You’re probably all too well aware of the statistic that the majority of apparently well-qualified complex B2B buying journeys end with the potential customer either deciding to do nothing or to change nothing.
For most salespeople, their most powerful competitor is actually not another vendor, but the status quo. In an increasingly risk-averse environment, if your prospective customer is not absolutely convinced of the need to change, they are likely to decide to stick with what they already have.
Unless and until they perceive that the risk of failing to act significantly outweighs the risk of change, they are likely to conclude that they can afford to stay as they are - at least for a while...
This tendency to avoid risk is compounded by the increasing number of stakeholders who find themselves involved in the customer’s decision-making process. Research by the CEB, Gartner and the Challenger group has shown that the larger the decision team, the harder it is to achieve consensus.
And in the absence of consensus, the status quo is likely to prevail.
Decision confidence is increasingly recognised as a critical success factor. If your potential customer has any reservations about whether they really need to act, which option they need to choose or whether your proposed solution is really likely to deliver the desired outcomes, the best you can hope for is a potentially lengthy delay until they have reconciled their doubts. Or they may simply decide to kick the project into the long grass.
Decision confidence has three critical components:
A “no” or “not sure” against any of these factors is likely to delay their buying journey until it has been resolved.
That’s why - in complex B2B sales environments and particularly in situations where the customer does not yet feel obliged to take action - your salespeople need to sell against the status quo every bit as hard as they sell against competitive vendors and for the perceived merits of your proposed solution.
If your salespeople cannot defeat the status quo, they are going to struggle to successfully sell your solution. If your potential customer has been coping with an existing problem up until now, they might assume that they can continue to get away with their current approach.
And if the problem is a brand-new one, some members of the customer’s decision team might well question whether change is really necessary and even if it is, whether the organisation could afford to wait rather than rushing to implement a “solution”.
That’s why an essential element of your salespeople’s discovery process must be to understand and develop the full potential for loss and other threats associated with their prospective customer’s current situation. And they shouldn’t assume that these will always be visible to the customer.
Even if some of the threats are acknowledged by the customer, your salespeople have a critical role in helping them to recognise the full implications, and to help the customer recognise that the costs and consequences of inaction may be higher than they initially thought.
It may well be that the customer has failed to fully recognise all the positive opportunities arising from change - or they may be struggling to convince themselves and everyone else involved in the decision of the positive outcomes they could confidently expect. Your salespeople need to reframe the customer’s thinking.
The wider the value gap between the negative risks and consequences of sticking with the status quo and the positive benefits of implementing a change programme, the more likely your customer is to act. According to Nobel prize-winning behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman, people and organisations are 2-3 times more likely to change to avoid a loss than they are in the hope of a gain.
But if your salespeople can combine the two (cost of inaction plus benefits of change) they have a potentially unstoppable argument. Which makes it all the more curious that an analysis of typical B2B sales proposals shows that they currently stress “why buy us” far more than they promote “why change?”
As with so many other sales effectiveness issues, the answer lies in better discovery. Top performing salespeople invest far more time in discovery and qualification than their less effective colleagues. As a result, they run with better qualified deals and enjoy shorter sales cycles and higher win rates.
But managers have a key role to play, as well. In your next round of opportunity and forecast reviews, rather than just addressing the question of why your salesperson believes they will win, ask they what they have done to convince the customer that they need to take urgent action.
And rather than just focusing on winning against competitive vendors, get your salespeople to explain their strategy for competing against the status quo. Simply reporting that the customer has a qualified need isn’t enough - they should also be able to tell you specifically what they have done to develop the customer’s decision confidence.
What’s your experience of equipping your sales organisation to compete against the status quo?
CEO at Inflexion-Point, the UK-based B2B sales and marketing performance improvement specialists. Inflexion-Point helps B2B organisations to design and implement highly effective customer acquisition systems based on a combination of the winning habits of their top sales performers and the latest industry best practices.