The Allure of Potential

Sue BerginSue Bergin

One of the best things about referrals is that it demonstrates your track record. You’ve obviously done a good job if a client is willing to refer you to his family, friends and colleagues. According to a new study, however, you may want to focus on what you can do for the prospect, instead of touting what you have done for others.

Zakary Tormala of Stanford University and Michael Norton of Harvard Business School recently reported that people find potential more appealing and intriguing than equally-high achievement. They conducted a number of experiments in the areas of leadership and sports that explored the preference for this potential phenomenon.

In one study, participants received information about a leadership position in the banking division of a large company. Their task was to assess two candidates with identical academic backgrounds and determine which one would have a higher likelihood of success in the position. One candidate had two years of experience and a solid track record. The other candidate had no banking experience but achieved high scores on leadership potential tests. The participants believed that it was this second applicant that would be more successful and have better leadership potential five years out.

Your PotentialIn a sporting context, the participants felt a rookie basketball player with a projected five-year performance deserved a $5.25 million salary. Interestingly enough, participants thought that a current five-year pro that actually achieved the same statistics should be paid $4.26 million.

The bottom line is this: save the talk of your achievements for your brochures and website. The potential difference you will make in someone’s life is what prospects will find most appealing.

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