Creating Anxiety Without Going Over the Edge

The pressure on Olympic athletes is staggering.

One false start can send a sprinter or hurdler home. That’s all it takes to destroy more than four years of labor and dedication — and yet, these incredible athletes come back after another four years of hard work.

As you can tell, I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Why? I’m intrigued by the demand placed on world-class athletes to continually change for the better.

As humans, we’re hardwired to resist change because it introduces anxiety. Yet, at the prompting of a coach or another trusted advisor, athletes manage to navigate change efficiently.

What does this have to do with B2B sales? Everything. No matter what you’re selling, you’re selling change. In some cases, that change has the potential to make or break organizations and the decision-makers responsible.

If anxiety is inherent to the process, how do we use it to our advantage?

Anxiety questions allow us to disrupt a prospect’s thought process and prompt them to address the unacknowledged consequences of maintaining the status quo. They are a powerful tool for engaging over-confident buyers and jump-starting a stalled sales process, but only if delivered with care.

When to Use Anxiety Questions

Anxiety questions are versatile. They can be used throughout the sales process whenever you need a provocative approach to shake things up. Think of them as the key that opens doors to new dialogues.

For instance, perhaps you’re talking to a senior executive who has all the power and information but isn’t sharing any of it — worse yet, they might not even believe they’re potentially at risk. This is the ideal moment to pose a carefully phrased anxiety question.

Let’s say you sell network security solutions; you might ask something along the lines of, “I saw that your competitor X has been in the news recently for the 4.2-million-dollar settlement of their data breach last fall. Have you thought about how a potential lawsuit might affect your ability to hit your cost-containment goals?”

Or maybe you’re working an opportunity that has you feeling like you’re stuck on the beltway at rush hour with no exit ramp in sight. Then you get hit with the proverbial, “Love to do it, but now’s not good — give me a call next quarter.”

To create urgency, you’ll need to refocus the conversation on value. Here, you might say, “I hear you, but I’m concerned that delaying implementation will put our timeline at risk. What happens if you’re not able to hit your revenue goals by 2022?”

These are merely basic examples to get you thinking. Ultimately, you can use anxiety questions to shine light on a likely business issue, gain access to a decision-maker, disrupt a client’s vision of a solution and inject urgency — anytime you need a prospect to sit back and ask themselves, “Did I miss something?”

How to Create Anxiety Questions

The lead-in:

Since the overarching goal is to introduce the negative consequences of not acting, you’ll need to identify what those consequences look like.

In the above example with the network security company, the hypothetical rep had done their research. They’d identified a similar company with similar processes and issues that had chosen not to upgrade their systems — and the outcome wasn’t pretty for about 4.2 million reasons.

The question:

You want to open an unexpected dialogue that creates space for reshaping the prospect’s point of view, so nothing flashy here.

Research shows that the best questions are simple, not complex, and open rather than closed. Your questions should follow naturally from your contextualizing statement that demonstrates your credibility. It should be quick, casual and invite further conversation.

The pause:

This is the hard part. Resist the urge to jump back in immediately. Remember: If your question is truly effective, it has introduced an element that the buyer has not previously considered — give them time to digest.

The follow-up:

Once they do re-engage, immediately transition to the positive. Here’s where you might include a value-based story that details how you and your organization have solved similar issues in the past — it’s all about propelling the conversation, and the opportunity, into the future where the value is realized.

One final note: Always, always practice these beforehand. Even the most experienced sales professionals struggle to ask effective anxiety questions on the fly.

If you want to dive deeper into the power of anxiety questions, check out:

If you’re struggling to reach those tough, executive-level buyers in the first place, consider joining us on Sept. 21 at 10 am PT for our next webinar, “Selling To the C-suite.” Associate Bart van Eijck will share proven approaches to selling higher.

Until next time, happy selling,