I’d joined the gym (again) and this time I was going to make it work. Rather naively, my first visit was during a busy weekday lunchtime. To my left, a long line of people jogging, running and walking on machines. To my right, a confusing array of weights machines, some manned by impressively confident, capable and strong-looking people. And then there was me.

I’m not intimidated by going to yoga studios. I’ve attended a class in Ankara, Turkey, conducted completely in Turkish, laughed through a New York city class, and ommm-ed to the sun in classes overlooking the beach in Thailand. None of these situations were intimidating. Going to a gym though?

I put my bag down next to a machine and attempted to make sense of the instructions. Every eye was on me, or so it seemed. Sniggers from muscly folk were all around me, or so I believed. I was outside of my comfort zone and incredibly intimidated.

Your prospects are intimidated

Some of your prospects are likely to be intimidated by your business. They recognise they have a problem and know that your business promises to fix that very thing. But there’s more to it than that.

If your prospects are too intimidated, it’s going to stop them from purchasing. If your work is technical or complex, it’s likely to be intimidating. If it’s not well known or there are lots of misconceptions in the market about what you offer, it’s likely to be intimidating. If your prospect has an established identity as someone different from what you offer, it’s likely to be intimidating.

And this still applies if the prospect is your ideal client. Your prospect may be qualified and ready to purchase from you, but their degree of intimidation is a real barrier to the sale proceeding.

The less they understand about your area of expertise, the higher your credibility and trustworthiness needs to be – which means your business either needs to be high touch and labour intensive, or have serious marketing smarts happening.

The curse of knowledge

The curse of knowledge is a business liability – it’s the cognitive bias of you, the professional, assuming too much knowledge on behalf of others. It’s the different between a brilliant teacher, able to adapt any lesson to every individual, and a geek at a party who bores the hapless victim who had the misfortune of sitting next to them with one topic only – a topic that’s hugely exciting to the geek and likely completely irrelevant to their victim.

There are very few people who are immune to this cognitive bias, and the more you know about a topic, the greater your curse of knowledge is likely to be.

It’s highly likely that your marketing is intimidating people who are keen and curious, but lacking foundational knowledge and understanding of what you do.

I see this time and again when training and coaching people – from my perspective, running a face-to-face course or delving into the inner workings of someone’s marketing messages, communication strategies and digital tools is exciting. To plenty of others arriving at the course is excruciating because they feel out of their depth and uncomfortable.

Your identity stops you from learning

Part of the reason I’ve found going to the gym difficult is because I’ve spent many years identifying as a non-gym goer. My idea of a blissful weekend is lying prone on the couch, surrounded by papers, with coffee and novels, within easy reach. I have an arsenal of jogging jokes.

Part of feeling intimidated is the threat to one’s sense of identity which the unfamiliar presents. When applied to business services, these beliefs include: “I’m not good with money”, “I don’t want to hassle people with my marketing”, “If I was really good, I wouldn’t need to be marketing my business”, “Digital marketing is too complicated for me” and the old corker, “Why do I keep wanting more? I should just be grateful for the business I’ve got.”

When what you’re learning challenges a self-belief, especially when old and entrenched, the process can feel like an inner battle as your ego attempts to reinforce its position. Because your ego filters information to make it less threatening, the process of learning becomes far harder than it has to be.

How to help prospects overcome intimidation

You can help people overcome their intimidation by acknowledging what they already know and the positive experiences they’ve already had that relates to what you do.

As this relates to business learning, it means starting from the position “What do I already know about attracting clients?”, “What works for me, as a prospect?” and, perhaps most importantly, “What appeals to me about other businesses?”

People don’t tend to acknowledge that they’re intimidated. If they’re very intimidated, it’s taken a lot of courage to even be in front of you.

You’re not building your professional profile and enhancing your credibility to make yourself feel good – we do this to build our trustworthiness and lower people’s intimidation. So bring this into your marketing. Beware of the ‘curse of knowledge’. Acknowledge people, using familiar language and strictly avoiding any industry terms or weasel words. Don’t make people feel stupid – that’s not going to encourage them to buy. Empower people by acknowledging the validity of their experiences, even the negative ones. Remember that intimidation requires comforting to go away.

Are you ready to overcome your intimidation in business? Register for our Hustle & Heart program.