Fear is everywhere when it comes to business: fear of loss, fear of missing out, fear of your competitors leaving you flat in the dust. This also makes it a highly effective sales strategy.

Why? Fear is a universal condition, one that leaves most of us searching for ways to get back to our comfort zones. Marketers and advertisers have capitalized well on this in business—everything from cyber security systems to all-in-one marketing platforms that promise us ways to get back in the safety zone.

In sales, fear often introduces the urgency needed to close a better deal or convince a prospect to open, read and reply to a cold email.

But before you go peddling doomsday scenarios to all your prospective clients, it’s important to understand that there are correct and incorrect ways to apply fear, and knowing that distinction will help you motivate and inspire rather than scare and paralyze. Here’s what to keep in mind:

1. Know Your Pain Points

First thing’s first: you need to know and understand the other person’s fears. Offering up a bunch of random, scary business scenarios isn’t motivation by fear; it’s just plain old fear-mongering.

Start by researching your audience’s pain points. What are the market forces at work in their industry? How do they stack up against the competition? Are there internal struggles at the company? What do their customers need right now that they’re not delivering?

The Information Technology sector, for example, is a major playing field for fear motivation right now. The pressure is on for companies to cut costs, and there are dozens of cloud solutions right now that claim to do just that. They promise the same results for the company faster and cheaper than the clunky, expensive legacy systems many still use.

Choose the ones that you think will resonate most with the readers that are relevant to the solution you offer. If your product is all about fast performance, stick to the pain points that are about slow performance driving up costs.

2. Prioritize Those Fears

Part of motivating fear is knowing not just the pain points, but also how to prioritize them. Which problems are most relevant and urgent for the client?

Say you are an e-commerce software company, and you’re trying to sell to a small online retailer facing two big issues: improving security at checkout and expanding their store to serve multiple countries. Both are relevant concerns, but poor security and compromised data will destroy customer trust for any retailer. Not having a presence in France carries less drastic consequences, and would, therefore feel less urgent as a fear scenario.

You can even take this a step further by intersecting your prospect’s biggest fears with the most relevant items you offer. If you’re making e-commerce software, chances are, you have reliable security built into your platform. Include that alongside highlighting the dangers of poor security so that your prospect recognizes the pain point, but also understands how your products can resolve it.

3. Apply the Power of Subtlety

How you talk about clients’ fears is almost as important as how you prioritize them. You want to express urgency, but the most effective kind of fear is subtle and realistic. If the first thing you say to a potential customer is, “Hackers are going to steal all your customers’ information next week,” you probably won’t get very far (unless you have some evidence for this claim). Claims like this only make your buyer defensive and immediately hurt your credibility and any chances of building trust.

A more refined way of expressing that sentiment would be something like, “You never know if someone is trying to steal your customers’ information, which is why it’s so important to secure your checkout area.” The line still feels urgent, but the danger is presented as a realistic possibility, which is avoidable with the right steps, rather than an inevitable fact, which is not.

4. End With Excitement

Fear done for the sake of fear is great in movies, but not so useful in sales. That’s why your pitch needs to end on a positive note, one that offers the other person an actionable solution to their problems.

Once you’ve made sure your pain points are in line with your offering, it’s time to generate a little excitement. What new discoveries or advantages will the recipient find after talking to you? What does it mean for the overall business? To briefly return to the shopping cart example, what advantages can the retailer gain over competitors by addressing concerns about a secure checkout process?

Even when your aim is not about hitting pain points or insecurities, fear can still be a useful power to wield in sales. That’s one of the biggest advantages about this particular tactic: it’s infinitely adaptable. Just choose wisely when and where to use it.

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