Are you struggling with the status quo?
by Tim Riesterer
Many marketers and salespeople believe they are in a selling war against their direct competition. However, a less anticipated and more dangerous enemy exists, called “no decision” — otherwise known as “the status quo.” According to sales consulting firm The Sales Benchmark Index, nearly 60% of qualified leads fall victim to the status quo.
Here’s the root cause of the problem: most marketing and sales efforts focus on the wrong messaging and therefore do not stimulate the correct part of a prospect’s brain. This idea is supported by Forrester Research, which found that 65% of high-level decision makers give their business to the company that creates the “buying vision,” versus 35% who acknowledge putting candidates through a fair-and-square “bake-off.” In fact, as executives told us in our research for “Conversations That Win the Complex Sale,” they want companies to come in and tell them something they don’t already know about a problem or missed opportunity — but instead, most only talk about themselves.
The status quo problem is actually a sales messaging problem.
Breaking through the status quo is like breaking a habit. Your brain goes on auto-pilot when a habit is formed. To disrupt the status quo, you need to appeal to the part of the brain where decisions are actually made. That’s where brain science research comes in.
Your brain is divided into three parts. The neocortex is the brain’s analytical computer, which processes data. The limbic system is where all emotions reside. The brain stem and other brain structures are responsible for your survival. This part of the brain is also described by American psychologist Robert Ornstein as the “old brain” (or the “lizard brain” by Seth Godin, an American entrepreneur).
The old brain quickly assesses situations to determine if you are at risk or in danger. If it senses your well-being is in jeopardy, it forces you to react and move away from the potential threat. To break the status quo, you literally have to wake your prospects’ old brain by showing them how their current status quo is untenable, unsustainable, and even unsafe.
Context Creates Urgency
“Why change?” and “why now?” messaging starts with grabbing your prospects’ attention and creating a sense of urgency around your solution to stimulate a decision. One of the most effective ways to do this is to create the right context.
For example, let’s examine the tornado siren that goes off to test the warning system at noon every Saturday in my neighborhood in Wisconsin. When it’s sunny outside, everyone ignores it. But when the clouds are rolling in, it can clear our village park in minutes. The product — in this case, the tornado siren — doesn’t create the reaction. The change in our environment suddenly makes the product invaluable.
Your product or service differentiators aren’t the reason your prospects will change. It’s a clear, compelling sense that they won’t be able to hit their objectives by staying where they are that will prick the old brain’s survival instincts and cause it to start looking for an alternative to the status quo.
Contrast Creates Value
Once you’ve created context for the urgency to change, you must convince your prospects they can’t get what they need from where their status quo currently places them. That status quo is a formidable foe, and prospects will still seek the comfort of trying to “duct tape” their existing approach to overcome the threats you’ve exposed.
Your messaging needs to feed the old brain the thing it craves most to make a decision — contrast. This part of the brain relies exclusively on visual and emotional contrast to decide between what’s unsafe and safe. For your prospects, this means they need to see a clear distinction between what they’re already doing and what you’re proposing.
Contrast is best created in two ways: By using “before” and “after” stories, and by using visual tools.
Before and After Stories:For decades, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been helping people overcome a problem they’re unwilling to admit having. People do not just accept you telling them they need a solution. AA instead helps alcoholics overcome their denial and ultimately seek help by telling or hearing others tell stories.
As they hear these tales, the new AA members are able to recognize themselves in other people and realize that they, too, have the same problem and need the same solution. Telling stories about your other customers in the same market who successfully overcame a similar challenge will help your prospects realize that they, too, need to change.
Visual Tools:Contrast can be best depicted in pictures — not big photos or metaphorical imagery, but images that make complex and abstract ideas more simple and concrete. A study cited in Dr. John Medina’s book “Brain Rules” found that people could remember only about 10% of information delivered via the spoken word 72 hours after hearing it — but that retention skyrocketed to 65% if a picture was added.
You must literally illustrate the current status quo as a messy situation fraught with peril, side-by-side with an alternative approach that addresses all of the issues and cleans up the mess. Therefore, visual storytelling that shows clear contrast is an essential messaging tool for waking the old brain and breaking the status quo.
Battling the status quo is a constant struggle for marketers and salespeople alike — but it doesn’t have to end in defeat. By applying the right, customer-focused messaging and appealing to the old brain through the techniques described above, it is possible to overcome the status quo barrier to help fuel your company’s success.
- Stimulate Your Customer’s Lizard Brain to Make a Sale (blogs.hbr.org)