Mon, November 26 2012

What’s more persuasive:  Your track record or your future potential?

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

A research team profiled at Influence at Work recently set out to answer a fascinating question: When it comes to influencing others, where should you focus most of your attention - describing the realities of your past, or communicating your potential to deliver in the future?

In some studies that are soon to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Stanford University researchers found that potential is generally more compelling than the past.

One study was a mock staffing situation.  Research subjects were asked to evaluate two people (Candidate A and Candidate B) who had applied for a job.  Both candidates were identical except Candidate A had more relevant experience and scored highly on a Leadership Assessment test. Candidate B had less experience yet still scored highly on a Leadership Potential test. According to Influence, “The results of the study showed that those shown information about the Candidate B’s potential rated that applicant as more successful and a better leader than those shown information about what Candidate A had achieved.”

In a separate study in a different setting, Facebook users were shown some quotes about a comedian. Half saw quotes about the comedian’s potential. (“This guy could become the next big thing.”) The rest were shown quotes about track record: “Critics say he has become the next big thing.”  More people clicked through and became a fan of the comedian with potential.

Interesting.  The research suggests that when selling your merits - or the merits of your services or organization - don’t dwell on the past. Spend at least as much time talking about your future potential.  Share test results or testimonials or reviews that bolster your future promise.

People apparently want to know the best is yet to come!

  • Comment: (2)   


I’ve got to believe that talking about the future is even more relevant to donors who know you well. Their attitude is “yeah, yeah, that’s great that you save 6 people last year, I know that you are a good organization, but what are you going to be doing in the future to save even more people.” While the potential new donor may be impressed with all that you plan to do in the future, they may say “sounds like a great vision, but how do I know that you are capable of implementing this plan. What is your track record with similar types of projects in the past.”

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/26  at  10:24 AM

Interesting, since past performance is the best predictor of future performance. Maybe this is one reason why interviewers are often perplexed when new hires don’t work out

Posted by Peter Rinn  on  11/26  at  11:23 AM

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