Don’t Let the Fear of Change Ruin Your Leadership

“If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”
– Derek Sivers

Like all awkward interactions, this started with a cold call. I don’t fancy myself a natural salesman, but after getting jacked up on Jeb Blount even I will pick up the phone every now and again. What this discourse left me with however, was a jaw-dropping reminder that dead-simple solutions are not so simple when the fear of change is in play.

I found the prospect while looking for home improvement advice for a project I’m planning this spring. One of their blog articles was a top hit in the Google results so I clicked.

The article was terrific, so I clicked some more…and then I got stuck. Turns out there was no way to get back to what I was reading before. There was no categorization on the blog, no search function, no way at all to get me back where I wanted to go.

Wow. At this point I’m finding a local service-based business with a literal content treasure trove – years of consistent and poignant blogging, but absolutely terrible user experience that basically negates any positive benefit.

So I adjusted my belt a bit and called them. Of course it was awkward – I had to bridge the gap between “hey I’m kind of local and have a question about something” to “btw, your website is terrible and I could fix it.”

She humored me, probably felt sorry for me (God bless ‘er), and agreed to set up another time to discuss a user experience audit I said I would put together.

The Audit. 11 Points of Truth Bombs

We connected on the call, and read through my mockups and recommendations showing all of the issues hindering the site. I even checked out the dead link in the footer leading to the “marketing company” that they had on retainer. Their site was down btw, and they’ve since transformed into another, larger (read: negligent), entity.

She easily saw that I knew what I was talking about. We discussed her current fee with the marketing company, and what they were “doing for her.” That included social media management and blogging, among a few other miscellaneous things.

I told her that in my experience, SEO would likely be a wiser investment than social media (disclaimer: I do NOT sell SEO), because when people are looking for local service providers they typically Google them and read the ratings.

Then it came time for the proposal. Her company was a perfect fit for a small business website & support package we offer. I should’ve tried to close on the phone but again – I’m not a good salesman.

But I did follow up. We discussed what the other company is charging her for “marketing” and I was pretty shocked to hear that we were coming in at 1/3rd of their monthly fee. She said she needed to think about it. So I agreed to follow up again.

My curiosity got the best of me – I needed to show her that she was obviously getting ripped off by a marketing company that at one time was good, but as it grew put her into neglect mode (this happens ALL THE TIME btw). Let’s look at some numbers.

SEO Report (provided by SEMRush)

I showed her that her current SEO score was a 68%, and that for the companies we serve, we typically keep their scores above 90%. Remember – SEO is the biggest driver of traffic for most local businesses.

fear of change - sem rush

Traffic Source Report (provided by Similar Web)

This confirmed my suspicion that the social media was worthless. Look at this. Literally 93% of their traffic was organic search. I even showed her the keywords that were bringing most of that traffic.

fear of change - source 2

fear of change - source 1

The Kicker: The Blog could’ve been  (provided by Similar Web)

I need to add at this point that one of my audit observations had been that from a technical standpoint, their website was actually cut in half. The blog was powered by WordPress, while the main site was some other platform I didn’t look into. That red flag alone told me that the blog was probably not firing on all cylinders. So let’s look at the numbers…

fear of change – optimization

☝️☝️☝️☝️☝️ Are you seeing this – if their “marketing” company was handling their blog properly, SEM Rush estimates a 1000%+ improvement in traffic. ☝️☝️☝️☝️☝️

At this point, I’m thinking “okay wow, it is so obvious that they’re being ripped off, and working with me will actually save them 70% of what they’re paying each month. This is an obvious no-brainer. But we all know how this ends…

“If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”
– Derek Sivers

We get back on the phone. “Did you have a chance to revisit the proposal?”

“Yes, and right now we don’t have money for additional marketing.” (classic objection)

“Actually, did you see that my fee was $500/month lower than what you’re paying now?” (obviously she didn’t read the proposal)

“Can we walk through the key points again here?

  • Your site is not SEO optimized at all.
  • 93% of your traffic is coming from SEO
  • You are getting NOTHING from their social media efforts
  • SEMRush estimates that by improving your blog you will get 1000% increase in traffic
  • I believe that you are getting ripped off by a company that outgrew you.”

“Yes…I get that…but you know…change is hard.”

And there it is folks, Helsinki syndrome at its best – too in love with their captors to realize they’re getting screwed. Now, I know actual sales people will say “your job is to get them to like you and have confidence in your solution.” Yes, I get it.

The call honestly left me speechless, because to me the solution was on a silver platter. I could’ve fought for it. I could’ve pushed. But in the end I heeded the eternal words of Don Draper.

Ultimately it wasn’t going to be a big opportunity, so I didn’t connect again after that. The real lesson for me comes from how the fear of change can hurt my leadership, and also how we handle the fear of change in our teams.

If you found out that one of your team members was in this scenario – being provided clear evidence that a vendor was not providing results, and being offered better-value for less money, how would you respond to them for their inaction?

My guess, is that you would have to engage them for “decision-improvement training” or outright call their actions negligence. They’re wasting your company’s money, knowingly.

I believe that everyone fancies the idea that our decisions are all rational, and logical, all the time. “We always make smart decisions.” But in a case like this, we all know that discussions like this happen every day with decision-makers who just can’t overcome their fear of change.

How can we empower our teams to mitigate fear? If someone in your organization doesn’t have the ability to execute high-level rational decisions, then maybe the answer is in the very nature of teams. That is to say, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion, and taking it a step further – create a decision making protocol that outlines when and when not your team will act.

Getting past the fear of change is all part of being a good salesperson, and more importantly a sound leader.

In our creative / tech industry there aren’t always cut and dry numbers that make decisions obvious, but having gone through this exercise it was a great encouragement for me to think about how I can do a better job of building confidence and alleviating fears – in my self, in my team and with our prospects and clients.

If you are interested in getting your website reviewed, or finding out if you’re getting ripped off by a marketing company, then shoot me an email at or just hit the chat in the lower right and I’ll be happy to provide you with a report.