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Greed and Fear: A myth of B2B sales

So often we are told that in order to make a sale, angle your narrative and story in at least some way so as to be receptive to either Greed or Fear, that these two states are what drives your client in making a decision. This intuitive folk psychology has little actual evidence to back it up and it also has very poor theoretical underpinnings. When asked why to sell to these states; the simple answer is that we are motivated by either greed or fear.

However, this is not the case. Greed would assume we care only for ourselves and possibly at the expense of others. Greed also assumes we want more for ‘mores sake’. Being motivated simply by this state assumes too little and doesn’t explain the whole picture. The same may be said about fear. Being motivated by fear alone assumes we may only do certain things to avoid consequences of harm or pain, but this does not explain all motivations driven by our need to avoid pain or suffering. In fact, fear often does not motivate us towards our goals but away from our goals. Fear drives flight and fight and sometimes freeze or faint. The emotional state of fear and associated sympathetic nervous system arousal narrows thinking, brings on heuristic decision making and pushes the individual into habit-based decisions. This cannot be good for anyone trying to make a novel or effective decision, which we want, desire, strive for and ultimately need to develop in our B2B negotiations. If we want value building transactions that last and can be nurtured why base your narrative and approach on Fear and Greed…and how authentic are these transactions really?

Trying to make a sale based on the premise that the salesperson or market should focus on signaling Greed or Fear is potentially problematic. These are also poor motivational drivers for making good decisions. Are there better, more appropriate drivers?

If we look at what our brain evolved for, we get a much better answer. Firstly, we are social creatures and need people in our lives to feel satisfied and healthy. Secondly, we need to feel important and part of our ‘tribe’. Greed and Fear are myths of persuasion, even though there is the testament of time, much ‘lip-service’ and a handful of books and more. We can swap the narrative and focus on Greed and Fear with Affiliation and Status. These are better supported by the evidence base in evolutionary psychology and they make more sense.

We all have a yearning to belong, this is fundamental to us and hardwired into our brains. This is affiliation. The more we feel we belong with others the more our brain rewards us for belonging- affiliating. There are multiple reward systems at play. For example, just thinking about a few well-known neurotransmitters involved in this process, there is trust and oxytocin, dopamine and reciprocation, serotonin and affiliation. Then there are various brain regions and circuits dedicated to affiliation in humans. When agreeing with a fellow person (or tribesperson) we feel much better doing so when we trust, bond and reciprocate. This endearment engenders great decisions, creates ongoing trust, opens up reciprocation and allows for cross channel negotiation, upselling, cross-selling and ultimately mutual B2B value generation beyond the individual transactional event.

Then there is status. Status is really poorly explored in sales decisions. We seek approval and yearn for strength, prowess and respect from others. This is often an uncomfortable truth for many, however one that is also very much built into the social rules within our brain. Wanting to have status does not make overtly seeking status morally correct or ethical. We therefore often search or seek status in ways and means that we are not conscious of. Appealing to the need for status in others is also a means of building our own. Status ties directly into affiliation, by reciprocating and building the right narrative we can aim at strengthening the position of others, and this in turn may likely strengthen our own position. Our client’s want to feel that they are powerful and respected amongst their peers. If you can help them build their status, they are more likely to see you as an ally. Finding ways of making your client powerful and improving their status, is likely to be much more effective than making them appear to avoid pain or a bad decision (that has poor context) or appealing to their Greed.

Step into your sale authentically, understand why you want what you want and build a more enduring narrative. Ask yourself do you value Greed and do you want to be ruled by Fear? Are these how you want your life, and thus your business, to be driven or would you prefer to build those around you and see them and yourself grow? Do you value what you do because it will uplift you amongst your peers and raise you above those for whom you compete?


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