Status Quo is Lorem Ipsum for a Failed Sale

Status quo: noun, the existing state or condition; when customers accept bids and/or sales proposals but decide not to change suppliers.

Lorem Ipsum: Dummy text of the printing industry  used to mock up a layout without distracting from the design: originally based on several sections of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum“, written by Cicero in 45 BC.

Failed sale: Large, complex b2b sale with logically irrational human decision makers and sellers.

When customers accept bids or proposals, and don’t make a decision, it’s a Lorem Ipsum placeholder for numerous reasons. But they all add up to a failed sale.

Large dollar, complex b2b sales

Large complex b2b sales can be messy and uncertain events, wriggling with hidden emotional influences and unknowable business drivers. No wonder many end up with the status quo and customers’ “no decisions.”

Even when sales reps budge customers out of status quo, they still must compete and win against other sellers to get the sale. No point in getting customers to take action if they’re choosing someone other than you.

So the best sales reps can hope for is to better understand status quo situations, intelligently try out solutions, and then compete like they mean it when customers do take action.

Here are several key factors that contribute to customers sticking with the status quo.

Groupthink

1) Groupthink in Customer Evaluation Teams

Decisions in large complex b2b sales are typically made by an evaluation team.

And when that team’s consensus is to remain with the status quo, groupthink may be to blame for irrational, dysfunctional decisions.

Groupthink likely occurs more often than sellers believe as it’s a quiet covert event; like an odorless poison gas that kills intelligent decision making.

Groupthink occurs when customer evaluation teams:

  • Try to minimize conflict – “let’s all play nicely”
  • Don’t critically evaluate alternative viewpoints – “don’t rock the boat”
  • Actively suppress dissenting viewpoints – “we don’t have to listen to you because you’re wrong”
  • Isolate themselves from outside influences – e.g., outside consultants who might pushback more freely

WHAT MIGHT SALES REPS DO TO OVERCOME GROUPTHINK ON A CUSTOMER EVALUATION TEAM?

Consider building relationships with multiple decision makers prior to the purchase process.

This gives sales reps the time and opportunity to educate customer evaluation teams, and challenge their thinking.


While this can be very difficult due to the lack of access to customer insiders; it is exactly the basis of The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation  by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon.

Ignorance

2) Lack of Context from Ignorance

Customer evaluation teams often include members from different departments and responsibilities; cross-functional teams.

The idea is to address multiple organizational agendas in the evaluations, i.e., HR for employee issues, Finance looking at spend impacts, Legal considering risk and compliance issues, etc.

The team will also include one or more end-users; those who will use or consume the purchase, and who should have the most practical knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. That’s why they’re on the team in first place.

However, when end-users have limited knowledge and/or experience, they can lack authority within the evaluation team. Their ignorance and lack of authority ensures status quo when they’re unable to:

  • Discount unfounded fears
  • Dispel unrealistic expectations
  • Focus on value, TCO, & failure consequences

HOW MIGHT YOU PROVIDE CONTEXT FOR THE ITEM BEING PURCHASED?

Consider:

  • Writing persuasive business narratives into sales proposals – that speak to multiple agendas
  • Making compelling presentations with insightful contributions from Subject Matter Experts
  • Inbound marketing ahead of the bid opportunity to educate customers via content rich, educational articles, posts, tweets, seminars, & guest speaking engagements

Never Intending to Change Suppliers

3) Never Intending to Make a Change

Let’s face it, some times customers will request bids or accept proposals only for compliance reasons. In the U.S., Sarbanes Oxley regulations have driven the proliferation of these “Hollow RFPs.”

If this is the situation, customers stay with the status quo and cross “rebid” off their to-do lists. Rarely, if ever will they change suppliers.

HOW CAN YOU TELL IF A SALES OPPORTUNITY IS A HOLLOW ONE?

Look for one or more of the following signs. If you find one, reconsider participating in this opportunity. It’ll likely remain status quo.

  • No pre-qualification – any & all suppliers can bid (and lots do)
  • No presentations – just drop off the sales proposals
  • No site tours or other due diligence allowed – in essence asking sellers to guess
  • Short turnaround times for large dollar, complex sales – customers lost track of contract term dates
  • Poorly written RFPs; outdated, incomplete, disorganized, misspelled – as if customers don’t care

Scared of Fear

4) Individual Fear of Change driving Organizational Status Quo

In customer evaluation teams, personal fear of change adds up to an organization stuck in the status quo.

Fear of change can overcome left-brain logic and drown what should be a no-brainer decision with unspoken, paralyzing emotion. Multiple types of fear can work simultaneously to lock in the status quo, such as:

  • Fear of the unknown – customers lack the confidence to risk making a change
  • Fear of failure – especially when solutions appear risky
  • Fear of success – counterintuitively, the spotlight can be frightening
  • Fear of loss – besides losing their own jobs, customers’ personal & professional reputations are too much to risk
  • Fear of upsetting others – see groupthink

HOW MIGHT YOU MITIGATE THE FEAR OF CHANGE FOR CUSTOMER EVALUATORS?

Consider looking into Change Management and Organizational Development to better help individuals and firms change.

To mitigate the fear of change in sales situations, consider:

  • Capture planning to gather & analyze sales intel regarding individual decision makers
  • Designing sales solutions to address individuals’ fear of change, i.e., guarantees, personalized service, redundant systems, etc.
  • Painting an emotionally compelling picture of customers’ burning platform and how the sales solution gets them safely into the clear

Lack of Personal Trust

5) Lack of Personal Trust is Quick Drying Cement to the Status Quo

Purchase decisions are expressions of trust; trust between one organization and another as represented by the individuals on customer evaluation teams and reps on sellers’ teams.

When personal trust does exist, sellers can help customers become better change agents.

However, when there’s a lack of personal trust, customers won’t find sellers as likeable, credible, or as culturally aligned as they want. And without these, it’s too easy for customers to opt for the status quo and make no decision.

HOW MIGHT SALES REPS CREATE & STRENGTHEN PERSONAL TRUST WITH CUSTOMERS?

There’s a mountain of advice written about trust in selling, and some of it’s good. One of my favorites is The SPEED of TRUST: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey.

To avoid the status quo in sales situations due to lack of personal trust, consider:

  • Spending time building relationships long before a bid or proposal opportunity – ensure reps target worthwhile opportunities
  • Bringing industry and/or business insights to customers proactively, before asked – the give to get strategy
  • Committing to long-term personal relationships with customers to demonstrate constancy, reliability & authenticity

Broke

6) Lack of Money can be the Reality Behind Status Quo

Customers can sometimes want to change their current supplier only to learn they, the customers, are not in a position to change because they lack the funds and/or ability to make the change.

This can happen when customers haven’t bid or accepted proposals in a number of years. All of a sudden they’re faced with the sticker shock of current market prices and requirements. It’s enough to stop them dead in their tracks and lock down the status quo.

HOW MIGHT SALES REPS FIRST IDENTIFY & ASSIST CUSTOMERS UNABLE TO PAY THE FULL FREIGHT?

First, not all sales opportunities can be revived if customers have little to spend or have drastically unrealistic financial expectations. In that case, the sales opportunity is Dead On Arrival (DOA).

However, if customers are truly motivated to make a change, savvy sales reps may be able to re-craft the Statement of Work (SOW) or specifications into something the customer can afford at a lower price.

Also, the possibility of the seller extending longer payment terms may enable sales reps to move customers out of the status quo.

But while these are practical tactics, their success depends on how attractive the customer and opportunity are to the seller.

Unpersuasive sales proposals & presentations

7) Underwhelming, Unpersuasive Sales Proposals & Presentations

Who’s to say that sales teams aren’t the reason many customers stick with the status quo?

A frighteningly common reality is for sales teams to present lonely lists of features without a customer benefit or desired experience in sight. And this is still done in the 21st century. Go figure.

Just as embarrassing is when sales teams serve up the same offering to every customer, all the time, in every situation. It’s as if the sales team walked into a presentation and threw up their firm’s marketing cant and expected it to matter to the individuals of the evaluation team sitting across from them. What ever happened to consultative selling? Solutions anyone?

Summary

There can be many reasons customers don’t make a decision to change suppliers, preferring to stick with the devil they know.

The gravitational power of the status quo is driven by fears, ignorance, self-deception, and human herd behavior.

Like many aspects of selling, it’s virtually impossible to address these things directly. But with learning and knowledge, savvy reps can chart alternative courses and add to their list of must-dos to get a sale.

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