I was reading chapter Six in The Seller’s Challenge by Thomas Williams & Thomas Saine (Tom&Tom). This informative chapter about selling against the status quo reminded me that unless there is a compelling reason to change a prospect won’t. Great salespeople not only need to find or create pain in a prospect but be able to convince them to use your solution.
Finding The Pain
Create enough pain and the prospect will likely change. Or the prospect may already be in pain and recognizes the need to make a change. While pain is experienced emotionally as frustration, fear of failure or job insecurity, the source of pain is rational. Buyers are looking to solve problems of existing bad service, poorly functioning business processes, market changes, etc. Great salespeople ask good questions to find the source and severity of the pain.
Impediments To Change
Tom&Tom illustrate the difficulty of effecting change. Buyers like the comfort of the status quo. It’s easier to remain the same and scary to take the risk to change. When asking a prospect to choose us over the incumbent we face several obstacles:
- The incumbent with all their warts and failures is known. A new vendor is not.
- An incumbent has knowledge from servicing the customer; a new vendor doesn’t.
- Buyer’s fear your new solution won’t work as promised.
- Reluctance to change can be driven by the low cost of doing nothing. Whether all the true costs are factored in or not makes a difference.
- The users and influencers also have skin in the game. They may choose the status quo as the simplest, least risk solution.
Great salespeople are skilled at reducing the perceived risks to the buyer.
Follow The Sales Process
Ousting an entrenched competitor is a marathon, not a sprint. Great salespeople know the signs of opportunity and when to walk away. They look for the openness of high-level decision makers and influencers to speak with them about the problem. Money is always at the heart of a major decision. Will the prospect invest the funds needed to make a change in the status quo. What’s the urgency of solving the problem? Who is driving the need for change? Is there new ownership or management? Is there an internal sponsor disgruntled with the incumbent? Great salespeople invest time in building relationships with the key decision makers. They ask relevant questions to determine the severity of the pain and willingness to change. Great salespeople are skilled at discussing the problem in terms of cost (financial and emotional) and getting agreement on a budget sufficient to solve the problem. At any point when continued selling against the status quo seems futile, great salespeople have the courage to walk away.
A Simple Example Of Selling Against The Status Quo
When I was branch manger for a safety products distributor, one of my salesmen came to me complaining about a customer. Whenever this customer needed an item he called around to multiple distributors to get the lowest price. He was not loyal and only focused on the item cost of the immediate purchase. The salesman arranged for a meeting with this buyer. After some pleasant conversation, I asked about his practice of bidding each purchase. I asked about the cost of having multiple vendors, creating an invoice for each purchase and the cost of receiving multiple small payments. The buyer said: “that’s nice, but not relevant to me. When I sit down with my boss at review time I can show him I bought at the lowest cost each time. Those other costs may be real but they are incurred in someone else’s department.” After this conversation I recognized why this buyer was content with the status quo. If we were to have any influence in changing their buying practices, it would have to be at a higher corporate level.
What You Can Do Right Now
- Review the last several sales conversations you had to change a buyer’s behavior.
- Which ones were opportunities to move forward?
- What were the indicators that the prospect would change from the status quo?
Don Crawford & Lois Carter Crawford