Scaremongers, Be Afraid

A lot of B2B sales pitches boil down to the traditional problem/solution framework. While most firms put their focus on differentiating their solutions from competitors, some take another route and choose to embellish the problem. Portraying a client’s problem as treacherous, insurmountable and otherwise extreme leads to certain and horrible doom. The really awful kind of doom that’s bad for business.

One company’s claim jumped out at me today: in 97.5% of all cases worldwide the problem (for which they happen to offer a product) is present. That’s a ridiculously large number. I can’t even think of a problem so common that is essentially impacts everyone on the planet. (Not that everything is perfect: nearly a quarter of the global population is considered impoverished according to one multidimensional measure). It baffles me to try to understand why someone would depict a problem as so omnipresent. The probable answer: the company feels outgunned in terms of their product offering vis-à-vis the competition, so they turn to scaremongering in hopes of drumming up greater and more urgent demand.

Scared CTA-less

A big issue I have with the scaremonger approach is that it, by definition, incites fear–a stress response. There’s already enough of this in the press and elsewhere polluting society. It can also be counterproductive. While a little bit of anxiety or concern can motivate people to take action, faced with something REALLY big and REALLY frightening, people tend to freeze. Think deer in the headlights. No one wants to try and tackle a problem that cannot be solved. Think global warming. So instead of driving people with a call-to-action, scaremongers actually sow inaction.

Oddball perspective

The reality is that scaremongering can work really well in just one circumstance: when the entire market does it. If every player in the industry tells clients that tomorrow is a hopeless wasteland, there’s a chance that after enough time and repetition, they’ll start to believe it. But if most firms define the problem in narrow, realistic terms that clients understand and can themselves quantify then the doomsayer quickly earns a shiny, new tinfoil hat and is discredited in the marketplace. The more you insist that everything is terrible and clients’ experience dispels that myth, then the more credibility you lose in the eyes of your audience.

Be very afraid

Over the long term, scaremongering is a losing strategy. Firms that use this tactic may garner more attention initially, only to see their brand’s credibility plummet. Engaging clients based on their real situations and an honest appraisal may not always be easy, but it builds a brand reputation that people will value.

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