Status Quo Bias is defined as a person’s innate preference for not doing something different from what they’re doing today.
Over the years, a number of psychological studies have shown that when faced with a decision, the majority of people tend to stick with their status quo. And most of the time, you aren’t even aware of how this bias affects your decisions.
Why does it happen? The simple answer is that people naturally view change as costly, unsafe, and risky. If the perceived benefits of a new or alternative solution don’t outweigh the perceived costs of changing their status quo, people tend to take no action to change. They prefer instead to continue on the path they’re already on—even if the alternative is objectively better.
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Decision-making science has shown that Status Quo Bias is closely related to another cognitive bias known as Loss Aversion—a concept that was popularized by Nobel Prize-winning researchers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.
Loss Aversion research found that the potential for loss stands out more in peoples’ minds than the potential for gain. And people are twice as motivated to make a decision to avoid a loss than to achieve a gain.
At its core, Status Quo Bias is about safety. Whether you realize it or not, you are inherently biased to take the path of least resistance in your decision-making. It’s much easier—and much safer—to stay with your current way of doing things than to take a risk on something new. And the same is true for your customers.
How Does Status Quo Bias Apply to Sales and Marketing?
In a sales and marketing context, Status Quo Bias is a powerful force that can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. If you understand how your buyers are framing their decision to change, versus staying with their status quo, you’re more likely to persuade them to change, choose you, and stay with you when your competitors come knocking at their door.
But how you manage your buyer’s Status Quo Bias changes with the situation at hand.
In the customer acquisition scenario, you need to disrupt and defeat your buyer’s status quo to convince prospects to change and choose you. But in a renewal or expansion scenario, research shows that a disruptive approach will backfire. You actually need to defend your position as your customers’ status quo and reinforce the relationship.
With this in mind, it’s important to understand the deeper causes of Status Quo Bias. Then, you’ll know how it affects your buyer’s purchasing decisions across the entire Customer Deciding Journey.
The Four Causes of Status Quo Bias
1. Preference Stability
When people form an opinion or preference about a situation, they don’t like to change their mind. In fact, people filter out and discount information that runs counter to their opinion. If a customer’s preferences change less often or remain static, they’re more likely to choose the status quo and stick with what they’re doing today. Conversely, if you destabilize their preferences, you increase their openness to change.
2. Anticipated Regret/Blame
The possibility of regret brings up all sorts of negative emotions such as fear, dread, and anxiety. While the consequences of actual regret will play out in the future, the emotional experience of regret takes place in the present. Choosing the status quo may decrease the feelings of anticipated regret because there’s less risk involved, and therefore less of a chance that the decision-maker is blamed for the negative repercussions of that decision.
3. Cost of Action/Change
Changing the status quo often involves a cost of some kind—the transactional costs associated with the change, or the transitional resourcing costs of changing to something new. Change seems risky or costly while sticking with the status quo registers as either neutral or even beneficial—even in the face of contrary evidence. Even when no explicit costs are associated with switching, uncertainty can stall the decision from moving forward.
4. Selection Difficulty
When prospects and customers are overwhelmed by too many options, they suffer from “choice overload.” This amplifies their tendency to view change as complex and costly. Decisions may also seem more difficult if there isn’t enough value associated with one choice versus another.
When you’re the outsider challenging your prospect’s status quo, your sales and marketing messages must show enough value to disrupt these four causes. But when you’re the insider, defending your incumbent position to existing customers, you need to defend them.
How to Overcome Status Quo Bias
Differentiation is one of the most daunting challenges salespeople and marketers face. Unfortunately, many organizations rely on “best practices” that actually have the opposite effect—you end up sounding exactly like everyone else.
When you sound like everyone else, you play into your buyer’s Selection Difficulty, which only reinforces their Status Quo Bias. Ironically, this lack of differentiation is quite common. In fact, 60 percent of deals in the pipeline are lost to “no decision” rather than to competitors.