Because the ultimate decision to change the status quo has very little to do with your solution.
This article is about the realities B2B companies face when trying to sell complex business solutions. It is applicable to any B2B company, but even more relevant to companies just getting started in an existing market, or creating new markets all together.
The article is also 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.”
I have been selling B2B business solutions since I got out of graduate school in 1994. There are a few things I have learned along the way.
- People don’t make buying decisions based on logic and reason. This makes things like ROI and vendor-centric value propositions limited in value.
- Status quo is almost always perceived to be more pleasant than a new way of doing things. This is true even when the new way would result in greater success, at a lower total cost.
- Fear of uncertainty and risk drive most business decisions. The is true even when buyers are not aware that they are fearful of uncertainty and risk.
If I could turn back the clocks, go back in time to the beginning of my career, I would focus on one thing over all else: Understanding the psychology of change.
People Make a Change When The Status Quo Becomes too Painful
People don’t eat lettuce and go to the gym because you tell them how awesome life will be if they do. I’d be willing to bet my life that a finely tuned weight loss calculator does absolutely nothing to motivate the unmotivated to get in shape.
People eat better and work out because they can’t stand not being able to walk from the kitchen to the living room without dying from exhaustion.
They know the benefits of working out and eating healthier food. The benefits don’t compel them to change.
They change because the state of being fat and out of shape becomes more painful than skipping desert and walking around the block.
The same holds true for companies buying business solutions.
If someone is buying a business solution, it is because they have concluded, on their own, or with your help, that the status quo is more painful than making a change.
“While we may look at them, thinking their problems are huge or they are missing opportunities, until they describe how much it hurts, they are not likely to take action. We cannot tell them, “you have a huge amount of pain.” Until the customer says, “This is no longer tolerable, I need to do something about it,” we can’t move forward.” David Brock
In fact, the solution is ancillary to the change. If they want the change, your solution is but a means to that end.
That is a big “if”.
Most people prefer the status quo, and will suffer through it to avoid the agony they believe or fear a change will bring.
People Resist Change, No Matter How Logical
I once sold an innovative software solution that cost a small business owner less than $200 a month to market their services. In one engagement, I was up against replacing a $5000 per month investment in the Yellow Pages. The year was 2010, long after Yellow Page advertisements were determined to be next to useless.
My solution would have put the company in front of their most likely next customer faster and more cost-effectively than just about anything he had tried up to the time he met me. And it would have cost less than $200 per month.
My approach to selling was to use logic and reason in presenting what in my mind was a ridiculously easy choice. The business owner could have tried my service for 2 years for the price of one month of his current marketing strategy.
In the end, and to my surprise, he decided to stick with his investment in the Yellow Pages and literally said to me, “I know it doesn’t work, but I fear leaving because my competition is there.”
My solution was new to this business owner. Regardless of it’s cost, or ROI or even the savings as compared to his current investment, he didn’t want to move forward with me. I had done my job presenting value, and still walked away without the deal.
The hard part about B2B sales isn’t understanding the value of what you sell. It isn’t even communicating the value to your prospect.
The hard part is that you are selling against a force of nature that is hard wired into every single one of the people you encounter. This force is people’s resistance to innovation, creativity, really, anything that represents a change from the status quo.
And the worst part is, people will rational their resistance to change as if they are making a logical decision.
Rationalizing the Resistance to Change
I was determined to find out why people were turning me away. I needed to understand why I wasn’t selling when it seemed that I was the safest bet.
I really wanted to know why someone would turn away from something that cost much less than what they were currently doing, and would likely be more effective.
So, I went out to Google, in the form of a search, to find some answers as to why people were so hesitant to invest in innovative solutions, even when it didn’t cost much to do so.
What I found out was that people are inherently afraid of innovative solutions because they represent risk and uncertainty.
Fear of Uncertainty and Risk
I don’t remember what I typed in the Google search box, but whatever it was, I found this link to a research paper about the bias against creativity.
The study was conducted as a result of the desire to understand why people seem to crave but reject creative ideas.
While the study was not conducted specifically to address my concerns, the conclusions reached, in my view, have deep implications to the world of sales and marketing.
In summary, the researchers discovered:
- People have a bias against creativity because they have a bias against uncertainty and risk.
- The bias is subconscious, demonstrating that even people who believed themselves to be innovators, were in fact, terribly averse to creative or innovative ideas due to the subconscious perception of the risk and uncertainty that comes with innovation.
- People believe they are making logical and rational decisions, when in reality, they are avoiding risk and uncertainty, EVEN WHEN THE INNOVATIVE IDEA IS THE SAFEST COURSE OF ACTION
They Don’t Know and Therefore Can’t Tell You
The last part there, the one about people believing they are making logical and rational decisions, is to me, as a sales professional, the scariest thing I have ever read.
In simple terms, the people you encounter on a daily basis, the ones who you think are prospective buyers, are not only fighting with their own internal bias against change, they are not aware enough of the actual reasons they don’t want to buy what you are selling.
If they were aware of the fear, they could articulate their concerns to you, allowing you to address their concerns, alleviate their fear, and likely close more deals.
The opposite is true, however, when they are deluding themselves into thinking they are making a rational choice to send you away, leaving you to wonder how the hell someone could make such a bad choice.
Implications for B2B Sales and Marketing: Overcoming Bias Against Change
From my perspective, buyers bias against change presents a major obstacle for effective sales and marketing performance. If you don’t understand it, you run the risk of spinning cycles where the buyer does nothing. You will also lose deals to your competition without really knowing why.
You can take steps to mitigate the negative impact on your sales and marketing process. It is easier said than done, but one of the first steps is to become obsessively buyer-centric.
If your buyers have a bias against change, you have no choice but to work even harder at gaining deep insights into the world of your buyer. It isn’t good enough to understand how your buyers think as it pertains to you and your solution. You have to go deeper, to understand how they think, feel and interpret their ecosystem.
- How do they think?
- Why do they think that way?
- What are their beliefs?
- Why do the have those beliefs?
- What are their desired outcomes?
- Why do they desire those outcomes?
- How do they make decisions?
These are but a few of the questions you need to be answering at a macro level, across your entire audience, and at the target account level. And you need to answer these questions absent consideration for your own solution.
At the start, you don’t want to know how they think about you. You need to know how they think about themselves.
Once you understand how they think about themselves, you can begin to align your solution with their ecosystem.
If you ignore the existence of this bias against change, you run the risk of making your entire customer acquisition effort guess work. You will lose deals you should have won.
You will not grow at the rate you desire.
Conclusion: What’s At Stake?
If you want to achieve breakthrough growth, the stakes are pretty high. Ignoring the need to address the bias of your buyers potentially puts hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.
I didn’t write this article with the goal of making you an expert in the psychology of the bias against change. I don’t think either of us needs to be an expert.
All we need is the understanding that people don’t like change, why they don’t like change and how we can adjust our strategy to reflect this bias against change.
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.