How to take on your toughest competitor: the status quo
  • sales
  • Blog post

How to take on your toughest competitor: the status quo

No competitor is tougher to beat than “the way we do things,” says sales coach Mark Dembo.

Even when the status quo has brought them to the brink of disaster, buyers have a deep emotional commitment to it. That attachment is the first and most difficult challenge you face when you ask a prospect to consider your alternative.

The psychology of choice
According to psychologist and author Robert Cialdini, “Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.”

That’s why getting a prospect to change what they are currently doing is so difficult – even when your solution is genuinely better. The more you try to back your presentation with facts and evidence, the more strongly prospects will justify and rationalize what they’re already doing.

Asking buyers to admit that they made a bad (or less than optimal) choice creates real internal dissonance. And the louder that dissonance, the greater the search for rationalization and consistency becomes.

This is particularly true if the decision is a public one. The more people who know about the decision, the more the person who made it will resist changing.

It’s really better
For example, suppose you are selling a software solution that has been proven to save companies time and money.

You call on the head of IT at a key prospect. You’ve got incontrovertible proof that your system is better than what she’s using.

She says her current system (the one she selected five years ago) “meets all of our needs.” As you show her the features of your program, she admits that yes, it can do things her system can’t, and yes, it would save time and money, and yes, the CEO would really like the access to information your system would provide.

And, no, she’s still not interested.

Why not?
Her reputation and self-image are all wrapped up in “her” system. She will do everything she can to defend it, and the more you point out its shortcomings, the more threatened she feels.

Recognize that your job in selling against the status quo isn’t to dwell on all the ways your product can outperform the incumbent product. It’s to help buyers do what they’re already doing, only do it better.

In other words, you want to reinforce the buyer’s original decision-making process and build on it.

That may sound inconsistent. After all, how can you help a prospect do things better without showing why your offering outperforms the status quo? That inconsistency solves itself when you shift your focus to:

  • understanding what people do,
  • why they do things that way, and
  • what they’re hoping to accomplish in the future.

Your questions should be squarely focused on the prospect – not on you.

Make improvements on what they do best
The best method for getting your prospects “out of their rut” is to show them how your product or service improves their established processes, equipment, and systems.

Showing how you can enhance their current situation is far less threatening. Essentially, it says: “You’ve got something that’s working here, and I’m not going to upset your apple cart. My goal is to help you take what you’ve already got and make it even better.”

By taking the “enhancement” approach, you accomplish two important things:

  1. You are helping the prospect maintain consistency, which will make you an ally.
  2. Even if it only results in a small sale initially, it opens the door to a long-term relationship.

Cialdini sums up, “For the salesperson, the strategy is to obtain a large purchase by starting with a small one. Almost any small sale will do, because the purpose of that small transaction is not profit. It is commitment.”


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