June 10, 2017

3 Ways Sales People Can Mitigate the Bias Against Changing the Status Quo

Simple tactics you can use to help you overcome your buyers natural tendency to resist change.

overcoming the buyers resistance to change

Prelude

I recently wrote an article discussing the bias your buyers have against creativity, innovation and ultimately change. The purpose of the article was to highlight why you can make a great value proposition and still walk away with no deal. 

In this article I present a few ways you and your sales teams can work to understand and ultimately overcome your buyers natural bias against change.

The article, like the other one, is relevant to any sales or marketing professional who has walked away from a meeting with a prospective buyer and thought:

  • “How can they be so blind to the benefits of my solution?”
  • “I gave them a Proof of Concept and they still declined to buy.”
  • “All that time and money spent evaluating vendors, and they chose to do nothing.”

Reality Check: Bias Against Change 

Three things should have jumped out at you when reading the previous article.

  1. You are selling change
  2. People don’t like change
  3. People rationalize their fear of change because often times the fear is subconscious.

It is one thing to fight against a bias. It is another thing all together to fight against a bias most people don’t think they have.

Think about it this way. How the heck are you supposed to address people fears and concerns if they are not able to communicate them to you?

You are by default a scary proposition for your prospective buyers. You are selling change which means you are selling something either creative, or innovative, or both. 

You have to adjust your sales methodology to compensate for what you now know is a hard wired bias against change.

This starts to be even more important if your solution is conceptually new in terms of what it is or what it does. In that case, you are at the top of the scare meter, and will find yourself having to fight even harder to get the attention of your prospective buyers.

One way or another, in order to address the reality of people’s bias against change, you have to: 

  • Understand the Power of Influence
  • Minimize the Perception of Risk and Uncertainty
  • Sell the Change the Buyer Likely Wants to Make

Power of Influence

Anyone who hangs out with me enough will often hear me, or see me writing about Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”

I cannot stress enough how important this book is to sales and marketing professionals. One reason, among many, is that it addresses in part the reasons people do what they do, at a subconscious level.

I am not suggesting that professional sales people use manipulative tactics to help sell complex solutions. Just the opposite. I am asking that sales people consider the forces that impact how people are influenced to behave a certain way. 

The implication for this article is that by understanding both why people avoid change, and why they ultimately embrace it, you can start to adjust your entire approach to sales and marketing to more effectively engage prospective buyers.

In summary, Cialdini breaks influence up into 6 categories, each with it’s own implication for effectiveness in sales and marketing.

  1. Reciprocity: People are hard wired to give back when they have been given to. This force of nature has implications throughout the entire complex sales cycle as any experienced B2B sales professional knows, selling is a prolonged matter of give and take. You can use this to your advantage by giving a little, and then progressively more as your sales cycles unfold.
  2. Commitment and Consistency: People not only stick to their guns, they justify their position even stronger once they have made the decision. And they don’t like to waiver. This complements the study referenced above in that it partially explains why it is so hard to get people to change. You can use this to your advantage by getting folks to make small commitments in your favor. It also suggests the need to get in early. Don’t wait for the RFP, because by the time it comes, they have already made small commitments to someone else.
  3. Social Proof: This one is hard for brand new companies who don’t have any customers. Essentially, in a nutshell, people do what they see other people doing, mainly because they believe, right or wrong, that their is less risk if others have gone before them. If you are a new company, you need to hire sales people who can overcome this by finding innovators and selling them on the vision. If you are an established company, you need to make customer stories a primary piece of content, to be used throughout the customer acquisition process.
  4. Liking: I’ll say it here as simply as I have said it elsewhere. People liked to be liked. If you like them, there is a strong chance they will like you back. In general, the point here is that likable people are often more successful in sales, even when the stakes are high. It is indeed a bit pathetic, but worth noting, because it is an unavoidable fact of life. However, it can also be used to open up dialogue with new prospects simply by telling them you like something about their work.
  5. Authority: People in suits tend to be more believable than people not in suits. I know what you are thinking. This is an oversimplification of the concept of authority, but it drives home an important message. If you are not an authority at your company, find someone who is. And, always dress one or two levels above your prospect. Most people hate suits these days, but suits still make you look like you should be listened to. 
  6. Scarcity: I personally hate this one, because it is used way to often as a primary sales tactic. The implication is straight forward. If something is limited in supply, the demand for it, if it has perceived value, goes up, along with the price. Think diamonds and Ferraris. But also think limited time only discounts and limited seating webinar events. The notion here is that people will place a high value on something if they think they are in competition with others for its supply.

Roberts book goes into a lot more depth than I can here. I suggest you read the book in full and work hard to understand the powers of influence to help you find it easier to break through peoples bias against change.

Minimize the Perception of Risk and Uncertainty

This ties in to some degree with the concept of social proof stated above. However, the implications go beyond just the need to follow the crowd. It is always helpful if you have a large customer base to use as examples of success stories, but that is not always the case.

Even when you do have customer stories, you still need to approach your communications with the goal of alleviating the perception of risk and uncertainty. To do that, messaging and engagement need to be less complex.

It is difficult to dummy down a complex business solution, but generally, you can:

  • Stop using business cliches and acronyms that no one has ever heard of. Speak in simple terms and create presentations and marketing materials that a child can understand.
  • Build consensus with your prospective buyer, so that they feel like they are creating the solution WITH you. To do this you need to start on their side of the table. This is one of those simple principals of persuasion that suggests you will get more people to come along with you if you find common ground first. If people buy in, conceptually, they are less likely to feel the fear of risk and uncertainty.
  • Listen more than you speak. If you ask the right questions, and listen to the answers, you are likely to find the nuggets of insights you can then use to frame the context of the entire sales process. The beauty of listening is that you get a sense of the customers situation, but also the language they use to describe things in their world. 

Ultimately what you are after is the elimination of confusion through the elimination of complexity. When something is simple, it gives the person trying to understand it a break. 

The simplest way to get more simple is to communicate in terms the prospects understand, and the outcomes they want to achieve. If you start on their side of the table, they will be more likely to understand what you are talking about, and less likely to feel concerned about risk and uncertainty.

Sell the Change the Buyer Likely Wants to Make

Another book that I think everyone in business should read is “The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results”.

The book delivers tremendously valuable insights, but there are two case studies that, in my view, illustrate the power of selling a small change vs selling a big change. One of the case studies was Dentsply selling cordless drills.

Dentsply had developed a cordless drill for dental practices. It was revolutionary at the time. They went to market on the merit of it being a cordless drill, and flopped. Dentists thought the drill was awesome, but they didn’t feel the need, strongly enough, to make a change.

It didn’t matter that the drill was a better drill than the drills with chords. The pain of using the old drills was not strong enough to compel the dentist to make the change.

So, Dentsply changed the game. They did some research to find out that dentists, across the board, struggle with the turnover of their hygienists. This was a terrible source of aggravation for dental practice owners.

With the insights developed from the research, Dentsply was able to link their cordless drill to carpal tunnel syndrome, which was one of the main factors that had hygienists quitting their jobs.

The sales of cordless drills went through the roof.

Why?

Because Dentsply was no longer aligning their product with a change the dentist didn’t want to make. They aligned their product with a change the dentist was desperate to make. All the dentist needed to do was change their perspective on the value of the drill. 

That change in perspective is much smaller, and therefore less painful, than a complete change in the use of drills with or without chords.

This is where understanding your buyers, independent of your solutions, comes in handy. You need to develop the deep buyer insights that help you understand what issues are most pressing for your prospects, and then try to align your solution to those issues. 

Conclusion: What’s At Stake?

Breakthrough growth comes with near flawless execution of your sales and marketing efforts. Depending on the size of your company, or the growth objectives you desire, you could have hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

So why not do the up front work to get it right from the start?

The up front work I am talking about is gaining a deep understanding of your buyer/buyers, so you can engage them in a way that allows you to work within and overcome their inherent bias.

Once we start to accommodate the notion that we need to put aside, for a moment, the temptation to present how awesome our solution is, and instead focus on the changes our buyers want and need to make, we can start to:

  • Gain a deeper sense of what our buyers are trying to accomplish. Ask better questions and listen more.
  • Align with what they already want to change so you don’t have to convince them they need to change
  • Take the risk factor out of the equation
  • Lead them to the conclusion that your solution can help them change

One way or another, if you can adjust your approach, you will sell more effectively and efficiently.

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