When you crunch the numbers, the most common outcome of even apparently well-qualified complex sales opportunities is a loss - not to an alternative solution, but to the status quo.
“Do nothing” is today’s most powerful competitor. It’s become the most common outcome because organisations often struggle to build a consensus for change and because the easiest and safest option appears to be to carry on as before.
But the real reason is often because nobody - internal champions and sales people alike - managed to create enough contrast between where the customer is today and where they need to be in the future.
It’s blindingly obvious, when we think about it - contrast drives change…
It’s our responsibility as sales people to create this contrast. It’s our responsibility, if we judge that the contrast is currently insufficient, to either stretch the value gap between today’s situation and their future destination to level that will inevitably result in action or accept that the prospect is unlikely to act and politely qualify out before any more of our or their time is wasted.
The upside is not enough
Most competent sales people seek to articulate the benefits of the prospect changing to their solution - they sell the upside. But in my experience, it’s far less common that sales people do an adequate job of identifying and amplifying the downside of sticking with the status quo.
There’s profound buying psychology at play here, you see: following a series of widely-acclaimed experiments, Daniel Kahneman - the Nobel Prize winning behavioural economist - concluded that decision-makers are twice as likely to invest to avoid a loss as they are to achieve a gain.
So our mission to create contrast must start by breaking through the status quo bias and establishing the negative consequences of the customer’s current situation. We need to help our prospective customer to identify and acknowledge the costs and risks associated with sticking with the status quo.
The power of unconsidered implications
We need go beyond the obvious and amplify the pain by introducing the prospect to unconsidered or underestimated implications of their current trajectory. We need to help our prospect’s decision-making group to conclude that their situation is going to get increasingly, uncomfortably and unnecessarily expensive and risky.
Decision-makers are twice as likely to invest to avoid a loss as they are to achieve a gain.
In short, before we go ahead and help our prospective customer to model the positive return on investment they could generate by investing in a new solution, we need to help them calculate the full negative cost of inaction that they will suffer if they were to simply carry on as they are.
Assuming the buying decision is a significant one, someone in authority is bound to ask whether immediate action is really necessary, or whether the project could afford to wait until a future date. We need to equip and enable our champion to confidently explain why any delay will only make the company’s situation more precarious.
Going beyond the obvious
This “going beyond the obvious” applies to the benefits of investing in our solution as well. In order to establish this, we need to introduce the currently unconsidered or undervalued benefits of change.
By progressively contrasting the “pain of same” with the “gain of change”, we make it that much more likely that the customer will make a positive buying decision. And by introducing previously unconsidered, underestimated and undervalued consequences, we help to shape the prospect’s vision of what is possible.
But we can go beyond simply establishing and amplifying the contrast between pain and gain. We can also establish a clear contrast between the constraints that have been holding them back (some of which they may have been unaware of) and the unique capabilities that allow us to enable them to reach their desired future state (carefully chosen because our competitors would struggle to claim them and could not deliver them).
The vendor that establishes the greatest contrast between the customer’s pains and gains, between their current situation and where they want to be, provides the best platform for winning the customer's business.
I hope you agree with this idea that contrast drives change, and that the vendor that establishes the greatest contrast between the customer’s pains and gains, between their current situation and where they want to be, and between what we can deliver and what every other option would struggle to provide, provides the best platform for winning the customer’s business.
Creating contrast - or perpetuating grey?
Do all our proposals do all that they could to establish these contrasts? Do our sales strategies ensure that we are always able to identify and stretch the value opportunity for our prospective clients? Or if we were to line up our approach against all the other options the prospect is considering, would they all blend into very similar varieties of grey?
When everything looks grey to our prospect, they will either decide to do nothing, or they will decide to go for the cheapest, safest or most familiar option. If we are none of these, you will lose - and even if we do win, the value of the opportunity will inevitably be lower than it could have been.
Contrast drives change. Grey perpetuates the status quo. What would you rather be seen as?
About Bob Apollo
A fellow of Association of Professional Sales, Bob Apollo is the founder of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners. He works with ambitious B2B-focused organisations that have complex sales environments, helping them to establish consistently scalable sales and marketing machines that deliver predictable revenue outcomes. Follow him on Twitter at @bobapollo.