How Startups Challenge the Status Quo and Win

Getting past the gatekeeper of the old system

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People hate change. But some people just plain love the freaking status quo. What do you do when these people are your potential customers?

Whether it’s a potential customer with my product or my Mom with a mobile app, when I make a qualified and quantified case as to how this new thing will improve their lives, and they agree with me, but they still don’t want it, it’s maddening.

Of course I can forgive my mom. You always forgive your mom. Her resistance is still based in fear of change. This is natural, and the best way I’ve found to overcome that fear is to do it for her for a while. I do the same thing for my customers, maybe with support, or a demo, or these days even within the product itself.

But when customers refuse to use something that they accept is better, easier, cheaper, more secure, and more robust, there’s usually something else going on — especially if those customers are businesses and not consumers.

That customer is in love with the status quo, because in the status quo, they have found power.

Automobile vs. horse and buggy

One of the startups I’m advising has built an IoT monitoring device with software to bring automation to a manufacturing process in an industry that has adopted automation very slowly.

The team has been working on their solution for about two years now, they have a ton of customers, and they know their shit. In fact, they know it so well that they’re not too far off from being able to use the data they’ve been collecting to machine learn their way to some breakthroughs in the industry.

Last week, the CEO brought me into his office and walked me through an email from one of his prospects, a big potential customer, who had been testing the system onsite for some time. The email basically boiled down to this:

  • They like the product but they don’t like the thought of interrupting their process.
  • They see the benefits, and they agree, but they aren’t convinced those benefits apply to their unique situation.
  • While the price is right, they have some financial obligations this fiscal year that… (and then it kind of trails off the way that excuse always does). Maybe next year.

In other words, they really dig your automobile, but the horse and buggy are getting the job done. Just like they have for the last 100 years.

I mean, what the hell would they do with all the horses?

So what’s really going on here?

So the CEO has to prepare for this to be something entirely different. His contact at the customer, and maybe that contact’s whole team, and God forbid but maybe the entire company, might just be sold into the status quo.

There’s only one way to sniff out the status quo

  1. Empathy. Make sure they know that you know that they are unique and special, and you wouldn’t dream of not treating their use case as such.
  2. Interruption. Send a go team to install, tweak, maintain, train, and walk their people through the first week, so that there are no misconceptions about how easy this is, and no toxicity or potential detractors.
  3. Cost. A three year contract with a 90-day free trial.
  4. Support. A dedicated number and email just for them. This is not hard to do today.
  5. Risk. During the trial period, if anything goes wrong, give them the option of a 24-hour “undo” to get them back to their original operation.

Yes, this is risky and potentially crazy expensive. But if the CEO’s company and product is good and the customer is important, it’s a risk worth taking. Obviously, a bunch of stuff would have to be negotiated to minimize the impact, but the spirit of the deal should remove all doubt.

But what if the answer is still no?

But you can beat that too, sometimes.

Basically what you have to do is create an ally. Another reason the CEO’s company has been successful is that they’re not making 3D televisions or Google Glass. This is not a fad or a toy or a nice-to-have. This is the future.

If there’s one fear that lies deep in the heart of anyone who has ever drawn power from the status quo, it’s that the future will arrive before their retirement does. I know that sounds harsh, but the ones who are in it to win it are playing this game until the end.

So move them to the front of the line for the next status quo.

The status quo power pitch

Wouldn’t it be great to actually shape that change rather than just react to it?

You’re painting a picture of the dawn of a new era. There’s never going to be a better time to not only get ample support to make the change — and this would be a good time to repeat those Do-It-For-Me initiatives you just offered — but also have input into that change to make it work better for them than all of their competitors.

You’re giving the gatekeeper of the old system the chance to step right into the role of gatekeeper of the new system, adding years to their career, and crushing that fear of getting found out.

This isn’t a sales pitch, it’s a product pitch. You’re not playing on fear, you’re eliminating it, because if your product is the one that the naysayers swear by, then you’ve got a real chance at being the winner in this new market.

You’re going to help them help you.

It won’t work every time, but it’s your best shot. If they don’t respond to this, then just walk away. You can only bang your head against the wall so many times before you’re concussed and bleeding. And who knows, they may come around again, when they realize the future is coming sooner that they thought.

At which point, you can charge them full price.

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Written by

I’m a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. Building Precision Fermentation & Teaching Startup. Sold Automated Insights & ExitEvent. More at

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