What Story Are You Telling?
Content is King, definitely true, but what is your content saying to your customer, how is your message being perceived, what story are you telling and what is the story you should be telling!
I recently came across a webinar by Tim Riesterer, where he explored the science behind how you can incite buyers to make a decision in your favour and shared a framework of insights that you can use to design your content or message with.
Tim started by looking at a typical buying cycle, where the customer begins by thinking that they don’t have any worries, concerns or troubles and eventually make their way across the buying cycle where they decide they need to change, choose which vendor partner they are going with and then they make a decision to do something different.
Buyers think they are 60% of the way through the buying cycle before they ask for or desire to encounter a sales person. This is what they believe and that’s the story they are telling all of us.
Whereas 60% of the time they make no decision to do anything different and this is based on looking at 300 sales CRM systems. Prospects say they want to change, then, salespeople spend cycles on them and they end up doing nothing! So the challenge is
Where and how do you need to fashion your story – based on what buyers think or what they end up doing?
The story that you need to tell is the early stage ‘Why Change’ story because the majority still needs to decide if they even need to do anything different.
74% of executive buyers give business to companies who create a buying vision, the company that inspired them to make a change is the one that wins.
So the question is how do you do that?
There is actually science behind it.
Your real enemy is not your competitors, it’s your customers desire not to change, the Status Quo bias. So here are four causes and four ways to address it, supported by four tests that explain the science behind it.
The reason customers have a Status Quo bias is because they suffer from something called Preference Stability. That means they look at the prior decision they have made and they look at how hard it was to make that decision, not only the decision process but also the implementation process. And when they hear a new message their first natural instinct, as human beings, is to say ‘I think it’s a lot LIKE what we are already doing’, which essentially means they want to stabilize their currently held preferences by making you think that what you are saying is just like what they already do.
SOLUTION: De-stabilize Their Preference
Your message needs to deliberately destabilize their currently held preferences, you need to know what their preferences are and help them see why that Status Quo preference is no longer scalable whatever it might be.
Testing The Theory:
If you are one of those people who rely on the voice of the customer, tries to identify the known needs and believes you should map those needs to your capabilities then you are following a very solid traditional Solution-Selling-Value-Proposition model. But that actually contributes to the Status Quo bias.
If somebody tells you about a need, it doesn’t mean that they are not trying to solve it today, it just means they are not sure if they are solving it as well as they could. The challenge is that the customer may look at your solution of doing something different as being more painful and difficult than the pain they are suffering with now.
So the opportunity to create emergency and some uniqueness are by introducing value-added services in your story, which are essentially unknown strengths that the customer doesn’t know about. But research has shown and has identified something called’ Choice Overload’. That these extras that we call value-added services are perceived to only add cost and add complexity not add value!
So the only way you are going to destabilize someone’s preferences is by helping them see that there are needs, problems, situations or opportunities they didn’t even know about, that there are unconsidered needs and they can be ruled out by something that you do. So you need to peel back the band-aid and reveal to them that maybe they have something here that won’t scale, respond or get them to the next level. Or they have a problem they didn’t even know about and you have a fix for it. You need to map your unknown strengths to their unconsidered needs.
Working with Dr. Zakary Tormala and Dr. Margaret Neale from Stanford University Graduate School of Business, experts in negotiation and persuasion, Tim conducted a test to identify that there is a storytelling model that has a greater impact and beats Status Quo bias.
So they created four standard messages/ pitches and the idea was that the customer prospect had to decide which one of these was the most different, the most unique and ultimately which one they would prefer.
The standard pitch was simply responding to the known stated customer needs and then credentialing your organization and then showing them how you solve the problem.
The value-added pitch did the same thing identified and confirmed the need, credentialled the company, solve the problem and then introduced a couple of distinguished value-added services.
The unconsidered needs last was exactly the same but at the end talked about something the customer didn’t consider or expect.
Then the unconsidered needs first pitch opened with a surprising, interesting need to consider, a challenge that the customer didn’t know, had not expressed and eventually talk to solving the problem.
Four pitches and here is the result –
You can get a 50% bump just by introducing an unconsidered need into your message.
On top of that, by introducing the unconsidered need first, the presenter, presentation, message, the institution and the vendor itself gets a 10% bump in being considered as high quality.
So if you want to create a new preference and destabilizing the existing preference, introducing an unconsidered need into the story that you can resolve distinctly and doing it first is absolutely essential.
Cost of Action/ Change
The perception of the customers is that the Status Quo is free, they have gone through the pain, investment and now it’s just a part of a normal operating procedure/ budget, so in essence, it’s already paid for and this idea of changing to something new makes them think of the cost. They will have to procure some extra budget and it’s going to cost them time to get consensus from all decision makers.
SOLUTION: Cost of Staying The Same
To defeat that challenge, your message or story should actually show them that, there is a cost of staying the same and it is actually greater than the cost of changing.
Testing The Theory:
If you haven’t heard about the prospect theory by Daniel Kahneman, you can read more about it here
He basically talks about how it is 2-3 times more likely that someone will change in order to avoid a loss vs go after potential gain. What they identified, they call Loss-aversion.
When you are the person trying to defeat the status quo and replace an incompetent approach you are not trying to defeat a competitor you are trying to beat inertia. And to beat inertia and beat the bias against change, you become the risky bet. The safe bet is to stay the same.
So now the question is how are you going to get someone to take the risky bet. It turns out, customers are more likely to take the risky bet if they believe their current situation is going to give them loss.
Tim, working with his partners, identified 115 VP or higher title level individuals, a mix of gender, a mix of industry, a mix of geography and divided into two groups. The first group heard a story that looked like their current approach (A), the Status Quo and one coming from an outside vendor (B), the risky bet.
The other group received a different framing of the same message.
What is interesting about this is that it is the exact same maths, rationally and logically just positioned in a different frame as loss-aversion vs gain-attainment. And logically we should get the exact same result.
But here is what they found
There is a dramatic change by changing just the words and not the maths.
Why is this so powerful, why is this something you need to consider when you are building a story? If you want someone to leave their Status Quo bias, you need to show them their current state, the cost of staying the same and the loss that needs to be avoided. Re-frame your story so that you can take advantage of prospect theory.
Customer or prospects, in general, take a very superficial look at the offering and assume everything is the same. It is very hard for them to really see how it is different from what they are already doing or from what other competitive alternatives are. It paralyzes their decision and it makes it that much easier for them to put things on hold, drive things out or in fact stick to the status quo.
SOLUTION: Create Enough Contrast
You must create enough sense of contrast in what they are doing today, current state and what you are recommending they do different tomorrow, future state. And between you and the competitive alternate in order to overcome this idea of paralyzing selection difficulty.
Testing The Theory:
Contrast is really important for the brain to make a decision because why you take a decision is much more emotional than it is rational and it takes place in a different part of the brain.
Now, why does this part of the brain crave contrast to make a decision, is because, this part of the brain does not contain the capacity for language, this part of the brain is really looking at the contrast between their current state and their future state. Trying to decide if their survival is at risk to a degree where they need to go someplace else or whether or not they can stay where they are and it really depends on how great the contrast is between the current state and the future state.
So the idea is that you have to clearly assign what the current state is and what most people like them are doing today, what risk they create and then be able to show the resolution in the future state. The tagline here is that value does not exist without contrast or the positive value only lies in the contrast.
To test this, some people were put into a purchase scenario where they were taken right up to the point of purchase. Told them a story about something new they could buy or could choose and measured them across these four elements –
This was to see if their choices can be affected by putting some people in a condition where they only hear the future, new, improved benefits and others in a position where they heard a story about what more than likely is their current state and the contrasting new alternative.
Here is the result –
So if you tell a story that adds contrast, you can increase the likelihood of a customer being persuaded in your direction by approximately 15%.
Anticipated Regret/ Blame
As human beings, before starting anything, our natural instinct isn’t to project success but to anticipate regret/ blame for making any kind of decision and go to all the possible machinations as to how this could ruin our reputation and how this could hurt my decision. That is a part of the Status Quo bias.
It makes people think, where they are right now might not be perky but they are not dead yet and this other thing that you are telling them to do, that could kill them.
SOLUTION: Before And After Hero Story
You have to conclude your story with a before and after hero story that shows someone, making it through this entire process and succeeding on the other side of this program to help them overcome the anticipation of regret and blame.
Testing The Theory:
Carefully construct your case study and proof points, as before and after story’s, that leverage all of the things you just talked about. Case studies and reference points need a clear before and after, that maps to the unconsidered needs and destabilizing preferences, maps through the pain and cost of staying the same and maps to the current state risk, gap, challenge and it shows the customer prospect, identifying that they are in that condition and then successfully navigating and coming out as heroes on the other side, accomplishing as promised.
This science comes from Alcoholics Anonymous, they identified a long time ago that people are more persuaded when they self-persuade. Self-persuasion is the most powerful form of persuasion.
So what you are doing with this story is increasing the possibility that someone is going to try on the story, identify with the story and persuade themselves that the story is about them.
So the power of your story comes from your ability to overcome the Status Quo bias, be compelling and tell a story that wins. Your story should contain all four insights that incite!