Selling the Fear Factor

Posted on November 30, 2012


One of the most cringe-worthy lines in sales occurs when a salesman states he wants to “find the pain” of a prospect, or to surreptitiously identify “what keeps [the prospect] up at night”.

Every employed person has individual as well as organizational responsibilities.  Outside a hospital’s inner management circle, it is difficult for anyone to know what scares a hospital administrator. Even if I knew, would that motivate a CEO to seek me out or hire my company?  Probably not.

It could be argued design and construction are differentiating and commodity items, respectively. Thus, gluing them together for a more efficient service and easier-to-manage customer experience makes sense, but then how do you sell it?  It is, after all, a custom solution (design) that also delivers a usable product (building).

The fear factor, or selling based on a future worst-case scenario probability, works for insurance. People buy insurance for protection from the unexpected (“mayhem like me“), for peace-of-mind. Insurance companies also sell the stability and financial strength of their organizations. And although design-build acts like project insurance sometimes, hospital administrators do not respond well to the fear factor.

Fortunately, economics has attempted to parse and classify most products and services. Over one hundred years of study has produced some terms that help provide insight into how design and construction could be more thoughtfully understood and purchased.

Maybe integrated design and construction is what economists call an experience goodExperience goods are things that are difficult to place a value on until after they have been utilized.  Wine, for example, is easier to value after it has been tasted and consumed; it is very difficult to determine the quality of wine based on bottle, brand or label. The average consumer of an experience good has a minimum price threshold under which it is assumed quality is simply substandard and not worth purchase. Design-build may be a service and product that needs to be experienced first before an administrator can fully value the benefits design-build provides a hospital, enough to seek it out.

Could design-build be a credence goodCredence goods are items whose true value cannot truly be determined so consumers rely on other attributes to guide their buying.  Education, and health care, are difficult to judge the value of, and common credence goods. It is nearly impossible to figure out if one particular college or hospital is better than another one, so some consumers shy away from the lowest cost alternatives in the hope that the higher cost good provides more utility or benefit. Integrated delivery may be a service or product that suffers because its brand is not well-developed compared to legacy architecture firms and contractors well-known in the healthcare industry.

In the past, I have identified basic reasons for not choosing an architect or builder, and also some perhaps endemic to healthcare (or the RFP process), why hospital administrators do not procure teams more critically

Still I struggle, challenged to describe the benefits of something that is often best valued after an unpleasant prior project.  Why is that?  Because many administrators do not change strategies, teams, processes without cause—and in a healthcare project that is usually due to a bad outcome.

Fear can be a motivator, yet likely not a good ‘closer’ in an emotional decision.  And from experience, scare tactics can make me quite contrarian toward a person or product.  A negative bias is no fun, and integrated team projects are a lot more fun than the finger-pointing and administrivia that plague most. So dead file your fear, and consider what makes a dream team or integrated team to buy your next project solution with success in mind.

Posted in: Design-Build