Four ways to work through the ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ problem

by on July 16, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Top Sales Dog

Here’s a scenario we’ve all faced at one time or another: A prospect or customer won’t consider your offering even though it’s noticeably better or more cost-effective than what they are using now.

Your solution is superior, but they won’t budge from using an inferior one. Sales coach Dave Kahle calls this the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” problem, and points to three basic reasons for it:

  1. The perceived benefit from switching the product is not worth the time and effort the customer must invest in the change process. Maybe he has to work off old inventory, rewrite protocols or train people how to use your new system.
  2. The potential change infringes on a well-established relationship. Maybe your competitor performs other services that would be jeopardized. Or lets your buyer use his condo in Florida. In either case the relationship trumps your benefit.
  3. The risk isn’t worth it. Every decision comes with a perception of risk and a perceived cost. What happens to your decision maker if the switch doesn’t work out as you say it will? What grief does that cause the customer? What emotional turmoil, job stress and personal pain does it cause?

As is almost always the case, the solution becomes clearer once you analyze the problem – especially when you look at the situation from the point of view of the prospect or customer.

Reduce the effort or increase the benefit
Most customers have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. They don’t need another project. So, if the reason they don’t budge is that the benefit of changing doesn’t seem worth the effort, you must either reduce the effort or increase the perceived benefit.

Some options for reducing the effort:

  • Offer to do as much of the work of changing as you can. For example, work with IT to provide necessary data in a format that’s easily imported into their existing system.
  • Show them an Action Plan and Timetable that breaks the project into smaller and less daunting parts. Perhaps you can use a plan that worked well for an existing customer.
  • Offer to train key employees in the through the details of your solution. Make it less costly in time and effort.

On the other side of the equation, you can make the benefit appear bigger and more attractive. Consider these approaches:

  • Dig deeper into the numbers to show more compelling financial justification. If your 5% savings in unit cost doesn’t move the needle, express it in terms of annual top line or bottom line payoffs.
  • Show the effect of your solution on the customer’s processes in terms of productivity, efficiency or time to market. Estimating the “soft costs” saved can make your argument more compelling.
  • Forecast the impact on the customer’s customer, or his upstream and downstream supply chain.

Reassure and reinforce established relationships
When the prospect or customer is in bed with a competitor (figuratively speaking of course), the landscape gets tougher to navigate. Much depends on the nature of the relationship that is already in place.

For example, the competitor may be providing other services or products as part of a package deal. The competitor may inventory product for them, or provide special packaging or terms.

The countering strategy in this case is to find out as much as possible about the existing relationship and either: (1) meet or exceed what the competitor is delivering, or (2) reassure the customer that their existing relationship is not going to be affected by giving you the piece of business that is on the table. Again, emphasize the benefits of working with your organization, and be open to taking a “fallback” position.

Reduce perceived risk
Remember, risk is perception, not necessarily reality. You can reduce the customer’s perceived risk with a combination of tactics that go beyond the guarantees and warranties everyone offers.
Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Make the product seem more real by having the buyer see it in operation in a different customer’s environment.
  • Show people successfully using your product or service — for example, showing pictures or video of other customers using it. Back this up with letters of recommendation and testimonials.
  • Bring the customer into your facility, and let him or her meet the people who make things happen for you.

A final thought
Customers will often take action to avoid intense pain rather than achieve some vague benefit. If you can identify significant pain the customer is experiencing, and show how your solution makes the pain go away, you will provide the customer with the kind of significant motivation needed to shove all three of the reasons we’ve discussed here down the list.

Source: To learn more from Dave Kahle, visit

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