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Motivating clients

Motivating clients to buy, to make a decision, or to follow your suggestions is one of the most important skills for consultants. This article tells you how to make that work.

What motivates your client

Be aware that there are two ways to motivate. It’s easiest to describe these two ways in the terms that churches have been using for centuries – the heaven option, and the hell option. (also called the carrot and the stick). In NLP, they are labelled “move towards” and “move away”.

Motivating clients with a moving towards a positive goal motivation

Some people get out of bed in the morning because the alarm clock has gone off and they want to do something before they get to work. These people are motivated by the promise of “heaven”. They are motivated to exercise because they want to get slim – or they want to improve their work processes because they can know it can be better. They initiate change projects so they’ll look good in front of the management team, or because they want people to have more challenging jobs, or to stay ahead of the competition. These are the “move towards” motivated by how wonderful life could be, how much easier.

Motivating clients with a moving away from negative consequence motivation

If you are at the other end of the motivation spectrum, then you’d be more motivated by the fire and brimstone of hell, which you’ll get to if you don’t step in line. These are Away From motivated. They get out of bed because if they don’t they won’t be able to do what they need to do. They are more motivated by avoiding the possibility that things will get worse, than by the possibility that things could get better. As clients, these people improve work processes because if they don’t they may look bad in front of the management team, or because people will lose their jobs or the company will go bust if they don’t act. They are more motivated by the negative consequences of not doing thing, than by the positive consequences of doing them.

Using the client’s motivation strategies to motivate them

The tricky thing is that we tend to motivate clients and other people in the way we want to be motivated. This is fine when their motivation strategy is similar to ours. It can be difficult when it isn’t.

So start by identifying your client’s motivation strategy. Ask them how they motivate their staff, or how they motivate themselves to do things they need to.

If they move towards the positive, then think of the carrot dangling in front of the donkey. What can you promise them will happen if they do this intervention? What can you promise them that you can do for them, rather than any of your competition? What are the benefits of working with you?


On the other hand, if they move away from the negative, then tell them about clients you knew who delayed doing the project until it was too late. Talk about recent failures in the media who didn’t take heed of the warning signals. Words like warning, premonition, and avoiding problems work for this type of client. Think of the stick which makes the donkey move when it doesn’t want to. That’s what these clients need (but don’t hit them with it, just list the consequences of not doing so!). Tell them what things they will avoid if they use you rather than your competitors, without necessarily running down your competitors. List the reasons why using you will avoid more problems than if you do them.

Motivating clients: Jane’s story

Jane understood the move away and move towards motivation strategy, and found it really simple to use when there was only one client to work with. When it got to working with a board presentation, with 6 – 8 people in the audience, and very little time to get to know the individuals, let alone to check out their individual motivation strategies, she had to get smarter.

In her presentation to a major client board, she took time to set the outcomes of the project as positive. She described them moving towards the board’s inspiring vision, and moving away from the fate of some of their competitors in the recent past – with share prices plummeting, take-overs imminent and general mayhem. The graphs from her analysis showed what happened on the factory floor when the client did things right, and projected what could happen when they stuffed up. She showed both sides of the equation.

She completed her presentation with these words. “I know that other consultants will present to you over the next few days. I would ask you, as they present, to recognise the consequences of not checking out their pedigree. Here are some referees for my consultancy, who will be happy to vouch for the success of the projects I have done with them. When you check out my own experience, both theoretical and practical, you will see how effective I can be, and how smoothly I can work with you to reach your vision”. She then displayed the names of her referees, all three of whom she knew were personally known to some of the board members.

She didn’t lose the job. She got it!

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