The Smart Way to Create a Sense of Urgency

One of the fundamental characteristics of a human being is a tendency towards procrastination.

And when it comes to reaching for our wallets and buying something, that tendency to “think about it” is incredibly strong, even when we actually want to make the purchase.

That’s why creating an authentic sense of urgency is a crucial component of compelling copy.

In less skilled (and less scrupulous) hands, that sense of urgency is manufactured. It’s a fake or illogical high pressure sales tactic that turns most people off and blows the sale.

Don’t you love those online sales letters where the “offer expires” date just happens to be—shock—today! Come back tomorrow and the javascript has magically updated the offer automatically.

Lovely.

Michel Fortin tells a great story of how a furniture salesman managed to offend him with his real-world equivalent of the Internet javascript exploit. It’s apparent that a lack of respect for the prospective customer is at the heart of snake-oil selling, online and off.

Here’s the smart way to communicate natural urgency that Michel so keenly recognizes:

Never pressure people to PUSH them into purchasing. Instead, use pressure to PREVENT them from procrastinating.

There is a fundamental difference between the two.

What Michel means is to be of service to the prospect, rather than your own self-interest. If what you offer is quality, odds are you’ve got an interested buyer who is only procrastinating.

Don’t run them off by being stupid… help them to make the move they likely already want to take.

The way to do that goes back to the magic word because.

Give people a logical reason why they should buy now, and more people will.

And you can’t just make up the reason.

Effective marketers, however, will find one.

UPDATE: Coincidently, just days after Michel and I both commented on using urgency in online sales copy, Marketing Experiments releases findings on the topic. They conclude that creating urgency will almost always increase sales, while cautioning against the same credibility-killing mistakes that come with “manufactured” cut-off points. Good stuff, and here’s a direct link to study itself.

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  1. Or my other favorite for a digital product: “Only 17 copies remaining.”

  2. “And you can’t just make up the reason.

    Effective marketers, however, will find one.”

    An excellent tidbit of advice to those looking to close the deal. I would add that procrastination could be mistaken for inability. I know of many consumers that reached for their wallet only to show me that the only thing in it are outdated pictures of their kids and a dry cleaning ticket.

  3. After reading this post, I’ve decided to start working on my sense of urgency, but not till after the holidays.

  4. That’s why it is very critical how you highlight the benefits — make them so compelling that (the benefits should be genuine and not fabricated, of course) they immediately want to buy the product or pay for the service.

  5. Amrit, yep. The strong benefits have to be in place without doubt, or the initial desire to buy that is merely being potentially delayed won’t be present.

    Then and only then can an appropriate reason why spur an immediate purchase.

    Sell with emotional or tactical benefits, then back them up and close with logic.

  6. I’ve visited your site before but have always been too busy/distracted to really appreciate what I was reading.

    It wasn’t a failure to recognize the value of what you’re sharing with us (thank you, by the way). Instead, I was just overwhelmed with so many “pressing” matters that I couldn’t find a way to give my full attention to the topics you cover here.

    I’ve managed to find some time over the last couple of days to really sit and absorb what you’re sharing here and I whole-heartedly agree.

    Thank you for sharing such value with those of us trying to make our blogs the best they can be, but without sacrificing integrity along the way.

    I look forward to continuing my exploration of your site and will heartily recommend it to other blogger friends of mine who may not have heard of you yet.

    Great day to you and all your readers!

  7. Most consumer protection laws work by giving the consumer a cooling off period, presumably to recover from a misplaced sense of urgency.

    You make an excellent point about selling. The seller may know that the sale is really in both the seller’s and buyer’s better interest, but the buyer may focus only on the sale being clearly in the seller’s interest.

    One typical seller’s tactic is focus the buyer on the gratification associated with the post-sale: what do you think that you will do with your new X? It manages to be both an informative question, but links the future with present intention.

  8. Great thoughts in this post, Brian.

    For some odd reason, it reminded me of personal goal setting. Stay with me a minute on this. A client I consult with asked me about how I stay focused in my work to maximize my own production.

    I talked about setting specific goals and defining desired outcomes. Blah blah blah.

    But you nailed it here. The real trick to avoiding procrastination is to create a sense of urgency for myself. If I can sell myself on the need to get something done, then it will get done. Thanks for this post.

  9. Urgency, like all response-boosting techniques, is best used lightly to prod fence-sitting prospects who are justhisclose to responding.

    It won’t, however, persuade or motivate f your promise/offer lacks strength.

    But as Hillel once said, “If not now, when?”

  10. Those scripts aren’t just weak… they are dishonest.

    My favorite method of creating urgency in the information products business is the 24 hour special. It’s a very old and boring strategy used by tons of retailers for decades, but it is very powerful.

    Of course, I’m talking about an actual 24 hour special, not using a script to have a 24 hour special every day. I use them for launches… and the occasional customer appreciate special. The price is slashed by at least 2/3rds off. The special is usually from a noon to a noon… and I actually cut it off at noon. It doesn’t get fake extensions.

    Sales skyrocket with each special. If I sell 1 or 2 of a product per day normally, I will get 100 or 200 sales during the special. It’s legitimate, shows appreciation for customers, not disdain… and just plain works.

    I haven’t had nearly as much success with “limited quantity” specials. I’ve used them for seminars where I really did have to decide on a number of seats before I started marketing. They work… but not like the 24 hour special. Instead, I constantly get questions about how many seats are left. Instead of encouraging the decision, it often becomes yet another point of procrastination.

    -James D. Brausch

  11. Urgency is only one of the persuaders, or “snappers” as famed copywriter Robert Collier called them, that can be used to “help” the prospect across the finish line (i.e. to buy).

    Robert Cialdini in his book on persuaders listed several others… reciprocity, societal consistency, social proof, likeability, authority, self-interest and, of course, the already mentioned urgency (fear of loss)…

    Most sales pieces never even consider these others…Try them… they can be very subtle… and very effective.

  12. Very good post! It’s important not to be stupid, but even more not to take your (potential) customers for stupid.

  13. Clark, very true. In fact, I wrote an entire series discussing Cialdini and how all those influencers are present in blogging.

    You can read it here.

  14. I have to disagree.

    I think the reason that many buyers procrastinate in the sales process is a failure on the part of the seller to clearly articulate value in terms that the buyer can appreciate.

    If you hear, “I’ll have to think about it”, then you haven’t sold the propspect to the value of your product/service.

  15. I think the “I’ll think about it” response can be valid in some circumstances. If we’re talking about a $300 computer monitor, it’s probably just a “no”. If we’re talking about a $3,000 mattress, it might really be an “I’ll think about it”. I work in TV and am always fascinated by the 24 hour bidding wars that some agents arrange for scripts. On one hand, it creates a sense of urgency. On the other hand, if the script isn’t sold after 24 hours it’s been de-valued. The 24 hour special is a very effective strategy for getting people who are “thinking about it” off the fence, but I’m not sure that it’s a great way to get new business that hasn’t been “thinking about it”.

  16. Hmmm… I put off buying things that I’m otherwise “sold” on all the time, for various reasons. Think about the entire range of purchasing decisions you make each month.

    There’s a difference between “value” and “value that I must obtain right this minute”, right? Without urgency of some sort (whether intrinsic or situational), invariably some of those sales will be lost, despite the best intentions of the buyer to eventually consumate the sale.

    But, at the end of the day, I think what Michel is saying (and I wholeheartedly agree with) is that by focusing more intently on the needs of the prospective buyer, rather than simply “closing” the sale, you actually create more value for the buyer and for yourself.

  17. Excellent article. I am in full time sales and have always focused on the customer first.

    Sometimes, it’s not the right time for them to buy something and there’s nothing you can do about that without seeming pushy. Other times, they want to take their time and overanalyze the situation (the engineer types) , but you have to understand that and more importantly, respect that. Like you said, there’s a huge difference pushing them into something versus showing them information and data that supports your claim that it’s a good time to buy (persuasion).

    Too many salespeople try and “slam the deal”, which almost always backfires and they lose a deal and give the rest of us a bad name. Keep the customer first and you will always win in the long run.

  18. Nice. I have one question regarding your writing style though:

    “The way to do that goes back to the magic word because.

    Give people a logical reason why they should buy now, and more people will.

    And you can’t just make up the reason.

    Effective marketers, however, will find one.”

    Why aren’t all these lines in one paragraph?

  19. Style.

    Ease of reading.

    Conversation starter.

    :)

  20. C’mon, M — that’s like asking e.e. cummings why he didn’t use capital letters.

  21. Brian, I hope you’ll tune in and harrass Steve tonite…then post a nasty review on your sit

  22. e

  23. Wait, now I’m confused Brian is e.e. cummings?

  24. Steve tells me he’s going to kick your ass as an Media Orchard Live guest tonite, btw ;)

  25. Oh, you told him you’re going to get your act together for this one? :)

  26. Great read, Brian.

    One way to prevent potential customers from procrastinating instead of pressuring them into purchasing, is to set a date when the price of your product will increase. That way, the potential customer can still buy the product later, but it will be set at a higher price.

    I’m going to use this tactic myself on my own sales copy, but I thought it would be interesting to mention.

    Christina

  27. Giving a customer or potential customer a good reason to purchase right now without pushing them to buy is an excellent strategy.

  28. Hi Brian.

    Interesting article.

    At the end you talk about giving a logical reason for someone to buy now instead of later. Jonah Lehrer (famous neuro scientist) says that it is difficult to change people’s emotions using logic in the short term. Given that most purchases are of an emotional nature (or the marketing is at least emotional) how do you think this logic fits in?

    Tyrant