Everybody Wants Change, Nobody Wants TO Change

Change Comes From ChallengeIn 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.

The Problem…

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

In Conclusion…

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.

For more articles on similar topics, follow me on Twitter 


Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff 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

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Challenger Marketing: TaylorMade

Following is an excellent Challenger marketing example from TaylorMade, that takes the conventional wisdom and turns it on its head. Of course, this is requisite for disrupting the status quo.

I’d be remiss in not calling out Corporate Visions who first brought this example to my attention in their post titled A story “TaylorMade” to win.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff 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.

1-Question Test of Sales Effectiveness

Sales Effectiveness and Status Quo | Repeatable SuccessAs a general principle, we in the profession of Sales seek to disrupt the Status Quo of our prospects. This is good…and appropriate. Too often, there is one behavior that sales reps exhibit, that can completely undermine their effectiveness in closing the sale.

Following is a simple, one question test. Your answer to this one question will help you determine if you too, may be exhibiting the same behaviors and at risk of compromising your effectiveness in the sales process.

What does the Orange ball represent?

If the picture above were representative of you selling to prospects, what does the orange ball represent? Before racing to find the right answer as so many of us performance-driven and competitive sales people are inclined to do, I would encourage you to pay more attention to your gut response to the question, and less on solving ‘what’s the right answer.’

Common responses to this question typically include:

  • “Standing out from the competition”
  • “Differentiating our solution from others”
  • “Being seen as a Trusted Advisor”

None of the aforementioned answers are bad, nor are they wrong for any sales professional to desire. But key to understand is that these are all byproducts of something much more important.

Misplaced Focus

In each of the representative answers above, notice what was the intended focus for the prospect — Company, Solution, Rep. What did we start out with saying was our primary aim in the sales process? Disrupting the status quo! For the Challenger Sale rep, this is reframing how prospects see the unanticipated or underappreciated aspects of their business problems through commercial teaching and insight.

If that is our primary aim that is critical to making the sale, then why on earth would we want to distract their focus from seeing their business problems with absolute [and painful] clarity. To prematurely talk about or point to anything other than the business problems that are currently, negatively impacting the prospect, causes the prospect to shift focus from resolving their status quo to resolving in their mind, “Relative to other companies, solutions, reps I have dealt with, how do I like this one?”

The orange ball should represent the prospect’s focus on their business problem, not your solution!

Seller’s Paradox

While we certainly want to be seen as trusted advisors that stand out from the competition with our differentiated solutions, the more we keep the focus on those aspects about ourselves, our solutions and our organization, the more we look and sound just like everybody else.

There has been tremendous research and studies done on how we make decisions. The layman’s version of the findings is that prospects tend to see more similarities between organizations, solutions and reps than differences. Therefore, when we focus on these aspects about ourselves, here is what the prospect sees…

Disrupting Status Quo | Repeatable Success

Question — If this is truly how prospects see suppliers and their products, what do you suppose becomes the differentiator for how to make their decision? If you said “Price,” you are absolutely right. The answer is not in differentiating ourselves through solution or organization.

Repeatable Success Tip

To stand out in the ‘sea of sameness’ is not to point out how different you are, especially since the majority are already doing that. To repeatedly stand apart from the competition with a differentiated solution is to help prospects see their problems differently. When you effectively do this, the byproduct is that they will see you differently.

Key to this whole process, though is to keep your solution out of the conversation until the end when they have clearly understood the problem. To insert ‘solution’ between you and their problem forces a feature and benefit comparison to what they have already looked at. As my good friend from Sandler constantly says, “Focus on the Problem, not the Solution!”

That’s a good tip for leading to Repeatable Success!

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff 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.

Is ‘Status Quo’ Perception or Reality?

Disrupting Status Quosta•tus quo

/ˈstātəs ˈkwō/ – Noun: The existing state of affairs, esp. regarding social or political issues: “they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo”

“Status Quo” – The condition we all are describing these days. Whether talking about sales, marketing, innovation or strategy, our aim is always the same…to “disrupt the status quo.” But, this is commonly misunderstood.

While my aim for this post will center around salespeople disrupting the customer’s status quo, I believe you will find this relevant in all of its uses.

The Current Use and Understanding

Many of us in the Sales and Marketing community refer to ‘Status Quo’ quite frequently, and I would argue rightfully so. In fact, two of the foremost thought-leaders in this area, from my perspective, are Corporate Visions and CEB as their research and descriptions of the conditions and need for change are quite compelling.

When we talk and read about the status quo as our biggest competitor in the context of customers, we can misunderstand what is really meant. There is a tendency to infer that the customer has two choices – stay the same or change. I would like to reframe how we view status quo, and more importantly how we help prospects understand there is no such thing as staying the same.

A New Understanding

To properly understand Status Quo, let’s reorient back to the original Latin definition – “An existing state of affairs.” What this is speaking of is a condition at a particular point in time. In other words, there are literally hundreds of thousands of things that took their course to lead a customer, prospect, business, etc. to the point where they are now…at this point in time. This all has led to an “existing state of affairs.”

Where this tends to be misunderstood, whether by the sales rep or the prospect, is to treat the status quo as a condition that will likely stay the same unless acted upon. This is a wrong understanding. In fact, the image I used above has it exactly right…Status Quo has a downward trajectory, but is most certainly not level.

Consider it from a financial reporting perspective. If you were looking at a P/L statement or Balance Sheet, you would have a snapshot of your business at ‘a particular point in time,’ which describes the existing state of affairs. While there could certainly be some predictive qualities inferred from either of those financial reports, it does not guarantee that doing things the same way will produce the same results.

On a side note, this is one of the  biggest problems I encounter when working with businesses whose growth has stagnated or declined. They tend to look back to more lucrative times and conditions and subsequently try to repeat what they had once done. This doesn’t work unless all of the other variables that were existent at the time years ago are exactly the same today. As you can imagine, this is rarely the case.

Don’t confuse what I am saying with companies that return to the fundamentals. Returning to fundamentals is often a good thing for organizations…provided their fundamentals were appropriate in the first place. I am referring more to organizations that try to recreate their past like the ‘no-longer popular’ college student that desperately tries to recreate his high-school glory days.

A Different Kind of Conversation with Prospects

With the perspective of financial reports not being a guarantee of future results, consider changing your perspective on what you are truly trying to “disrupt” when talking with prospects who are afraid to change.

Their perspective is most often one in which they believe what they are doing today is known and has some predictability that will lead to predictable results. Your conversations should help them understand that if they are not currently leading to improvements they were hoping and expecting to see, things will only get worse. You already know that if they are entertaining a conversation with you, that they are not seeing the results they had hoped for. Your proof points should be inserted at this point in your conversational choreography to bring the point home.

In Summary

If you are struggling to disrupt the prospect’s status quo, it most likely due to your failure to help them see the consequences of not changing, and leaving the prospect with the impression that what they are doing today will still work going forward. Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Corporate Visions, often shares the following comments based on CEB’s research conducted with 5,000 buyers and decision makers that speak with salespeople:

86% of buyers said that the rep’s message, what they communicated in a meeting or phone call, had NO commercial impact whatsoever to them. In essence, they came away with the belief that what they are currently doing right now, the Status Quo, is okay and they themselves are okay. How do they know? The Sales Reps led them to believe that was the case because there was nothing to suggest otherwise in their communication.

When you speak with prospects, does your communication suggest any reason for change?

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff 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.

Effective Presentations: Communicate with Impact

Exercise in FutilityRecently, 2,500 Children’s Ministry Directors from around the country convened in Chicago to attend KidMin, a conference dedicated to their profession. I had the distinguished privilege of leading a workshop for an audience in which was far different from those I have traditionally worked with before.

Nevertheless, my objective was the same regardless of profession, topic, or other. My primary goal was to create dissatisfaction with the attendees’ status quo and compel a different way of thinking about and solving their issues.

This did not mean giving a compelling ‘speech’ or ‘presentation,’ but rather creating an impactful experience. This is often easier said than done.

Experiencing the gravity of their problems is different from talking about the gravity of their problems!”

It is easy to stand up front and tell people about the problems they are experiencing. At best, you will earn credibility, but that is not enough to compel people to change. The status quo can feel pretty comfortable to most people. Despite the gravity of a person’s problems, significant behavioral change rarely comes from the safety of a shared observation, but rather from their own experience. Experiencing the gravity of their problems is different from talking about the gravity of their problems.

Experiential vs. Presentation
In order to help these Directors better understand the gravity of what they were dealing with, and the impending consequences of not addressing the issues in a different way, I needed to create a constructive tension between their current status (Status Quo) and where they were aiming to be.

Therefore, I created an experience that would help the attendees ‘feel’ the impact of the problem rather than tell them about the impact. The experience was as follows.

Creating the Experience
When we went to our breakout session, I organized people into smaller groups giving each group five different sized boulders (larger than a softball, but smaller than a bowling ball).

The first part of the exercise was to discuss within their group the biggest issues they were all facing. They would then agree on the top 5 issues and use a marker to write their biggest problem on the biggest boulder, using a word that best described the issue they were facing. Then they would do the same with the 2nd through 5th issue on each respective boulder.

As we reconvened, I selected one volunteer to come to the front to serve as our representative Director. We loaded a backpack full of the five boulders, identifying each one as they went into the pack. Then I had her put the backpack on and describe the immediate impact. She shared that it was heavy, but she was okay for the moment. A term for what she was experiencing, coined by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), would be Rational Drowning.

I went on to talk with her about how she dealt with each of these issues on a daily basis and the impact this had in shifting her focus from where she was aiming to take her ministry, compared to the urgent focus of trying to solve the problems (i.e., The boulders in her backpack). During our discussion, she shifted her weight and adjusted the pack due to the weight. Here I used the physical impact to lead to her Emotional Impact, another CEB term.

Standing on stage, she described [through tears] that she was incapable of solving those issues. They were too overwhelming for her to handle all at once. She also realized that these issues were lessening her effectiveness with her children in the ministry as well as supporting her volunteers. you could have heard a pin drop from the other attendees, because in large part, this was their story too.

The Moral of the Story
As you can imagine, there is a lot more to this story and what we unpacked in our sessions together at the convention. But the point of this article is merely to call out the importance of what we communicate and how.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I could have easily stood up front and ‘presented’ the scenario by talking about it. Heads would have nodded in agreement that the problems are real, and “Yes, I should do something about it,” but few would leave the convention changed, just inspired…or motivated. But we know where that leads.

Before I could talk with them about ‘Solutions,’ I had to effectively communicate in a way that would compel a change in their behaviors, away from the comfort of the status quo.

For those whose business requires communication with others (e.g., Sales, Marketing, Business, Ministry, etc.), consider creating experiences that draw people into the center of their own story.

In CEB’s Challenger model, this would be the process of leading them from Rational Drowning, where they recognize the story (with a sense of distance), into Emotional Impact in which they recognize it is their story. It is at this point where change begins to occur.

I would love to hear your stories of how you have created experiences to deepen the message you were communicating.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff 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.

Challenger Choreography

Challenger Choreography

Challenger Choreography vs. Unchallenged Choreography

Following are the talking points for each of the 4 slides, which are based upon CEB’s Challenger Choreography:

Slide 1: CEB’s Challenger Choreography – See CEB’s description in the book, ‘The Challenger Sale’

Slide 2: A non-Challenger Rep’s natural tendency to keep things light-hearted and relational tends to be their primary approach to selling. Reps who shortcut the Challenger process will fail to become a Challenger as they are likely to emphasize two aspects of the choreography – The Warmer and Our Solution. They mistake the Warmer for being license to talk about themselves to build ‘credibility’ and then progress prematurely to talking about their ‘Solution.’ This is what I call “Unchallenging Choreography” as prospects were never challenged to look at things differently. Furthermore, this type of rep approach is the epitome of leading WITH solution, instead of TO.

Slide 3: Not only do reps have tendencies to talk about solutions, but prospects go there quickly as well. With customers 57% of the way through the buying cycle (or greater) before engaging a rep, prospects want to go straight to what they believe they already know, without getting bogged down in what is truly the root of the problem. They self-diagnose. But without getting down to the root, no fruit (i.e., The Sale) is likely to be produced, because they see any number of products/solutions being viable. More often, 2/3 of them will remain with the Status Quo as they saw no compelling reason to change. If they were to consider change, it will likely come down to price when the rep fails to redirect how they are thinking about things (Reframe) and walk them all the way through the implications of remaining the same (Emotional Impact).

Slide 4: Reps can mistake the choreography for meaning that they should do most of the talking when ‘teaching,’ which more often sounds like arrogant lecturing. This slide aims to help reps see a balance in their approach. As such, there are a few components to be aware of in the breakout of the three stages I have created, so as not to misinterpret what this slide is meant to portray:

  • The six stages of the choreography are broken into three major categories – Insight, Impact and Solution – as a means for remembering the choreography
  • When working through the choreography, important to remember is that Teaching, Tailoring and Taking Control are not sequential steps, but are prevalent throughout the choreography
  • Similarly, Teaching, Listening and Leading are also important throughout the choreography as is appropriate to the conversation, and therefore should be used as a framework rather than an absolute rule
    • Teaching. In the first stage (Warmer to Reframe), the aim is to establish credibility by demonstrating you really understand customers like them, and to start to ‘Teach’ them a different way to think about their problems. For many businesses, this stage does not take long at all and should represent minimal talking done by the rep, despite the balance of the introductory comments tipping in the rep’s favor.
    • Listening. The second stage (Rational Drowning to Emotional Impact) begins to shift the balance of talking quite quickly to the prospect, as the rep skillfully asks questions post reframe that helps prospects see themselves in the center of the story. Reps should make sure to be in listening mode, while continuing to redirect prospects back down to the ‘root’ of the matter, as they are likely to want to surface. Additional ‘Tailoring’ is necessary here as prospect’s tendency, will not only be to surface, but also to generalize the depth of their problems and impact to their business.
    • Leading. The third and final stage (A New Way to Our Solution) requires the rep to lead the discussion at this point. If stage 1 and 2 have been done appropriately, the prospect recognizes they have a problem that needs to be addressed quickly, but they don’t know how to do it at this point. Therefore, at the ‘New Way’ phase of the choreography, they are asking a question such as, “Is there a solution for this.” Before jumping to your ‘Solution,’ they need to understand specifically what any solution must entail if it is going to resolve their issues. This description should be identical to the aspects your solution is uniquely designed to do. If it describes what competitors solutions also do, you have failed to lead specifically TO YOU. This is why your ‘leading’ them through this part of the choreography is critical.

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Jeff Michaels | Repeatable Success

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.