Tension and Suspense

This is a post about sales and marketing, Engineers that want to work on something important to them, eventually will have to find the ability to sell an idea to someone, a customer, a boss, or an investor. I’m sharing this to up the odds of success.

Ideas and products that relieve tension (I’m not talking just headaches and muscles) are the items that get purchased.

I was discussing with a friend how to make customers more interested using tension. The reply was, “The customers have heard it all before, if it didn’t work then, it won’t work now.”

That’s a pretty grim outlook, but it conflates things too.

When watching a movie with an awkward tension between characters, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it, the tension is still there. Suspense on the other hand, can disappear after the 1st viewing because the 2nd viewing you know who is hiding behind the door.

Thinking about sales pitches, they often are suspenseful, leaving the audience to wonder what product will solve all the problems presented. That’s not the same as tension, which is an unavoidable collision course of forces.

The mechanism of suspense is “Problem. Problem. Problem…Solution!” while the mechanism of tension is “Here is the path you’re on. Here is the path the world/politics/the competition/technology is on. If you don’t do something about it, the future you think you have won’t exist.” Use the latter, apply some history to paint the picture of the trajectories and add some imagery. That’s how tension is created.

Once the tension exists in someone’s mind, a better product is the one that relieves it. A product that changes a trajectory, rather than simply solving a problem.

For example, revising an existing product to cost 10% less to manufacture, so it can sell for 5% less, probably doesn’t keep a failing business from going under. But launching a new product that shifts the market may. That’s better.

P.S. Most of the sales pitches I’ve ever seen have been suspenseful, little tension is created at all.

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