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Why “Scare Them” Is a Dumb Sales Strategy

Selling rarely comes easily. Customers almost never say, “I’ll take it!” after you give them that first overview of what you do. There are always questions and concerns. Those questions have to be answered and those concerns have to be addressed. When someone is proposing something to me, I like my questions and concerns to be tackled in a pleasant, positive way. Tell me how this will make my life better. Tell me why it’s worth the money. Tell me why it’s better than the other guy’s widget.

But please—please!—don’t try and scare me. I hate it when people try and scare me. Don’t whisper in my ear about the bad things that will happen if I don’t buy. I’m not interested in hearing about an apocalyptic scenario that will likely never happen. Do tell me about the good things that will definitely happen if I do buy.

The scare tactic brings a bad vibe to the conversation. It’s unpleasant and people don’t like spending money when things feel unpleasant.

It also smacks of desperation. The way I see it, if a salesperson is resorting to trying to scare me, they’ve exhausted all the positive things to say about their product or service. That makes me think their offering doesn’t have that many great qualities to start with.

Scare tactics also get me feeling defensive. When a salesman tries to scare me, I immediately feel a strong urge to challenge them. When I got a new car a few years also, the finance guy who wrote up my lease (masters of the scare tactic) tried to sell me the extra wear and tear coverage. It was like $800. When I declined, he threw in a scare tactic and I went into challenge mode:

Him: “But if you don’t take this, and your tires wear out, you’ll have to get new runflat tires and that will cost you way more than $800.”

Me: “There’s no way I’m wearing those tires out.”

Him: “But you’ll have the car for four years…”

Me: “You’ll notice that I checked the low mileage option. That’s because I don’t drive a lot. There’s no way I’m going to wear those tires out with that kind of mileage. Not going to happen.”


Him: “Yeah, you’re right.”

No kidding I’m right.

He didn’t sell the extra coverage and I left with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I know he’s doing the job, but it’s still not cool. Cars are expensive. Make it fun to buy them. Sell me on pride of ownership, not fear of ownership. Don’t throw in some sour grapes at the last step and leave me with a bad feeling just as I’m signing on the dotted line.

I don’t know what situation would warrant a scare tactic. Maybe if you never, ever plan on seeing a customer again after a sale, then it’s a good idea to scare the lead if you think the sale would otherwise not happen. For every other situation—and let’s be honest, even that one—be pleasant. Sell concrete benefits, not the supposed ramifications of inaction.

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