The majority of companies aren’t satisfied with their ability to tell an executive-level story or craft a business case that creates urgency and moves prospects to act, according to our recent industry survey of 312 marketing and sales leaders from 275 companies.
More than two-thirds of companies—67%—said they’re underperforming at getting executive-level prospects to buy now rather than later, while only 39% said they are confident in their ability to build a meaningful business and financial case to justify a decision.
Marketing—and content, specifically—has a major role to play in correcting this. But before progress can be made, marketers need to understand what type of message is most effective at getting executive-level buyers—meaning buyers with budget and decision-making responsibilities—to decide vs defer.
We call this the “why now” moment in the buyer’s journey.
The Why Now Messaging Framework Study
For the research, Corporate Visions contracted with Nick Lee, a professor of marketing at Warwick Business School in Coventry, U.K. We designed the test conditions and questions to assess several areas critical to the “why now” moment—areas including confidence in the business proposal, how urgent it was, how essential to future growth, and to what extent it made executives in the study more or less likely to purchase right now.
We asked participants—all of whom are employed at companies with $100 million or more in revenues and have budget and decision-making responsibilities—to imagine they were part of the following business scenario:
You are an executive at a food processing company that cleans, sorts, and packages vegetables. You have traditionally served large vegetable products using large-scale equipment that can process several tons of vegetables per hour. However, the most promising growth market is organic and specialty food production, and unfortunately, you do not have equipment suitable for the small batch requirements of this “small-producer” market.
You will be meeting with a company that makes smaller-scale, more flexible equipment that could help you enter this new market, and they present the following story as to why you should buy their equipment.
We then split the executive participants into six different groups, each of which experienced a different messaging test condition, or pitch, that contained different elements of the following:
- Business issue: External factors and business initiatives
- Loss: Details about your loss to be avoided
- Gain: Details about your potential positive gain
- Unconsidered needs: Introduces an unsuspected threat
- Heavy ROI: Hard numbers with a detailed ROI breakdown
- Change story: Business change story with a light ROI component
We then asked all participants the following set of questions about the message condition they experienced, for which they were then asked to assign a numerical rating between one and nine based on how impactful they believed the message was in each area:
- How convincing was the business case as far as getting you to make a decision soon rather than later?
- How important is the solution for future success and growth? How urgent is the need to purchase?
- How likely are you to purchase right now?
So what did we discover?
The research revealed that the most effective message/pitch across each of the areas we assessed was structured around the combination of a business issue and an unconsidered need before providing a heavy ROI justification. This was the only message condition to finish first in each category. Importantly, the other message conditions proved to be extremely volatile in terms of how they performed in these key areas. In other words, what might have been second or third “best” in one area might have finished closer to the bottom in another.
What’s more, the message highlighted above appears to provide the biggest edge in the two most important areas for the purposes of this study:
- Importance to future success and growth, for which it provides a 4% edge
- Likelihood of making a purchase decision right now, for which companies can gain a 9% advantage
In a post-study analysis, Lee wrote that the consistent pattern of a “large number of small effects” means that, taken together, “there is a clear argument that [the winning message condition] is more likely to be effective than the others,” and that the unconsidered needs and heavy ROI message “is the way to go” when you’re trying to create urgency and demonstrate business impact in your proposals.
The effectiveness of the message structured around a business issue, an unconsidered need, and a heavy ROI case is consistent with the body of decision-making science research that inspired the study. Specifically, this aligns with the Prospect Theory, an idea developed by social psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky that holds that humans are two to three times more likely to take a risk or make a decision to avoid a loss than they are to do the same to achieve a gain. The middle portion of the message—the unconsidered need—can be seen as an extreme form of loss aversion because it positions their current approach as a loss to be avoided.
Meanwhile, the documented ROI component is consistent with how the “new brain,” or neocortex, supports decision-making. The new brain provides the rationalization and justification of decisions, but it doesn’t actually make them.
Marketers have a key role to play in developing the story that gets your most influential prospects to feel the urgency to change and see the business impact and performance upside you can bring to the table. This isn’t just a messaging duty that should fall to field sales reps. As owners and shepherds of the story, marketers have a responsibility to master the “why now” moment, too.