The risk of failing to talk about risk

Plenty of time and effort is put into talking up the benefits of our products and services in a selling situation. Salespeople often focus on why the benefits are important to our clients and how our client will be better off if they buy from us, etc. This has been the mainstay of sales for years.

Think of all the time, effort and money that goes into meetings, brainstorming sessions, designing and creating glossy brochures and marketing materials (hard copy and virtual) to define and promote the benefits of what we do and offer.

Think of all the time and effort that goes into training salespeople in being able to memorise and recite these benefits.

The common thinking in business today still focuses on our salespeople knowing how to talk about the product’s (or service) benefits to differentiate themselves and supposedly making selling easier. But the client or prospect usually has something else on their mind, especially in today’s turbulent markets.

A vital piece missing in the puzzle for salespeople when it comes to the client’s decision-making in the buying process is risk.

Addressing the risk factor is critical yet risk is rarely or poorly addressed by salespeople when selling.  Often afraid to raise the matter for fear of upsetting or offending the client, or forgetting to talk about risk altogether, or not knowing how to talk about risk, salespeople are at risk (pardon the pun) of losing sales if they do not address this important area.

Why? The human brain is wired to prioritise risk or danger above everything else. If a prospect or client cannot feel safe with the decision they are making they are likely to avoid making that decision altogether. Even if you present all the benefits that will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your client’s situation, if you do not discuss what will happen if they don’t go with you or if the perceived risk to change is too high, then they will not move forward with the salesperson or the sale.

Work done by the only behavioural psychologists to be awarded a Nobel Prize for Economics, Tversky and Kahneman, proved that the brain is geared to first assess risk then benefits – in that order.

Moreover, they also proved that if the benefit isn’t at least three times greater than the risk, buyers will reject an offer. In essence, they proved that people are happier when an expected tragedy doesn’t happen than when an anticipated benefit doesn’t occur.

This is why risk is three times more powerful in the client’s decision-making process than the benefits.

Salespeople need to be able to talk about risk; the consequences of moving forward or not. If we are going to address our clients’ priorities with great benefits we need to address the risk of not taking action as well.

Not all risk is real either. Risk can be an illusion too. That is why it is critical that as salespeople we do not shy away from exploring what risk means to our clients and prospects – real or imagined. We need to help them separate fact from fiction.

This means we need to be able to ask questions that uncover what our client means by risk. We need to discuss what the consequences are if they do not move forward. If we look at the following three definitions, we can see that we need to address all three areas if we are to have an effective discussion with our clients about what they value, and what we all need to do to move forward if we want the sale to happen.

  1. Effectiveness – how much better can I do? (from the client’s perspective)
  2. Efficiency – how much more can I do? (from the client’s perspective)
  3. Risk – what will happen if I don’t do it? (from the client’s perspective)

Getting clients or prospects moving, taking action, making decisions is more often than not about addressing the risk factor. As salespeople, we need to learn to not only talk up the benefits but learn how to talk about risk. That can make all the difference.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments.



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