Are You Sure Your Sales People Don't Suffer From Stockholm Sales Syndrome?

Are You Sure Your Sales People Don't Suffer From Stockholm Sales Syndrome?

Stockholm Sales Syndrome (SSS), or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon first described in 1973 in which salespeople express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their prospects, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the prospects excuses, delays, think it overs, half truths, pricing concerns, fibs and lies as to why a deal can't proceed.

Stockholm Sales syndrome can be seen as a form of bonding and rapport which does not necessarily require a sales scenario, but which describes "strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently requests information, seeks quotes or proposals, invites to tender or pitch, delays and stalls, or thinks things over in perpetuity."

One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm Sales syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual's response to early child hood sales trauma and scripting by parents. The compulsion to answer questions, this learned behaviour as taught to every child by a parent or other authority figure since birth, means a mature adult can't help but answer when questioned by prospects. The belief, often taught by parents, that a decision should be slept on or more than one option considered before making a decision. A desire to be liked. This is more overt in people who choose selling as a career, often describing themselves as motivated, self-starting, great conversationalists who enjoy meeting people. They shy away from asking the tough questions that may alienate them or their product/service, as a result they avoid a no because being liked is more important than disqualifying time wasters, information gatherers and other sorts. An irrational fear of discussing money, often associated with parental restraint or control on the subject of money in childhood. Fear of authority and feelings of inadequacy. Usually manifested by a lack of prospecting behaviour at senior executive level.

Identifying with the prospect is one way that the ego defends itself. When a sales person believes the same values as the prospect, they cease to be perceived as a threat. Sales people like to believe that it is not they who screw up a sale because they have exactly mirrored and made comfortable their prospect. Thus answering their questions, allowing think it overs protects their ego. Ego being the single biggest reason SSS exists in sales.

Does this not sum up the relationship most people have with their prospects?

Right now, how many of your Sales Directors, managers and people are making excuses as to why that proposal or quote hasn't come back with a green light?


What examples of excuses have you heard today, this week or this month from your senior and junior sales people that justifies why they are treated so poorly by there prospects or existing account customers?

How often do you sit in sales meetings and listen to them drone on about building relationships or explaining back the situation they had given to them as to why that sale could not proceed?

What's worse is, you buy into it, because you Mr or Mrs CEO, MD or Chairman also suffer Stockholm Selling Syndrome

I have lost count of the number of organisations I have met that have tender and quote targets. Organisations deliberately created to ensure a culture and state of SSS exists.

I can't recall how many people have told me that a “think it over” is a good thing. When questioned as to why it's better than a Yes or a NO they say because it's pushy to ask a person to make a decision. It's not pushy, it's assertive. It's not buying into their excuses, it's not suffering from SSS.

The reason all sales people, and I mean all, take “think it overs” is because that's how they buy. They hate making Yes or No decisions when they are in the prospect's shoes, thus they empathise with the prospect and defend their right to give them a think it over because it's fair.

It's not fair, it's SSS!

A No, a qualified NO, is a perfectly acceptable outcome. A Yes is perfectly acceptable. A clear next step is perfectly acceptable (not a wishy washy, will call you next week) but a THINK IT OVER is not!

People who suffer from SSS are always looking for the Yes. They fear the NO because No means they will no longer be in their comfort zone.

Does this remind you of your sales team?

Realising that there is a way to prevent the above problems is sometimes a good reason for us to meet.

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