Your Pitch is Just the Beginning: When the Status Quo is Your Biggest Competitor

By: Elizabeth Usovicz, General Manager of Transaction Commons, as part of a series she writes for ACA aimed at entrepreneurs, "Your Pitch is Just the Beginning."

If you’re a startup founder, you probably have an investor-ready answer to the question, “Who are your competitors?” Your biggest competition isn’t always the industry heavyweight identified in your competitive analysis. Sometimes, a stealthy competitor shows up instead in your sales pipeline - as the prospect’s decision to do nothing. Is the status quo your competitor?

Competition from the status quo can surface at any time during your business development activities.  In a conversation with a prospect, the status quo is often expressed as “Thanks, we’re all set.”   If you’re hearing repeated requests for more information, long after you thought the prospect was purchase-ready, it’s the status quo again.

The reason that the status quo is such a fierce competitor is not necessarily that your company is a startup. It’s the prospect’s fear of unknown consequences. Your product or service represents change, and people don’t have an emotional connection to change – they have an emotional connection to what they know.

“We’re all set” can mean “I know what I have, even if I don’t always like it or it doesn’t work the way I wish it would.”  Repeated requests for more information can mean, “I’m not the (only) decision maker and I don’t know what will happen if I risk addressing this.”

When the status quo is your competitor, find ways to keep the momentum going by focusing on how comfortable a change can be. Here are a few ways.

Complement the status quo:  When a prospect says, “Thanks, we’re all set,” help your prospect to think beyond the current situation or product/service that they are using. Consider positioning your product or service as a complement to the status quo, such as an option for contingencies and overcapacity or an enhancement for a specific functional area or department.   

Make the impact clear: Are you running into repeated requests for more information or justification for your product or service?  The logical, dollarized benefits of using your product or service may be clear, but chances are your prospect isn’t clear on the impact your product or service will have. Clarify the positive experience that your product or service can have on your prospect’s functional role, job satisfaction and relationships with peers, employees and boss. 

Collaborate with your prospect: The question, “Why don’t we do it together?” can be one of the most effective ways to dislodge the status quo logjam. If your prospect repeatedly fails to take the next step toward a purchase decision, asking this question can build trust, or reveal the true underlying objection to moving forward, or both.

A strong business case for your product or service is essential, but facts won’t necessarily force a prospect out of resistance to changing the status quo. Help your prospect to adjust their perceptions by helping them to envision the emotionally satisfying outcomes of the change. 

Elizabeth Usovicz is General Manager of Transaction Commons, a professional-grade service for reviewing deal documents and for negotiating and controlling versions of deal agreements. She specializes in deal process streamlining, top-line revenue and business strategies for high-growth companies, new ventures and business units within established companies. 

She can be reached at