How to Persuade Prospects to Leave the Status Quo

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Most B2B marketing and sales professionals recognize that their more formidable competitor is usually the status quo. The grip of the status quo can result in longer sales cycles, stalled deals, and the dreaded “no decision.”

Persuading prospects to move away from their status quo is a significant challenge, and there is no “silver bullet” technique or tactic that will work with every prospect. However, recent research by Corporate Visions has identified a messaging framework that can improve your odds of defeating the status quo.

The Corporate Visions Research

Corporate Visions (in association with Dr. Nick Lee, a professor of marketing at the Warwick Business School) designed an experiment to test what type of messaging is most effective at persuading business executives to move forward with a purchase. Corporate Visions discussed the experiment and the results in a very interesting report, but here’s a brief description of how the experiment worked.

Study participants were asked to imagine that they are an executive at a vegetable processing company. The company has traditionally processed vegetables in large batches using large-scale equipment, but the most promising growth opportunity is organic and specialty vegetables, which require small-batch processing. The company’s existing equipment is not suitable for small-batch processing.

Study participants were then divided into six groups, and each group was given a sales presentation relating to small-batch processing equipment. All of the presentations were economically equivalent, but each presentation used a different combination of message elements. After the presentation, each study participant rated the presentation based on how impactful he or she believed the message was across four dimensions:

  • How urgent is the need to purchase?
  • How important is the purchase to future growth?
  • Confidence that the purchase is a good business decision
  • How likely he or she would be to make the purchase right away
The presentation that scored highest in all four of the rated dimensions used three message elements – a description of the relevant business issue, followed by a description of unconsidered needs, followed by a detailed, quantitative ROI analysis.
In terms of breaking the grip of the status quo, the key element in this messaging framework is unconsidered needs. Corporate Visions identifies three basic types of unconsidered needs:

  • Unknown needs exist when there is a problem or risk that a potential buyer is unaware of.
  • Under-valued needs exist when a potential buyer is aware of a problem or risk, but doesn’t understand or appreciate its impact, or how quickly the impact will be felt.
  • Unmet needs exist when a potential buyer is aware of a problem or risk, but believes there’s no way to effectively address it.
Emphasizing unconsidered needs is a effective way to loosen the grip of the status quo for two reasons. First, it makes the potential buyer think about a problem or threat that he or she had not previously considered. But more importantly, unconsidered needs tap into the inherent human desire to avoid losses.
In the late 1970’s, research by psychologists Daniel Kahneman (who later won a Nobel Prize in economics) and Amos Tversky established three core principles of human decision-making:
  • When choices are framed in terms of gains, most people are risk averse. They will usually choose a certain benefit rather than a gamble that may produce a greater benefit or no benefit at all.
  • When choices are framed in terms of losses, most people become risk seeking. They will resist a choice that will result in a certain loss and will prefer a gamble that may result in a greater loss, but also may result in no loss at all.
  • Humans are more sensitive to losses than to gains. We are more likely to act to avoid losses than to win gains.
Unconsidered needs are effective for breaking the grip of the status quo because they enable us to frame the flaws or weaknesses of the prospect’s status quo as losses that are immediate, significant, and, most importantly, certain. When prospects recognize the reality of these losses, they become more willing to consider change.
Image courtesy of Nichole Burrows via Flickr CC.

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