La-Z-Boy sells a lot of recliners. I don’t believe they win a lot of design awards, but then again their customers likely put a low priority on being fashion-forward in the family room. The recliner buyers wants to be comfortable and those big cushy chairs can indeed deliver comfort.
That might be fine at home—but on the job comfort can wreck your marketing and growth plans. Too often I see internal teams running on auto-pilot in the ways they deal with customers and prospects. On the external side, you can be sure that competitors are trying to make your customers a little uncomfortable. And we have to make prospects similarly uncomfortable in order for them to consider doing business with us.
Marketing and Sales Have a Comfort Cycle
Much of marketing and sales success comes with creating a cycle of “de-comforting” and “re-comforting.” Let’s say you are on the hunt for net-new customers. Those prospects have some level of comfort with their status quo (after all, they likely had a hand in producing it). The challenge is to make them uncomfortable enough with the way things are to at least seriously consider a change.
Sometimes the need for change comes from an obvious external force (e.g. a disruptive technology in the industry, new regulations, or a scary new competitor). Yet many times the marketer must make the case for change, using insights and examples. Once there is a little discomfort on the part of the prospect, you can help that prospect feel most comfortable with you providing the best path to resolving their issues.
If you are more focused on customer retention and cross-selling rather than on finding new customers, your team still cannot afford to get too comfortable. It’s easy to say the same things and tell the same stories to the same people in your accounts. Sales people, recruiters, development officers, and others responsible for growth can fall into the trap. Are your teams consistently good at offering new ideas and insights in their customer conversations? Are they continually expanding the conversation to include people in executive, technical, and financial roles within your customer accounts? Let’s not allow competitors to do the de-comforting within your valuable customer base.
How to Provoke the Right Level of Discomfort
What are some good practices to follow in de-comforting?
- Don’t attack a customer’s past decisions. That will likely lead them to justify what they are doing and dig in their heels Instead, focus on their situation and its potential risks.
- Don’t slam competitors or talk about yourself too much; focus on the customer’s reality.
- Make sure the customer knows they aren’t the only ones in a messed-up status quo. After all, if they believe the problem is uniquely theirs, then they might assume they’re a lost cause.
- Do point out the common problems in the status quo for them and peer organizations, or how traditional approaches diverge from practices you know would work better.
- Do your homework and ask questions, so that you understand the pain points produced by the status quo. Don’t just ask a prospect what their pain points are.
- Don’t start proposing solutions (which is part of re-comforting) before you have explored and understood the de-comforting. This is where many sales and service professionals go astray.
How to Make Customers and Prospects Comfortable Again
Effective re-comforting practices include:
- Create with your customer or prospect a shared vision of what that “better tomorrow” looks like.
- After you have established that future vision, you can effectively talk about your differentiators and expertise.
- Use stories and examples that feel relevant to the customer. Some companies put together case studies in a way that unfortunately fails to connect.
There’s nothing wrong with a little comfort along the way. We just don’t want that recliner to dominate the room.
Jim Karrh, Ph.D. is a consultant, speaker, and author helping organizations transform their customer conversations and become more effective through “Managing the Message.” He is also a consulting principal of DSG, a sales-enablement firm. See JimKarrh.com, follow him on Twitter @JimKarrh and email him at Jim@JimKarrh.com.