The Hard Part About Starting Something New (or Why New Year's Resolutions Usually Fail)

January 10, 2024

Selling a commodity is easy but it’s tough to make much money.

That’s because, by definition, a commodity is something the market treats as equivalent or nearly so no matter who produced it or where it’s from.

It’s much more lucrative to sell something different—something that delivers greater value to the buyer than the common solution.

But convincing the buyer to purchase something different is also fraught. They cling tightly to their existing solution, resistant to change.

The hardest part, it turns out, is not getting the buyer to try something new; it’s getting them to stop the status quo.

Which begs the question: Why do B2B marketers focus so much on pushing the new, and very little on what it will replace?


We're very good at finding reasons to stick with the status quo

Clinging On

In many business situations, the status quo feels fragile, so we hold onto it very tightly.

Perhaps it took a long, hard journey to get to the current solution.

Or perhaps that solution was already in place when we go there.

Arriving after the current solution was chosen makes us feel like an impostor and our first recourse is usually to defend whatever was here before us—even if we have no idea whether it’s a good solution or not.

We come up with a dozen reasons for sticking with the status quo—whether logical, psychological, or cultural—and hope that the change agent will leave us alone.

Tackling this head on can be arduous, as salespeople are prone to finding out.

“I hear no ten times before I get to a yes,” is a popular—if rather old school—refrain.

That’s a war of attrition.

Neither the salesperson nor the prospect will emerge feeling good about the result.


Emotional Enrollment

The prolific author, entrepreneur, and marketer, Seth Godin, speaks frequently about the importance of emotional enrollment.

As he puts it, “No toddler learned to walk by insisting, again and again, that crawling was good enough. Or by trying to walk by simply crawling harder.”

For change to happen, the person in the middle of it must be enrolled. They must believe that the change is not only worthwhile, but that it is necessary.

If a buyer is unwilling to enroll in the process of change—afraid to let go of whatever they’re holding on to, then getting to something better will prove elusive.

Marketers must conquer this challenge before promoting their “something new”.

In B2B content marketing parlance, we must engage prospects at the awareness stage of their buyer’s journey.

They’re not yet convinced this is a challenge worth solving.

In Godin’s words, they’re not yet enrolled in the process of finding something better.


Naming and Framing

Before a prospect will entertain alternatives to their status quo, they must quantify the benefit of enrolling in that process.

They must recognize that the status quo is inhibiting their ability to achieve their objectives.

It’s not a complete blocker, otherwise the situation would be urgent, and change would be imperative.

More likely it’s “good enough” and “getting the job done.”

To build up courage and become enrolled, the prospect must ask and answer two key questions:

What would a better solution allow me to do differently?


What would that be worth to me?

Describing what a better solution might look like allows them to give their challenge a name—expressed in terms that relate directly to their objectives.

Putting a value on making the improvement—whether measured in money, time, productivity, or something else—allows them to frame the challenge and compare it to other opportunities.

Objective naming and framing can be difficult, especially when we’re tightly wedded to the status quo or lack a complete understanding of the process it impacts.

Information that allows us to see our situation in context—as an outside observer might—is helpful in loosening our grip on the present.

Putting realistic values on the cost of doing nothing and the benefit of enacting change creates a driving force for enrolling in the possibility of change.

Only then, if the potential value created by giving up the old and trying something new is great enough, will the prospect be open to considering alternatives.


At the awareness stage, prospects need help describing and quantifying the challenge they're facing

Marketing at the Awareness Stage

Many businesses devote a majority of their marketing budget and effort to targeting sales-ready prospects—those who are ready to buy now.

However, on average, only 5% of your potential customers are in-market at any given time, actively making a purchase.

What’s more, in today’s world of online research and evaluation, prospects at the selection stage have usually made up their minds what to buy and where to buy it from.

In other words, if you haven’t engaged with those prospects earlier in their buyer’s journey, it’s too late to start now.

To engage prospects earlier requires both a different approach and a different message.

You can’t reach individual prospects at the awareness stage because they won’t yet have shared their identity or contact information with you.

Instead, you’ll need to publish relevant content in places where you suspect they are likely to look.

And relevant means something very different to a prospect at the awareness stage than it does to one evaluating solutions or selecting one to purchase.

As we’ve discussed, they need help naming and framing their challenge—not learning about the features and benefits of your solution.

First you must get them to stop loving the status quo; to enroll in the idea of change.

What does this look like in practice?

Most solution providers are acutely aware of the challenges their prospects and customers face—that’s what led them to develop a better solution in the first place.

There’s usually at least one person on the team with deep technical knowledge and a wealth of experience in performing cost-benefit analyses.

That’s exactly the sort of information a prospect at the awareness stage needs to hear.

Write them a step-by-step guide to evaluating their status quo.

Describe how other companies have identified and quantified similar challenges.

Build a simple calculator that turns readily available inputs into a realistic assessment of the value their status quo is inhibiting.

Notice that none of these suggestions involve your solution.

Content for the awareness stage should be as vendor agnostic and solution agnostic as possible.

Resist the temptation to get salesy too soon.

If a prospective buyer, reluctant to even enroll in the process, senses that they’re being sold to, they will inevitably retreat to the comfort of their status quo.

Instead, adopt the mindset of “always be helping.”

What do you know—what does your team know—that can be captured in a helpful format and shared on a channel the buyer is likely to frequent?


About New Year’s Resolutions

It’s no coincidence that we’re writing this blog in the first week of January.

The contemplation of New Year’s resolutions, and why they are generally pointless, led us to consider the difficulties of starting something new.

New Year’s resolutions tend to fail because the person making them isn’t enrolled and hasn’t stopped the old behavior they’re trying to replace.

“I’ll start going to the gym five days each week” fails because something else isn’t stopped to make room for it on the calendar.

“I’ll eat healthier and lose weight” doesn’t happen because other habits that bring less healthy food into view aren’t changed to diminish the temptation.

B2C marketers don’t do much for the cause, either.

I see a lot of pictures of fit, sweaty people triumphantly completing a workout in their swanky, spa-like gym.

The fit people are attractive. The gym is attractive. But my status quo is comfortable. And my schedule is a mess.

I can’t make the mental leap from one lifestyle to the other. So, I’m not enrolled.

Buyers who nod eagerly at your solution when you meet them on your trade show booth, promising to show your brochure to their boss, are likely to ghost you.

They’re captivated at that moment. They’ve made a resolution to follow up. But they’re not enrolled.

Much better to have a conversation about their situation and send them home with a guide on how to evaluate their status quo.

It still has your branding on it, just no product information.

It still nudges them toward purchasing from you, just not yet.

The hardest part of selling them something new is getting them enrolled in letting go of their status quo.


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Image credits: Adobe Stock

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