How to Use a "Hold-Back Device" to Leave Prospects Wanting More



Whenever you're selling, you should be thinking about starting valuable relationships based on delivering unique and substantial value to your VIP prospects. That should be happening throughout your entire company's marketing and sales strategy, but it operates in overdrive once you, the salesperson, makes contact with buyers.

Put yourself in the prospect’s place for a moment. You’re busy. Maybe you’re getting ready to travel or make a presentation to your board of directors. The phone rings constantly and, without your assistant’s help, your email inbox would swell with thousands of messages from people you don’t know, all of whom want a piece of your time and a chunk of your business. It’s relentless and quickly becomes annoying background noise to which you are committed to filtering agg essively.

As a salesperson, your challenge is not just rising in importance to the target executive, but aligning your mission to what is important to your prospect. We can assume they are all focused on achieving and exceeding their goals, on peering into the future to find new competitive advantages, and squeezing more efficiency from their operations.

That’s a good place to start and, in some cases, may be enough to put your campaign on target. But what if it isn’t enough to get the target executive to commit time to your call or meeting?

I employ a strategy I call the "hold-back device" to capture my target prospects' attention.

Your hold-back device should be an extension of the initial theme and message, but should offer something of irresistible value. To deliver value uniquely tied to you, your company, and your offering, you need to come up with something all your own. To offer true value, your campaign should focus on the recipient’s needs, circumstances, and goals -- but it should be suggestive of your value as a new confidant.

That requires an honest inventory of your company’s unique assets. What is it you do that could be of value to the target VIP? If your company provides consulting services, is there a way you can produce an eye-popping report on the target executive’s company? Most executives are hungry for honest intelligence that helps them see their company in relation to their competitors and the market ahead. And they would gladly welcome such a report.

If not a report, how about doing a bit of probing to identify the things the executive is talking about, and collecting a set of articles on the subject? Is there a book you feel best expresses the direction you’d like to take the target executive’s company within your own offerings? Both of these make fine hold-back devices.

The hold-back device in your should not become a bribe, because that won’t work with VIPs. They can afford the football phone if they really want one. Your challenge is to provide something they can’t get elsewhere that helps them achieve their goals. More than anything else, it is to provide a compelling reason why the target executive needs to strike up a relationship with you and your company.

How a Hold-Back Device Supercharges Your Chances for Success

In any new business relationship, it’s imperative that you always have more to offer. If you are the pursuer, you need to keep the process moving. In the early steps of your contact efforts with your VIP prospects, that need is magnified because they’d still rather ignore you at that point.

Hold-back devices can be thought of as that critical Step 2 of your contact process. If you’ve gotten an executive’s attention with your initial contact effort, having a powerful second step ready to go enhances your success rate.

By the time you have delivered your hold-back device, you will have had three critical and positive points of contact: the initial campaign touch, the meeting or phone conversation, and the reward for having participated. You’re already 90% there.

Of course, you still need to have a cogent case for your proposed sale or strategic alliance. But by the time you have delivered your hold-back device, you will have broken through the “I don’t have time to talk with this person” wall. The target contact will have heard your Anti-Pitch and gotten to know you and your company, and you’re now in a position to get some clarity on where the two of you go from there.

That’s hugely significant progress toward changing the scale of your business. Moreover, if your outreach efforts have done their job, the target contact not only knows you, they’re starting to like you. They like the way you approach challenges, the way you think. And it’s all tied initially to the quality of thinking behind your outreach. It just makes sense that a campaign that carries you through three critical steps of contact is going to be more effective than a campaign that only offers a single upfront touch.


  1. Hold-back devices operate like premiums, providing a critical push to get your VIP prospects to follow through on your request to meet or talk.
  2. Hold-back devices are something of unique value to the target executive that are relevant to their own lives and goals.
  3. Hold-back devices may be branded, but the less you focus on your brand and the more you focus on the target executive’s current issues, the more valued the devices will be.

Editor's note: This blog post was excerpted from "How to Get a Meeting With Anyone" and is republished here with the author's permission.

Stu Heinecke is also a Wall Street Journal cartoonist, co-creator of the NASP's 30-day behavioral program, "The Power of Contact Marketing," host of Contact Marketing Radio and founder of Contact, a contact marketing agency devoted to helping enterprise sales teams break through to named accounts with greater efficiency.

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