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Posted: May 25, 2012

Best of CoBiz: Creating buyer urgency

Try raising the stakes!

Julie Hansen

"You need to create urgency!" How many times have you heard this as a salesperson? I realize that this may go against the sales manager's manifesto, but I don't believe we can force urgency upon a person. They either have it or they don't. I do believe that we can help our prospects uncover and reconnect with their needs and reignite the urgency to take action on them.

I am not, of course, referring to the manufactured "This is the last one we have left," or "I have another buyer waiting" type of urgency. Although occasionally true, people can smell false pressure tactics a mile away. The seller who screams "fire sale!" too often is soon taken as seriously as the boy who cries wolf. I am talking about authentic urgency: the desire to act upon needs that the client or prospect has perhaps forgotten or chosen not to handle because they've become overwhelmed with choices, decisions or other priorities.

To help a client reconnect with their needs and the urgency to act upon them, it is helpful to employ a technique used by actors called "raising the stakes." An actor uses this tool in order to understand their character's urgent need to reach their goal or solve their problem. Have you ever seen a movie where the character's goals or problems are not of the utmost urgency? A character that doesn't have a complete commitment to solving his or her problem makes for a pretty dull film.

Raising the stakes involves making a series of associations that escalate the importance of making a decision and the consequences of either indecision or a poor decision. Movies offer great examples of raising the stakes: If the hero doesn't find the bomb by midnight, the city will be destroyed. If the city is destroyed, the country will go to war. If the country goes to war... We've all seen this movie, right? The stakes keep getting higher until it is inconceivable that the hero will NOT to everything within his power to find the bomb!

Although the stakes may not be quite as high for your client or prospect, the same premise of escalating associations and consequences works just as well. Here's an example of raising the stakes in sales: You're a real estate broker and your client is considering selling her home. She says she's in no real hurry so she wants you to put it on the market at a price that you know will not sell. What are the consequences of her poor pricing decision?
• The house sits on the market too long, becomes stale and buyers start to think there's something wrong with it.
• Buyers assume the seller is desperate and make even lower offers.

Bottom line: the house doesn't sell. Now try raising the stakes even further. Imagine it is one year later and perhaps your seller has to move in a hurry because of a new job or change in family circumstances. Now what are the consequences of her initial poor decision?
• She will have exhausted all active buyers in the original price range and therefore have to lower the price again in order to generate renewed interest.
• There may be a greater supply of homes available on the market, driving the price down even further.
• Interest rates may rise limiting her ability to purchase the home that she wants.

The net result: The seller loses money on the sale of her home, can't afford to purchase her dream home or is forced to wait out the market indefinitely.

While clients may convince themselves that they will avoid the pitfalls of indecision or a bad decision, we are the experts, and as the experts it is our responsibility - and in their best interests - to raise the potential consequences in order to help them make a fully informed decision. After all, don't these negative consequences of indecision happen to us all the time? We don't act on an investment tip and we miss out on a big payout. (Hello, LinkedIn ipo?!)

We hesitate on the perfect house and someone else makes an offer on it. We don't ask out that cute guy or girl and someone else does. Everyone has experienced wanting something, sitting on the fence too long and regretting it. You have the power to to help someone avoid this painful experience. And the next time you're told to "create urgency!" Don't bother arguing with your manager about the absurdity of their request. Instead try raising the stakes. If you're successful, no one's the wiser and everyone comes out a winner!


Julie Hansen helps sales and business executives differentiate their solution and deliver winning presentations by leveraging proven performance skills from film, stage and improv.  The founder of Performance Sales and Training, Julie’s techniques have been adopted by Fortune 500 companies across the globe, including IBM, Oracle, SAP and local Colorado companies to gain a competitive selling edge.  Julie is an international speaker, sales trainer and the author of ACT Like a Sales Pro!  Learn more about workshops and keynotes at, start a sales conversation at  or connect with Julie on LinkedIn.

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Readers Respond

Oh, Julie. Get an iPhone and step out of the darkness and into the light! Spoken as an Apple fanatic since 1983! By TC North on 2011 11 18
Good example about Apple, TC. They have clearly found the magical formula for tapping into something within consumers that needs to have the latest technology. Perhaps a bit of ego, fear of being left behind or a desire to be just that much more productive! I am still using a blackberry, which tells you something about me... By Julie Hansen on 2011 11 18
Yes, quite a challenge to create urgency at times! I wonder how Apple has created it with products we didn't even know we wanted (iPod, iPad, etc...)? By TC North on 2011 11 17
VERY true, as salespeople have do the power to to help someone avoid painful experiences. Creating fake urgency is another technique that went out in the 80's.... with leg warmers and perms. Thanks. By Liz Wendling on 2011 11 10
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