Friday, July 19, 2024

Client inertia: The hidden barrier to growth

By James Mollard, JPC

Every business has a view on their competition. Some of it is formal and in depth. Some of it is simply the tacit knowledge of the people in the front line. All of it is valuable when  thoughtfully applied. What businesses don’t have are sets of battlecards for dealing with inertia, says James Mollard at JPC.

Although you might not know it, arguably the biggest hidden barrier to success for your business is neither increased competition nor the uncertain economic conditions. No, it’s much more insidious. It’s the inertia of potential clients – and existing ones – to change supplier. 

One of the biggest issues for the thriving technology sector is legacy systems. Companies invested in them years ago and wear them like a familiar, comfortable old pair of shoes – despite the fact that they are falling apart. They simply refuse to change to a newer, more efficient, cost effective set up, despite the benefits it will drive across the business. 

Staying power

Familiarity might breed contempt, but it sure has staying power! Of course, client inertia goes much deeper than simply sticking with what you know. It’s driven by fear and a natural aversion to risk. Dwelling more on what could go wrong, than what could go right: Can we afford it? What if it doesn’t work? Can we trust them to deliver? Think about the disruption the change it will cause! 

Now, if tech companies have difficulty convincing businesses to move to something that will significantly transform their organisations for the better, you can only imagine the level of inertia to switching suppliers in areas where there’s not such an obvious, although still significant, positive impact – say, facilities, legal, HR, training, etc.

So, what do you do? Simply ramp up marketing and sales efforts in the hope that something will eventually get through? Or would it be a lot more time and cost efficient to move on to the next prospect? Although you could then encounter the same problem…

Maybe it’s time for a rethink; a shift in strategy. 

Making the case for change

If you’ve recognised that inertia is the main barrier to making progress with the customer, simply delivering the usual ‘buy this from us’ messages that make the case for your product over the competition won’t help – they’ll just be ignored. You may have the most groundbreaking, problem-solving solution, but if your prospect believes they don’t have the resources to deploy it, fears the disruption deployment might cause, and/or lacks faith in its (and your) effectiveness, they’re never going to buy, so you have to solve those problems first. 

Where these and/or other more introspective motives are guiding a buyer journey, an account-based approach is a must to break a cycle of inaction. The forensic investigation into your customer’s market and business, uncovering goals and challenges, that researching and designing an account-based marketing (ABM) programme involves, makes it possible to map out the internal bias towards inaction, while also enabling you to show a strong knowledge of the company and its needs – something 68% of buyers said they looked for in a vendor, according to the recent 2022 B2B Buyers Behaviour Survey. It also enables you to engage directly with those in the right lines of business, or with individual stakeholders, with the right content, at the right time, in the right way, primarily to build trust and authority. 

Maintain the dialogue

Once you’ve broken the stasis and begun to spark a conversation about the possibility of change, it’s vital that you continue to reinforce the argument as the dialogue evolves and you move the customer along the buyer journey. Consistently delivering the original ‘reasons to act’ is critical to ensure progression and competitive advantage is retained. 

Then, once the purchase has been made, maintaining contact with the key stakeholders and decision makers through insight that delivers business value, such as relevant marketing and technology trends, reinforces trust and the continued need for change and evolution. Gaining and keeping a customer’s faith in this way will forge a strong partnership that you’ll both continue to benefit from for years to come.  

Key takeaways:

  • If your key target customer is clearly resistant to change, delivering the usual ‘why to buy this from us’ messages won’t work.
  • Drill down into the reasons behind the inertia, so you can address each problem directly, develop the  case for change and understand the ramifications of inaction.
  • Engage directly with key decision makers and stakeholders to open a dialogue on the need for change to build trust and credibility.
  • Continue to reinforce the ‘reasons to act’ and assuage their fear of change as you guide the customer across the buying journey. 
  • Mobilise your customer and partner base to create success stories relevant to your target and the stakeholder you are engaging with.

James Mollard is Client and Growth Director at strategic marketing agency JPC.


Strategic marketing agency JPC has helped ambitious B2B businesses secure an ICV of over £12bn in the past six years by developing and delivering a forensic and pre-emptive integrated ABX strategy targeted at their most high-value enterprise accounts.— 


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