The 3 Principles of Digital Persuasion

Is there a more frustrating feeling than crafting the perfect email to a prospect, explaining all the phenomenal ways you can help them with retirement planning, and asking them to hop on a quick call... only to have it be completely ignored?

Lee Iacocca, developer of the Ford Mustang, once said, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” Today, his quote adapted for the digital age might be, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get anyone to read your message, you won’t get anywhere.”

Today, we crave attention for ourselves, our ideas, and our products/ services, but inbox exhaustion leaves us completely ignored from the first words of that digital notification. When you’re reaching out to prospects to talk about their retirement plans, what type of response are you getting?

Well, if you’re sending a cold email or DM, it can make you feel like a scientist searching for extraterrestrial life—you know there’s a vast potential out there, but you’re not seeing any signs of life. When it comes to classic business development advice on digital messaging, the cold email templates you’re given look pretty much the same. It’s some version of, “How are you, this is me, we do this, we are the bomb, here’s who else thinks we’re the bomb, will you meet with me?”

Running a social sales training agency for the last 15 years, I’ve trained thousands of leaders on business development strategies in the financial, health care and other spaces to help them attract attention. After analyzing thousands of message efficacy rates, I’ve determined there are two reasons why messages are ignored 98% of the time.

First, phrases like “thought we should connect” or “just wanted to reach out” are overused by so many professionals that oftentimes our brains don’t even see those types of messages. Our minds have evolved to decide within 2.5 seconds (or about the length of a preview line on email or text) that the sender is friend or foe, server or seller, I care/don’t care.

Think about how you go through your inbox or scroll through your newsfeed. In about 10 words you either delete, scroll by or pause and consider. For a prospect, the difference between stopping and not stopping begins with what the person is seeing in those first 2.5 seconds. Is the way you’re showing up on the screen maximizing what I call “the power of the preview”?

The second reason why most messaging formulas fail to drive new client conversations is because they are a huge “show up and throw up” about your company’s retirement services. They’re all about you, not about the potential client at all! What is the least persuasive—and most used—word in the English language? The word “I.” To stand out on the screen and differentiate yourself from sales spam, you must improve your digital persuasion skills.

When you reach out to someone you want to entice into exploring a retirement strategy conversation, try keeping three simple and effective, yet unconventional, principles in mind.


Eradicate the word “I” from your digital outreach. This past week alone, I received 64 pitches via LinkedIn DM, and every one of them began with the word “I.” “I saw your profile/I thought I’d reach out/I thought we should connect.”

Instead of starting like everyone else, what if you examined your next message through the eyes of the recipients? They are rushing through their messages, and they get a message from someone they don’t know.

They think, “I don’t know you, I am suspicious of you, are you worth my time?” Starting with “I” screams sales spam and is likely the reason you’re not getting the traction you want.

So challenge yourself to go through your next message and delete the word “I” wherever possible. It’s surprising how easy it is. Instead, start each communication with a proper noun that will resonate personally with your recipient. Use something specific you have in common: “Meredith Adkins thought we should connect!” “University of Maryland, eh?” “Snowboarding? Love Jackson Hole!” Starting with a proper noun of personal relevance to your recipient is a great way to get noticed.


When you reach out to someone you don’t know via email or social media, there’s an understanding that you have an agenda. Most people ask for “10 minutes of your time,” a “brief discussion,” or (the worst) “to pick your brain.” If you want to stand out, abolish your ask and give something instead. Share an idea, article, introduction, observation, anything other than asking for something.

Refrain from asking for time, a meeting, lunch. By not asking for anything, you will differentiate yourself from all the others out there following messaging scripts. The persuasion principle of reciprocity will kick in if you lead with something personal, and then offer them something of value. Ideas are the currency of today, and offering an insight, introduction or shortcut without making any ask will elevate you beyond the rest of the pack instantly.

The natural reaction of anyone who receives this is to check out you, your company, and your solution. Then, they will try to find a way they can help you back, typically in the form of time or an introduction. They want to return the kindness you showed them. As Robert Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion notes, reciprocity has been deeply ingrained into human psychology dating back
to tribal survival skills. It’s a win-win. You get to be a good person and help others, then they get to feel like a good person by helping you in return.


The easiest way to differentiate yourself digitally is to simply type less. A lot less. Like 80% less. From a visual perspective, opening a message that is two or three sentences instead of two or three paragraphs is already enticing someone to engage with you because brevity is so rare.

The number of paragraphs I receive from someone trying to sell me something averages three to five. It’s a great scroll-worthy wall of words. If you can send two or three sentences instead, your potential client will likely be hooked from an optics standpoint before they even read a word, just because your short message is so refreshingly rare! By saying less, you are also activating the dopamine neurotransmitters that cause us to seek, desire and want more. Nothing is more persuasive than inciting curiosity using brevity. Don’t ask for time and attention immediately... attract it over time.

My challenge to you: On your very next message, test these three principles of digital persuasion. You’ll find that the message yields more responses, ignites more mutually respectful, rich dialogue, and fills up your calendar with more qualified meetings.

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