Association, opportunity, incentives, and fear – how leadership and sales disciplines are related

Both the leadership and sales disciplines are about persuading people through influence. Leaders establish direction for others to follow; salespeople persuade prospects to buy. Leaders promote their aspirations to followers; salespeople set directions for prospects to follow. Leaders and salespeople use both imagery and language that convey association, opportunity, incentives, and fear to drive momentum and urgency.

Leaders have to motivate themselves first, relying on their own instincts, sometimes in uncertain conditions, whereas followers have leaders to inspire them. Using their best influence, leaders establish an environment that enables followers to motivate themselves. However, followers can be leaders too if they can inspire others to achieve results.

When tasks are assigned, leaders have to assess both the competencies and commitment of followers, and qualify them accordingly. If a follower is competent, but not committed, the quality of their work may be substandard. So a leader has to influence the follower to commit to the task so as to achieve quality results.


For all the effort that enterprises expend in research and development, operations, and business development, the costs and expenses are only recovered and profits earned if salespeople close sales to move products and/or services to customers.

Salespeople have to motivate themselves first in order to create an environment that influences others to buy. It can be an uncomfortable feeling to make a cold call, or to promote a new product for which there is no track record. However, salespeople have to meet new prospects and promote new products and/or services on an ongoing basis to keep their pipelines flowing.

Salespeople have to qualify their prospects in terms of authority, desire, and resources to buy – if a prospect is not qualified, the only answer is “no.”

An individual is “casually motivated” when they act regardless of the efforts of others.

To establish an environment that motivates others towards the desired result, leaders and salespeople have to understand the difference between what people need and what they want.

Whereas the needs of individuals tend to be rational, the wants tend to be emotional. For example, a person may need food, but wants a banquet; may need shelter, but wants a mansion; and may need a job, but wants to be boss.

When needs and wants don’t align, influencing people to act through their emotions helps as savvy advertisers know. Using images and words to raise the emotions of followers and prospects can turn a boring task or product into something exciting and compelling. Even the packaging of everyday products can create an emotional spark through the use of images and words that create momentum and urgency.


However, if a person isn’t in the mood or is in a state of denial, then they may not want to act, even though they need to.

A mood is less intense than an emotional state, and is less likely to be influenced by an event or situation.

Denial means that an individual believes a certain condition to be true or false when facts and other information suggest otherwise. Believing that there is a market for their products and/or services, entrepreneurs, executives, and lifestyle business enterprise owners can be in a state of denial when the behavior of prospects suggests otherwise – it’s a function of how long they can withstand the pain. However leading salespeople make markets for products and/or services even when they are playing against the odds. If a person is really self-motivated to make a difference, they will keep trying, even in the face of failure.

Leaders and salespeople use four drivers based upon wants to influence others to achieve results or buy: association, opportunity to gain, incentive, and fear of loss.


Followers or prospects want to associate with a respected or well sought team or buyer group because they share the same values, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs:

  • Becoming a member of a highly visible team, appointed by top management, and consisting of the perceived “up-and-comers” of the enterprise
  • Becoming a member of an elite country club or similar group
  • Acquiring products and/or services used by celebrities, such as cars, clothes, electronic gadgets, and gourmet food and beverages
  • Acquiring “designer label” products and/or services because they are perceived as stylish and in-vogue

Opportunity to gain:

Followers or prospects want to take advantage of an opportunity for either tangible or intangible benefits:

  • Obtaining a job position through which higher compensation can be earned
  • Obtaining a job position through which new knowledge, skills, and experiences can be gained
  • Acquiring a product and/or service through which new knowledge and skills can be learned
  • Acquiring real estate in a neighborhood where property values are appreciating quickly



Followers or prospects want to receive rewards and recognition:

  • Receiving additional compensation such as higher salary, bonuses, and commissions
  • Receiving awards and citations at “town hall” meetings or in the media
  • Receiving discounts or bonus points, such as frequent flyer miles
  • Receiving invitations to special events not open to all employees or the general public

Fear of loss:

Followers or prospects fear losing their “want” – the ability to associate, take advantage of an opportunity, or receive an incentive:

  • Perceiving that time, space, or inventory are running out, such as for events, trips or products and/or services
  • Perceiving that someone less qualified will get the offer or incentive
  • Knowing that they are not qualified for the offer, but the leader or salesperson is ignoring that fact, enabling them to have something that they otherwise would not be entitled to
  • Knowing that they are not qualified for the “advertised” offer, but the leader or salesperson is offering something which is more achievable or affordable, such as a less demanding position or a less sophisticated product and/or service, without creating an embarrassing situation


Successful leaders and salespeople know how to use imagery and language to influence others through momentum and urgency; the alternative is force.


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