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six steps series

The Art of Selling: Understanding the Intimacy Curve

Learn about the intimacy curve and its role in the art of selling in this insightful article series by Georgina Smith. In part four, Georgina explores the understanding where you are on the curve and with the buyer’s motivation, you can increase your chances of success.
2 min read

In my previous articles, I’ve spoken a lot about the intimacy curve, if you missed it you can catch up on those articles here. I explore the importance of knowing where you are on the intimacy curve so that you can:

  • Weather any storms that may come your way and challenge your relationship 
  • Ward off the competition 
  • Speak internally within a known framework of language so that moving key relationships up the curve becomes a team sport across your organisation.

But how far up the curve do you need to be before you make the sale?

If you try to make the sale at the bottom of the curve, there’s not enough intimacy in the bank to ensure you’ll get to ‘yes’, but if you leave it too long you and your team will run out of steam and your potential client will get bored of inaction.

The key to knowing how far up the intimacy curve you need to go is to understand the type of sale you’re in. There are only two reasons people change their behaviour: 

  • They are avoiding pain in their current situation
  • They are seeking pleasure

Imagine there are two couples looking at the same house. From the outside they seem very similar: in their 30s, young families, and appear to be looking to make the move to get more space for their growing families. The key question here is, “Why are you looking to move?” 

Couple 1 says: “Where we live now has been burgled twice in the last year, we’re looking to move to a safer area for our family”

Couple 2 says: “We’ve both just received pay rises and can afford a bigger bond, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to upsize”

Couple 1 is making an avoiding pain sale and couple two is making a seeking pleasure sale.  

An avoiding pain sale requires a lot less effort on the intimacy curve (i.e., I don’t need to go very far up the curve) to make the sale.  

A seeking pleasure sale requires a lot more effort on the intimacy curve (i.e. I have to go a long way up the intimacy curve) to make the sale.

This is because human behaviour makes us far more attuned to avoiding risk and pain than seeking the upside. This is closely tied to the cognitive bias of loss aversion as outlined in 1979 by mathematical psychologist Amos Tversky. He demonstrated that losses are twice as powerful in our human psyche as equivalent gains. As humans we will naturally seek to minimise losses (pain) more than seek gains (pleasure). 

Stay tuned for the next article, where we explore the intimacy curve and relationships.

Key points:

  • The intimacy curve is a key concept in sales.
  • There are two reasons why people change their behavior: avoiding pain and seeking pleasure.
  • Understanding the buyer’s motivation can help you tailor your sales pitch to the specific buyer.
  • Understand that if you’re dealing with a pleasure motivated sale you need to go a lot further up the intimacy curve before you can move to making the sale.