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How to Effectively Overcome the Status Quo in Sales

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The pace of innovation is increasing. The result: business leaders face many paths forward but few lead to success.

What remains clear is that businesses must advance given that “some 25-30 per cent of overall revenues are expected to come from new sources of business,” according to research from McKinsey. Despite this finding, businesses are more reluctant than ever to change.


The answer is a bias toward the status quo. This emotional bias is a preference for the current state. The status quo is what we view as normal. All humans share an affinity for the status quo.

Today’s complex array of choices is strengthening this preference for continuity. Sales professionals see the status quo bias when they engage customers who are hesitant to move forward. Therefore, sales professionals must often show customers that the status quo is more than a deferred choice.

In truth, the status quo is a strategic decision. It is a choice to apply past practises to future challenges. Some call this tendency “active inertia.” Academic and researcher Donald Sull explains that active inertia occurs because “initial success reinforces management’s belief that they should fortify their success formula.” Active inertia is a problem because the past is not a prologue in a world of accelerating change.

Sales professionals need to understand how to overcome the status quo. Doing so will empower them to navigate the largest obstacle to winning the sale.

5 Techniques that Will Help Your Sales Team Overcome the Status Quo

  1. Drive Consensus: Sales professionals must drive consensus to win the sale. The reason for this strategy is two-fold. First, buying decisions today come from groups, not individuals. Technology has automated, basic transactional sales. Therefore, sales professionals increasingly find themselves handling “high-touch” sales. These opportunities involve more stakeholders because the financial implications are significant. More stakeholders mean sales professionals must coalesce support among a group. Second, sales professionals are more likely to overcome the status quo by garnering help from the stakeholders. It’s easier for a customer to bypass a cognitive bias when they see that at least one other stakeholder has already done so themselves.
  2. Use the Framing Effect: A preference for the status quo often arises from the loss aversion bias. This bias is characterised by our tendency to avoid a loss rather than experience an equivalent gain. That is, we view the pain of a loss as more intense than the joy of a gain even when the value of the two is identical. The framing effect helps to overcome this inherent bias. Psychologists Amos Tversky and Nobel Prise winner Daniel Kahneman conducted groundbreaking work in this area of study. They learnt that individuals often make decisions based on how the benefits and drawbacks are presented. This has important implications for sales professionals because it illustrates how the choice to buy stems from more than just economic value. It also stems from context. For example, Kahneman and Tversky learnt that a person will view a cost differently based on whether it is presented as an uncompensated loss or “as a cost incurred to achieve some benefit.” This finding means that sales professionals must remember to place the value of the solution in the context of the customer’s real-world, nuanced challenge.
  3. Keep Messaging Concise: A purchasing decision is just one of many projects on the customer’s desk. Each of these priorities demands working memory, which is a finite resource. At the same time, technology is introducing more communication channels into our world. As a result, working memory is increasingly taxed. Cognitive load theory suggests three ways to overcome this problem by crafting messages that consider the listener’s intrinsic load, extraneous load and germane load.
  4. Drive Momentum: Deals that stall rarely close. The customer has many priorities pulling them in different directions. Therefore, sales professionals need to drive momentum. Doing so, however, means more than prompting the customer to take the next step. True momentum means reaching a point where the customer, not the sales professional, asks, “What’s the next step?” The sales professional’s challenge in reaching this point is overcoming the distractions involved in long buying cycles, changing requirements, stakeholder disagreements and competitor influences. Overcoming these challenges requires the sales professional to take full stock of their strengths, vulnerabilities and gaps in their understanding of the customer’s position. This step allows the sales professional to align the solution’s value to the customer’s unique needs. This alignment happens when the customer sees evidence-based results from others who have used the solution. Measure momentum by listening to the customer’s responses. Are they short, or are they detailed and full of information?
  5. Balance Logic and Emotion: With so much at stake, buyers often express devotion to facts and logical decision making. However, there is much more at work beneath this exterior. Customers are people, and emotions drive people. Research from Bain shows just how prevalent emotions are in the choice to buy. In one study, researchers found that the customer’s needs fall within a spectrum that includes more than price and ROI. For example, factors relating to ease of doing business, the individual, and even inspiration are all “elements of value,” according to their findings. Within these elements are “things that enhance relationships between parties, such as a good cultural fit and a seller’s commitment to the customer organisation.” The takeaway for sales professionals is that appealing to logic alone will not suffice. While the customer may signal that they’re focused only on “the facts,” they are in fact governed by emotion like the rest of us. Take the time to investigate what excites the customer.
While the status quo seems immovable to most, in truth, businesses must change by committing to new solutions to remain competitive in today’s world of escalating change. Therefore, sales professionals who understand why the status quo persists and its psychological underpinnings are suited to win the sale.
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