When selling complex solutions to the line of business, your primary competitor is almost always BAU or “Business As Usual”, sometimes referred to as “the status quo” or “we’ve always done it that way.”
Unless you happen to reach someone actively evaluating new approaches or technologies, you will have to contend with the entrenched BAU. Your contact might have been told when they joined the company that “this is the way we do things here.” For better or worse, that’s how things get done. Business as usual.
The way things get done might be highly efficient. Or it might require McGyvering the process with baling wire and duct tape, lots of manual processes.
I talk with these customers every day, across all lines of business. For instance – marketing directors extracting information from Marketo and Salesforce, importing it into Excel, normalizing the data and trying to make sense of it, trying to plan new marketing campaigns to drive customer acquisition or retention. In fact, googling the phrase “use marketo and salesforce data in excel” results in more than 261,000 results, including both Marketo and Salesforce forums, and an unlikely domain “datahero.” So…lots of people are McGyvering this very important information mashup. I wonder how that’s working for them…
One analytics manager recently told me that he spends a full day each week extracting data from source systems and loading it into their analytics app. That’s 20% of his working hours, doing something manually that could be automated at nominal cost and with a dramatically lower error rate. He hasn’t been able to take a vacation in three years…
Why do customers continue to do it this way?
Why don’t they welcome our calls, offering to help them do things better, faster, cheaper?
Here’s the problem
BAU works, more or less. There’s little perceived risk in continuing to do things the way things have been done. They know what will happen. Sure, the BAU approach might not be optimal, it might not even be particularly effective, but it’s predictable. They know how to do it that way and they know what results to expect. And they’re too busy doing what they’re doing to be actively searching for different ways of doing things…
Change represents risk
Any change to current processes holds perceived risk. There’s the effort of evaluating and making the change. Then processes have to be modified…and there’s no guarantee that the new way will work better than the old way (BAU). Or that it will work at all. So there’s a built-in bias to do nothing.
How do we get past BAU?
Be aware that your prospect doesn’t want to do anything differently. And you need to honor the approach that they’ve developed. Somebody might be proud of it. Somebody pitched it to management and got funding for it. It might actually work.
Typically cost isn’t sufficient. Prospects won’t move to something new for a small incremental decrease in cost. The risk is too high. There must either be a large, demonstrable cost savings, or a significant capability improvement (ability to drive new business outcomes) to drive consideration. Incremental performance improvements are almost never worth the perceived risk to the buyer. And if a change was recently, the thresh-hold for change will be even higher.
So we focus on helping customers to achieve new, better business outcomes – improving customer retention, reducing customer churn, raising operational profitability…we align to their strategic organizational metrics. And remember, business customers don’t really care how they achieve their business outcomes as long as they do achieve them. The technology-centric sales approach doesn’t intrigue them as it might for a conversation with IT executives. (Five guys in a garage, two squirrels in a cage, cloud-based data warehouse? I don’t know…will it help me improve my customer retention rate…and receive my quarterly bonus?)
As a sales person, your job is to reduce the perceived risk of doing something new
You start to do that in the first few seconds of a new conversation, as you align to the contact’s language of value, you demonstrate that you’ve done your homework, and you steer the conversation to discussing strategic business metrics and outcomes.
In talking with customers, I start with a foundation of credibility. We’ve worked with similar customers on similar projects many, many times. We can help “derisk” the process for the customer, help them to understand that working with us to adopt a new approach potentially represents less risk than continuing to do what they’ve been doing.
Ask questions about consequential pain
- What are the challenges in doing things the current (BAU) way?
- How will they handle a dramatic pivot or increase in business requirements?
- How will they support new/different strategic decision making?
- How would their business outcomes be different if they could streamline their approach, potentially improve the process?
- What would it mean to them personally if they could improve their results? If they could deliver even better business outcomes (customer retention, product quality, financial performance, employee safety, etc.)
Help them to build awareness that continuing to do things the way they’ve been doing things (BAU) holds substantial risk. Don’t tell them…ask the questions and help them to draw the conclusion… Once you get there, they will be open to a deeper discovery call, providing you with more time and access, building the business case for making a change.
Then suggest that they start with a “bite size” (low risk) project to solve problems not well addressed with current processes or technologies.
And for fun, take a look at the Snopes page on “Grandma’s Cooking Secret.” Yes, we do it that way because she always did it that way (BAU), but nobody knew why!
How do you get past BAU? Comments appreciated!