You might have heard some variation of the idea that salespeople need to be fluent across the many different moments they face in their sales conversations. The same sentiment gets applied to marketers much, much less—but it shouldn’t be. Because that type of fluency is just as critical for those who develop the stories as it is for those who tell them in the field.
Marketers must be great at creating stories that respond to the unique pressures that arise in different buying situations. And, as new research shows, messaging well throughout the customer lifecycle isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. In some situations, such as when you’re the outsider trying to displace an incumbent, a disruptive, insights-fueled story is the way to go. But when you’re the insider and working to renew an existing customer, you need to develop a story that’s fundamentally different—even opposite—to that provocative approach.
The sections below highlight how to be most compelling and effective story in some of the most critical buying moments (which I’ve summarized by the key questions marketers or account teams need to answer). Based on the findings from academic research simulations, the following sections reveal which buying situations call for a provocative story, and which ones might require you to dial that story back.
When You Should Challenge: “Why Change?” and “Why You?”
When you’re the outsider trying to convince prospects to leave their current situation and choose you, you need to tell a story that challenges the status quo bias, because in this context buyer inaction is the biggest threat to your success.
But here’s where the “why change?” story goes wrong…
Many companies tend to want to base their messaging on the needs their prospects tell them they have. They’re then inclined to connect those identified needs to the specific capabilities that respond to them. The problem with this approach is that it effectively commoditizes your message, because your competitors are likely responding to the same set of customer inputs in their message.
How do you break out of this commodity messaging and disrupt the status quo? You do it by messaging to your prospects’ unconsidered needs: the problems or missed opportunities they either don’t know about or are underestimating. That disruption-minded story creates the urgency for them to change (in fact, our research simulation found that you can gain a 10 percent edge in critical attitude and choice measures by constructing a message that begins by introducing an unconsidered need). Then, to establish your differentiation and tell a great “why you” story, you need to connect the needs you’ve identified to your unique strengths, demonstrating how you’re best suited to help them overcome their biggest challenges and meet their biggest goals.
When You Shouldn’t Challenge: “Why Stay?” and “Why Pay?”
A provocative story is highly successful when you’re trying to acquire new customers and break through the barrier of buyer inaction. But, that type of story doesn’t hold up when you’re the insider and trying to keep your customers (“why stay?”) or even convince them to pay more for your solutions (“why pay?”). In fact, research shows it can set you back in both discussions.
One research simulation tested the provocative message in a renewal selling context and found that it made customers 10 percent more likely to switch providers or shop around for alternatives. The study also found that a provocative message reduces intent to renew by 13 percent—another statistically significant margin.
Price increases—a distinct but related conversation—is another area where there’s a lot at stake, and a lot of potential for things going badly. Besides your profitability being on the line, passing along a price increase has the added risk of eroding customer loyalty and even making customers vulnerable to the offerings of competitors. It’s little wonder that four out of five companies want more structure and strategy when it comes to handling price increases.
Our research shows that—similar to renewals—the “why pay” message goes wrong when you try to provoke and challenge the customer with head-turning insights and new information. That approach, in fact, makes existing customers 16.3 percent more likely to consider competing alternatives and 15.5 percent less likely to renew, according to the results of a simulation.
To succeed in these critical moments in the customer lifecycle, your story needs to do the opposite of what it does when you’re the outsider. Instead of telling a disruptive story that overcomes status quo bias, you need to tell a story that reinforces the current situation and validates your customer’s original decision for choosing you. When it comes to retaining customers and convincing them to pay more, that type of story is highly effective at generating the outcomes you want.
The research shows that different moments demand different messages, and that to succeed in the key situations you face throughout the life of your accounts, marketers—like salespeople—need to be great at matching the right message to the right moment. While some situations call for a disruptive, change-driven perspective to defeat the status quo, others require that you throttle it back and follow an approach that reinforces why your customer chose you in the first place.
Want to learn more about telling the right story for the key conversations outlined above? Check out our latest eBook, which covers the conversations above in-depth.
This article originally published in CMO.com.