By Tom Reilly, author Value-Added Selling (McGraw-Hill)

“Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.” (NASA) Inertia, the stuff of physics, is a major obstacle for salespeople. Our research found that the second major challenge salespeople face (behind price resistance) is buyer inertia: “I am satisfied with my current supplier or product.” The buyer does not want to change. Change is a function of pain and gain.

People change because of pain. When the pain trumps the gain, they stop doing something. People leave bad relationships when it hurts too much to stay. People quit bad habits when they have suffered enough of the consequences. Buyers abandon suppliers when they have had their fill of service or quality issues. When the pain of doing something overshadows the benefit of doing something, it is time to change. Buyers often ignore the pain of a bad supplier because they dislike change more than the pain they incur.

People change because of gain. When the promise of a better solution (perceived gain) trumps current satisfaction levels (status quo), people will opt for something new. They will suffer inconvenience (pain) to achieve this gain. They will change for the gain, if it is overwhelmingly appealing. This is a challenge for salespeople—to present future gain as imminent gain.

Salespeople are in the pain-and-gain business. First, salespeople must dig for the pain that motivates change. Pain is a diagnostic tool. Physicians, therapists, and other change agents make benign use of pain to prompt change. Second, salespeople must be able to articulate the gain their value proposition promises, and it must overwhelm the natural resistance to change. Both of these dynamic forces play a role in successfully overcoming buyer inertia and changing the status quo. Challenging the status quo is the role of a change agent. Are you a change agent?

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