“No one ever got fired for buying from IBM.”
“No one ever got fired for buying from [insert large IT company name, consulting firm, accounting firm, etc. here]."
Sometimes these companies don’t have the best products or services, but they are known for being a safe choice. How are they safe? They are stable companies - around for years, constantly growing, not going out of business any time soon - with stable products - decent support options, adequate services, products will minimally do as expected.
Other large companies have similar experiences and expectations. Apple is known for having innovative products that don’t require too much maintenance. Oracle is known for stable, enterprise products. And don’t forget Microsoft for every PC. Or Adobe for creative software.
If you are afraid of losing your job when you make a purchase decision for you company, you know that by choosing any of these vendors you are safe. The situation with them could never be that bad. It's not a waste of money. It won't have compatibility problems. They have the basics covered and you will be able to continue to feed your family. The decision won't get you a promotion, but you are afraid of keeping your job. That's not your goal here.
Those companies are emotionally - and rationally - safe.
When we choose to buy a product from one of these companies, we aren’t driven by facts and logic. We are driven by our emotions that are later justified by facts.
Hear me out.
I was listening to a talk by Dr. Srini Pillay who has researched how people choose to make life changes. I strongly believe that any time someone buys a product, he is making a change and experiences similar mental shifts. I also believe that the same happens when a user decides to learn how to use a new product or functionality. It’s a choice for change - change how you work or complete a task. You can use the product, learn something new, or do things in the same way as you have been doing it forever.
According to Dr. Pillay, the only way you can make a change is claim in your mind that the change is essential for your life. This is why, frequently, when someone decides to buy something it happens quickly. Or if someone decides to use a new feature that happens quickly too. Change will happen if someone wants it. Otherwise, well...
If you don’t see the need for change, if a change cannot be justified, if there is something else more pressing to do, then you won’t buy. You won’t use a new feature. You won’t see the point to purchase. You'll make excuses to not purchase - like it costs too much, it's not the right time, it's not a problem I want to solve.
But you aren't making excuses because you don't need the product. You may need the product, but you just don't see it as essential right now. Something else in your life is MORE essential to solve, maintain or fix. Maybe you need to pay for your children's health, or school, or rent, or car repair, or something else.
The question for sales, marketing, and product management and development becomes: How do you get someone to see the value as to why they need to make a specific decision to buy your product?
What do you need to understand about your customer and your team so prospects and customers purchase:
- Understand the fear surrounding the problem
- Understand how this fear prevents one from solving the problem
- Have a desire to help someone overcome their fears
- Have an audience who wants to overcome their fears and solve their problem
This ties to empathy but we’ll get there in a minute.
Let’s start with understanding the fear which is the root of the problem.
According to Dr. Pillay, our decisions are often based on fear - ultimately, fear of failure. If we determine a product is essential to our well-being and success - we get it right away. If we don’t determine that it is essential, we may put off buying the solution entirely.
But how do different people manifest this fear of failure? Usually, there is a personal reason why someone doesn’t buy a product. It's a fear that is stronger than the fear of failure, or it is a fear of failing in another part of someone's life. It may not be the fear of him losing his job, it could be fear of him recommending a product that will cause him to lose status. Or personally, he could fear the loss of money depending on other life situations.
(How do I know this? Partly from working in sales and talking to many sales people; partly from being on the customer side in enterprise sales and hearing the conversations there; partly from talking to customers and observing sales processes.)
We like to think that decisions are based on facts and logic. Often, facts and logic will validate our emotions for why we choose as we do. This is why you need to understand the fear people feel about purchasing your product. Then you can understand the facts that will help them feel that they need your product today.
What do you do to understand the fear? You need to research your customers' fears and find out what is holding them back from buying or using your product. Ask questions like:
- Why do they not want it?
- What is preventing them from moving forward in the process?
- What is the factor that holds them back?
- Why does this customer not want to use the product? What is it about the product?
The problem may also be that the product solves someone's problem, which could take away that person's job. Something to consider.
Understand how the fear prevents one from solving a problem
Fear can cause people to procrastinate and freeze in their tracks, even if the long-term avoidance goes against someone’s personal benefit and best interest.
To a product manager or marketer this is maddening and illogical. Why would people work against their best interest? People do this EVERY DAY! We are trained to do this - we are almost rewarded to stay safe and not take a risk.
I mean, look at how most companies work. In many organizations, if you make a mistake, you are treated so poorly and sometimes, embarrassed. There are few organizations that embrace experiments and learning.
We are trained to save time. Learning something new takes time. Although your organization may want you to learn new things, the culture often doesn't support that. You'll be called out for not working fast enough so then you'd wonder - why learn something new?
There are more examples why we are trained to stay the course, not make a change, not the rock the boat, but I won't go into them here.
Sure, a product manager or marketer could create a program to have someone list the reasons to buy the item. Even if sales is involved, I'm not sure that would be completely effective because it's a little coerced. It may be better to do some anonymous research for how that fear prevents someone from solving the problem.
For these first two items, you may be wondering if the fear is unique for each person or there are a majority number of fears. What I have observed is that there are general categories of fears.
My favorite example: health insurance.
We had 6 different people come in to usability test a new way for people to select an insurance product. All 6 people exhibited fears about health insurance. They expressed them differently:
- One referred to our company by the wrong name (sure you can confuse companies, but if you are seeing the logo everywhere in an office, something else is happening)
- Another admitted that she probably wouldn't even use the selector tool to find a plan because she would be too scared to get on the site. And she was too intimidated by insurance to even call the broker.
- Another claimed that they didn't understand the terminology but wouldn't look it up - even in a tool tip.
And the list continued.
The bottom line fears for the group that came in:
- Afraid of making a bad decision
- Afraid of financial products
- Afraid that they won’t understand it anyway
For a travel product, we had a flight post-purchase product for hotels. Universally the fear expressed was that they may find a better price so they wanted more time to purchase. They wanted a link to come back to the widget and site after they did a little shopping.
The bottom line fears:
- Afraid that they didn't get the best price
- Afraid that a better hotel was out there
- Afraid of missing out on all the options
Research presents trends that are happening with people. Sure, individuals have specific fears and concerns unique to their situations, but generally, there are trends for shared fears in groups and in ethnographic circles.
Have a desire to help someone to overcome their fears
If your product, marketing or sales team doesn’t want to find ways for prospects and customers to overcome their fears, then stop making products and find a new team. If people don’t care enough to understand the mindset of their customers they shouldn’t be working at your company.
I say this so strongly because in my experience, I have never found entire teams not interested in knowing what customers think. If anything, everyone is fighting to get customer attention to get those insights! This is why you need a research team to talk to them. Everyone wants to know who these people are, how they think, and what they do.
I think most employees know that they wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for customers.
If your team understands how your customers think and what their fears are, the next step is to have them feel connected to your customers through minimally, empathy. They need to do more than understand the customer's problems; they need to feel the emotions that they do about them - the fears, the desires, the hopes, the joy. And this happens through a shared and relatable experience.
If making a choice to buy and use a product is emotionally driven and based on overcoming fear, then you need to put yourself into their situation and understand that process throughout the customer lifecycle. You need empathy with your customers - but it’s empathy through experience.
The next time you choose to buy something - from a replacement or a new item - be conscious about what is driving your decision to buy, the timing, the monetary needs, etc. Ask yourself:
- What's driving this decision? What am I afraid will happen if I buy it? What if I don't buy it?
- If I don't buy it, what is the other priority I have for this money?
- When do I want to buy this item? How does it fit into my financial planning?
- How will I feel about myself when I buy this? How do I think others will see me?
This may also help you better understand what is happening in the mind of your customer - consciously or most likely, subconsciously. And it may help you understand why IBM got that expression - and so many sales - all along.
With IBM, you keep your job, your house, your family - there is really no personal risk to you. Would it make you a superstar and genius? No. But with them, you won't fail. And if you are afraid of failure, you just satisfied your fear.