The Question that Gets Prospects to Act

June 3, 2014

by Dan Richards

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Today, prospects talk to multiple advisors before making a choice. Here’s a simple question that will set you apart from your peers and increase your odds of winning new clients: “What decision that you made in the past year do you regret the most today?”

That question came from Heidi Grant Halvorson, associate director of the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia Business School, during a talk at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, where I’ve taught for many years. Halvorson’s talk had three themes:

  • Everyone falls into one of two categories – people are either primarily motivated by gains or primarily motivated by avoiding losses.
  • Adjusting your message to the motivational style of the person you’re talking will dramatically increase your chances of success (this applies to prospects, clients, team members, spouses and children).
  • Some simple guidelines can help you identify peoples’ motivational styles and tailor your message to their hot buttons.

Two types of personalities

Halvorson began by describing the two major motivational mindsets:

  • Promotion-oriented. These people focus on achieving gains and want to to seize opportunities and obtain successes, rewards and advancement.
  • Protection-oriented. These people focus on avoiding losses and want to to prevent negative events and maintain the current state.

While no one falls entirely into one of these categories, most people have a primary driver of motivation. These drivers can change in different contexts – for example, at work, parents of young children may be promotion-oriented but, with their children, protection-oriented and focused on avoiding risks. And people’s mindset often changes over time – as people get older, they have more to lose and become more cautious and protection-oriented.

Halvorson went on to outline typical strengths and weaknesses of each of these groups:

Promotion-oriented people

Protection-oriented people

StrengthsWeaknessesStrengths   Weaknesses
CreativityIgnoring pitfallsPlanningMissed opportunities
InnovationNo backup planAvoiding problemsConservative
SpeedMistakesAccuracyFocused on status quo
ConfidenceSloppier workCautionSlower
Seizing opportunitiesPoor maintainersReliabilityInflexible

Given these strengths and weaknesses, she identified careers that are typically a fit with each of these motivational types:

Motivation style    Promotion  Protection
Typical CareersInventorsAdministrators
ConsultantsAccountants and financial analysts
Advertising copywritersTechnicians
Music and art teachersLawyers and compliance staff

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