How to create urgency . . .without smelling like a salesman.

Sales executives often attempt to create urgency because  they are the ones who “urgently” need the sale.

One of the most commonly misunderstood strategies of sales/influence is that of creating urgency. I will admit that during my first few years of selling, most of my attempts to create urgency went horribly wrong. I was taught to build urgency by creating the impression that there was a risk of missing the opportunity if action was not taken. I was instructed to use words like, “limited supply” or “for a limited time” or “they are selling fast.” I tried a number of variations that didn’t seem fake or completely transparent. Yet, the reality is that my attempts were almost always obvious to the customer.

As I have studied the theory behind urgency and worked through solutions with my clients, I now understand why most people struggle with this technique. Here are a few ideas and strategies to make proper use of urgency whether you are in sales, leadership, or any other capacity that involves influence.

Step One: Create Value– Sales executives often attempt to create urgency because they are the ones who “urgently” need the sale. They fail to consider urgency from the customer’s perspective, and reach into the urgency repertoire when the customer is not willing to commit to their attempts to close the sale. Ironically, trying to create urgency in this manner only turns the customer off faster.  Without interest from the customer, or at least a basic comprehension of their attitude towards the product, urgency is useless. Here’s an example:

If I am trying to sell a single woman a men’s shaving razor, she will probably not have any interest. If I add that for a limited time, the razors are 50% off, she probably still won’t care that much. The product has zero perceived value to her and urgency is therefore non-existent. It doesn’t matter how badly I want to sell her a razor. Before I can create urgency, I need to create value. Perhaps my only option is to suggest to her that men’s razors are ideal for shaving legs with much less irritation than traditional brands. Whatever the pitch, there is no urgency without value.

Step Two: Understand the components of urgency – Urgency is derived from two cognitive biases known as commitment and social proof. Together, they create a mindset often referred to as scarcity. Before we move forward, let’s get some definitions out of the way.

Social Proof – Social proof is behavioral phenomenon evidenced when people mimic the actions of others to align with a perceived “normal behavior”. It is based on the premise that if others are interested, it must be credible. Examples include, best-selling lists, trending topics, waiting lists, and clothing fads.

Commitment – Commitment is established as we participate or take an interest towards something. This “engagement” facilitates a sense of ownership that enhances our perceived value of the item, especially if there is a chance of losing it. Examples: High school dating, test-driving a car, qualifying for a promotion.

Scarcity – Scarcity is the belief that there is not enough supply to meet demand.  Scarcity explains why people pay $10 for a gallon of gas – or water – during a hurricane.  Scarcity is also why real estate values inflate so fast during booming markets.

The objective of every sales call is to help the customer see that the anticipated benefit (value) of the product or service is greater than the perceived cost. As the value increases, the level of natural urgency also increases. Social proof (a desire to be like everyone else), commitment (a sense of ownership), and scarcity (a fear of loss) each have their own way of increasing the perceived value of the product or service.

So, how do you utilize these strategies without smelling like a salesman?

Value – Focus on discovering the needs of your customer. Asking great questions will enable you to discover what they are looking for and what triggers will motivate them to buy. Once you know what your customer needs, you can effectively tailor your product or service to create the value they are seeking.

Social Proof – There are very subtle ways that you can help facilitate social proof. Referrals are an excellent example of social proof, as is referencing neighbors or competitors who have recently purchased from you. Use social media, signage, and other forms of advertising to highlight your new customers. It is only a matter of time before your future customers will start to notice.

Commitment – Engage the customer to build commitment. Be interactive in your presentation. Give the customer something to hold as you start your presentation. Get them involved in a “proof of concept”, trial run, or a test drive as soon as possible. If you are pitching an idea to a boardroom, get as many of the participants involved in the decision during the discussion and/or prior to the presentation.

Scarcity – Tread carefully with scarcity. Scarcity is the smelliest of tactics, and is most effective when it is the natural inclination of the customer. Fortunately, ample doses of value, social proof, and commitment will create plenty of urgency. If you decide that you need to build scarcity, remember that without a strong level of rapport, your attempts will seem manipulative and sleazy. It is also important to be very specific, and deliberately honest when there is an actual element of scarcity (limited supply or pending price increase). You cannot afford to have the customer think you are giving him/her a rehearsed line.

Finally, let’s bring each of the components together in a hypothetical boardroom pitch. Assume I am an executive who is trying to win over a few senior executives on the idea of opening up a new location. Here is how I would create the most natural urgency in support of my presentation:

  1. I would do some homework and make sure I clearly understand the goals, values and objectives of the company. If I am not in alignment, I am wasting my time. There can be no urgency without value. 
  2. I would make sure I understand any competitive market factors that will elicit scarcity or a threat from my competitors. Example: Are any competitors considering this strategy or location? Are there any budget constraints looming on the horizon?
  3. I would engage as many credible supporters as possible to participate in the pitch. For example, having various co-workers prepared with relevant market data to support my pitch will lend credibility to the executives in the form of social proof. I would make sure that I have engaged as many participants as possible to help provide supporting information and opinions throughout the delivery. Assuming there are ten people in the boardroom and three are decision makers, create the perception of seven vs. three instead of one vs. nine.
  4. I would facilitate commitment by engaging the executives in the discussion.  By asking them questions that help them arrive at the same conclusion themselves will make them feel like it was “their idea”. You can also reference prior discussions with decision makers that support your argument. For example, “Bill I was thinking about our conversation last week regarding your idea to expand into a new market.”(I can assure you that Bill is now on board with the idea.)
  5. Once value has been established and there is a palatable sense of commitment from the decision-makers, I would build reinforcement through scarcity. The fear of loss of something that has perceived value will strengthen the resolve to take action.
  6. Finally, I would remember that decision is worthless without action. Once I have delivered my pitch and the executives have reached a decision, I would instill action around the commitment while the energy and engagement level are high.


BRAD HARKER is a professional speaker, influence expert, and published author of The Laws of Influence ( Through the creation of several companies and more than a quarter-billion dollars in sales, Brad has developed an ideology that anyone, regardless of profession, can leverage to discover their potential, align with their purpose, and realize their goals. Learn more at



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