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The simple formula that fixes every sales problem

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“I Hate Selling!”

A few years ago, I sat down to lunch with one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. Jim Adams is the founder and owner of, and he bleeds boldness in just about every way possible. When Jim gets an idea in his head, he is as determined as anyone I’ve ever seen in pursuing that dream. The success of his company is evidence of this fact.

At our initial lunch, Jim said something that intrigued me to no end. He said, “Jeff, I love everything about my job and my company except for one thing: sales. I hate the sales process.”

Now, if you know me at all, you’ll know that them’s fightin’ words. That statement had to be challenged. I asked Jim what was so disturbing about the sales process.

He replied, “Here’s the problem. I get an appointment with a company, and I’ll sit with them for 30 minutes. I’ll tell them about the product, about its track record, and about why this makes so much sense. I’m as excited as I know how to be. At the end of the presentation, they say something like, ‘We’ll get back to you,’ and that’s it. Often, I never hear from them again. I just hate being out of control.”

I could spot the flaw immediately and it had nothing to do with control. I offered Jim this advice: “Jim, the next time you have an appointment with a company, I want you to lead with this question: ‘Why am I here?’” Jim looked at me as if I had a hole in my head. I continued, “Jim, they’re going to look at you like you’re crazy. Just explain your question this way: “Look, you’re busy people and a lot of would-be service providers are asking for your time. You would not have agreed to meet with me unless something was wrong with your situation as it is. Let’s talk about that. If I have a solution, I’ll show you. If I don’t, I can save you some valuable time.”

Jim trusted me on this and took that exact approach with the next sales presentation he went on. The results were night and day different. He called me the next day, as excited as I have ever heard him. “It was incredible! The 30-minute meeting went for 90 minutes. We spent the first hour just diagnosing what was wrong. At that point, the solution rolled out right in front of us. We signed them up on the spot!”

Jim’s sales presentation has never been the same, and now he loves the process. Let me make a bold promise: If you understand the customer well enough, the sales path will roll our right in front of you. The customer will literally show you how to sell them your product.

There are two fundamentally different ways to look at the sales presentation:

Option 1: What do you have to sell?

Option 2: Why does anyone want to buy?

The difference in these two approaches tells us everything we need to know about our success in the business of sales. It also demonstrates who the star of this show happens to be – the seller or the buyer.

Assume for a moment that the insurance industry did not exist, and that you had to pick some other product to sell. I’ll tell you what I would choose: mattresses. That’s right, I’d sell mattresses for a living, and I would clean up. I would close on 90 percent of the people who walked into my showroom.

Cocky? Perhaps, but let me back up that claim. What do you suppose mattress salespeople want to talk about? (Hint: the answer has to do with something big and rectangular that you sleep on.) That’s right – mattress salespeople want to talk about mattresses. Not me!  If I were a mattress salesperson, I would want to talk about current dissatisfaction.

Let me show you a formula I have been working on for years. It is the formula for how people make a purchase decisions, and it is profoundly simple. People buy when Current Dissatisfaction x Future Promise > Cost + Fear. This formula is the answer to every sales problem. Let’s unpack it…

Current Dissatisfaction (CD)

The first step in sales starts with a person’s desire to improve something in their life. Without this desire, a sale will never happen. CD speaks to the recurring and nagging feeling that something in one’s life is not as it should be; and the desire to improve one’s situation. The good news for salespeople is that every person has this basic desire at some point. Even better is when a sense or urgency is added to this basic desire. Remember this phrase: The greater the CD, the higher the urgency. (Repeat that a few times until you feel it embed in your head!) If your prospects do not appear urgent to make a purchase decision, it is because they have a lack of urgency stemming from their level of dissatisfaction. The higher their dissatisfaction is with their current situation, the greater their need will be to make a change now!

Let’s say the best friend of someone you know just passed away unexpectedly, leaving his wife and children with just $10,000 in life insurance from a credit card. Suddenly, the grieving friend is reflecting on his own situation. What if that had been him? Would his own family have adequate provision if he unexpectedly passed away? His CD has suddenly skyrocketed and his need for adequate life insurance is all he can think about. The greater the CD, the greater the urgency.

Future Promise (FP)FP represents the best of what could be. What is your product? If you sell mattresses, your product is not a comfy, rectangular cushion; it is sleep! If you sell insurance, your product is not a financial instrument; it is peace of mind.

Too many salespeople are fixated on what they are selling instead of what their customers are buying. Changing their perspective from being focused on what they are selling to what their customers are actually buying changes everything. A customer doesn’t buy a coat; they buy warmth (or fashion). They don’t buy a shovel; they buy a hole!

Cost + Fear (C/F)

While CD and FP are motivators, cost and fear are inhibitors. C/F represents a specific set of questions that arise in the mind of almost every buyer at some point in every sales process: Can I afford it? Is it the right program? Can I get it at a better price? Do I need it more than other financial products? Is it a discretionary item? As long as C/F outweighs the other variables (CD and FP), buyers will be stuck, unable to make a decision to purchase.

Influencing the Variables

Here are four things to keep in mind and apply to influence the components of the formula:

  1. The formula is sequential. In the absence of CD, FP is irrelevant. If your sales presentation has a customer believing that the future promise isn’t really all that high, the C/F will always be too high. It is crucial that you apply the formula in order.
  2. The formula is predictive. Every customer you have ever sold to has been trying to balance the components of this formula in their own mind. Dissatisfaction…cost…fear…these are all the things we each consider before making a purchase. Anyone you have been working with who has not yet made a decision is still juggling these factors around in their head; their formula is out of balance. If you change the balance of these variables for them, you’ll get that sale!
  3. The formula is weighted against you … initially. Human beings are wired to be wary of change. So at first, the downside of any change looms larger than the benefits. The formula will always work against you until you change the variables (see point No. 1).
  4. The formula is accurate. Every sale you have ever made fits the formula. Following is the story of one of my favorite examples of a salesperson who learned the formula and changed his world.

Now What?

Your customer needs to realize the discomfort resulting from not buying your product, and I believe the formula makes that clear. The formula highlights and then elevates the CD, then solves it with the FP. Lowering the C/F is just an enabling action, the logical price to pay for an improved life.

This is the beauty and the magic. It’s not about how great the deal is, and it is certainly not about your slick presentation. A sale is based on a raging CD, a striking FP, and a manageable level of C/F. The sooner customers make a move, the sooner their lives improve.


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