You’re pitching your company’s new device or software solution to a hospital. You believe your product is clearly superior to the outdated technology the hospital is currently using. You know they have the money to switch. Standard economic theory would predict that the hospital decision-makers would rationally choose your product since it would provide them with greater utility. But the hospital decides to stick with what they have. What’s up??
There are a lot of barriers companies face selling into hospitals. One of the most pervasive and misunderstood, is the tendency for customers to make non-rational decisions to stay with the products they have. By non-rational, I mean the decision is based on an emotional preference, not an objective judgement that the current technology is as good as or better then the new one. Psychologists call this emotional preference the status quo bias. It’s a big deal.
Research in behavioral economics shows the status quo bias significantly affects important life decisions like health care plan choices, selection of retirement programs, stock market investments, recommended medical treatments, and all kinds of purchase decisions. It’s one of several biases scientists have identified to explain what appears to be irrational decision-making.
Think about it in your own life. The food you eat, the places you go, the clothes you wear, the things you buy… how often have you stayed with the familiar rather than trying an alternative?
While there are many explanations for the status quo bias, here are three of the big ones:
- Uncertainty: Good or bad, clinicians or IT directors know what to expect from the technology they use now. Switching to your product means taking a risk; they don’t know if it will perform as promised. As the old saying goes, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Scientists call this loss aversion.
- Transition costs: It’s not just a matter of buying your product, it’s also all the costs – time and money – involved in switching from what they’re using now. Training staff, updating clinical protocols, adapting workflows- all these things go away when a hospital maintains the status quo.
- Minimizing regret: People feel worse about problems that come from changing to a new product (action) than problems that come from sticking with what they have (inaction). To avoid regret, hospital decision-makers choose inaction and keep the technology they have.
How can you overcome status quo bias so that customers buy your superior technology?
- Connect emotionally: Acknowledge and empathize with the tendency people have to stay with what they know. Give relevant examples of when that has worked for hospitals and when it has backfired and led to significant negative outcomes.
- Recalibrate their status quo: Change the reference point from the status quo being doing nothing to the status quo being doing something. Make the case that most hospitals are switching to new technologies- that’s the norm. The question is which to choose, and when.
- Reduce their risk. Demonstrate that staying with what they have is the risker option because it guarantees negative outcomes (be specific, e.g. more IT downtime, unnecessarily complicated workflows, less time with patients, incompatibility with EMRs or other devices, etc.).
- Reframe transition costs: Recognize objections related to transition costs. Acknowledge those that are true, then dismiss the remainder with evidence of savings that will result from switching.
Try it and let me know what happens. When you can overcome the status quo bias in these ways – and you can! – customer trust and sales can increase dramatically.
The classic from the founders of Behavioral Decision Theory: Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1982). The psychology of preference. Scientific American, 246, 160-173.