Sunday, July 8, 2012

How to Break the Grip of the Status Quo

In his 1989 best seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote that effective people practice the habit of "putting first things first." By this, Covey meant that effective people focus most of their attention on things that are truly important.

Covey used a matrix diagram to illustrate that we spend our time in one of four ways. My version of Covey's matrix is shown  below.

Quadrant I of the matrix contains tasks, issues or problems that are both urgent and important. These are the things that command most of our time and attention.  Quadrant II contains tasks, issues or problems that are important, but not urgent. Covey argues that highly effective people find ways to spend more of their time addressing Quatrant II issues. Quadrant III issues are urgent, but not important, and Quadrant IV issues are neither important nor urgent. Covey says that effective people stay away from Quadrants III and IV as much as possible because, urgent or not, these issues aren't important.

Believe it or not, Covey's time management framework provides important insights for B2B marketing. Today's business buyers are incredibly busy, and like most of us, they spend most of their working time dealing with issues or problems that they perceive to be important and urgent. If they don't see a problem or issue as both important and urgent, they won't give it much attention.

This explains why the status quo is usually your biggest competitor. According to SiriusDecisions, the first step in the B2B buying process is "loosening of the status quo." Unless you break the grip of the status quo, your prospect won't even begin a serious buying process.

The key to breaking the grip of the status quo is convincing your prospect that the problem your product or service will solve is both important and urgent, that it belongs in Quadrant I. You must, in essence, provide the answers to two questions: Why is it important for me to address this problem or issue? Why should I deal with this problem or issue now?

Most potential buyers that you encounter won't immediately view the problem you can solve as important or urgent. He or she may not be aware of the problem or understand its ramifications. For most prospects, therefore, the problem will fall into Quadrant IV of Covey's matrix. To get a serious buying process started, you'll need to elevate the problem from Quadrant IV to Quadrant I. As the diagram below illustrates, you first need to establish the importance of the problem (get it to Quadrant II), and then create a sense of urgency about solving it (move it to Quadrant I).

Marketing content has to play a pivotal role in establishing both importance and urgency. A growing number of companies are now using marketing content that does a pretty good job of establishing importance. Far fewer companies excel at creating the required sense of urgency.

One of the most powerful ways to establish the urgency of a problem is to make the cost of delay visible to a prospect. That's why I include a cost of delay calculation in every ROI calculator I develop. However, ROI calculators are typically used by sales reps during the later stages of the buying process, and you also need to make the cost of delay visible at the beginning of the process.

Here are a couple of ways to solve the puzzle.
  • Incorporate the cost of delay in a white paper that discusses the economic benefits of your solution. Ideally, you would draw on a real-world example involving one of your existing customers. If that's not possible, create a realistic hypothetical example.
  • Develop a self-assessment tool that enables prospects to estimate the economic value they would obtain by purchasing your solution. It's relatively easy to add a cost of delay calculation to this type of tool.

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