fact and a lot of content in there and you remember it, because of the gags.

Philip Hesketh:      

Yes. Yes. I do think you learn better when you’re smiling and laughing. And I do think if you want to make a very, very serious point, it’s good to have the audience warmed up first. And it’s what I do as a career: I tell funny stories and then I make the point. And sometimes you can hear a pin drop when you make the point, because their muscles have relaxed, their brain’s smiling, laughing, happy, and “Bang!” Then you hit them with the real killer point.

Maria: 

Yes. And, actually, at one of your speeches … and you’ve used this in blog, too, you made a killer point that really resonated with me, you gave me the best piece of business advice I’ve ever had, and I’ve shared that, and I’ve said that it’s come from you, so thank you so much. And I try to follow this advice because I think it’s golden: that is: to do what you say you’re going to do. I just find that really powerful, but why do you think that’s such a good bit of advice? Why is that so important?

Philip Hesketh:     

I would say having run a business, the biggest single reason people fell out, the biggest single reason there were arguments, internally, and with clients, is because somebody hadn’t done what they said they were going to do, or somebody hadn’t done what somebody thought they were going to do. It took, me too long to work it out, Maria.

And everybody who joined the business, I used to say it as a mantra: first day, “Let’s have a coffee. I appreciate it’s difficult the first day. You can’t remember people’s names. You can’t remember where the bathrooms are. Just do what you say you’re going to do.” Because, if you do that, two things happen: one is, you become a lot happier because people don’t shout at you anymore and people don’t disagree with you. And the other thing is, you stop making false promises. So, don’t say to a client “I will phone you back on Friday.” Don’t do that. Say “I will phone you back as soon as I can, providing, if … etc.”

Maria:   

Yes. No, it’s brilliant advice and, actually, it’s great in relationships as well: “Do what you say you’re going to do or don’t promise it,” as you said. Fantastic.

Philip Hesketh:   

Yes.

Maria:                                       

So, I’m going to ask you some more advice, here, actually, now, seeing as I’ve got you, I feel like I’m having some private consultancy here. So, we’re often asked to negotiate on fees, in fact the statement is “Are fees negotiable?” And I think that really means “Can I have a discount?” What would you say is the difference between negotiating and discounting?

Philip Hesketh:    

Well, let’s take your specific example, there. People phone me and say, “What’s your fee to speak at a conference?” and I tell them and they often say “Is it negotiable?” And, first of all, I always sound surprised, “Oh, um, sorry, sorry, negotiable? What do you mean exactly by negotiable?” “Well, your fee, is it negotiable?” “Well what do you want me to negotiate on? Do you want me to be 10% less funny, or turn up late, or not have handouts? What do you want me to negotiate on?” And they realise, actually, what they are doing. 

So, I then say, “I think what you’re asking me to do, is discount, isn’t it?” And then they feel dirty. And I say to them “The thing is, it’s not fair. It’s not fair because if I do a gig for a certain price, and you find you’ve paid more money than them for the same thing, you wouldn’t feel good about that. So it’s not fair.” But generally when I talk to clients, I’m not naïve, Maria, people have to of course give in on price, and people search for win/win, which usually means compromise, compromise.

But I think if you just distinguish between negotiation and discounting it’s a good thing. Discounting: you’re just reducing the price, nothing else changes. Negotiating: is when you use expression like “I can’t do that, but what I can do is …” or, “If you were to, I might be able to.” In other words, you’re moving, perhaps it might be a time frame, a guarantee, terms and conditions, all manner of things: then you’re negotiating. And it’s a very, very useful thing to say to yourself “Am I negotiating or am I discounting?”

Maria:     

That’s awesome advice. I love that. And I love that … I feel dirty when I have to discount too, actually, I have to go and have a shower!

Maria:     

But when is the right time to talk about price?

Philip Hesketh:    

Well, it’s easy isn’t it, to talk because it can be a confrontational thing, price, to talk about what you need and what you want and what ball park … and then it comes to the price and sometimes “Whoa! That’s way out of my league. That’s not what I had in mind.” So, for me, it’s best to talk about it as early as possible. Now, get the brief, fully understand what it is, but then say “Look …” And if you’re frightened of price the best thing to do is to ask a hypothetical question. Look, for example, in advertising, people used to say, “Can you come up with some ideas I don’t have a budget?” Well we could come up with some ideas, and we’ve got in mind half a million pounds, a million pounds, whatever it might be, and they’ve got in mind nothing like that.

So, I would always ask the hypothetical question “OK, if I were to come up with ideas that would have you spending about, say, £300,000, how would you feel about that? Now that then teases out of them either whether they have got a budget, or if they haven’t got a budget, the sort of money that would be reasonable. And if they’re horrified at that, OK, well … So, in other words, we find out what someone’s got in mind. And it could be whether you’re buying a car or a sofa, or you’re buying a speaker. “Hypothetically, if I were to say £4,000, how would you feel about that? “Well, yes, that’s the sort of money we had in mind.” “OK, well I’m more than that!”

Maria:   

Love it. Love it. OK, so here’s another one for you. This is a challenge. How do you put your price up?

Philip Hesketh:                   

Again, I would ask the hypothetical question. I would say … If you’ve got a lot of clients and you’re frightened of putting the price up, and it’s an interesting thing, when interest rates change, quite often, clients are forced into putting their prices up. So again, you ask the hypothetical question to your client. “Look, hypothetically, if I were to increase my prices by 10%, what would be the implications for you?” So, in other words, it’s hypothetical anyway and what I’m asking for is the implications.

Now, if the implications are, well you can have … let’s take two extremes: if the implications are “It’s about time.” Well that’s OK isn’t it? If the implication is … which is more likely, is “Well, I just couldn’t afford to use your service. I couldn’t afford to buy your steel tubes,” whatever it is. “OK, just take me through that. What would you do, hypothetically, if I were to put my price up, and if you had to go somewhere else, where else would you go?” In other words, you try and explore with them, together, the fact that if I don’t put my price up I can’t make money. If I do put my price up and you go somewhere else you’re probably paying the same money anyway. Does that make sense?

Maria:   

Yes that does make sense.

Philip Hesketh:

The hypothetical question is the best way Maria.

Maria:    

Well it’s interesting you mentioned questions because I know, I’ve seen you speak and I’ve worked with you for many years, so I know that you love killer questions. So, is questioning the best way to persuade and to influence people?

Philip Hesketh: 

Yes. I believe so. I mean I’ve got a situation now where somebody’s sent me a book, and would I read it and give my view on it, and I don’t think it’s very good Maria. In fact, I don’t think it’s very good at all. So, if I offer what effectively is criticism, the guy won’t like me, he’ll take it personally and nothing will change anyway, other than our relationship deteriorates. So, I’m going to ask him the question “What were your objectives for the book? Why did you write the book? Where do you see it, for example, in a list of top ten business books? Do you see it being as good as that? In other words, I tease out of him what he’s looking for, and then say “What I find with the top business books is …” Do you think that matches up to those standards?”

Does that make sense? I’m constantly questioning to try and work with him.

Maria:  

Do you know that’s fantastic, because I actually have been asked to give some feedback on a speaker’s show-reel and actually I think it’s terrible. So, I can ask some questions, now, instead of giving that … I don’t want to be the bad guy.

Maria: 

So, do you charge for that advice though, Phil?

Philip Hesketh: 

No. The only thing I effectively charge for, Maria, is standing and speaking. I don’t do consultancy. I don’t do one-to-ones. I don’t do non-exec directorships. I stand and speak.

Maria: 

Fantastic. So, Phil can you give me an example, from your personal experiences, of how you’ve used your persuasion techniques to get something?

Philip Hesketh:   

Well a good example would be some work I was due to do for a major bank and they were going to pay me £25,000 for a road show: one of these things where if it’s Tuesday, it’s Nottingham; then you wake up the next day, it’s Leicester, and so on. So, I’m doing a roadshow, £25,000, they paid me a £10,000 deposit. Then the division of the bank was sold to someone else and they cancelled the roadshow. So, there’s no chance of doing the work because they were going to change the business model, so most people would say, “Well maybe I can hang onto the £10,000 deposit, but surely I can’t ask for £25,000?”

So, I had to phone the client back, he left a voicemail message saying “Sorry Phil. This gig is off.” And I thought, take your own advice here, always start with a question. So, I said to him “Hi. How are you?” And so on. And I said, “How does this impact on you?” He said “I’m losing my job.” “OK. How do you feel about that?” He said “I’m fine with that. I’ve been offered two other jobs already.” Ah right so, the client’s happy. I said “OK. This £25,000: if you were me, what would you do? And he said, “If I were you, Phil, I’d insist on the full £25,000.” I said, “If I were to insist on the full £25,000, what would you do? He said “I’d pay it. Send me the bill straight away.”

And, for me, that’s a fine example of using a question to find out, because people do things for their reasons not yours. He felt guilty. He felt bad about the fact that he was cancelling this, and he surely paid me, within 48 hours, and it’s the best gig I never did.

Maria:   

That’s fantastic advice.

Maria:    

So finally, Phil, you are the persuasion expert. Can you give me some personal advice on how I can get my own way a bit more often?

Philip Hesketh: 

It always comes down to asking questions. Let’s say you want to go to the cinema with your partner, OK, so a fairly simple thing. Then you ask him or her “Do you think it would be good thing if we were to go to the cinema? Would you like to go?” And they might say “No.” I’d say “OK. If were to go I believe this movie will be interesting to you, because …”

The key thing about all of this, Maria, is people do things for their reasons and not yours, and if we’re not careful we just try and persuade somebody to do something. And you never go home and say, “Guess what I’ve been persuaded to do?” And feel happy about it. You never go home and say, “Hey guess what I’ve been sold today?” And feel happy about it. So, we need to influence people rather than persuade them. So, you have to find out what their motivation is, not what yours is.

Maria:

That’s really good. I just hope that my man isn’t listening into this one.

Maria: 

Phil, thank you so much. That’s brilliant. Top advice. Thank you so much indeed.

Philip Hesketh: 

OK. It’s a pleasure.

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