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A few years ago, Harvard Business Review published an article promoting the benefits of provocative selling during a downturn. The premise was that by provoking customers to think differently, (known in ValueSelling parlance as inserting anxiety into their thought process), a sales professional will be more successful in selling. Creating anxiety in sales conversations is nothing new. If you carefully listen to most advertisements, you’ll notice some form of anxiety creation. Anxiety is defined as distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune. At ValueSelling, we’ve always talked about anxiety as a way to persuade prospects that may be resistant to change. Anxiety questions are used in the sales process to elicit an emotional response and help a prospect shift their perspective to a new viewpoint, while maintaining good working rapport. When does it make sense to insert anxiety in the conversation?  

  • The prospect doesn't acknowledge the business issue or potential problems.

  There are times when a prospect either doesn't acknowledge the business issue or has difficulty recognizing potential problems. They have a blind spot that is about to hit them in the back of the head. Perhaps they’re overconfident, the business is in its early stages, or they haven’t yet gained enough experience in the industry. In such instances, anxiety questions help the prospect gain new insight. When you and the prospect are clear on the business issue, it’s easier to create a business case that justifies the investment in your solution.  

  • The prospect sees a solution, but it isn't aligned to your capabilities.

  I worked with a company that sells an outsourcing service. Their prospect was convinced it would be more effective, productive and cost-efficient to outsource. Out of the blue, the prospect said they didn't need to outsource. They just needed to buy software to do it in-house. The business issues were the same, but another provider had changed the prospect’s viewpoint. In order to realize the value of outsourcing, we crafted three very specific anxiety questions that raised fear, uncertainty and doubt as to whether the prospect had the capabilities, the people and the processes to do it in-house. The anxiety questions, inserted into the dialogue, disrupted the prospect’s thinking and replaced it with a vision of a solution that promoted outsourcing. The approach was so effective, it resulted in a closed deal.  

  • The prospect lacks a sense of urgency.
  Often the value you bring to your clients is articulated in terms of the lost revenue or excessive costs in not doing business with you and your company. Those are great selling points, but sometimes esoteric concepts. If the prospect puts your solution on the back burner, you can use anxiety questions to instill a sense of urgency. The goal is to get the prospect thinking, “I need this now not later. This is not a ‘nice’ to have. This is a ‘need’ to have.” You don’t want to scare your prospect into paralysis, but you do want them to consider the risks or consequences of not doing business with you. Anxiety questions elicit an emotional response and provoke new thinking. Using anxiety questions will help you manage the conversation with your prospects to ultimately qualify, advance and follow-up on the deal during any type of economic market.

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