The art of scaring clients


I  heard an ad for a tax remediation firm. It did a lot of things right, including telling business owners the bad things the IRS can do to you if you don’t pay.

It was a long list of scary things, and very aggressive. They can do this, they can do that, they can even take your business.

What, they don’t pull down your pants and spank your tushy?

Anyway, you’ve heard me prattle on about the importance of scaring prospective clients. You know that “fear of loss” is more powerful than “desire for gain.” And you know that you are doing clients a favor if, by putting the fear of God in them, you get them to (finally) take action that is in their best interests.

You scare them to get their attention. You scare them to get them to take your message seriously. You scare them to get them to call or fill out a form or download your report.

But sometimes, you can scare them so much they don’t do any of those things. They shut down and stop listening.

A little context.

A business owner who hasn’t paid Uncle Sam knows that bad things happen. They’ve gotten the delinquent notices and notices of intent and seen the penalties and interest accrue. They may even know that they can lose their business. But they think they have time. Or they’re in denial about how bad things really are.

They rationalize, procrastinate, and compartmentalize, and when they hear your message of doom and gloom, it’s too much to handle so they tune it out.

What should you do instead? You should provide some relief.

Yes, the ad talks about getting rid of liens and paying off the debt with pennies on the dollar. But it doesn’t tell them how they will feel to finally get this monkey off their back.

The ad should get them to see, in their mind’s eye, how good they will feel and what they’ll be able to do once this problem is taken care of. Tell them about other clients who have been in their shoes and are now sitting pretty.

Give them some hope. Give them something to look forward to. Show them the light at the end of the tunnel.

So you need a mix. A warning and a promise. Pain and pleasure. Blackness and light.

You also have to let them hear your compassion and understanding. Talk to them like a fellow human being who wants to help them, instead of blaring at them like Big Brother.


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