The Real Competition

The fear of a relatively worse outcome—which biases people toward a preference for the current state of affairs—is one of humanity’s deepest instinctual biases. This is known as the status quo bias and it is why “we fear change.”

Behavioral science research tells us the status quo bias applies in a wide variety of contexts, with one paper suggesting that just shy of half of our daily behaviors are performed out of habit[1] (habits being little more than the physical manifestation of the status quo bias). If you look around, you will find the status quo bias basically everywhere—preferred measurement systems, names of sports teams, voting booths, daylight savings time, etc.—impacting decision-making in nearly every context of human life, from the personal to the professional.

Specific to our focus on sales, this tendency we all have to prefer what we know over what we do not is acutely reflected in the challenge of building relationships with your prospects and converting them into paying customers. Your prospects fear that a change—which is what salespeople are selling—will result in a relatively worse outcome. Accordingly, salespeople are met with resistance that presents a serious obstacle to realizing successful outcomes. This drama plays out every day, in every stage of the sales cycle, for salespeople of all stripes.

Contrary to popular opinion, the resistance salespeople receive does not primarily come from competing products or services. Rather, this resistance comes first from instinctual biases within the human thought process, biases that impact decision-making. The status quo bias is arguably the most important in the context of change-making efforts, representing the greatest challenge salespeople face, representing the real competition.

As such, success in sales does not primarily come from objective comparisons of your offering to another product or service alone. No matter the product, service, industry, or company, sustained sales success comes primarily from understanding and effectively responding to these instinctual biases, none of which is more crucial to tipping the scales in your favor than the status quo bias.

The question is, now that you are aware of the centrality of the status quo bias in affecting your change-making efforts, how do you need to adjust your prospecting and sales efforts to effectively confront it?

[1] Wendy Wood, Jeffrey M. Quinn, and Deborah A. Kashy, “Habits in Everyday Life: Thought, Emotion, and Action,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83, no. 6 (2002): 1281–87.

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