To Fix, or Not Fix, That is the Question

Why Every Sale Hides a Moment of Truth

Adjustable spanner on black metal in water drops close up
“Every day, we face thousands of decisions both major and minor — from whether to eat that decadent chocolate cupcake to when to pursue a new romantic relationship or to change careers. How does the brain decide? A new study suggests that it relies on two separate networks to do so: one that determines the overall value—the risk versus reward—of individual choices and another that guides how you ultimately behave.”

A new study suggests that it relies on two separate networks to do so: one that determines the overall value—the risk versus reward—of individual choices and another that guides how you ultimately behave.” 1

In sales, we’re wholly dependent on how people make decisions. We are only now beginning to study neuroscience, human behavior and their impact on closing a deal. We can draw simple instruction from a concept that emerged decades ago.

In his seminal book, Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore introduced us to the Technology Adoption Life Cycle which, as you see below, begins with innovators and moves to early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.

pleinaire-chart

Notice the chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. This chasm represents a moment of truth when early adopters make sacrifices to gain first-mover advantage in the larger market; the early majority waits to see evidence of proof-of-concept and justification for claims of productivity improvements.

The ability to narrow and cross this chasm challenges marketers mightily; however, the reward of doing so pays off with accelerated adoption across every segment.

The Chasm in Complex Sales

What happens when we apply the chasm concept to complex sales?

Another chasm opens up, creating the moment when the prospect commits to change. Or not.

This chasm crossing is the most critical element of the prospect’s buying cycle. Most sales people overlook this event in their sales process. In part, that’s why 60 percent of all qualified sales pipeline opportunities end up in “no-decision.”

Let me emphasize this point another way: The majority of deals your sales people work lead to nothing at the end of the sales process. I know that stings. However, there’s a solution.

MERGE and the Moment of Truth

In the MERGE process, you identify the prospect’s need (what he wants to fix, accomplish or avoid) and you get him to acknowledge it. Then, an interesting dichotomy grips his mind.

On this side of the chasm, the prospect will readily admit that, yes, he does have a particular problem or issue you have uncovered and your solution seems to be a good fit.

Unfortunately, he will as readily state that, no, he does not want to do anything about this problem at this time. Or worse, he continues with you through your sales process, watching you leap over the chasm, which leads you to believe he wants your product or solution to address his problem or issue.

In reality, prospects approach the chasm, show concern for their problems and issues, peer over the chasm, then jump back to the safe side of status quo. Meanwhile, salespeople tend to jump over the chasm without the prospect and continue the sales process (alone) ending in no-decision.

Here’s the right focus: The most critical decision step in the prospect’s buying journey boils down to “fix or don’t fix the problem.”

Nothing can happen from this point forward in the prospect’s buying journey or your selling process, until he or she decides to fix the problem and crosses the chasm, your moment of truth.

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Steps for Crossing the Chasm

Once the prospect becomes aware and acknowledges the problem, you must understand the prospect’s vision for a solution, then test it and secure agreement. This confirmation focuses solely on the concerns voiced by the prospect, his vision for a solution and the decision to fix or not fix the problem. You might test your understanding with a statement like this:

“Based on what we’ve discussed and what you have told me so far, you need to lower your health insurance costs, especially for your nursing staff to compete with your major competitor.  

Do I have that correct?   Is this something you want to fix now?”

Then you must get the prospect’s commitment to change from status quo to an improved position. Your prospect should agree to fix the problem before the two of you can cross the chasm and review alternative solutions together. It’s a delicate and defining moment.

At this stage, focus more on the prospect’s willingness to change, not his interest in buying. And be clear that your prospect will change only if he sees the status quo as unsafe.

Why People Resist Change

Gary Klein, scientist and author of The Power of Intuition and Seeing What Others Don’t, says “Changing someone’s mind is about helping people see the inconsistency in themselves, and then all of a sudden their mental model will shift naturally and easily.”

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People detest change for a litany of reasons, even when they know there’s a better solution.

I understand this resistance. A property and casualty company suggested I’m paying too much for my homeowners’, auto and liability insurance. The representative tells me I could save $12,000 a year if I switch. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of the savings? To be honest, I don’t know. The status quo is safe. Two reasons for this inertia come to mind:

  1. People do not believe their problem is significant enough to take action if they recognize any problem at all, or
  2. They do not believe the proposed solution will work

Prove status quo is unsafe or unsustainable because your prospect needs to see the risk in status quo before he can move forward.

Leverage the Risk Factor

pleinaire-3When you jump in with a product or solution right after uncovering the need, you risk the potential sale. It simply doesn’t work anymore with today’s more educated buyers. Many of us were originally trained to uncover the need, then attach our solution to the need. Sounds reasonable. However, it is a direct route to getting a no-decision.

This route does not give you a way to create enough value to differentiate you from the prospect’s current situation─or your competitors─ in the early stages of the prospect’s buying journey.  What works?

Deal directly with your prospect’s perceived risk and the problems he faces currently. Communicate that his business is in trouble, not because he has not bought your solution, but because his operating environment, the competition, growth needs, whatever it may be, holds him back, regardless of whether he buys from you or not.

No matter how persuasive your selling style or how compelling your solution, someone will try to throw a wrench in the works.  Someone with a high degree of influence in the prospect’s organization is bound to express concerns about the perils of selecting the wrong seller, or solution, or not doing the project at all.

Before you can discuss the alternatives, secure a commitment from all the buying influencers that they, too, want to change. If you don’t take the time now, you’ll lose the sale later.

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman says we typically fear loss twice as much as we want success. So it is doubly hard to take risks.

Aversion to risk is a natural human response to making complex decisions. If you ignore this behavior, don’t be surprised when you lose the sale.

Writes Dr. Heidi Grant, senior scientist at the Neuroleadership Institute, “People are generally not all that happy about risk. As Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has written, ‘For most people, the fear of losing $100 is more intense than the hope of gaining $150.’”

Kahneman conducted research into what he refers to as risk seeking. Most people are risk-averse when making a change. Kahneman wanted to understand when people actively seek risk rather than avoid it. He learned we humans are far more willing to take a risk to block a loss than to obtain a gain.

If you are in conversation with prospects who know their situation isn’t perfect, but they’re not in pain because of it, they’re locked into the status quo. For this reason, if you take the traditional route of selling, pointing out the value of your solution and how it will change their world, more than likely, it will not be enough to close the sale.

Show your prospect his world may not be as safe as he thinks. In fact, if he does not correct the situation, he will face a negative impact on his business. Qualify. Quantify. Once the prospect grasps the risk of status quo, he’s able to cross the chasm with a commitment to fix the problem.

1. Maia Szalavitz, a neuroscience journalist for TIME.com

I’ll close with a word about the “courage mindset,” discussed by Margie Warrell, Forbes columnist and author of Stop Playing Safe. And borrow her four-step model for overcoming fear for use by sales leaders and salespeople. You don’t need to be a psychologist to do this work.

Help your prospects to:

  • Acknowledge their fear  (make it safe for them to express it)
  • Tame their fear (work with them to put things in perspective)
  • Harness their power (by laying out the cost of inaction)
  • Step through it (by establishing the foundation to answer “why fix now?”)

Now, you have arrived on the other side of the chasm where great things are about to happen.

See you on the upside,

Bill

For more information, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 858.759.8637 or 213.598.4700


  1. Maia Szalavitz, a TIME.com neuroscience journalist.

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