The structural tension sales strategy

Friday, October 4, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 40

I first ran across the term structural tension in a book called “The Path of Least Resistance” by Robert Fritz. Structural tension has to do with the kind of tension that naturally moves things toward some sort of resolution.

For example, if you loop the ends of a rubber band on each of your index fingers, stretch your fingers apart and then quit exerting outward force, the tension on the rubber band will naturally pull your fingers back towards each other. In this simple example, the tension created by stretching the rubber band is resolved by allowing the rubber band to naturally resume its original shape. So, what has all this got to do with developing sales strategies? Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch, but let’s talk about it.

Tension can be created in many ways, including your choice of words, questions and comments. According to Fritz, “The discrepancy between what you have (current reality) and the result you want (vision) creates structural tension.” If you remove both the “you” words from this quote and replace them with “they” (your prospect) and you have the makings of a very effective sales strategy.

Here are the three keys to success with such a strategy: clarify, clarify and clarify.

First, ask questions, listen and clarify what your prospect really wants. Apparently prospects do not always know what they really want. I have heard many stories about people visiting a car dealership thinking they wanted a certain model car, or certain features, and driving away with a totally different car. And it is not always because the salesperson used high-pressure or bait-and-switch techniques. It is often because the salesperson simple took the time to help the customer clarify what they really wanted.

Next, ask questions and clarify the prospect’s currently reality. Doing this is the verbal equivalent of stretching the rubber band. Powerful mental tension is created in the mind of the prospect because of the difference in what he or she wants and what they currently have. Hopefully the tension will be strong enough that it will seem natural in the mind of the prospect to find a way to resolve it.

Next, clarify exactly how your product or service offering will, in fact, resolve the tension.

Fuzzy desired results and fuzzy current realities will likely lead to fuzzy solutions and low potential sales. My guess is that inside the mind of the prospect, there is a direct relationship between the clarity of the desired results (what he or she really wants), the clarity of their currently reality and the strength of the structural tension. Clarity strengthens tension, which in turn seeks resolution. For extra points with this strategy, keep in mind these four things that most humans want: more control over their situation, more security, more approval (even though most will deny wanting this one) and more mastery over some task, skill or process. It is always nice when you can help your client get exactly what they want.

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through