I recently heard an interview with the author and speaker Professor Gad Saad, a well established authority on evolutionary behavioral science. What caught my ear was a comment he made that I thought basically explained the big challenge with sales.

“There are two types of regret. Regret of inaction and regret of action”

In other words, the human fear of regret is based on either regretting what we did, or regretting what we didn’t do. Simple enough. Further into the interview however, Prof. Saad stated that when people are surveyed in hindsight, the regrets around things we didn’t do (inaction) are far greater and far more powerful than the regrets over the things we did (action). The key to that is that is the truth in HINDSIGHT. In the present, however, most people fear loss associated with making a decision (action) over loss from not making a decision (inaction). FOMO is a real thing, but the fear of being ridiculed or deprecated over a bad call is far more powerful than missing out. I know this is true for me. While there are plenty of things I’ve done or said that I regret, the really big regrets in my life are 100% based on things I did not do, did not try, or maybe even did not try early enough (you know, that sickening feeling after a win where you ask yourself, “Why didn’t I do this years ago?”. 

In that truth lies the answer to why selling can be so challenging. Your prospects are very risk averse in the present. Making a bad call is often the thing they are most trying to avoid. This is why “convincing” people to buy is so very hard, and also why it isn’t the correct approach in sales. You’re fighting some very basic and fundamental human brain programming in trying to convince someone to buy. If only you could fast forward in time, then maybe the power of the regret of inaction could come to your aid. Sadly, time travel hasn’t been invented yet.

Aside from time travel though, there are two main tools at your disposal to help.

– The main and easiest one is turning the fear of action in the present in your favor by pointing out that making no decision, is in fact a decision. In most selling situations there is a clear and calculable cost of doing nothing. Find it, calculate it and help your prospect discover it as well. The clients that dislike you or your solution may still not buy, but the indecision paralyzed fence sitters will be far easier to win when they see the cost of missed opportunity. Show your clients that inaction is in fact an action. It’s a choice.

– More challenging is creating an association of hindsight with their current scenario. This involves helping your clients look back on a lack of decision in the past that they can now regret (hindsight) and linking it to the current proposal. Get them to visualize themselves in the future regretting the inaction of today, and tie that powerful pain to a past situation they can see clearly now. That’s the closest thing to a time machine you have at your disposition.

It is worth mentioning that these things have to be done solidly based in the truth. The idea is to help them think more clearly today, not trick them into buying something they’ll regret buying later. As in most cases, stories are more compelling that raw data, so client testimonials are the ultimate way to make this “sticky” in your client’s mind.

One of the best testimonials I have is from a client that chose not to work with me for over a year. When we did work together, she was really mad at herself for not having acted sooner. In her testimonial letter, she calculates that putting my proposal to work the year before would have added $350,000 to her bottom line. Not bad for a $35,000 sales training proposal! I’ve won several accounts thanks to that testimonial. Thanks to Prof. Saad, I now know why.