Is your customer a promoter or a preventer?

We buy things for two main reasons; either to enhance our lives, or to protect what is already important to us. Psychologists have found that in practice, most of us place greater value on one outcome over the other. When you know whether your customer sees things things primarily through the  “promotion” lens (how they will end up better off) or the “prevention” lens (how they can hang onto what they already have), you can frame what you do so they are more likely to buy it.

Customers who have a promotion bias will find different kinds of arguments and evidence persuasive in a sales pitch, when compared to customers who have a prevention bias. As a result, subtle changes in language can have a profound effect on your ability to get through to them.

Here’s a summary of these two personality-driven perception lenses, as explained by psychologist and author Heidi Grant Halvorson, and to which I’ve added a sales perspective.

In her book No One Understands You And What To Do About It, Halvorson says that neither one of these is better than the other; they’re just different ways of thinking and communicating.

Which of these best describes you? Which best describes your customer?

According to Halvorson, customers with a promotion lens are looking for reasons to say yes, whereas those with a prevention lens are searching for reasons to say no.

Therefore, if you’re working with a customer with a prevention bias, reframe an opportunity for gain as an opportunity for avoiding loss. For example, you might think of the technology upgrade you’re pitching as a chance to get in front of the market, but a prevention-biased customer will respond better if you phrase it as a way to “not fall behind”.

Miscommunication is frustrating, and it’s also a deal-killer. This model of perception bias offers a surprisingly simple fix for this problem, and shows how talking your customer’s internal language will help you to sell more, influence more and get to “yes” more often.