How to Use Robert Cialdini's "Pre-Suasion" in Onboarding

Pre-Suasion is you how influence people.

Posted Aug 11, 2019

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Dr. Robert Cialdini is perhaps the most influential psychologist in the world of business and marketing. His book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, has sold millions of copies and is a go-to for anyone in marketing or sales. 

In his latest book, Cialdini explains how to set the stage so people can be influenced. He calls it "Pre-Suasion," and here's how he explains it (emphasis mine):

“There's a critical insight... for those of us who want to learn to be more influential. The best persuaders become the best through pre-suasion—the process of arranging for recipients to be receptive to a message before they encounter it. To persuade optimally, then, it's necessary to pre-suade optimally. But how? In part, the answer involves an essential but poorly appreciated tenet of all communication: what we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next.”

Essentially, for someone to be influenced in the desired way, they need to be pre-framed to be influenced. If someone is not properly framed, they will not see what you want them to see.

I recently applied Cialdini's research in my onboarding process.

Applying Pre-Suasion as an Onboarding Tool

For one of the online programs I run, I've had several thousand students. However, some of the feedback we have gotten is that people are often "overwhelmed" when they first join the program.

There is a lot to learn. Moreover, there is a lot of information and training, and without clear instructions on what to do first, new students can experience decision fatigue. They don't know what to do, so they don't end up doing anything. This is what Barry Schwartz calls "The Paradox of Choice." 

Not knowing what to do, and feeling confused and overwhelmed is not the right experience for your new clients. It's how you get a lot of refunds. 

Thinking about Pre-Suasion, though, my team and I decided to create an onboarding process. Rather than giving people immediate access to the online program they just purchased, new students instead get access to a "preparation program" with a few trainings and assignments. They are told they cannot access the full program until they completed the prep-program.

This prep-program eliminated decision fatigue because we removed choice from the equation. We told new students precisely what they needed to do and set them up for success.

This onboarding process pre-framed our new students to have exactly the right experience we wanted them to have once they were ready for the full version of the course. In this way, our new students now get far more out of the course, because once they get there, they are more invested. Moreover, because of the training, they get in the prep-program, as well as through their experiences doing the assignments, they are properly framed for the full program.

Joe Polish's Immediate Application of Pre-Suasion to His Own Onboarding Process

I recently shared some of these marketing and onboarding insights at a GeniusX meeting, which is a high-end marketing group run by Joe Polish. 

After hearing how I was using Pre-Suasion in my online programs, Joe asked me if I could help him with his onboarding process for Genius Network, which is his exclusive high-end marketing network. Of course, I was excited to help, given my love for both the science as well as my interest in Joe's group.

The next day after my presentation, Joe spent three full hours filming onboarding training for his group. As part of that onboarding process, Joe had a few of his top members share how they get the most out of their "Genius Network" experiences, and how they prepare themselves for an event.

I literally got chills while Joe was filming his welcome video. It was completely sincere, powerful, and exactly what any new member would love to hear. In that welcome video, Joe welcomed new members, helped them feel "comfortable" in the group, explained the short onboarding process they were about to go through and told them he wanted them to go through this process before their first meeting so they could be successful.

Beyond the welcome video, Joe filmed a few videos going through much of the core principles and exercises that are taught at Genius Network. As part of that pre-frame onboarding process, Joe told new members that they must fill out the tools (i.e., complete the assignments) before they come to their first meeting. He doesn't want them to show up to the meetings without having the right mindset.

It was amazing to watch one of my mentors immediately implement, literally the next day, an idea he learned from me. It goes to show that you are never too successful to learn if you have a beginner's mind.

But here's what was also crazy about the whole experience. Joe Polish has been called "The most connected man in business." As it turns out, Joe actually has known Dr. Robert Cialdini for over 20 years. They are close friends, and both live in Phoenix, Arizona.

After hearing my presentation, Joe reached out to Robert and invited him to join us for lunch. Shortly after Joe filmed three hours of Pre-Suasion onboarding training, we had lunch with Robert and his wife, Bobette Gorden.

When I told Cialdini about my application of his research, he said it made his heart feel good.


Cialdini, R. B., & Cialdini, R. B. (1993). Influence: The psychology of persuasion.

Cialdini, R. (2016). Pre-suasion: A revolutionary way to influence and persuade. Simon and Schuster.

Schwartz, B. (2004, January). The paradox of choice: Why more is less. New York: Ecco.