How To Sell To Risk-Taking Vs. Risk-Averse Customers

The best salespeople are able to adapt their sales pitch based on the needs of the buyer. But in return, buyers can strategically choose how to respond to salespeople’s attempts at persuasion.

risk taking behavior

A new study by Professors Xie and Kahle examines how buyers’ motivation determines how they react to a sales pitch and how salespeople can use this knowledge to their advantage.

What motivates risk-taking vs. risk-averse buyers

In general, risk-taking people are motivated to seek pleasure and maximize gains while risk-averse people are motivated to avoid pain and minimize losses (Higgins, 2002). In academic terms, risk takers are classified as promotion-focused whereas risk avoiders are called prevention-focused.

Research by Halvorson and Higgins featured in the Harvard Business Review outline the differences between people who are promotion-focused vs. prevention-focused.

Promotion focus: 

  • seeking gains
  • optimistic
  • open to new opportunities and ideas

Prevention focus:

  • avoiding losses
  • prepared for the worst
  • stick to tried-and-true methods

How risk-taking vs. risk-averse buyers behave

Research by Professors Kirmani and Campbell has found that people have three general tendencies in how they respond to salespeople.

  1. The seeker: asking for more information, establishing personal connections, rewarding, accepting assistance
  2. The sentry: stalling, deceiving, actively resisting, withdrawing
  3. The hybrid: bargaining, negotiating for concessions

Professors Xie and Kahle measured people’s promotion and prevention focus and examined their reactions to salespeople’s persuasion attempts.

They found that promotion-focused buyers, motivated by the pursuit of gains, are more likely to:

  • be receptive to a salesperson
  • use seeker and hybrid behaviors since as asking for information and negotiating

Prevention-focused buyers, motivated by the avoidance of losses, are more likely to:

  • use sentry behaviors like stalling or actively resisting a salesperson’s attempts

How to sell to risk-taking vs. risk-averse buyers

There are two main strategies for selling to promotion-focused vs. prevention-focused buyers.

  1. Figure out which type of motivation the buyer has and cater your selling strategy accordingly. For example, asking the person directly if he or she is more risk-seeking (promotion-focused) or more risk-averse (prevention-focused). Or probing the buyer for his or her dominant goal: gains and accomplishments or safety and obligations.
  2. Invoke a promotion-focused mindset in the buyer. Promotion-focused buyers are more likely to engage with salespeople. People can be primed to become more promotion-focused by emphasizing the gains and benefits your product or service provides (vs. the losses it prevents). Promotion focus can also be primed by reminding people of how a risk they took in the past paid off.

We all know salespeople have to be adaptable to succeed but knowing how to optimally adapt your sales strategy to match the buyer’s motivation gives you a major edge.

How do you adapt your selling style for risk takers vs. risk avoiders? Let me know in the comments or tweet @recruit_smarter.

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Ji-A Min

Ji-A Min

Head Data Scientist at Ideal
Ji-A Min is the Head Data Scientist at Ideal. With a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ji-A promotes best practices in data-based recruitment. She writes about research and trends in talent acquisition, recruitment tech, and people analytics.
Ji-A Min