Should You Ever Scare Your Clients?

July 30, 2014


Ben, a brand consultant, spent his first year in business busting his hump to drum up business. He managed to book lots of opportunities to present to good prospects, but few lead to new clients.

Ben asked me to sit in on his next presentation, so I could see what he was doing wrong. What I discovered was that, like a lot of presenters I’ve seen over the years, Ben failed to do two essential things:

  1. expose the prospect’s loss
  2. express passion for solving the prospect’s problem

Feeling it

By exposing the loss I mean making sure to highlight the risks the prospect faces if they don’t work with you. If your service is valuable to your prospect, it’s because it helps them deal with a loss—either something they’ve already lost or something they have the potential to lose. For example, a prospect’s revenue may be hurting because of increased labour costs, or they may be afraid of losing clients to a new competitor who just entered the game. The point is, there’s always a loss. And when you’re presenting, it’s key to expose that loss, to get your prospect to feel it.

Once you’ve made the problem real for them the next step is to express your passion for your solution. The prospect should be feeling a real need to deal with their risk, so share your excitement about how your marketing approach will give them the edge over that new threat to their business, or how your software solution could help them get a handle on rising costs. The key is to get your prospect fired up about solving the problem that caused their fear.

Get contagious

Why are these two steps so crucial? The answer lies in something called emotional contagion, which is the tendency of our emotions to spread to someone else. It’s why you laugh when you see someone else laugh. Or get a little down around a depressed person. There’s actually a scientific reason for this—cells in our brain called mirror neurons pick up on what others around you are feeling and mimic it, creating the same feeling in you. It turns out that fear and passion are highly contagious. So it’s no wonder why top presenters make a point of expressing them during a presentation.

If your audience members are slipping out the door rather than swarming you after you give a presentation, perhaps it’s because you’re not encouraging them to feel something. And feeling something is key, because emotion is the engine of action.

Fear factor

Let’s take a look at the first key emotion presenters provoke—fear. Like a lot of presenters, Ben wasn’t too keen on the idea of provoking fear in his prospects. And that’s understandable. Straying from the positive and getting into the negative may seem counterintuitive when trying to motivate a prospect. Going to the dark side seems riskier, more intimidating. I should add that we’re not talking a Blair Witch Project level of fear. But your prospects must feel some level of it, however minor. Otherwise they won’t feel that what you’re proposing is going to make much difference in their lives.

Exposing the loss and getting your prospects to feel some sense of fear is something Gareth, a top presenter I know, would do by telling stories about problems other clients had. While doing so he would exhibit emotions through his voice and body language. That made the emotions contagious. His prospects’ mirror neurons would cause them to literally experience what Gareth was displaying. By the way, Gareth was never melodramatic. He was just expressing emotion in a very natural way. So it’s important to be real.

Nobody wants to stay in a negative emotional state. And this is where the second key step comes in—expressing your passion for helping your prospect deal with the loss. Gareth would do this by finishing some of his client stories—covering off how they implemented his solutions, and the positive results they saw. And just as he would when exposing a loss, he clearly communicated his passion through non-verbal cues. By doing that, Gareth was essentially helping his prospects feel what it would be like to work with him.

Ben liked the idea of the two-lever approach because it would provide a simple method for him to do something he’d never really done during his presentations—arouse emotion. As I had hoped, and suspected, as soon as Ben starting incorporating those two elements into his presentations, his sales increased.

The last word

What  successful presenters know is that your prospect must experience both fear and excitement or they won’t take action. Use the power of emotional contagion to communicate those emotions to your prospects and you’ll turn more them into great clients.

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about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.