No matter what you sell, we all essentially sell the same thing: change. The problem is that most people hate change. Therefore, our job as sales and marketing professionals is to motivate and inspire buyers to change.

How do you motivate change? Unfortunately, the real-world practices of most sales reps are revealing: we try to motivate change by offering a lower price.

In a drop-your-price scenario, nothing is really changing. All that is happening is that you are incentivizing the buyer to offset the risk of changing with a lower price. The buyer knows there is a risk in changing vendors. You’ve given them enough of a discount to help overcome that risk. However, by using the lower price strategy you not only sabotage your own career, you participate in the destruction of your industry.

The low-price race to the bottom is a death spiral for sales reps and industries.

Change involves helping a prospect do something better. It’s adding value by bringing a solution to a problem or an insight that will help them grow. It’s recommending buyers make an investment.

In Seth Godin’s latest book, This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See, he outlines the two ingredients of change: tension and trust.  To overcome the inertia of the status quo and create change, you need to create tension with the current state. The buyer also needs to trust you. Let’s explore each of these.


Webster’s Dictionary defines tension as “an inner striving, unrest, or imbalance often with physiological indication of emotion.” Our job as sales and marketing professionals is to create tension.

Tension is different than fear. I remember early on in my sales career I was taught to introduce the FUD factor: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. While fear can be a motivator, it often ends up being paralyzing.

While fear may motivate change, it usually also diminishes the trust level with the person introducing the fear.

When you use fear, you risk alienating the buyer you’re trying to motivate.

Tension is less about fear and more about aspiration. When new options come into a buyer’s world, it creates tension. For example, when I learn that my competitors are all using a new strategic prospecting platform that’s getting them more sales opportunities and driving new revenue, it introduces tension. I feel a stretch between what I’m currently doing and what others have shown is possible. Tension is like a pull. It’s like an elastic band.

Tom Hopkins always advised sales people to be the opposite of what buyers expect. Fear-based selling is usually pushy. Tom said we should be “pulley” when we sell.

Like stretching a rubber band, when we create tension, we draw the buyer forward to the ideal state.


If you create tension but the prospect does not trust you, there is a good chance that they will change. They just won’t do it with you.

As sales professionals, trust may be the single most important thing we establish with potential buyers. The problem is that recent HubSpot research revealed that 93% of buyers don’t trust sales people! This is a huge problem. (For a deeper dive on this, check out our latest webinar, Reversing the Silent Epidemic That Devastates Sales Results.)

When I ask sales reps how they build trust, the common answer is to be trustworthy: follow through on what you say you’ll do. This is great for existing relationships. But how do you build trust in with someone who you’ve just met?

Trust can be built in a variety of ways. These days we often evaluate both businesses and individuals based on what we learn about them online. Before we go to a restaurant, we hit TripAdvisor or Yelp to see what other people have said. Similarly, buyers will ping your LinkedIn profile to see if you are legit.

Make sure your LinkedIn profile helps build trust.

  • Have a summary that explains your passion for what you do and how you serve your clients.
  • Share insightful ideas that indicate you are a thought leader that could bring ideas to your prospect’s company.
  • Make sure to have lots of references that validate your character.
  • Showcase your experience and how what you learned at each job can help you add value to your clients now.

(More ideas on this in Larry Levine’s article: 5 Adjectives Sales Reps Must Consume For Breakfast In Order To Build Their Personal Brand.)

Creating Tension and Trust

How do you create tension and trust?

  1. Success Stories: One of the best ways is with real world success stories. When you write the case study or tell the story in a sales situation, begin with the tension between the current situation and where they wanted to go. Show how your company guided them toward the future state. Then explain the benefits that were realized. Case studies draw prospects into the story of another similar company’s tension and how they resolved it. Case studies also build trust by showing that you helped someone else enough that they were willing to put their name on the case study.
  2. Share Insights: Another way to create tension and trust is to consistently share insights. Don’t be an empty suit! Continually educate yourself, looking for ideas that can benefit your prospects. Share these ideas on your social profiles, by email, and in meetings. Research in Insight Selling revealed that buyers crave insights from salespeople. (For more, check out this interesting article on The New Solution Selling.) Be the sales rep that provides fresh ideas. If you’re in the marketing profession, make sure your sales teams are armed with fresh insights that they can share to help improve your prospects’ businesses and/or lives.
  3. Ask About Their Goals: The third way to create tension and trust is to ask prospects about their goals, aspirations, and challenges. Simply asking the question begins to build trust, signaling to the buyer that you might actually care about someone other than just yourself. Understanding the delta between their goals and where they are now allows you to start to stretch the rubber band, creating tension.

What can you do to build tension and trust? As you introduce these into your sales conversations and marketing messages you’ll begin to win more deals. Unlike the price-droppers that are racing to the bottom, you’ll find yourself adding value, making money, and feeling good about the contribution you’re making to the clients you serve.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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