Trending This Week: Overcoming Buyer Resistance to Change

Overcome all-too-common resistance to change by understanding four ways sellers should work with change resistors.

May 26, 2017

  • A Distressed Businessman Plugs His Ears

Even when it promises great things, change is never easy. A recent article in Harvard Business Review noted that 50%–75% of organizational change efforts fail. Why do you think so many early-stage prospects stick with the status quo?

But that doesn’t mean you should only pursue the most promising of prospects. After all, there’s honor in helping a buyer overcome traditional roadblocks to make necessary, lasting change. Next time you encounter a roadblock, call upon the following ways to overcome resistance as outlined in the article.

Know What You’re Up Against

While many within an organization might resist change, it’s those who wield the most influence in thwarting change who warrant your attention. To identify them, article authors Sally Blount and Shana Carroll from the Kellogg School of Management advise you focus on three main roadblocks:

  1. Feeling overlooked. You know it’s vital to engage and gain the buy-in of the entire buying committee. But even the buying committee can face internal resistance, usually when someone disagrees with the business case for change or feels their perspective hasn’t been considered.
  2. Feeling disrespected. The authors underscore the universal human desire for respect, and the fact that certain employees – particularly longstanding ones or those who once wielded great influence – may feel a lack of it because they have not been consulted.  
  3. Feeling rushed. Not everyone processes information at the same rate, so some people may resist change simply because they feel they are being rushed.

4 Ways to Disarm Resistors

The most effective strategy for overcoming resistance is by addressing it head-on. But to tip the odds in your favor, it helps to keep these four rules in mind, say the authors.

  1. Separately engage in unhurried, face-to-face conversations with each resistor. The goal is to fully understand each person’s concerns and make them feel they are being heard. This can’t be handled effectively unless you meet in person.
  2. Make them feel understood. One of the underlying reasons for resistance in each of the three roadblocks is a sense of being overlooked. So it’s essential that each of the resistors feel you are hearing and understanding them. Ask questions but let them do most of the talking and frequently repeat back what you are hearing. This helps ensure you truly understand while assuring them that you are listening. 
  3. Be open to change. Resistors won’t respond well if they feel you’re just going through the motions and have no intentions of considering their viewpoints. You have to be open to change yourself and demonstrate a willingness to change plans or proposals based on their input.
  4. Schedule two conversations. The authors strongly recommend a minimum of two conversations with each resistor. The first conversation is focused on understanding the cause of the resistance. The second one is to present what will or will not change and why, based on the thought you’ve given to the resistor’s input. According to the authors, wait at least two days between conversations to give yourself enough time to reflect – and to show the resistor that you’ve taken that time. However, hold the second conversation before seven days has passed or else the resistor will feel you’ve dismissed them.

You know that resistance to change will never disappear. But you also know that overcoming it is critical if organizations are to evolve. By understanding the psychology behind that resistance and how to best address it, you will be in a better position to subvert the status quo for the good of both you and your new customer. Just remember: change doesn’t happen overnight, so set aside ample time to get through this critical part of the sales process.

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