It’s hard to overcome inertia

One thing I’ve learned in talking with customers:  People have a high threshold for pain.  It’s really difficult to get them to move away from whatever system they’re using to handle some task in their organization – no matter how bad that system is – and adopt a new one. 

When I talk with customers that have recently purchased a new software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution for their organization, I always ask “What system did you have before, and why did you decide to change.” 

 I nearly always hear back that the system they used before had to be bad – really, really bad – before they decided to replace it.  Even when they know that it’s less than optimal – slow, hard-to-use, messy, whatever – they will often choose to just live with that pain if they can. 

 I’ve heard this from HR managers, finance executives, property managers, advertising professionals, and pretty much everyone else.  Most people are willing endure a lot in order to avoid the expense and hassle of making a change. 

 Only urgent problems get attention

 If people are busy in most organizations, that’s doubly true for folks that are considering SaaS solutions.  As I’ve talked about before, these people have day jobs.  They’re managing HR, finance, sales, or some other full-time responsibility.  They don’t have a few open weeks or months to evaluate SaaS solutions.  They have a long list of tasks to focus on and only the most urgent problems an get their attention.  (See video “Only urgent problems get attention.”)

 If you’re marketing a SaaS solution and the problem you solve is way down on your prospect’s list of problems that need attention, your first task is to push that problem toward the top of the list.  An annoying problem – one they can live with – needs to become an urgent problem – one that can’t be ignored.

 Look for deeper pain

 When SaaS solution vendors are touting their advantages over existing systems, I typically hear some variation of this: “We’re faster and we’re less expensive.”  They talk about how their system will save the customer money and let them work more efficiently.  Some will go on to quantify the saving and even calculate the ROI on buying their solution.

 “Faster and cheaper” are useful advantages, but they’re usually just table stakes.  Marketers should look for the deeper, more urgent problems – issues that can truly imperil the business – that can more effectively motivate a prospective customer.  For a financial services professional, for example, their biggest problem – one near the top of their list – may be the need to reduce risk.  For an HR professional, it may be that they are so buried in administrivia that they’re unable to have significant impact on the organization.  I once heard from a property management executive that managed several different offices that their biggest fear was the risk of embezzlement.

 Focus first on the pain, not the solution

 A reminder to marketers: your biggest competitor is usually inertia.  At least in the initial discussions with prospective customers, you’re usually competing against the impulse to “do nothing,” not against a vendor offering a similar solution. 

Showing how you stack up against other vendors’ solutions doesn’t matter so much at this stage.  It’s way more important to show that the customer has an urgent problem – one that cannot be ignored.  Only when they get there have you earned the right to show them that you can solve that problem.