How to Communicate New Ideas to Old-School Customers
5 min read
April 20, 2015
Last updated: July 8, 2019
Many customers, rooted in their own favourite methods or solutions, struggle to be open to new or different ideas. Take heart; fear isn't the end of the story. Use these techniques to overcome that initial resistance so your customers see the potential in those new ideas.
General or Specific Resistance
Your first challenge is to discover - without being pushy or condescending - if the resistance is general or specific. A generic resistance of the unfamiliar needs a gentle approach. You don't dismantle generalized fear by criticizing it, but by making the unknown more familiar. However, if there are specific questions creating resistance, you need to take a more direct approach. Dig those questions out and address them directly, though not aggressively, to remove the reasons for fear.
Link Old with New
Analogies are a powerful ally. Use analogies to explain new, complex ideas to customers who are overwhelmed by information. What's the frame of reference for your customer? Is it a different technology? No technology at all? Is there a technical background or a relational, agricultural, or industry-specific expertise?
Find your customer's frame of reference, then learn the language that fits it. Come up with analogies that relate your new idea to the old framing: "This user interface is like the customer hotline you used to use…" There's no reason your customer should have to learn the language of your new idea; learn your customer's language instead, and speak it.
Once you have established understanding of the basic concept, proceed to the second phase: using analogies or comparisons to show how the new idea improves upon the old. What's the value? Your idea needs to make things easier, cheaper, better, or provide some combination of those benefits.
Stories are universal and universally interesting. Get human-centric. The technicalities, details, and convincing data of your new idea are interesting to you. The human stories of people involved in or affected by your new idea are interesting to everyone.
When dealing with a general resistance to all things unfamiliar, stories help establish unfamiliar ideas in familiar, thus comfortable, contexts.
Be the detective; uncover the stories hidden in the idea or technology. Find the users who have benefited. Find the individuals who care. Tell their stories.
How did the idea develop? What was the original inspiration? Who are the people involved? Find those stories. Personal struggle - and triumph - is a universal plot, known in every culture and generation. Stories help your resistant customers find a good-enough reason to muster the effort and jump that hurdle of newness.
Repeat, Relate, and Wait
Urgency can sell. Urgency can also backfire. It's easier for customers to reject an idea outright than to do the mental gymnastics required for them to grasp unfamiliar concepts, analyze benefits, and justify an investment.
To customers in a resistant frame of mind, urgency reads as desperation. If you need a sale that bad, they think, you must not have anything worth buying. Result? They'll reject the idea without a second glance.
Keep things neutral, calm, and focused on person-to-person interaction. Forget about sales pitches and presentations. Validate the hesitations, answer the questions, and don't cause them to feel that they need to defend their fears. Help your customers feel secure and relaxed, which is the best way for the brain to accept and consolidate new information.
Be prepared to repeat some of the core concepts. Repetition dulls the shiny, blinding glare of unfamiliarity.
Then wait. Back off. Give them room and space and time. Set a return date or a follow-up time, or don't; just check back in a few days or even weeks later.
How Can You Help?
The most powerful "sales" weapon for getting people to accept new ideas isn't a sales technique at all. It's a human connection. Your customers don't need to trust your idea; they need to trust you. Focus on helping them in practical ways, being steady and available, and coming back with information a little at a time.