“Limitations live only in our minds. But if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless.” – Jamie Paolinetti

You’ve got a big meeting with a potential client. If you can reel in this one for the company, you’ve been promised a corner office and the bump in salary and perks that go with it.

You’ve done your research. You know that this client sees himself as a “Donald Trump.” So, during your meeting, you don’t spend much time on the “nuts and bolts” of his project. Instead, you help him imagine what it will be like for him if he chooses your firm to help him bring it to fruition. He’ll be a major player in the industry… possibly even a household name. He’s no fool, so he asks a lot of questions. But you’ve got the right answers. Everyone is smiling and shaking hands as you close the deal.

If you would like to have this kind of influence over the decisions people make, read on. Because I’m going to share the details of a persuasion technique that can make it happen.

Before we dive in, keep in mind that people aren’t always open to being persuaded.

Think about yourself when you go car shopping. You may have an idea of what model you want. You may (in fact, you should) also have an idea of what the car will cost and how much you can afford to pay for it. You might even know what color you want it to be. But despite your genuine interest in buying that car, you are probably wary of being pushed into it. So if the salesman is too aggressive, you’re likely to leave without making the purchase.

The point is, people are leery of being manipulated. If you want to persuade someone to do something, you need to remember just how easy it is to scare them away. That’s why one of the most effective persuasion techniques isn’t at all aggressive.

Salespeople often use this technique. It’s called “visualization.”

Take a car salesman, for example. Once he has determined that you are a serious and qualified buyer, he’s going to want to get you into a car for a test drive. You see, an emotional change takes place when you’re behind the wheel of a car you like. An even bigger change occurs when you drive it. You start to imagine what it would be like if you owned that car. You see yourself driving it to work. You picture other people admiring it. And if the salesman is any good, he’ll give the visualization process a nudge. (“Wouldn’t it be fun to run into an old friend when you pull up to the gas pump in this baby?”)

Marketers use visualization all the time. Think about the “big promise” of a good direct-mail piece. Quite often, the headline will evoke an image of how the reader’s life can change. (“Feel Like You Did When You Were 21 in Only 30 Minutes a Day!”) Or it could be even subtler: showing a photo of a well-muscled middle-aged man with his arms around an attractive woman, for example.

A good salesperson or marketer doesn’t rely only on visualization to make the sale. They want to make sure you know all about their product’s benefits. For instance, our car salesman would tell you about the technical superiority of the car’s fuel injection system. He’d explain that with this fuel injection system, you’ll be able to tap the gas and be going 60 miles an hour in four seconds. And, as he’d point out, that speed will allow for safer entry onto the highway. That’s a major benefit – and a good, logical reason to buy the car.

But visualization draws out a powerful, primitive emotional response – a desire for the car that’s not based on reason. And you can use it in your personal life as well as in business. If, for example, you want to talk your spouse into going out for dinner, you might say something like, “Fifteen minutes from now, we could be sitting in our favorite booth, sipping wine and waiting for a piping hot steak.” While a logic-based argument might work (“We’re both really tired and deserve a break”), visualization is more likely to get an instant, “Let’s do it!”

Here are the basic steps:

  • Figure out what kind of image will create a powerful emotional desire in the other person to do what you want them to do.

This first step is all about knowing your prospect.

Let’s say you want to convince your supervisor to let you buy some new equipment for your office. In this case, you almost certainly understand what makes him tick, so you should have no trouble coming up with an effective image. (Maybe picturing you churning out more work, and, as a result, him posting incredible productivity numbers for his department.)

But let’s say you’re a car salesperson. In this case, you don’t know your prospective buyer at all – and you have only a few minutes to strike up a conversation that will give you some clues. Is she conservative or adventurous? Does she have a large discretionary income or is money tight? Is she concerned about the environment or does she care more about power?

The more accurately you assess the kind of image that will motivate your prospect, the more powerful the visualization tool will be.

If, for example, your prospective car buyer is a “stay at home mom” with three children, asking her to visualize beating a sports car at a stoplight won’t work. Instead, you’d want her to picture her twin babies sitting securely in their car seats, while her nine-year-old enjoys the factory-installed DVD player.

  • Make sure the picture you are painting is realistic.

Visualization won’t work if the person you are trying to persuade can’t picture himself in the image you are creating.

If, for example, you’re trying to sell a fitness program to a middle-aged man, you wouldn’t ask him to imagine himself being dropped from a military fighter plane by parachute behind enemy lines and taking out a brigade of combat troops in a hand-to-hand battle. Instead, you would want him to see himself ripping off his shirt at a summer barbecue, and picture his buddies scowl with jealousy as their wives eye him with admiration.

When you know how to create the kind of image that will get an emotional response from your prospect… and you get that prospect to accept the image as a potential reality… you will have no trouble at all persuading him to do what you want.

Visualization is an extraordinary persuasion tool to have in your arsenal.

[Ed. Note: Larry Fredericks is an entrepreneur with a history of successful business dealings in retail, direct mail, the Internet, and real estate. He is also the creator of the Master of Persuasion program.]