Understanding People’s Natural Fears

By Tom Hopkins

Think for a moment about what the greatest enemy is to the process of helping people decide to use your services. What is it that jumps in and brings presentations that were previously sailing smoothly along to a screeching halt? You may think it’s the financial aspects of your offering. Perhaps you think it’s the prospective client’s inability to make a decision.

The bottom line is that they’re afraid. Fear stops more people from getting what they want in life than anything else. Fear is the greatest enemy you’ll ever encounter in your professional career.

What do your clients and potential clients fear?

1. Your prospective client is initially afraid of you. This is simply because they see you as a salesperson—someone who wants to charge them a fee for information they may not truly understand. Even if you are going to help someone you already know — a friend or acquaintance or even a relative — when you get down to business, certain fears will arise. It’s bound to happen in 99% of your presentations. (I’ll give you a 1% non-fear situation with your parents or grandparents, simply because in most cases they’ll believe in you and trust you no matter what role you play with them.) What do you do about the others?

Accept it. There are some people who are going to be afraid of you just as there are patients who are panic-stricken when they have appointments with doctors or dentists. What you need to do to conquer this fear is to master the skill of putting people at ease. Learn to use a relaxed manner and tone of voice. Use rapport-setting comments and questions that show them you are interested in them not just in closing the sale.

2. They have a fear of making a mistake. We all have that one, don’t we?  We’ve all made decisions we’ve later regretted. Perhaps we relied on someone when we weren’t sure of his or her knowledge on the matter. When you are the one asking for the business, your prospective client must recognize you as an expert. You know this business. You have knowledge that they haven’t even considered. To help people overcome the fear of making a mistake, you need to lay out all the details they require in an easy-to-understand manner. Once they gain confidence in your knowledge, making a decision will be easy.

3. They fear being lied to. This is where your literature, testimonial letters and referrals come in. People are more likely to believe the written word than the spoken word so let them read the good news about your company for themselves. Let them see how happy the people you currently serve as clients are.

4. They’re afraid of owing money. Most people have a tremendous fear of debt. Covering the financial details very carefully is critical here. Take as much time as they need to comprehend what they’re agreeing to. Ask them questions to assure you and them that they do understand the benefits of the particular arrangement you’re recommending. Your next move would be to re-iterate everything you will do for them. Again, sell the value of the service you and your practice provide.

5. Many people are afraid of losing face. Have you ever made a poor decision that was big enough that most of your friends and family members knew about it?  If you have, you know exactly what I mean here. If not, believe me when I say it can be totally demeaning and embarrassing. Often a situation like that makes you feel like a child again — insecure and powerless.

For that reason, many potential clients will stall making the decision to use your services. Knowing that this could be a challenge, your primary goal should be to help them feel secure with you. Let them know they are not relinquishing total power to you. You are simple acting in their behalf, performing a service they need.

6. They are afraid of the unknown. A lack of understanding is a reasonable cause for delaying any transaction. If your company has national name recognition, that should help eliminate some of this fear. If you work for a local company, I suggest you work with your fellow associates to earn a great local reputation. It will save you a lot of time over the years.

Some of the most common fears may seem irrational to you, but remember, you are an educated, professional expert. You have eliminated the unknown from being a potential fear through your own education and personal experience in business. You have already been involved in more transactions in your career than the average person will be in his or her entire lifetime (unless they join the ranks of sales professionals themselves.) Become an educator and they will respond by becoming clients.

7. Your clients may have had bad past experience with another CPA or firm. Have they ever made a decision like this before? If they have made a decision like this before, what kind of experience was it for them? You need to ask the proper questions to get those answers. If they hesitate to tell you, you may assume it was a bad past experience and you’ll have to overcome a lot more fear than if they’ve never hired your type of services before.

8. Their fear may be based on third party information. Someone they admire or respect may have given them some advice that holds them back from making a decision. That third party will stand between you and them until you convince or persuade them that you can help them more than that person because you are the expert. You’ll have to work hard to earn their trust. You may even have to enlist the aid of some of your past happy clients as references.

Form the mindset of constantly asking yourself “What fear is this person demonstrating and how can I address it?” Draw from experience related to calming those fears in other clients and be patient in helping potential new clients develop their level of trust in you.