This autumn was the 30th anniversary of the precise moment I fell in love with my spouse: September 5th, 1993 at 8 in the morning. We were on the last day of a personal growth course called the wall. We travelled thousands of kilometres to be there at this particular time. We had been doing Tai Chi every morning as a way to get grounded for the gruelling work of the day and on the final day we paired up to do the movements–first with a same-sex partner and then with an opposite. We were instructed to do a set of push-pull movements while maintaining eye contact. Most martial arts have the same idea: when pulled, push; when pushed, pull. Go with the force moving to or away from you, rather than fighting it in direct opposition. The moment I locked eyes with her baby blues, I was done. To the end of my life done. We got engaged precisely one year after that and married precisely one year after that. Opened and then closed in the blink of an eye.
Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein published the final edition of their behavioural economic classic, Nudge, just as the pandemic was ending. The book is about decison architecture and how we can consciously (and hopefully conscientiously) design mechanisms into decision making processes. Nudges force people to make a choice rather than default to not making a choice and end up missing a legitimate opportunity to create value. It's possible to misuse and manipulate people–like making it easier for people to forget to opt out of a subscription and end up buying another year of something they do not want. But done with integrity, it can support the best interests of prospective clients who really would be best served by opting in rather than opting out as a default.
Why are nudges even necessary? People generally like to buy and hate to be sold, but fear of loss places a kind of friction into the buying process, as it's considerably more powerful than the possibility of gain. Thus a person might be genuinely interested in something but still need a little help getting over the edge of fear and doubt.
For many relationship-oriented sales people, it can seem overly manipulative, even sociopathic, to place a nudge in the sales process to force a close. It seems too pushy and too reminiscent of the classic car/insurance salesman archetype most of us despise. Many of the great missionary sales people I know–people who are willing to take the significant emotional risk to put themselves out in the marketplace to "open" a potential deal with a prospect–are uncomfortable "closing" the deal, also out of a fear of losing the deal. It seems more respectful to simply let the prospect decide on their own. But here again there is a risk that the person simply opts out of the process. Closing in this context simply means that the prospective buyer has made a clean choice, either "yes" or "no". "Maybe" or defaulting to not making a choice at all is not a close but sometimes an unnecessary delay.
Relationship-oriented sales people generally use "pull" strategies: put an attractive offer in front of someone and then passively let them volunteer to opt in. As Thaler and Sunstein establish in their book, this is an ineffective strategy that generally leaves everyone unfulfilled. More results-oriented sales people have no problem pushing for a close and causing a sale by overcoming objections. They risk coming across too agressively, and end up pushing the prospect away.
If selling was a martial art there would be an optimal balance between open and close, attract and cause, pull and push, feminine and masculine, soft and hard. The process would assertively support a prospect in making a clean choice that is best for them. This approach is both respectful and influential–the yin and yang of enrolling stakeholders into a vision and helping them buy something they genuinely need.
Assertive sits in the narrow sliver of consciousness between overly aggresive and overly passive. It means: put an attractive offer in front of someone (pull) and then offer support to help the person over whatever objections and obstacles they have (push). This is another form of the "last mile" problem: overcoming the last bit of friction and making a clean yes or no choice. Keep the process moving forward, ask for the business, offer support to bring the process to a resolution, one way or the other.
Assertive nudges are firm nudges–not too hard; not to soft. Results-oriented sales people can learn to make their nudges softer and more respectful. Relationship-oriented sales people can learn to make their nudges harder and more influential. Everone wins.