Fear-Based Management Styles in Sales
- Business Tips

Fear-Based Management Styles in Sales

At the first meeting, you should be able to convince a potential customer that your product can solve their problem, just like file sharing allows you to send big files online. The reason you can is that they have not thought about it themselves.

The History of Fear-based Management Styles in Sales

 There is something wrong here. What does it mean? We discuss fear-based management styles in sales, for example, and imply that someone somewhere did devise it and bore a positive result. The implication is that we can all feel confident in our management style because we have imposed “fear” on ourselves.

This isn’t true. Fear is an emotion — it is only useful if you can use it to motivate yourself to do something that isn’t necessarily personally appealing (such as going to the gym). Most people don’t want to go to the gym; they want to be fit. So how are you going to be able to impose fear on yourself? It doesn’t work like this:

You can try fear by lying awake at night, worrying about failure, avoiding difficult decisions, or being afraid of anything (which I think makes for a good stand-up comedy routine). Any of these strategies will make you feel better in the short term — but none of them will lead you down a path that will ultimately help you win promotions and climb the ladder.

Fear does not help us succeed in sales because we don’t want our customers (our users) to fail. Salespeople lose their jobs when people fail or do something stupid or get hurt — and this happens regardless of whether they are doing their job properly (for example, some retail stores have bathrooms where patrons urinate while they walk past). So, some managers should be more comfortable with letting employees screw up on purpose rather than trying to make them succeed by force-feeding them things they don’t want anyway.

How Fear-based Management Styles Work

Fear-based management is one of the most common and least understood sales styles among salespeople. It is not a style but a pattern of thinking that has been used for decades by some very successful salespeople. Its dynamics are easy to understand:

“Fear-Based Selling” is just a way of thinking that people have adopted over time, which they use when they feel their product or service doesn’t have enough customers to justify its costs. It’s not sufficiently attractive to them. It doesn’t matter which way around the problem. The result is that “fear-based selling” in sales works as follows:

First, you convince yourself (and probably your customers) that you should do something about fear-based selling. See how you can convince yourself here … Once you’ve convinced yourself (and your customers) to do something about fear-based selling, you do something about fear-based selling by raising awareness of this issue, by communicating it often enough so that people start to see it as important, and by making sure there’s enough evidence (not just anecdotal evidence) to support your actions.

Why? Because if people start to see you as standing up for them when they are afraid of being put on the spot — or feeling vulnerable — they’ll take more action than they’d otherwise have done. That’s why people are more likely now than ever before to follow through on what they say they’re going to do after hearing feedback from you on fear-based selling.

In addition, it takes time for people’s fears — especially their fears about whether their ideas will be accepted by others — to dissipate over time. But, unfortunately, some people don’t seem to get past those first few days of the exposure until months later; or years later; or until they no longer have any fears at all; or until someone else has already done what you’ve done and then puts them back into the water (e.g., marketers who say that having an opinion on social media is too risky). So there’s a lot of work left at this point both for you as a salesperson and for your customers – if only because many of them don’t realize what has happened yet and might need some help getting past those first few days before things settle down!

There are also various ways in which fear-based management can tend towards negativity:

  • It might lead employees with lower fear-baiting motivation towards meetings where nothing gets managed.

The Pros and Cons of Fear-based Management Styles

I’ve been teaching fear-based sales training to my sales team for a while now. I understand it’s necessary, but I know it’s not effective.

As you might have discovered, there are a lot of people out there who think fear-based sales training is a great idea. That’s because fear-based training is based on the belief that salespeople are naturally afraid. Fear-based sales training is an attempt to increase a person’s confidence by making them feel powerful or superior and thus make them more likely to succeed at selling. However, there is no evidence that this kind of training works. The people who believe in the power of fear are often the same ones who believe in the power of force or intimidation.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t consider the fact that humans are not simple machines with one right answer to every question. When you hear someone say, “I don’t know if I can do it!” or “I don’t know what I should do!” you can almost always infer that they don’t know exactly how to do something — and this often leads them to make bad decisions about whether they should do it at all, which leads to higher failure rates for themselves and their team (eventually leading them to stop doing the thing).

Further complicating matters is that many people have certain psychological traits which make them more likely than others to think fear-based management techniques work (such as “I need this result,” “I need everything right now,” and “I can’t wait until next year’). Suppose you try forcing your employees into accepting these types of answers. In that case, they will inevitably fail, which leads them into desperation mode and eventually disengagement when things change too much for their liking.

So, what should we do? We first need to be careful when we read about fears that people say they want their job done… What exactly are these fears? Do people want their job done? Or do they worry about things like: “What if I mess up? What if my boss finds out? What if somebody finds out?” These types of fears can arise from many sources: from personal experience (i.e., having something happen in your life), from past experiences (like watching your parents get divorced), and from reading something on the Internet.


It is useful to start by understanding what fear is. With some wisdom from Sir Ken Robinson, it can be said that fear is the fear of death before birth or of losing something that you did not even know you had. Fear comes in two forms: rational and irrational. However, we’re more interested in the latter when it comes to marketing.

Rational fear has its basis in experience: we have witnessed an event in a certain way (like the disaster at Chernobyl), and we are afraid because we have seen the possibility of that incident happening again, so if it does happen again, then we would be at risk again. We know enough about the repercussions of such an event to feel afraid.

However, irrational fear is a different matter altogether: things are too good to be true; it is merely wishful thinking or wish-thinking on your part. It can come from your gut — there’s no other reason for you to feel this way — or from a deep-seated belief that if something happens once or twice out of 100 times (or out of 10,000 times), it will happen more than once.

It’s important to realize that most businesses don’t face dangers; they get their share of trouble in life and any other problems they might face in business (and they are no less real than other problems). Fear and reality are different things; one may be rational while the other may not be. As a marketing consultant, I’m often asked how much I “know” about market trends, how much I “feel” these trends exist, and whether they are good or bad. The answer is both; there isn’t any one answer but rather many answers depending on your perspective and your needs at any time — and all these need to be considered when you pitch your product or services for them to succeed long term (as opposed to immediately).

Fear-Based Management Styles in Sales

Digital Marketing Strategies by Understanding eCommerce

Join the Club!

Every week, we'll be sending you curated materials handpicked to help you with Digital Marketing. 

Plus, you'll be the first to know about our discounts!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.