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The Power of Pessimism in Sales

When there is a lot of negativity in the news cycle, it can create opportunities for client acquisition.

People like to think of themselves as optimists. I’m sure you know many people (including yourself) in possession of this psychological trait.

Be that as it may, the reality is that pessimism gets our attention in a more primal and immediate way than optimism. All one needs to do is reflect on today’s news cycle: doom and gloom. In his terrific book, The Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel devotes an entire chapter to pessimism. In making his point about “the seduction of pessimism,” Housel quotes Hans Rosling’s book Factfulness, “Every group of people I ask thinks the world is more frightening, more violent and more hopeless—in short, more dramatic—than it really is.”   

Back in 1983, Harvard marketing guru Theodore Levitt enlightened us in his classic book, The Marketing Imagination, where he wrote that in the world of intangibles, you need to be able to create dissatisfaction in order to sell. In other words, from a financial advisor’s perspective, when there is a lot of negativity in the news cycle (i.e., inflation, pandemic, politics), it can create opportunities for client acquisition.  

The reality is that you’ll significantly improve your affluent social sales skills by weaving a small stream of pessimism into your narrative. Whether it’s during social small talk, conversing with COIs or your actual sales presentation. When I say a small stream, think of a top chef seasoning his specialties with just a pinch here and a pinch there.  

Here are a few of the many ways this can happen: 

  • Talking about the hidden fees you find when reviewing a prospect’s portfolio.
  • Asking when a prospect last heard from their advisor.
  • Asking about the last time their financial plan was updated.
  • Inquiring about a prospect’s investment performance.
  • Inquiring if their advisor talked to them about (ESG, donor-advised funds, etc.)  

Our research has found that the affluent want to maintain their current lifestyle into and through retirement. They want protection from downside risk. They want transparency of fees. They want a financial plan to serve as a road map that is periodically reviewed. So, now is the time to stir things up.  

These should be small but common threads in your narrative. It trips that primal, powerful emotion (whether it’s concern, worry or fear) that we all have. This will have a far more immediate effect on affluent investor decision-making than painting a glowing picture of the future or showcasing your professional attributes.

Can you imagine a financial advisor acquiring a $2.7 million client as the result of social conversation where, rather than prognosticating about the market, pitching a hot stock or even preaching the virtues of financial planning, he simply asked if the client had his financial plan reviewed recently?  

As it turns out, there was no financial plan and fade-in, fade-out, this advisor now has a new affluent client. He tripped the trigger of concern and voila! Remember, dissatisfaction is a direct member of the pessimistic family.

Once you get comfortable with the pessimism/dissatisfaction recipe, the variations are virtually unlimited. Weave a dash into your narrative, being careful not to go overboard, and you will improve your affluent sales skills. As Levitt would remind you, in the intangibles world you need to create dissatisfaction in order to sell.

Matt Oechsli is author of How to Build a 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing, and Retaining Affluent

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