B2B purchases come in all shapes and sizes, and B2B buying decisions are made under a wide variety of circumstances. The context of a buying decision includes – among other things – the cost of the product or service, the complexity of the product or service, how familiar the buyers are with the product or service, the amount of internal change the purchase will require, and buyers’ current or past experiences with a prospective vendor.
Collectively, these circumstances largely dictate the psychological factors that will influence buyers and the shape of their decision-making process. The result is, most B2B marketing and sales professionals must be ready to deal with multiple buying scenarios that usually call for different strategies, content, and messaging.
For example, acquiring a new customer presents marketers and sales reps a very different scenario than retaining an existing customer (at the current level or scope of business). And expanding your business with an existing customer presents a third scenario that has some elements of both customer acquisition and customer retention.
The Central Role of the Status Quo
Some marketing and sales pundits say that one vital key to success in all three of these scenarios lies in how marketers and sales reps address the status quo bias, which is typically defined as a cognitive bias that causes humans to prefer the status quo for non-rational reasons. If you think about it for even a few moments, it should become obvious that customer acquisition and customer retention call for dramatically different approaches for dealing with the status quo bias.
When your objective is to acquire new customers, the status quo is often your toughest competitor, and no sale can be made unless potential buyers first become willing to change their status quo. In this scenario, the first thing that marketing and sales content and messaging need to do is to weaken the grip of the status quo and convince prospects to make a change. Today, the most effective customer acquisition content and messaging uses disruptive insights to encourage prospective buyers to think differently about some aspects of their business.
The circumstances completely change with your objective is to retain existing customers. In this scenario, your company is the incumbent and part of the customer’s status quo. Therefore, the first thing that marketing and sales content and messaging need to do is to reinforce the status quo bias and use it to your advantage.
Customer Expansion is More Complex
The situation becomes more complex when your objective is to expand your business with existing customers. As noted earlier, customer expansion scenarios usually have elements of both acquisition and retention. Therefore, marketing and sales content and messaging will need to reinforce some aspects of the status quo and weaken others.
Corporate Visions has developed a content and messaging framework for addressing customer expansion scenarios. The framework is based on research conducted by Corporate Visions in partnership with Dr. Nick Lee, Professor of Marketing at the Warwick Business School in the UK. The study consisted of a test simulation or “experiment” of the kind widely used in academic psychological research.
This research tested five types of customer expansion messaging, and one message type proved to be more effective than the other four across several performance dimensions. The framework of the willing message has five components that are used sequentially. The following table shows the five message components and how Corporate Visions describes each component:
As the table shows, the winning message is a “hybrid” that both reinforces and challenges the status quo. It begins by documenting the value of your relationship with the customer (part of the status quo). But from that point on, it emphasizes the need for change and the positive results that the right kind of change will produce.
The bottom line is, most B2B companies derive revenue from multiple buying scenarios, and the impact of the status quo is different in each scenario. Therefore, marketing and sales professionals need to develop and use content and messaging that embodies an approach to the status quo that’s appropriate for each scenario.
Top image courtesy of Nichole Burrows via Flickr CC.
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How to Reinforce the Status Quo
What to Do When the Status Quo is Your Friend
How to Weaken the Grip of the Status Quo