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Nothing Focuses the Mind Like an Impending Hanging

I think that Samuel Johnson wrote the oft-quoted sentiment like this: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

For your dream clients, urgency is found in the implications of failing to change. The event that would compel your dream client to change isn’t the dissatisfactionthey are experiencing right now. What compels your dream client to change is the negative implications of the dissatisfaction that they are experiencing now (or that they are certain to experience if they don’t change). It’s the hanging that worries them.

Impending doom compels change.

How Real Are the Implications?

The more real and certain the implications, the more your dream client will feel the urgency.

If the implications of not changing threaten your prospect’s survival, if they are strategic in nature, they create more urgency. If the implications of staying the course and taking the blue pill mean that business will suffer a financial setback—or not perform as well financially as they might otherwise—the urgency will compel your dream client to change.

Implications move your opportunities forward faster.

This is why in sales we focus on understanding our client’s business objectives, as well as the obstacles and challenges that they face. The implications of unresolved issues create urgency, and so do missed opportunities.

If the implications of not changing aren’t significant, if it’s a hangnail instead of a hanging, there isn’t a compelling event. Your opportunity can drag on for what seems like forever.

How Soon Will The Implications Be Realized?

The sooner the implications will be realized and felt, the more your dream client will feel the urgency to change.

Impending means soon. If your dream client feels the implications of their dissatisfaction now, they will act with urgency (although I have encountered some organizations that get so used to the status quo that, even when it means they are underperforming, they learn to live with that as their reality).

If staying the course means that your prospective client is going to very shortly hit an iceberg that they can clearly see in front of them, they will act with urgency.

As salespeople, we struggle with creating a sense of urgency when the implications are too far into the future to be felt. People can get comfortable and avoid change when the price won’t be paid until some time in the distant future.

It’s difficult to move your prospective client to act when the cost of change is still greater than the cost of the status quo. Hence, implications.

Seeing Into Your Future

There are two hangings to consider here. Your dream client may be facing the noose. You may be facing a noose of your own.

Your urgent need to acquire clients is wholly unrelated to your dream client’s urgency—or lack thereof. Your impending hanging—your need to make your number—is not a compelling event for your dream client. It’s nice when these two potential negative events line up nicely, but mostly they don’t.

As a salesperson, you don’t have the luxury of waiting for your impending doom to get close before you begin to act. No one is coming to rescue you. You have to save yourself by taking the actions now that allow you to later make your number. You know the implications all to well.


What is it that compels your dream clients to change? What creates an opportunity for you?

What are the implications of your dream client’s failure to change? Why should this motivate them? What is at stake?

How do you create and move opportunities when there are no real implications for staying the course?

How near do the impact of a failure to change need to be? How do you bring future events into a sharper focus now?

What are the implications of your own failures when it comes to making the changes you need to make?

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  • Deepak

    Very nice article….I think you have made some good points.

  • Gary S. Hart

    Anthony, your post does a killer job of differentiating personal urgency and client urgency. This is one of those areas that separates top performers from the rest.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Gary. I think we sometimes feel the urgency about what we are doing, but our clients may not feel that same urgency. We help build their urgency when we help them focus on what matters to them . . . not what matters to us. 

      • Brian Vickery

        I like this sub-thread…our urgency doesn’t equate to client urgency. So our jobs are to find that client pain and bring it forward and make them feel it with more urgency. Then we need to solve their pain! 

        I am definitely an Accidental Salesman, so I am still learning (just like prior comments where I said I could fall into the trap of loving our solutions without first asking the client what their pain is to judge whether our solutions even fit).

        Very tough sell when the client has no real implications if they stay the course!

  • Brett Clay

    Great article, Anthony. You are right on all accounts. It’s so sad that people won’t change until the oil platform is burning from underneath their feet. Or worse, as you mentioned, they are like the frog who gets boiled one degree at a time.

    Are you familiar with the “Formula for Change” developed by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher? (pg 152 in my book). Your article fits into their framework.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I’m not familiar. But I will pick up your book, Brett.