Think about the last time you got billed for a cable or satellite service. Notice how steep the bill was?
It’s frustrating because you weren’t always getting hosed. You remember several years back when you moved into your new house, opened an account, and took advantage of a sweet promotional deal for new subscribers. What happened to that?
Meanwhile, you’re well aware of other providers offering lower rates or fantastic introductory offers. But if you’re like most customers, you haven’t switched and you have no plans to. Why?
Cable and satellite providers offer outstanding introductory rates for a reason: They know that even when their standard price kicks in, the majority of their customers are entrenched and won’t seek other alternatives. These companies understand the power of something called the status quo bias.
Make no mistake: When it comes to your customer conversations, the status quo bias—not the other competitors in your market—is your staunchest adversary. This preference for doing nothing is an especially powerful foe because it’s based on a mindset that—though logically faulty—humans struggle to shake. Basically, humans tend to weigh the potential losses of leaving the status quo more heavily than the potential gains—even in the face of evidence that speaks to the contrary.
So how do you counteract this preference for staying the course? It starts with understanding why buyer inaction happens and how you as a seller can tell a “why change” story to ensure it doesn’t.
In his study titled “The Psychology of Doing Nothing,” research psychologist Christopher Anderson explores several “antecedents” that explain the curious allure of buyer inaction. The research provides a deeper look at the forces that shape the status quo bias and sheds light on how you can deliver a story that defeats it.
Preference stability: If a buyer’s values are stable and entrenched, they’re more likely to cling to their status quo situation, according to Anderson. So to dislodge your prospect’s status quo, you need to bring about a shift in their preferences.
One of the most striking ways you can do that in your customer conversations is to tell your prospects something they didn’t already know about a problem or deficiency they didn’t know they had. I call this identifying and introducing prospects to their “unconsidered needs”—essentially, the challenges, problems, or gaps in their status quo approach that will hinder their quest to realize their most important goals.
By basing your story on your buyer’s unconsidered needs, you can destabilize your prospect’s preferences, which accelerates decision processing and opens them up to persuasion.
Anticipated regret/blame: Humans recoil at the slightest possibility of regret. In fact, this possibility is one of the biggest drivers of buyer inaction, since it elicits negative anticipatory emotions like fear, dread, and anxiety, and according to Anderson, because humans tend to associate change with loss instead of gain. Interestingly, he also notes that even though the consequences of regret will be experienced in the future, the “emotional experience itself occurs in the present.”
To overcome anticipated regret, you have to invert the commonly held perception that equates change with loss. You have to show how the pain of doing nothing actually stands to be greater than the pain of doing something different. That means your story has to vividly assert why the status quo, not change, is the biggest threat to their most important goals.
Cost of action/change: Change appears to have a cost, while staying the same doesn’t. Change requires buying something new and putting people through a lot more costly effort. While remaining the same represents a perceived sunk/no cost alternative.
Renowned social psychologist Daniel Kahneman found that humans have a two-to-three times stronger preference for avoiding loss than for attaining gain. If change appears risky and more costly than sticking with the status quo, your prospect’s opposition to it will only become more entrenched.
Making change more compelling comes down to identifying and quantifying the cost of inaction, and then adding that cost to the gain of change to sharpen the contrast between where they are today and where they could be tomorrow. The sharper the contrast, the more you’ll be able to amplify the perceived value of doing something different with you.
Selection difficulty: You may think that showing all the bells and whistles of your solution will set you apart and providing a comprehensive approach that “boils the ocean” demonstrates thoughtfulness. But when it comes to telling a winning story, complexity is not something to aspire to.
Researchers have identified a concept known as “choice overload,” which in the sales context refers to a scenario where buyers are overwhelmed by information. As a result, they perceive change to be too abstract and unmanageable to realize.
To combat this, you need to tell a story that makes the complex simple and the abstract concrete. Visual storytelling tools are the best way to achieve this critical effect. Simple, concrete images depicting the current state and the future state help the buyer grasp why change is needed. This visual storytelling approach paints a contrasting picture where the status quo is a threat to their interests and your solution is the safe alternative pathway they need to achieve success.
The competitors in your market may be formidable, but they’ve got nothing on the status quo bias and the complex behavioral forces that shape it. So, rather than being overly concerned with how you measure up against the competition, shift your focus to delivering a story based on the messages, tools, and skills you need to topple your biggest adversary: your buyer’s status quo.