When the dissatisfaction of a situation combines with the knowledge and awareness of what’s causing the problem and what’s possible is greater than the perceived risk then change will occur.
The good news for any sales rep, marketer or executive is that you can influence every variable in this formula. You’ll notice, however, that every variable is customer-focused and has little to do with your product or service. Yeah, I know what all of the old-school peddlers are saying. It’s something along the lines of, “Doug, what are you talking about. My product/service makes things better. If people will just get the knowledge and awareness of my products/services they’d understand how much better they’d be. They’d realize theirs no risk with my product/service and then they’d realize change is good.” [Cue America’s Got Talent buzzers here.] Your product/service is not a solution – it’s a method with which a solution can be implemented. There are alternatives – there are always alternatives. When change matters (and it always matters) the knowledge and awareness you need to focus on is the knowledge and awareness of:
- The problem behind the problem your prospect/customer is aware of.
- The method to identify the cause of the problem.
- The consequence of not addressing the problem.
- The opportunities and alternatives to address problems and opportunities.
- How to assess various options and build a case behind one.
You’ll notice that all of those issues are about your customer, and at best touch only slightly on you. It’s a tough thing to accept, but you do not matter much in the process. Your job is to guide and facilitate the discovery and understanding. Another overlooked area of focus is perceived risk. Far too often sales and marketing organizations try to downplay the risk involved in buying from them. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve asked a sales rep what’s the likelihood of failure, and their response is along the lines of, “What do you mean? This always works.” And don’t get me started on web site messaging. Look, everyone knows that everything doesn’t work all of the time. They also know if implementing your solution were so easy you’d already have 100% of the market. What’s dangerous is that the actions selling organizations take to hide their risk actually increases the perceived risk of the buyer. In the June 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review, the article Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers: Understanding the Psychology of New-Product Adoption highlights research that demonstrates that the typical seller overestimates the perceived benefit of a solution by 3x, while underestimating the buyers perceived risk of change by 3x. On the other side, buyers underestimate the benefits and overestimate the risk by a 3x factor. Addressing the difficulties and risk head-on, while also sharing the process for mitigating that risk is crucial to successfully shortening the sales cycle. The next time you enter an account, you begin a campaign, or prepare your proposal make sure you review the formula and turn it to your advantage.