Your Customers are More Alike than They are Different
The sense of insecurity due to the need to control is a major force behind all change. Customers pull the trigger to change because the gap between tolerable and intolerable is too large.
Many customers are terrified about the variables of the unknown in respect to change. They put themselves in a position where they live out the past over and over again by making superficial changes, but never really step up to the plate and really make wholesale change.
Outward things appear safe, predictable and manageable but they are not. As Warren Buffett says, "The chains of habit are too light to be noticed until they are too heavy to be removed."
Customers who are victims, complainers, common excuse makers and finger pointers do not know how to learn, and change effectively and efficiently because they do not know how to take personal responsibility. And customers who primarily focus on the present do not change quickly.
Genuine ignorance is never a big problem with customers when considering to buy something different or to change. What is a big problem is when they do not know and they think they know. Under these circumstances you will often meet heavy resistance and denial.
You need to always understand the conditions for change with your customer. Find out what are the obstacles, and understand what they are willing to give up or sacrifice. All change requires payoffs and sacrifice.
Change will come slowly unless you get out on the table with your customer all the competing initiatives, conflicts of interest, power struggles, unfinished business, transition costs, unresolved issues and cultural clashes.
Never propose change until you know how it will impact all the pieces, time frames and people in the puzzle. Sharon Drew Morgen says, "The time it takes a customer to come up with their own answers to maintain a homeostasis through change is the length of the sales/decision cycle."
Customers will consider changing when they no longer see some "value" in their problems or their challenges. When customers overcompensate for their problems they can become chronic. When they are chronic they can be so entrenched that change can become almost impossible. Remember, there is always a tradeoff for inaction.
As a customer advocate and change-agent, your marching orders are to help your customers consider the pros and cons of changing. You need to be impartial and unbiased if they are going to allow you to lead them through the change process.
Customers change for many different reasons, most of those different reasons are fairly superficial. The differences represent 10%. They are simply the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the tip similarities run deep. 90% represent the same basic meat and potato reasons. Once you figure this out for your product category or industry you start to simplify your approach. All your customers are more alike than they are different.
To be an effective change-agent you need operational fluency of your customer's business and you need to understand their overall goals, strategies and hurdles. Then you can help shape your customer's priorities as opposed to simply responding to them.