FUD – Why Sell Is Still a Four Letter Word

Greg Milliken tells us about the origin of FUD—Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.  Think “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.”

In other words, it’s selling by spreading FUD  about your competitor, rather than by focusing on helping the customer.

FUD-based selling, as Milliken eloquently points out, rots the soul.  And while I ultimately think that trust-based selling is more powerful, let’s give the devil his due—appealing to fear is a pretty powerful drug.

FUD is one manifestation of why “sell” is still considered a four-letter word in many parts.  Why don’t people trust a whole lot of salesmen?  Because a whole lot of salesmen aren’t trustworthy!  And many of them use FUD.  But FUD is just a subset of a larger category.

The biggest reason for not trusting a salesperson boils down to this: if they’re in it for themselves, they are not in it for you. And if they’re not in it for you, then you are perfectly right not to trust them.

Great salespeople live with a great paradox:  IF you are able to focus on other people and get them what they want, then—paradoxically—you get what you wanted all along too.  But—here’s the key part—as a side effect, not as a goal.

The modern corporate ethos is almost diabolically designed to thwart this kind of good sales thinking.  It tells us, over and over, in a million ways, to figure out what we want, then figure out how to get it.  Break it down.  Design a process.  Do a needs analysis.  Do competency modeling.  Define metrics.  Measure.  Reward.  Tweak, fine-tune, and repeat. 

Problem is, this way of thinking destroys other-focus from the outset. You will never be hugely successful at selling if you believe the modern corporate litany, because it can only, and always, be about you and your objectives.  That logic leaves no room for the paradox of caring about others.

FUD, of course, fits very well with a goal-oriented, self-aggrandizing methodology.  If the purpose is to gain sustainable competitive advantage over a competitor, then the customer becomes simply a metric, a vehicle, a means to an end.  FUD is a straight line that bypasses any genuine concern for a customer.

FUD fits the unexamined approach to corporate selling.  Which is why sell is still such a four-letter word.

Except, that is, for the exceptional salespeople, who recognize an eternal verity—the best way to get what you want is to focus first on helping others.

5 replies
  1. Ford Harding
    Ford Harding says:

    Please enter your comment IN DEFENSE OF FUD


    I agree with all you wrote, but there is still a legitimate place for FUD.  An engineer I was coaching yesterday was frustrated by his inability to sell a project to a client.  The client was about to start a project for a building additon which he expected to  have completed by the end of the  year.  The engineer knew that that this schedule could not be met.   The the client was naive; when he should have felt FUD, he felt none. 

     I suggested asking the client a series of question that I hoped would raise his level of FUD sufficiently to hear the engineer’s suggestion for a small feasability study to determine the obstacle to developing the site, options for addressing them and a realistic schedule.

    When dealing with a client who is unaware of how serious a risk he is facing, you are doing him a favor by instilling some FUD. You are doing what a trusted advisor should do.

    Ford Harding

  2. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Ford, while your advice is surely right in principle, in practice I often recommend the opposite.  Here’s why.

    First, FUD generally refers to raising FUD about the alternative supplier–not the solution, but the supplier.  Which means it’s about bad-mouthing the competitor–never something to be done lightly. 

    In your example, depending on how you laid it out and your client heard it, it was limited to the solution–which can, as you say, be very much the right thing to do.

    But the devil is in the details.  I too have been asked many times, "what should I do about my client who’s about to make a huge mistake by going with so-and so?"  

    Funny thing–it’s always my clients who are the ones who are right, and their competitors who are the liars, incompetents, and generally untrustworthy types about to screw over the customer.  Another thing–my clients are always 100% perfectly sincere, and entirely motivated, at least in their own minds, by a desire to help the customer. 

    Worse yet, I’ve noticed that my clients always KNOW THE TRUTH, just like your engineer client "knew that the schedule could not be met." 

    I push my clients very hard on this.  "You know he doesn’t meet his deadlines?  You know he doesn’t keep his word?  Does anyone else know this?  Has anyone ever filed a complaint about them?  Has he had any certifications revoked? Has your customer checked references? "  And so on.

    Often, I find these issues aren’t ones of competence or qualifications, but simply of different perceptions.  I had one HR consultant who was indignant about how much risk a customer would incur from a competitor; it turned out that the customer had an enormous tolerance for risk, and was more concerned about other issues.  The consultant was righteously indignant about his own perceptions of the customer’s need, without bothering to confirm the validity of his perceptions.

    The point is, one of the most trust-destroying things you can do is go off and express negative opinions about your competitors.  And back-door sneaking into it by planting provocative questions can often make it worse, because it looks like you’ve got selfish motives and  worse yet you’re trying to hide them. 

    I try to hold a client’s feet to the fire before suggesting they resort to FUD–and turn up the heat. 

    And if they still insist they’re right, I’m more inclined to suggest they go to the customer and say something in a very direct manner, e.g. "I disagree with a decision you seem about to take.   I would be remiss in not telling you of my disagreement, and I don’t want to beat around the bush sliming other people.  My reasons are straightforward–I think the consequences will be X, Y and Z.  I think this would be a mistake.  Out of my respect for you, I will not raise this again unless you invite me to do so–which I urge you to do.  What shall we do?"


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] that perception is reality, and sometimes it is best to accept it, but when it comes to security, FUD, I get riled […]

  2. […] perception is reality, and sometimes it is best to accept it,  but when it comes to security  FUD, I get riled […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *