Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Bing Crosby and Perry Como all recorded the Arlen/Mercer classic “You’ve Got to Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative...” Outstanding recording artists as they all were, I want to suggest 3 situations where thinking negatively can actually serve to increase your sales...
1: Get Your Prospect to Focus on Pain, and not Just Gain
Studies of the psychology of B2B buying have demonstrated conclusively that - when it comes to making decisions - the avoidance of pain is a far more powerful emotion than the pursuit of gain. Prospects regard any change to their status quo as inherently risky. So simply focusing on the gains they could achieve from implementing your “solution” may not be enough to compel them to act, no matter how attractive your business case might appear.
Let’s assume that you’re talking to them because something isn’t completely satisfactory with their current situation. Try Accentuating the Negative. Encourage them to confront the risks and pains associated with sticking with the status quo - get them to articulate for themselves what the consequences of ignoring the problem, and doing nothing, might be. Get them to identify who else might be affected. Get them to monetise the potential pain of staying where they are.
By the way, if you can’t get your prospect to come up with even an approximate value of this cost of inaction, consider this a big red flag. Even if they buy into your proposal, it’s unlikely that the other stakeholders in the buying decision process will be motivated to approve it.
2: Do Your Best to Disqualify the Prospect
The cost of pursuing an unwinnable opportunity for any product or service that has a complex and lengthy buying cycle is huge. The wasted effort could be much more productively applied pursuing more attractive and winnable opportunities. So why is it that your hear a great deal about sales qualification, and very little about sales disqualification?
Sales people are, by and large, naturally optimistic creatures. So it may not make sense to expect them to think rationally and pro-actively qualify out marginal opportunities. After all, it will make their pipeline look smaller, and probably generate grief from their sales manager. But surely this is where the sales manager should be playing “bad cop”?
I strongly recommend that sales managers challenge their sales people to come up with sound reasons why their opportunities should not be qualified out. Is the opportunity real? Are they likely to buy anything at all? Can we realistically compete? Have we got a strong chance of winning? Does our sales strategy bear rigorous examination? If the answer isn’t yes to each of these factors, your sales efforts may be much better spent finding and closing more promising opportunities.
3: Identify and Eliminate the Constraints
Even if the opportunity survives your attempts at disqualification, it’s likely to get slow down or get stuck at some point in the buying decision process. Of course, it’s important to identify your prospect’s motivations to change, and to do all you can to reinforce them and give them reasons to move forward with you.
But you also need to be aware of your prospect’s concerns and constraints. The ability to keep track of the velocity of deals (how long they spend at each stage of the buying process, compared to the average for winning deals) is becoming an essential part of every sales manager’s dashboard. Once you identify a deal that has slowed or stalled, you need to try and understand why.
This is not a time for hard selling or offering limited period price concessions or other incentives. What you need to do instead is to find out what’s holding them back, and do your best to work with them to eliminate any negative, risk-averse thoughts or other roadblocks that may be preventing their progress. By diagnosing and dealing with the negatives, you can let the positives shine through.
Constructive Negativity Beats Blind Positivity
I hope that these three situations illustrate how and why constructive negativity can beat blind, unthinking positivity. This is not really about thinking negative thoughts - it’s about confronting the often swept-under-the-carpet negative aspects of situations, and taking positive action to deal with them.
How does this tally with your experience? Is your organisation ignoring the negative, or confronting and dealing with it?
By the way, we believe that dealing with the negative is one of the key foundations of building scalable businesses. You can discover 20 more winning behaviours by downloading our checklist “Is your business capable of generating more momentum”.