Inertia-Breaking for Dummies (and Smart People)

Let’s take a trip back to 7th-grade physics (or something) – “An object at rest tends to stay at rest.”

That’s the definition of the term inertia.

Little did you know at the time, you were also learning about one of the greatest business challenges out there: it’s called “buyer inertia.” Buyer inertia is the idea that customers are inherently rooted in their established modes of purchasing – sticking with the same brand, product or service as opposed to making a switch.

Buyer inertia can be most evident in categories that are high consideration, high complexity or highly commoditized. Think about things like financial services, business technology, hiring a major professional services provider, or switching cell phone carriers. Typically, making a switch within these categories is challenging because our psychology makes us say, “it’s just too much work for just too little benefit.”

In other words, your customers are pretty lazy. And this creates all sorts of challenges, because no matter how effective your salespeople are, still the average customer might not want to switch to your product or service. Because that would require work.

The typical solution of many marketers is to pull the pricing lever. Ultra-high discounts are a great motivator to get someone to make a change. But in many ways, that’s a losing proposition. You’re leaving profits on the table. And in some categories like financial or professional services, pricing changes come associated with all sorts of business issues and even regulations.

With that, here are three of the best ways businesses can go about breaking buyer inertia:

Inertia-Breaker #1: Awareness is Your Best Friend

The problem with buyer inertia is that buyers won’t make a change until they really, really have to. It might be because of a business or life event, or it might be because of massive frustration with an existing provider. You could be trying to sell to someone for ten years (and in the process, completely annoying them) – and only on day number 1,153, for some random reason, they suddenly have a need.

That’s where awareness comes in. You can’t necessarily predict who will have a need on any given day, but if you are top of mind among your customer base, you will generally get a call (or a website visit).

The problem with awareness? It’s expensive to buy. Literally, we are talking about millions of dollars. It’s probably the most effective way to break inertia at scale – but for many marketers, it just isn’t attainable due to cost.

Inertia-Breaker #2: Drop Breadcrumbs

Want to find out which customers might be considering a switch in your category? Make sure you have good data in your business CRM and then drop some breadcrumbs. By breadcrumbs, we mean small nuggets of non-promotional content that – if a user engages – signals that they are shopping around. This might be “things to consider when changing a service provider” or “three things businesses normally get wrong when making a switch”.

Promote that content and see who engages. If you’re getting the right data in the door, you’re building an incredibly powerful list of potentially motivated buyers who you can push direct marketing or a sales call to.

Basically, create content that helps you uncover which customers you should be calling on.

Inertia-Breaker #3: Create Value – Don’t Just Communicate It

In low-engagement, highly commoditized categories like business banking, there is almost no reason to make a switch. Let’s be honest. Changing account numbers, moving large sums of money, and notifying your direct deposit customers that you have a new account number, all so that your money can sit silently in someone else’s coffers? “No thanks,” is what your salespeople will hear most often.

In this situation, you don’t just have to communicate value – you have to create value. What does that mean? It means being able to say “Sure, you get the standard banking services and technology with us, but you also get this, this, and this.” And when we say “this, this, and this,” each of these items is a program created by marketers. It might be a regular business thought leadership series, access to ongoing insights that other banks can’t give, free consultations with subject matter experts –basically, all things that add value to your customer’s life and business.

Namely, you need to get your customer saying “With them, we get a lot more than we are getting today.” You’re creating value that wouldn’t otherwise be there in the commoditized category.

At the end of the day, breaking inertia is a marketer’s job. Salespeople will get in the room and sell as best they can, but if they are talking to the wrong people with the wrong value proposition, they will be ineffective and their results will be mixed. You need to start thinking intentionally about how you’ll break inertia – and then get to work.

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