What Makes Clients Turn Your Direction

If you’ve sold to or consulted with clients, you’ve undoubtedly faced a challenge: explaining to your clients how their needs can be met with your services. We address various kinds of needs in our training course, The Power of Partnership, and many others have written extensively about human needs and how they operate (see for example the works of Abraham Maslow or Frederick Hertzberg). In the world of convincing others, the conventional wisdom is “provide the benefit to fill the need”.

But what do you do if your clients believe their needs already are met, and furthermore seem satisfied with a course of action that you are convinced is wrong for them? How can you motivate them to accept your recommendation of an opposite path, either in the sales process or during a project? To answer that question, we need to look at two familiar terms: pain and gain.

To illustrate how pain and gain operate, let’s suppose I called you on the phone right now. What would I need to say to get you to close your computer or mobile phone, walk to the corner and wait twenty minutes for me to call you again?

I could offer you fifty dollars, and that might motivate you. Or, would it take one hundred dollars to get you moving? What, even more money? Well, at some point, I’d offer you enough cash and you probably would put the phone down, go to the corner and wait for my call. You would do this, of course, only if you had a reasonable expectation that you’d actually receive the money. You would be motivated through the “Gain” (money) you thought you’d enjoy.

You may, however, feel that you are so comfortable doing whatever activity my phone call interrupts that no reasonable benefit (in this case money) would motivate you. In that case, I could call you and say: “Hey, you’d better go outside and run down to the corner because there is a dangerous fire next door!!! Run!!!” If I was credible and persuasive enough I might motivate you that way—through showing you the “Pain” you’d no doubt want to move away from.

The key to changing any clients’ direction is to show them enough Pain or Gain in the terms they care about so that they decide on their own to take a new route to fill their most important needs.

To summarize:
If you want to move clients off their current position, you will need to either show them that their preferred direction will give them high levels of “pain” AND/OR that the direction you have in mind for them will give them high levels of “gain”.

Arguing or pushing won’t work with clients, and using fancy sales techniques is often manipulative and unethical. In our view, the “meta-message” you want to send to clients is: “I am working with you as a trusted partner, one who has your best interests at heart. I am here to share my expertise with you, but it’s always your choice.” To advance your pain or gain messages, we recommend telling great stories about your past clients. You can tell real past “success” stories to illustrate benefits (gain) and/or actual “horror” stories of a client situation in the past to illustrate the consequences that would follow (pain) if the client moves in their current direction. In our Power of Partnership training participants learn the specific, collaborative skills to describe consequences or benefits.

Our recommendation is to give clients your best advice, illustrated with stories about past clients, that addresses their pain and/or gain as appropriate. Then, as a partner you can truly support them to make a free choice. Isn’t that the way you would want to be treated?

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Authored For S3 Solutions by Marty Friedman

Marty FriedmanMarty Friedman is one of the architects of the “Power of Partnership”, a training course for consultants and solution sales professionals who want to sell bigger deals and have smoother projects. He has co-presented this training for clients such as HP, Accenture, and Bell Canada as well as many mid-sized companies and start-ups. Find out more at www.PowerofPartnership.net

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