In the words of Dilbert creator, Scott Adams, “Change is good…you go first!” For most of us, this resonates. We all want to see it, but many fewer want to do it!
In Sales & Marketing, the impact of this reality is having devastating effects as their messages fail to compel prospects to break from status quo.
Spoiler Alert: Presenting benefits does not qualify as a compelling reason to break from status quo.
In a recent survey from just a few years ago, CEB researched the commercial impact of the rep’s message with senior executives and decision makers from a variety of industries that regularly interact with sales representatives.
Astonishingly, the results showed that 86% of the time, the rep’s message had no commercial impact whatsoever. This meant that only 14% of the time, the rep communicated their message in a way that suggested a reason for change.
Executives and Decision Makers from this survey commented that the reps they deal with believe their biggest enemy is their competition when in actuality, their biggest competition is what prospects are currently doing.
Tim Riesterer from Corporate Visions describes it by saying, “You walk in and throw up all over me about your products and services, but I’m not ready to hear about that yet. Your trying to convince me of ‘why you’ and I’m asking myself, ‘why change at all’?”
It Happens All the Time…
Some time ago, I was working with a rep that had called in to report on his progress after meeting with an important prospect. Our coaching in the previous week stressed the importance of making the case for change with the prospect. His style as a relationship builder was to encourage prospects to buy based on benefits and opportunities, but this was failing to yield meaningful results.
The minute I answered the phone and heard his voice, I knew that he had not succeeded. He proceeded to describe how “deeply entrenched in status quo” this prospect was, and therefore how impossible it would be to get him to change.
“Bringing about change is difficult,” I said. “Tell me what you said that specifically suggested there was a detriment to his business because of a circumstance or condition he previously didn’t understand or anticipate until talking to you?”
After 5 very uncomfortable seconds for the rep, he replied, “I wasn’t really focused on that. I was trying to get him to see how much better his business could be if he used our services.” Sound familiar?
There were a number of problems that needed to be corrected in his brief reply, but I pointed him to the fact that if the prospect had no idea how bad the problem was, he had no basis from which to evaluate “how much better his business could be.”
I also refocused him on the fact that his prospect was not alone in not wanting to change. He too, was failing to make a change that would bring him better results. I reminded him that it wasn’t this ‘opportunity to do better’ that initially caused him to engage my services. It was the imminent threat of him going deeper into performance counseling followed by separation of employment if he wasn’t willing to pursue a new way. He knew this was true and assured me he was serious about pursuing a new path.
UPDATE: To demonstrate his seriousness, the next day, he followed up with the same prospect, apologized for dancing around some things he wanted to share that concerned him about the path the prospect was on. The prospect gave him “5 minutes to make his case” over the phone.
That’s all he needed, so the rep took it, and showed the prospect how based on his current action, they were likely experiencing increased and unnecessary costs in an area that most companies don’t think to look. He gave the ranges for underperforming companies that experienced this, then directed the prospect to where he could find this data and validate for himself.
He then requested that if the prospect found his own company’s spend to be outside the acceptable range, to invite him back to make a more compelling case to the technology review board for a different way to eliminate the spend within 45 days. He received a call back that afternoon from the prospect confirming the findings [which were worse than they thought], and within 2 weeks, penned a 6-figure deal.
A Better Way…
You and I both know, not all stories like that have as happy of an ending. There are, however, three key points to doing this better and increasing your likelihood of success that apply equally to Sales AND Marketing.
- Reframe Thinking. For any change to occur, the prospect must think differently about their current problem or situation. Often times they’re not even aware of a problem until you present them with one. The key to effective reframes is to focus on how they should think differently about their circumstance/condition. Many make the mistake of working on getting prospects to think differently about their product or solution. Focus them on their problem, not your solution.
- Make a Rational Case. If you have successfully gotten your prospect to think about their circumstance, business, condition, etc. in a different way, you now must make a rational business case for why. Whether it be statistics, research, ROI calculator, or all of the above, it is critical you know the prospect’s economic drivers and make the intellectual business case for change. Identify in advance the specific outcomes they are seeking to achieve that are at risk.
- Make an Emotional Case. The old adage suggests, people buy emotionally, but justify the purchase logically. The previous step gave them the logical reason to rationalize their purchase, now you must connect emotionally. This is the critical place for making sure that the story your telling is the prospect’s story. One effective way to do this is to share a recent example/story based on what you’ve learned from your prospect. When done well, I often times have the prospect finish my story with their own. In other words, they are giving me the punchline for how the story ends, because it just happened to them.
A Message for Marketers…
It is common for Marketers to dismiss this approach as there can be a real reticence to create too much negativity or concern in the Marketing. Following are two different visual examples of companies that aren’t afraid to go there, and as a result, are causing people to think differently about the problem their products/services solve.
Example 1: Ameriprise Financial
Example 2: TaylorMade Golf
In the Ameriprise example, they ask a simple question that terrifies many people – those that are nearing retirement…and those that weren’t thinking about it at all.
The TaylorMade example does a great job of showing how everybody, including themselves got it wrong when trying to solve the problem of more distance off the tee.
While there is certainly more to the process, the key for this article is to call attention to the often overlooked cause for reps failure to progress in the sales cycle.
If you don’t challenge the status quo and make a case for change, the prospect’s dollars will be spent later with the competitor that actually does make a case for change.
To prevent this, it is critical that you learn to bankrupt their status quo account. Doing so will bring about very different results in intentional, predictable and repeatable ways.
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Jeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance