June 24, 2019

Buyer Fear of Change and Risk

Many entrepreneurs believe that selling the features, benefits and ROI of their product will be sufficient for their success.  While this is often true, it is, just as often, not true.  Buyers can fear change and hate risk. And the fear of change and the introduction of risk can often counter the potential gain in the buyer’s mind.

One of the most overlooked and critical issues in sales is resistance to change.  This not only happens with the decision maker, but also users of your product. While one person can say “yes” to your product, many can say “no” to your product both before the purchase and during the implementation process. So, it is essential to get buy-in from all constituents, particularly ones that are critical to success (implementation and use) of your product. At the end of the buying process, many buyers are evaluating risk and specifically “adaptation of technology” risk.

A change in solutions often results in a fairly substantial change in an organization’s workflow which could impact a few or many people.  And, if your product doesn’t work right, it adds risk.  No one wants to be remembered as the person who brought in something that wreaked havoc on the organization and ended up not getting adapted.  This is especially true if this is a mission-critical application. Therefore, buyers often will choose to do nothing versus risk a change and a potential improvement.  While this frustrates us as sellers, we often overlook the objection of change in workflow and the introduction of risk and are not prepared to proactively deal with these objections before they surface (if they actually surface).

The classic sales book, “Solution Selling”by Michael Bosworth discusses the changing buyer concerns and priorities during the buying process.  As the chart below shows, the buyer’s concerns shift as the process goes on from product and proof to risk.  At the end of the buying process, the buyer (organization) and decision maker are more concerned about risk than anything else.  Two of the aspects of risk are related to the fear of change.  These are the workflow change required and whether the users will actually want to learn and use the product, or whether the application will sit on the shelf.  This could be career threatening to the decision maker and/or champion.

Recently, a Wall Street Journalarticle also explored this issue as well. Sue Shellenbarger writes “Technological change in the workplace sparks tension between resistors who grumble and drag their feet and co-workers who rush to embrace new tools. One Luddite can hobble the work of an entire team. But bringing laggards into the fold requires understanding the psychological obstacles they face, helping them see the benefits of new technology and giving them enough time to learn it.”

She goes on to write: “Persuading seasoned workers to add new gears to machinery that already works can be a tough sell. But younger employees can be overeager in attempts to disrupt the status quo. ‘They fall into a shiny-new-thing syndrome,” says Brian Thackston, director of marketing and operations at an Annapolis, Md., law firm who has experience introducing new software at a previous employer.’”  Beware of the change that you are proposing.  It can be a two-edged sword.

But the issue does not just apply to technology solutions.  Regardless of the solution (technology or not), buyers fear changes and are always worried that their users will not use the new solution.  This is also true whether the solution applies to the individual’s use for personal benefit (think a health care app for individuals) or for corporate benefit (a classic B2B solution).  Corporate benefit implies workflow change and employees often prefer to do the same thing tomorrow that they did yesterday.  Change implies work, learning something new and people are often resistant to that.

Often sellers ignore this issue completely in their sales process.  This can be a huge blind-spot and error.  Helping buyers get over the risk of change is essential to success and scale.

To prepare for this issue, sellers must first recognize this as an issue and then proactively have things in place to address it.

  • Just addressing the issue head-on can help.  You may ask the buyer if they are concerned with potential disruption and what it would take to get past the “do nothing” path. Better to know than to guess.
  • Other strong questions in the discovery call can help, like asking what solutions have been accepted by the organization and which have failed and why. (for a full list of Discovery Call Questions, write to me.)
  • Develop content to address fear of change like case studies or the value that the new system will bring to the backgrounds of the affected people.
  • A strong and complete implementation plan as part of the proposal including how you may handle the conversion from the old system or way to the new way.
  • Show backgrounds of the implementation and training team (your support people) to help potential users better understand that the people they will be dealing with speak their language, understand their needs and can help them.
  • A plan to address workflow changes and how you, as the vendor, will help the buying organization better adapt to the solution and implement, not only your product, but also help with the workflow change.
  • References and (as outlined above) case studies on the selection and implementation process that others went through and how their users adapted.
  • Focus on the benefits derived and the ROI to the organization.  While you may currently do this, it is essential for the organization and decision makers to understand and explicitly compare what benefit they are going to get as they trade off conversion costs and resistance to change internally.
  • Identify the potential people who resist change (blockers to the deal or success of the project) and work with them on their fears.Try to gain consensus. At lease understand their issues and try to deal with them.  This is not easy to uncover.  But often we do know and ignore these people.
  • Objection planning document. As always, understanding the 6 categories of objection and having a proactive plan to address these objections is essential.  Categories include cognitive, motivational, resource, political, feature and risk.

The issue of buyer fear of change and risk is not simple to address and causes many more of our sales to go sideways than any other issue.  But being totally aware of it and trying to proactively acknowledge and deal with it is far better than ignoring it.