How Fear Sells. Be Very Afraid with Steve Hall

Steve Hall is co-founding member of Sales Masterminds Australasia. Here is a brilliant piece from him on the role of fear in how people buy. He highlights that while some sellers seek to manipulate, those with integrity operate with a genuinely positive mindset. The rest here is from Steve with thanks.

You’re going to die. But before you do you’re going to grow old and infirm, you’ll probably lose your marbles and the uncertain tides of the future will wash away your savings. You’re small and insignificant and can’t be trusted to manage your own money without frittering it away.

But don’t worry, we’ll look after you. Just give us all your money and we’ll take care of it until you pop your clogs.

That’s the unspoken, but very unsubtly implied, message of a current marketing campaign for a large financial institution.

Fear sells everything from annuities to vitamins, pharmaceuticals to politics. There’s no doubt that it works, although the current government is discovering that you use the budget bogeyman at your peril.

But is it ethical? Are advertisers being duplicitous in whipping up the fear of aging and illness to sell financial products? In scaring people to take unnecessary medications to ward off invented conditions, or exaggerating hordes of malignant germs to sell toxic cleaning products?

Whatever the answer, it happens all too often and will no doubt continue until the end of days. As a sales consultant who is not a fan of this practice I’m strongly against using fear as a weapon - but what can I do to guard myself as a consumer?

As a consumer my defences are awareness and thought. Does it really matter if a cleaning product reduces the number of germs in my toilet from 1% to 0.1%? That's still several billion germs crawling about - just as we have crawling all over our bodies.

If I have no family history of heart attack, am not overweight and don’t smoke, do I really need to take a drug with potentially significant side effects to reduce my cholesterol to some artificially low number? If I have $1 million in savings, should I hand it over to a financial institution in exchange for a paltry annual income?

Fear works because it preys on both our conscious and unconscious worries. To counteract it we need to stop, think and weigh up the options before we act.

Perhaps annuities are right for you. Perhaps you do need to be on statins and use excessive amounts of toxic cleaning products. But don’t buy whatever they’re selling just because some advertiser uses fear to manipulate your emotions. Think, consider, seek different opinions and avoid knee jerk reactions to fear based advertising.

And if you’re in sales, find ways to help your customers that make their lives better, don’t exploit them by drumming up unreasonable fears.

Steve Hall is an author, speaker and founding member of Sales Masterminds Australasia. He is also a trusted source of insight and advice to improve the way anyone sells. Follow him here in LinkedIn and on Twitter. Also see his website sales blog at

Steve is also regularly featured on the Strategic Selling Group website created by John Smibert.

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Main image photo by Flickr: Darius Gransbergis Abbey Clancy zombie