When it comes to change, some clients are more difficult to help than others. This post is not about clients that are difficult to help. This post is about the reasons that prevent a client from changing, even when doing so is necessary and would improve their results. Over the course of my time in sales and sales leadership, I have found that there is a small set of reasons that prevent clients from changing.
It can be difficult to recognize the true reason your client refuses to do things differently. Over many years, I have found four reasons that cause clients to maintain the status quo even when they need better results. The way I discovered these four client obstacles is that a number of clients were candid enough to tell me the truth about why they were unable to change.
Four Reasons Clients Refuse to Change
- Client commitments
- Fear of their clients
- Fear of failure
I would love to tell you that the reason clients avoid change is because they are deeply in love with the status quo. But as powerful as the status quo may be, many people in a struggling company have nothing good to say about the way things are, especially when they know that a significant change could improve their results and their experience. While we are not eliminating the status quo as our villain, there are other forces at work, some with a greater ability to prevent change.
As you will discover here, there are external and internal forces that protect the status quo and prevent change. Most of the time, your client will not disclose what prevents them from making the change they know is necessary. Here are details on each of the four reasons:
- Client commitments: Some of your clients or prospective clients have contracts and commitments to their clients. Some of these relationships find your clients in a weaker position, especially when it comes to the pricing they are able to charge. I learned very early in my time in sales that a client with no leverage was often unable to invest in their own business, eventually falling behind competitors who were better at selling and increasing their prices. The more these companies fall behind, the worse their results.
- Fear of clients: There are some clients and prospects that are afraid to change because they worry that making even necessary changes will cause their own clients to decide not to work with them. This fear may not be unfounded, as some of the company's clients are unwilling to change. In these cases, the sales force won the client by customizing their product or service to help them please their client. Because they fear having a conversation with their client about the change the client would need to accept, they refuse to address their poor results.
- Incentives: Depending on your relationship with your client, you may or may not ever be aware that some highly placed people inside the company have incentives that prevent them from accepting change. Imagine you maxed out your commission plan. How happy are you to discover your plan has changed, and maxing it out is going to be much more difficult in the future? I have shown grown adults the cost savings they could enjoy by changing, only to have them tell me that my math was wrong. My math was fine, but no reason could convince them to change if it would harm their incentives. They were looking at their personal math.
- Fear of failure: A person who has tried to change and failed is going to be shy to try again. If this same person works in a company with a punitive culture, you can expect them to try to avoid being penalized a second time. You might recognize that large companies tend to have a more political environment than smaller companies, even though the small company may also have an overly political culture. Others may just fear that any failure is a setback, even if there is no political price. Either way, one pays a personal price for failing, change is difficult.
Over time, some of the clients with the reasons listed here will change.
The contact who has a client that isn't going to accept a higher price will, over time, recognize they need to make a greater investment to improve their results, allowing the company to make the necessary changes and pay a higher price. In my experience, external forces tend to force change through.
The company that fears changing the way they deliver results for their clients will likely be displaced by a competitor who offers a better way. Because they don't have the company's client, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It's also possible that the competitor can muster up the courage to have a conversation about the change they need to make. Some of this may be a timing issue for your prospective client.
I have yet to see a company change if its managers are compensated in such a way that a change would reduce their incentives. When you can explain what's in it for the company but not answer the question "What's it in it for me?" you can expect them to err on the side of keeping their compensation.
Of the four reasons clients refuse to change, the last is the one you may have the easiest time addressing. Over time, every company is going to make changes, even if they do so with some trepidation.
The salesperson who persists over time will find that every company will change, or eventually shrink and disappear. It may be quarters or years before the company makes the necessary change, but the ACDC environment is likely to cause them to change sooner than they believe.