leveraging loss aversionLeverage Loss Aversion and Status Quo Bias to Drive Sales in an Economic Downturn

The current economic downturn has presented numerous challenges for businesses, with a significant decline in consumer spending and a general air of uncertainty. Sales professionals are now forced to adapt their techniques in order to survive and thrive in these tough times. Two psychological concepts, loss aversion and status quo bias, can provide valuable insights on how to approach selling in an economic downturn. By understanding these principles, you can develop strategies that tap into customers' emotions and boost your sales success.



Loss Aversion: The Key to Persuading Customers

Loss aversion is a well-established cognitive bias that describes the tendency of people to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Psychologists Daniel Kahneman (author of thinking, fast and slow), published an academic paper which discussed ‘loss aversion’ as part of their research on decision making under uncertainty.

They found that people typically experience about twice as much psychological pain from a loss as they do pleasure from an equivalent gain. Put simply, the pain of losing something is more significant than the pleasure of gaining something, e.g. you are more upset about losing £100 than the happiness of you would get from finding £100. This powerful psychological force has often been used in sales with the use FOMO (fear of missing out) with things such as limited time offers, special editions, Black Friday deals etc.  In an economic downturn you must understand how leverage Loss Aversion and adapt your sales strategies to persuade customers to make and take decisions.

  1. Focus more on the Pain: In a downturn, customers may be more risk-averse and hesitant to part with their money. Begin your discovery by identifying and highlighting the potential losses associated with situation. Spend more time on understanding the pain, not the gain! Customers will need to build up to why they should change, and by building the size of the potentially losses they are experiencing, you can then demonstrate value of your product or service to mitigate these losses.

  2. Frame products or services as solutions: When presenting your product, focus on the potential losses that customers will continue to experience without it before moving onto the benefits that it will also bring once they have it. You are no doubt familiar with Features and Benefits, but during economic downturns, start by replaying the pain point, then the feature, then how it mitigates the problem, then talk about the additional benefits.

Status Quo Bias: Harnessing the Power of Familiarity

Status quo bias is another psychological phenomenon that affects decision-making. It refers to the preference for maintaining the current state of affairs, often due to a fear of change or uncertainty. William Samuelson and Richard Zeckhauser identified in their 1988 research paper on Status Quo Bias and cognition, that people tend to stick to the familiar, even when there might be better alternatives available. In an economic downturn, the status quo bias may be more pronounced as consumers become increasingly risk-averse.

Here's how you can use this bias to your advantage:

  1. Establish your product as a trusted choice: During an economic downturn, customers are likely to gravitate towards products and or brands they know and trust. By positioning your product / service as a reliable and established choice, you can tap into the desire for familiarity and security. Focus on building credibility through testimonials, case studies, and social proof to reassure customers that they're making a sound decision.

  2. Offer low-risk trial periods or guarantees: To overcome the hesitation caused by status quo bias, make it easy for customers to try your product or service without feeling like they're taking a significant risk. Offering a free trial, a money-back guarantee, or a no-obligation consultation can help build trust and make prospects more comfortable with the idea of change.

Interestingly, when making major sales, different roles in the organisation will have different cognitive bias. The CEO, CFO, CRO and other Heads of Departments will all see things differently during economic downturns. This is what will slow down sales cycle times, deals become stuck in the pipeline and projects get shelved, or at least put on the back burner.  The skilful sales professional will need to increase their touchpoints around the various buyers to ensure they can articulate Why Change and Why Now to these different types of buyers to challenge their Status Quo and Loss Aversion, before showing them how the product can reduced the loss and deliver the gain.

Adapting Sales Techniques for Economic Downturns

In addition to leveraging loss aversion and status quo bias, you should also consider adapting your sales techniques to better suit the challenges of an economic downturn.


  1. Focus on value rather than price: While it may be tempting to lower prices to attract customers, this can lead to a race to the bottom and damage your profit margins. Instead, emphasize the value your product or service provides and how it can help customers navigate the challenging economic landscape. Ensure that you drill down into the ROI’s and metrics (return on investment), more importantly link these to the business goals and objectives.

  2. Be empathetic and understanding: In tough times, it's crucial to show empathy and understanding towards your customers' concerns and struggles. By acknowledging their fears and uncertainties, you can build rapport and trust, which will ultimately increase the likelihood of a sale. 

  3. Stay agile and adapt to changing needs: As the economic environment shifts, your customers' needs and priorities may also change. Stay attuned to these changes and be prepared to adapt your offerings and messaging accordingly. This may involve tailoring your products or services to address specific pain points or offering flexible payment options to accommodate tighter budgets. 

  4. Invest in customer retention: Acquiring new customers can be more challenging during an economic downturn, so focusing on retaining existing customers becomes even more critical. By nurturing relationships, providing exceptional customer service, and offering incentives for loyalty, you can maintain a stable revenue stream and potentially garner referrals from satisfied customers.



Loss aversion and status quo bias are powerful psychological forces that can influence customer behaviour, especially in times of economic uncertainty. By understanding these principles and adapting your sales techniques, you can better navigate the challenges of an economic downturn and drive sales success.

Emphasize the value of missed opportunities, frame your products as solutions, establish your brand as a trusted choice, and offer low-risk trial periods to tap into these cognitive biases. Additionally, focus on providing value, demonstrating empathy, staying agile, and investing in customer retention to bolster your sales strategy during tough times. With the right approach, you can not only survive but thrive in an economic downturn.



Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1982). The psychology of preferences. Scientific American, 246(1), 160-173.

Kahneman, Daniel. (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Samuelson, W., & Zeckhauser, R. (1988). Status quo bias in decision making. Journal of risk and uncertainty, 1(1), 7-59.