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Defining the Status Quo Bias in Sales
The status quo bias explains a customer’s reluctance to make changes in their business model because of an irrational emotional bias for the current state. Sales professionals encounter 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 this article, we explore the status quo bias in sales and provide solutions for overcoming your customer’s status quo bias.
Changes in Buyer Behavior Are Perpetuating the Status Quo in Sales
Buyers face more challenges than ever. These challenges stem from two characteristics of business today.
- More information is coming from more channels. Buyers must work harder to understand this data. This characteristic of business is so common that many use the shorthand “VUCA” to describe a landscape that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
- Business leaders who do try to move forward find themselves restricted by outdated practices.
These two factors have resulted in a buyer profile that is in constant flux. For many, it’s counterintuitive that changes are working to perpetuate the status quo rather than uproot it.
Sales professionals can navigate the challenges that are sustaining the status quo. To do so, they must remember the six ways buyers are responding to today’s changing environment.
1. Buyers are Better Informed
Buyers have access to more information than ever before. They want an opportunity to understand their options before meeting with a sales professional. The challenge for sales professionals is understanding what the customer knows. Moreover, sales professionals must understand how the customer’s access to information has shaped their thinking.
Customers are coming to the table with preconceived notions of what is valuable and meaningful. In many cases, the customer’s findings do not track with the sales professional’s value message. More information perpetuates the status quo because the customer must reconcile disparate pieces of information that often do not agree with one another.
2. Resources are Falling
Many companies today rely on lean management. Therefore, they allocate resources with intense oversight. This tight control of resources is clearest at the beginning and end of the sales cycle.
Early in the sales process, the sales professional may encounter a procurement specialist. This person might be unwilling to grant access to decision-makers without first getting the full scope of all costs associated with the solution. At the end of the cycle, sales professionals must often address the CFO or a member of the finance team. These professionals need to see that the resources allocated to the solution will yield a return.
Resources include more than capital. The customer needs to see that implementing the solution is worth their time. With ROI demands high, customers are less willing to move on a solution.
3. Stakeholders are Increasing
Buying decisions involve an increasing number of stakeholders. Each stakeholder represents a unique need and enters the buying cycle at a different time. They also leave the picture as teams and responsibilities change.
More people means more opportunities for progress to stall or stop entirely because of the number of competing priorities multiplies with the addition of each new decision-maker. The dynamics and direction of influence between decision-makers is another layer of complexity in the selling process.
One doubting voice among the team is enough to unravel an otherwise certain sale.
4. Skepticism is Rising
The Great Recession left many skeptical of businesses. Since then, headlines of unethical practices have eroded trust further. Skepticism is evident not just in the US, but across the globe.
People are uncertain about the future of the economy. This ambivalence translates into risk-averse behavior. Customers are unsure whether a viable solution today will be effective tomorrow. Increasingly, customers only trust what they have experienced for themselves, which is the status quo.
5. Demands are Growing
With more options available, customers are becoming less tolerant of sales professionals seeking to understand their business. Sales professionals are expected to bring new information and value to every interaction. Without these insights, the customer is likely to walk away, not help the sales professionals get up to speed. Simply put: there’s no such thing as a seller’s market.
Customers don’t want to be “sold” to. Customers understand the abundance of data available today. Therefore, they expect sales professionals to be ready in the first interaction to deliver ideas that offer measurable results. The runway is short. This characteristic of customers means fewer sales professionals and solutions satisfy the baseline. As a result, companies choose to not move forward.
6. Commoditization is Spreading
Technology has lowered barriers to entry in many industries. Small players in the market can leverage inexpensive digital tools to compete with the incumbents. Customers are benefiting from this new normal. They have access to many solutions, all of which offer effectiveness and ease of implementation at a low cost.
With so many good solutions at hand, customers are looking for more personalized value. Quality alone is not a selling feature, and fewer solutions address nuanced needs.
The Psychology Behind the Status Quo in Sales
The factors discussed in the previous section represent the business characteristics driving the status quo.
However, beneath these surface-level issues are psychological leanings that keep stakeholders from moving forward with a business decision. Sales professionals need to understand these principles for two reasons:
- Decision-makers tend to present themselves as purely rational beings governed by logic and facts. In truth, the psychology underpinning these decisions is quietly at work. When sales professionals learn to identify these traits, they’re better able to respond or even become proactive.
- Business challenges and stakeholder personalities differ, but we are all influenced by these impulses inherent to our thinking. If a sales professional can become adept at navigating these biases in one customer, they can do so in discussions with all customers.
Let’s explore some of the psychological underpinnings that prevent stakeholders from moving forward with business deals.
- The Endowment Effect: The endowment effect creates a scenario in which a person assigns a disproportionately large value to something simply because they own it.
- Confirmation Bias: Psychologists have called confirmation bias the common trait that takes many forms. Confirmation bias is the tendency to focus only on information that confirms our preconceived notions.
- Sunk Cost Fallacy: The sunk cost fallacy occurs when a person or group continues a strategy due to their financial investment in the endeavor. The sunk cost fallacy reminds us that it’s difficult to abandon a path after walking so many miles.
- Affect Heuristic: A heuristic is a mental shortcut used to solve a problem fast. When we rely on a “rule of thumb,” we’re using a heuristic. An affect heuristic is a rule of thumb arising from an emotional response. The affect heuristic arises when the decision-maker is under pressure. In these instances, there is not enough time to consider the full range of consequences and factors.
As sales professionals learn to identify these characteristics in their own thinking, they will be better prepared to spot them in the customer’s thought process. These biases are a reminder that sales professionals must do more than connect with the customer’s needs — they must connect with their psychology.
How to Overcome the Status Quo in Sales
When clients find themselves stuck in a “business as usual” mindset sales professionals can employ several techniques to overcome the status quo. Here we look at a few of these techniques and provide tips for executing them.
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.
A preference for the status quo often arises from the loss aversion bias. This bias is characterized by our tendency to avoid a loss rather than experience an equivalent gain.
The framing effect helps overcome this inherent bias. Psychologists Amos Tversky and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman conducted groundbreaking work in this area of study. They learned that individuals often make decisions based on how the benefits and drawbacks are represented. 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 learned 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-word, nuanced challenge.
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. Sales professionals should invest preparation time to ensure their positioning is short and clear to ensure it sticks in the minds of their customers.
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?
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. 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.