Overcoming the Status Quo Bias

Overcoming the Status Quo Bias

As sellers, we face an invisible enemy that sabotages more deals than our biggest competitors. This foe is the status quo. For sales pros, the status quo extends sales cycles and perpetuates no-decisions with buyers. Sales reps need fresh strategies to neutralize the status quo. This article provides the antidote to one of the most common ailments in sales.

In complex sales, the competition is not the only competitor sales reps face in the buying cycle. Why? Because buyers would rather make no-decision than make a wrong decision. The fear of making the wrong decision creates the “Let me think about it and get back to you next quarter.” From our experience working with sales organizations across multiple industries, losing opportunities to competitors accounts for only half of all lost sales. The other half is no-decision.

Buyers across all demographics find it challenging to navigate purchase decisions in this fast-changing environment. Whether the company is a tech startup or an established enterprise, decision-makers are predisposed to stick with its current situation. Making a change involves risk, and with risk comes resistance.

Most sales professionals receive training on positioning their solution against a competitor. Sales leaders create playbooks and battle cards comparing products, pricing, and features of known competitors. However, positioning against the unknown status quo is tricky. The high number of no-decisions in the CRM proves how challenging it is. Buyers are comfortable sharing their feedback with salespeople regarding price or product fit. However, providing candid responses to their doubts and uncertainty is more complex.

Challenging the Status Quo

Few successful business relationships start by informing the other party that they are wrong. The worst way to challenge the status quo is to tell a prospect what they are currently doing is a mistake. That’s like poking decision-makers in the eye and saying, “You need to learn how to prevent getting poked in the eye.” Prospects know their situation could be better. But they also realize they can avoid any decision and continue business as usual.

Typical sales professionals challenge the status quo with hyperbole. They use language such as game-changing, transformative, disruptive, proprietary. Hyperbole is not exclusively the salesperson’s fault. When new sales reps are hired, they are taught that their solution is the best.

Even in scenarios with this being 100 percent true, sales leaders and CEOs are scratching their heads wondering, “Why are we having so many no-decisions?” The answer is failure to challenge the status quo, effectively.

The problem with game-changing solutions is that they need more specifics. Vague solutions create doubt. Doubt creates indecision. The evidence of this is when a prospect finally becomes a client and says, “My only regret is we didn’t do this sooner.” When a sales rep hears this phrase, the status quo was not effectively handled. When buyers cannot decide the best thing to do, they do nothing.

FUD is a DUD

Old-school sales training endorses FUD, fear, uncertainty, and doubt, as a strategy to counteract the status quo. This might have worked decades ago when buyers could not access information. The saying, “No one ever got fired by buying IBM,” is a classic example. However, FUD only adds fear to a situation where the decision-maker is already immobilized with indecision. In complex sales, buyers would rather miss out than mess up.

The preference to miss out rather than mess up turns the FUD strategy on its head. If FUD and FOMO (fear of missing out) are ineffective against the status quo no-decision, what is the alternative? It starts with sales reps recognizing that other factors are creating the lack of urgency. Other sources of no-decisions include time, effort, and confidence.

Sales reps allow time to work against them and perpetuate the status quo when buyers fail to see a fast path to a better future. When status quo situations exist, buyers are occupied putting out fires. Prospects will say things like, “Too busy, no time, get back to me next quarter.” Firefighters fight fires; sales professionals solve problems. High performers understand prospects with “no time” need the most help.

Effort is another enabler of the status quo. When the perceived effort to change is high, buyers are incentivized to do nothing. Sales reps can counteract this by learning how to communicate both short-term wins and long-term outcomes. Short-term wins help decision-makers see the path toward the desired future state. Focusing strictly on long-term outcomes can overwhelm prospects.

Sales reps understand the value of confidence, which is why they are quick to provide testimonials and case studies. However, buyers also need confidence that their team can achieve the desired results. “We tried this last year, and it didn’t work,” is a common defense for the status quo. If sales reps leave this door open, the deal will never close.

Time, effort, and confidence are all dynamic value variables, and no two decision-makers will value them equally. When no-decision is the outcome, the sales rep miscalculated what the decision maker valued. The best way to ensure value alignment is to have the buyer articulate the impact. Until buyers communicate a specific business case, sellers are moving forward on assumptions.

Articulate the Impact

Most buyers will be rationally irrational. They will be open to new information but then process it with their personal bias from past experiences. Sales reps must continue beyond step one, helping buyers see specific and measurable outcomes. They should do the additional step and encourage the buyer to express a specific business impact on their organization or department.

For example, a sales rep can go through an entire presentation and receive feedback from prospects like, “I see…Uh-huh…Yes…Oh that’s nice…Absolutely I see the value.” Buyers can see the value rationally but fail to apply that value to a specific impact on their organization. Sales reps will inaccurately access the value because the feedback was positive. When the deal never closes, the sales rep can’t figure out why.

A simple way for sales reps to access how the buyer values their solution is to ask future impact questions like:

  • How do you see this impacting your department in 12 months?
  • Why is this appealing to you?
  • Which metrics are most important to improve?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how committed is your company to this change?

Future impact questions allow the buyer to build the purchase decision roadmap themselves. Every buyer’s journey is unique, yet most sales reps follow a cookie-cutter sales process. Cookie cutter sales process and status quo no-decisions go together like fingers in a glove.

Calculate the Cost of Doing Nothing

Buyers avoid making decisions when the perceived cost of doing nothing is small. Instead of sales reps asking a generic question like, “What happens if there’s no change?” they can ask the prospect, “Have you ever calculated the cost of (problem you solving)?”

The sales rep can ask the buyer to assign a value to each step of the problem. Often the buyer is not accurately calculating the full impact of doing nothing. When the rep and buyer do the math together, buyers often say, “I never looked at it like that before.”

Prospects are often anchored to the status quo because they do not fully appreciate the ramifications of doing nothing. When buyers create their own ideal future and then calculate the cost of doing nothing, their mental status quo shifts. If you can change what metric your prospect is anchored on, you can change their focus. New math, new rules.

When challenging a prospect’s status quo, ensure you’re attacking a business concept, not the person. Sales is about solving problems, not insulting buyers. Highly technical sales reps tend to cut short the buyer’s perspective (listening) and jump right into solutions. This poor-quality communication results in status quo no-decisions.

In Conclusion

In sales, we all want to believe we have the best solution for our prospects, but the high number of no-decisions in the CRM proves otherwise. Buyer comfort with the status quo is the cause of most no-decisions. Overcoming the status quo is the fastest path to better sales for most sales reps. The payoff is shorter sales cycles, and fewer ghosted accounts.