What Causes Status Quo Bias? Quick Tips for Better Sales Follow-Up

September 17, 2015 | Brendan Cournoyer
What Causes Status Quo Bias? Quick Tips for Better Sales Follow-Up

“Sales conversations are a very scary world for marketers.”

This was one of my favorite quotes from Content Marketing World 2015, which I was once again lucky enough to attend in Cleveland last week.

It came from Tim Riesterer (@triesterer), chief strategy and marketing officer at Corporate Visions. I’ve seen Tim speak a few times before, including as part of a great panel last year that looked at content’s role in the sales enablement process.

Basically, when it comes to the topic of better sales conversations, Tim is one of the best in the business.

As I’ve said before, putting reps in position to have more successful conversations with buyers is really what sales enablement is all about. Content (and thus, marketing) obviously plays a big role in all this, but how do you know If your sales and marketing content is hitting the mark?

As Tim points out, it often comes down to whether your content and message is designed to answer one critical question for the buyer: “Why change?”

The ‘status quo bias’ factor

It’s been said that for most B2Bs, your biggest competitor isn’t another company; it’s the status quo. Tim’s session dove into this issue headfirst.

“80% of buyers actually make it to the end of the sales cycle and make NO DECISION,” he explained. “They choose to do nothing different and stay with the status quo. They didn’t choose a competitor; they chose not to change – because change is really hard.”

Now THIS is where things get interesting. Why are buyers so keen to stick with the status quo in the face of a problem? Because – in the eyes of the buyer – the CHANGE required to introduce a new solution is more painful than the problem itself. In this case, they’re naturally inclined toward a status quo bias that leads them to stand pat.

“Your enemy is the status quo bias – not a competitor,” says Tim, adding that salespeople need to move buyers through the Why change? phase before they can hope to engage them in a Why us? conversation.*

[Note: I thought this was a fascinating way to present the old “buyers don’t care about YOU” mantra that inbound marketers have been repeating for ages.]

So digging deeper, what causes status quo bias? Here are four factors described by Tim, with tips for attacking each that you might want to consider when developing your own marketing and follow-up content.

#1. Preference stability – You ever hear that expression “the devil you know”? That’s kind of the idea here. If your content and message simply tells buyers things they’re already aware of, they’ll be less inspired to make a change. After all, even if they DO have a problem, they’re still getting by all right. So why rock the perceived-to-be stable boat?

QUICK TIP: Sales reps and marketers need to be prepared to present what Tim calls “unconsidered needs” to the conversation. “[As a buyer], the most value a salesperson can add is to tell me about a problem I didn’t know.”

#2. Anticipated regret and blame – OK, so say they DO decide to make the push for a purchase – what if it goes badly? There’s risk with every buying decision, and no one wants to be known as the cause of a bad investment. And as Tim points out, most people already project that anticipated regret and blame before a decision is even made.

QUICK TIP: Flip this scenario to make them the hero of the story, not the goat. Anticipate their success with your message. “The voice of your message and content needs be more like Obi Wan – you are the mentor/guide, they are the hero. You are guiding them on their path, and are going to make them a little smarter than before.” (I’d still prefer to be Han Solo, but it’s a great point.)

#3. Perceived cost of action or change – Almost everyone perceives the status quo as free. To make a change, they need to get agreement from others (opportunity costs), find budget (actual costs), and so on. They don’t look at the cost of NOT doing something.

QUICK TIP: You need to help portray the cost of staying the same as MORE costly than change. Your content and message should create that contrast. For buyers to care about the ROI of change, they need to feel like they can’t stand pat.

#4. Selection difficulty – This occurs when everything and everyone sounds the same – i.e. you and your competitors. In other words, everyone is busy touting ALL the great things they do, and what you are saying doesn’t sound that much different from the alternative. Even your added value items start to sound the same if you overload your message with too many. (Buyer: “Oh you do this and a whole lot more? Well so does everyone else!”)

QUICK TIP: Don’t overwhelm the buyer with TOO MANY value items. Find the one, two or three things that will lead to one of your differentiating strengths. “Don’t plant too many flags! If you add too much you will look and sound like everyone else, and people will default that you are the same. Instead, you want them to think, ‘All things being the same, these one or two things really stuck out for me.’ It should put you in an advantage position.”

For more tips and ideas from Tim, visit the Corporate Visions Blog.

To learn how Brainshark helps companies increase sales productivity with the content, training and analytics reps need to have more successful sales conversations, view a free demo.

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