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As a fresher in sales, everybody will tell you to emphasize on getting the potential customer "excited", "thrilled", looking at how good their life will be or benefit by using your products or services. This is a technique that without a shadow of a doubt, works great for beginner and intermediate level sales people.

However, as Maslow suggested in his "Hierarchy of Needs" (1943), people are motivated by a variety of reasons, and that also includes motivation to purchase. A good sales person can address the positive motivating factors of a prospect, but a great salesperson can also address the negative motivating factors. Before jumping right into it, we need to take a step back and understand what the difference is between positive and negative motivation.

Here is an example of positive and negative motivation: In a clinical test, rats were used to travel a small maze. They had a starting point, and at the end of it, there was food. Once the rats discovered the best route, then they would travel straight to the food at X time, every single time. Later on, the scientists introduced cat odor in the maze, along with cat sounds (no real cat was present). On thinking that they were chased after by a cat, the rats travelled faster to the end of the route, where the food was. This is a clear example of running towards something (positive motivation) and running away from something (negative motivations).

In sales, you have to be able to "listen" and properly "decode" what the prospect is motivated by. Take the example of consulting or coaching for business. Are your prospects talking with you because they want to make more money, be be wealthier, become more efficient, generate higher revenue, enjoy the rich life? Or are your prospects talking with you because they don't want to go bankrupt, because they are afraid of a bad year in sales, or low revenue that will lead to cutbacks? Are they positively or negatively motivated?

Now why do we need to understand and address the "negative" motivating factors? Here are the two main reasons:

  1. Understanding where your prospect is coming from and what their true motivations are, whether that would be positive or negative, gives you the upper hand in addressing these motivations in such a way that will essentially lead the potential prospect to a purchase. Being able to decode their motivations, also allows you to tailor your "sales pitch" when addressing the issues, in a way that the potential customers say "This person really understands and wants to help"

  2. The second reason why we need to understand and address the "negative" motivating factors, is simply because the fear of loosing something is far greater than the fear of gaining something. Much like the above example with the rats, who travelled faster when they were running from something, rather than running towards something. There are so many fears that potential customers are constantly running from such as: fear of loss, fear of not fitting in, fear of failure, fear of missing an opportunity, fear of being scammed, fear of losing money... and so on! Identify what your prospects are trying to avoid, paint a scenario for them where they didn't avoid that, and then provide them with the solution on how to effectively avoid what it is they are afraid of.

As Zig Ziglar said, "The fear of loss is greater than the desire to gain". The technique of selling on the negative motivating factors is not something new. It has been used for centuries by marketers and advertising agencies all over the world, and more recently by professional sales people. Such examples are all around us, both on the advertising billboards and also in the people you meet everyday:

Think of how many people pay gym memberships so that they can lose weight, contrary to those paying in order to gain muscle. How many people have quit smoking, because they know of someone who died of lung cancer? How many people go to jobs they hate, because the don't want to be broke? How many people purchase new clothes so that they are not "out of style"? How many people started exercising after they or someone close to them had a heart attack? Negative motivation drives people, and it is a determinant factor in the purchasing decision process!

Use it to your advantage next time you are engaging with a prospect. See if they are trying to move towards a goal, or running away from something, and then you can address accordingly as a professional, directly on point, so that the customer can feel that you understand and want to assist them in either reaching that goal, or avoiding that worst case scenario they are running away from. Don't be afraid to address their negative motivation, instead you should seek it out and target it directly, hence giving you an edge in closing the sale!

I hope you have found this article helpful and useful. All feedback and comments are welcomed so leave yours below

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