When I was young, I rode horses. Literally my first job was getting paid $1 per horse stall cleaned (I became very fast at this) when I was 12 years old.

I loved riding horses. As a young teenager I took part in a lot of horse shows, mostly in the jumper categories. I was very fortunate to ride a lot of incredible horses even though I never owned a horse of my own. The doctors and lawyers whose kids never rode let me ride theirs!

If you’ve never ridden a horse or even really been around horses, there are two things you should know:

  1. Horses love carrots
  2. A riding crop is one of the best tools you can use to motivate a horse

When walking around the farm, I always had a few chunks of carrot in my pocket. Some horses (just like humans) are fickle and you need to warm them up to you every time you interact with them to do something like take them to their stall or out to the pasture. And some horses just get hangry, so having a carrot on you can help.

Carrots are a great way to motivate a horse too. They don’t want to come inside? Simply show then the carrot and they come trotting over happily.

When you’re riding, sometimes you need to motivate your horse to pick up the pace. The reins are great for steering and slowing a horse down and your heels (always down!) are great for moving them along with a (soft) kick to their side, but a riding crop held in your inside hand can give an extra bit of motivation when you really need them to accelerate.

Now, you might be asking “John, why are you talking about horses on a business blog?”

Well my friend, I’m talking about carrots and sticks because it’s an apt metaphor for sales in your business and how we get people to do both what we want and what is best for them.

Let me explain.

It’s all about motivation

Carrots and riding crops (aka “sticks) are both motivational devices for horses.

A carrot motivates the food-driven and skeptical horse to do the thing you need them to do. It’s one of their favorite foods, so they’ll do pretty much anything for it.

Crops are not one of their favorite things, and so they motivate a horse to move in order to try to escape the unpleasant feeling they’re experiencing on their hindquarters. (It’s worth noting, by the way, that a crop is a stick wrapped in leather with a leather end on it, so it only takes a small tap to motivate the horse. You’re not beating them!)

These are motivational factors for horses, but when you stop to think about it humans have different ways of being motivated at well.

Different people are motivated differently for different reasons

Sometimes in business you can use a “carrot” to motivate them to take action. An example of this would be more website traffic. Every business online wants more traffic, because they believe (and are often right) that more traffic will mean more business and thus more revenue.

It is relatively easy to motivate a business owner to invest in something like digital marketing with the promise of more traffic and thus more business, as long as you can actually deliver on that promise.

In this case, “more money” is a carrot that every business owner can get behind.

Sometimes though you need to use a “stick”, or the anticipation of future pain, to motivate them to take action especially when the thing you are selling is less tangible. More traffic or better close rates are relatively tangible, but something like “save you money” or “create a budget” is much less tangible.

To make it even more esoteric, sometimes a business owner is mired in pain in their business and don’t even know why. Your tool or solution or consulting can help them with that, but they’re in so much pain that they can’t even process it and feel like that extra cost will just make things worse.

In this case, using the “stick” of “nothing will change if you don’t do something” can be incredibly effective. Just like a horse “running away” from a crop (even though it’s still in your hand. Horses are pretty dumb), you can motivate a person to take action by showing them that your thing can help them get away from the pain.

You need multiple tools

Knowing the tools you have at your disposal is integral to being effective in business.

Not only does the idea of carrots and sticks work in sales, it also works across your site messaging, the content you’re creating to draw in potential customers to the top of your funnel, and even your company’s branding and styles.

I believe that all marketers need to understand the mindset their best customers come to their solution with, because this then influences everything you do from your top-line messaging to your conversion copy and your sales scripts.

You need a problem statement

So how do you do this? You start with a problem statement.

According to Wikipedia, a problem statement is defined thus:

problem statement is a concise description of an issue to be addressed or a condition to be improved upon. It identifies the gap between the current (problem) state and desired (goal) state of a process or product.

It should address the Five W’s:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why

Here’s an example of a problem statement from the above linked Wikipedia entry:


Ideally our users would be able to sign into their laptops and then automatically have access to all of the applications they need to use.


In reality we use at least three applications every day to accomplish our work. Each application is protected by a password with different requirements for username & password length. Passwords also expire at different times.


  • Users waste approximately 2 minutes per day logging into multiple applications (Lets take if there are 500 users then 500 users * 2 minutes per day = 1000 minutes in lost productivity; 1000 minutes = 16.67 hrs per day * $75/hr = $1250 per day).
  • Helpdesk resolves approximately 6000 calls per year to reset forgotten passwords & unlock accounts.
  • Security risk as users will continue to write usernames & passwords on sticky notes on their desks.


Have a S/W Dev, Network Administration and business stakeholders collaboration to evaluate potential solutions for a Single Sign On capability.

Here’s a horse’s problem statement:


Ideally I will not be tapped on my hindquarters by a leather-wrapped pain stick.


In reality I do not always know when I need to accelerate and sometimes I am just stubborn. I do not always do what I need to do and thus sometimes a pain stick is useful.


The pain stick causes me to start and makes me grumpy when used too often. I don’t perform at my best when it’s used too much.


Use your heels properly and work with me during training times to better understand when I need to accelerate to do the right things. Only use the pain stick when absolutely necessary, and never as punishment.

Here’s Credo’s problem statement:


Ideally businesses who are looking to hire a marketing agency will understand their business goals, the potential of a channel, and the marketing budget they need to spend to see the desired results. They will understand this before contacting Credo.


In reality, most businesses have not set their revenue targets and goals for the year and those who have often have not done so off of historical growth rates to understand how they will likely grow this year if they do nothing new and what the results could be if they do invest in marketing. They also do not understand how the different marketing channels available work together and how to sequence them to best see growth.


As a consequence, many businesses underinvest in marketing and have outsized expectations for results that they could see. This leads to a disbelief in marketing and frustration at the business missing the set targets.


Credo should have a service that helps businesses think long term about their growth and then back strategically into what needs to happen over the short term, medium term, and long term to see desired growth. This should contain discussions about their goals, the channels to help them achieve that short term and long term, and what to expect to pay as well as the questions to ask before hiring a marketing firm.

If we do not do this, businesses will have phone calls and receive proposals but will not be able to evaluate them or ask the right questions. Many will end up hiring badly and will end up frustrated with no growth and fewer dollars in their bank accounts.


Do you need a carrot or a stick?

At the end of the day, you need both carrots and sticks to motivate people at different times.

Which one do you need to use and when? Answer that, and you’ll see more growth in the business.