By Sharon Drew Morgen

13 steps people take between discovering a problem and choosing/buying a solution as they seek to resolve a problem in a way that minimizes disruption to their culture.

A buying decision is a change management problem well before it is a solution choice issue. People don’t want to buy anything; they want to resolve a problem in the least disruptive way. Indeed people only become buyers when they’re certain they cannot resolve the problem using familiar resources, and explore every avenue to fixing the problem themselves first. Buying anything is the very last thing people do.

In case you’re one of those sales folks who try to motivate a sale by pushing your information, or lowering the price; or you’re wondering why your prospect isn’t returning calls or in the pipeline for so long; or thinking they’re in pain; this is what’s going on: they’re doing necessary work behind the scenes to find the most efficient route to resolving their problem in a way that ensures maximum buy-in and the least disruption.

I can’t say this enough: people buy only if they’ve determined they cannot fix a problem themselves with known resources AND a purchase will ‘cost’ less than the cost of the disruption they’re facing in their status quo.

This article lays out what people go through en route to buying anything, regardless of need or the efficacy/size/price of the solution, whether buying a new car, choosing an external trainer, buying software or a new phone, or deciding on family therapy. And because they’re recurrent and generic, I consider these steps to be a pattern.

BUYERS HAVE NO PAIN

I don’t understand why ‘pain’ is so often paired with why/how buyers make buying decisions. Indeed, the ‘pain’ issue has been invented by sellers who assume potential/targeted buyers would function better if they bought the seller’s solution, and by not buying they’re obviously in pain. This is bogus.

A buying decision is a systems issue; it’s not a pain thing. If adding an external/new solution causes too many problems that the stakeholders believe will leave them worse off, they will not buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution. They must weigh all the issues involved and get buy-in from the stakeholders before any action is taken or not. And the sales model doesn’t enter into this Pre-Sales, hidden, unknowable area as it’s not product/solution-related. But with a different hat on, it’s quite easy to be involved and facilitate the route to a purchase.

David Sandler called me in 1993 to buy me out before he died. He said he’d made an error stating that ‘buyers are liars’ and saying ‘buyers are in pain’, stating that after reading one of my books, and looking at the problem from the buying decision/change management side, he finally understood the focus should be on facilitating the buying steps. “I thought I had gone outside the box with Sandler Sales; I realize now I was still considering sales from a solution placement perspective. I didn’t understand how far outside the box I needed to go to include the buying decision process.”

Think about it. Before you buy a new car, you try to fix the one you have; make sure you’ve got the funding; try to sell the current one; make sure your spouse is in agreement, etc. You don’t start off with a purchase, regardless of the problems with your current car. Or in business, if you need a new CRM system, for example, you don’t begin by buying a new system: you begin by meeting with the managers and users to determine why the current system is problematic; trying to get the current one fixed; finding workarounds to try to resolve the problem easily; and making sure that there’s a process in place to manage any user, technology, training, time disruption that might come with bringing in new technology. Again, buying anything is the very last thing that happens.

SELLING VS BUYING

Choosing a new solution is a systems problem that involves careful orchestration, even when some of the process is unconscious. As a frustrated sales person, I developed a new model called Buying Facilitation® to make the journey through the steps of change, choice, and buy-in, conscious. I’ve identified each step and carefully defined what’s involved in each step to make it possible to intervene in any segment so sellers can assist people in navigating the journey first, before trying to sell anything. This sequence – Buying Facilitation® first, sales second – ensures you’ll find (and quickly close) a much larger number of people who WILL buy (rather than those who SHOULD buy) and keep you from wasting time on those who will never buy (but you think they ‘should’ because you think they’re ‘in pain’).

People who may become buyers must do this anyway, and due to the solution-placement focus of the sales model and avoidance of all things ‘change management’, do it by themselves as we sit and wait. But we can find the people who WILL buy on the first call, and help them traverse their journey. But we need a different hat on before we begin selling. Again, we wait while they do this anyway – why not add a new skill set before selling, and then just sell to the ones who will buy?

Here’s a simple story to explain what’s going on behind the scenes.

In 1995 I was running a Buying Facilitation® training at IBM. One day my client asked me to help enlist a new Beta site for one of their new systems. There was a small ‘Mom & Pop’ shop (i.e. family run business) located nearby, and from their records they knew this company was using a system far too small for the growth they’d incurred over the past years, causing very slow response times. Letting them have a free new system in exchange for IBM having them close by to test, would be a win/win. But even after two sales folks had visited them with the promise of a new, free, system that would substantially speed up their response times, the company had no interest. Could I try to get them to become a beta site?

Here was our conversation:

SDM: Hi there. I’m a trainee calling from IBM and have a question for someone who is using your computers.
SON: Hi. I’m Joe. I’m one of the owners. Maybe I can help.
SDM: Thanks. I wonder how your current system is running?
SON: It’s ok.
SDM: I know our folks were out there offering you a faster system to beta and you weren’t interested. I’m curious now what’s stopping your current system from being better than OK?
SON: Dad.
SDM: DAD? I don’t understand.
SON: I know our system is very very slow. But my father is in charge of the technology here, and he’s 75 years old. He’ll be retiring in a year or so, and I don’t want to overwhelm him with learning anything new. So I’ll make whatever changes necessary after he leaves.
SDM: Ah. So what I hear you saying is that your main criteria is not to overwhelm Dad and don’t mind how slow the system is in the meantime.
SON: Right.
SDM: You already know we want to give you an upgrade in exchange for being a beta site for us. From what I know about it, they’ve made it very simple to use and easy to learn. Maybe you and Dad could visit another beta site here in Rye to see if Dad likes it and finds it easy to use? I’d be happy to pick you up and take you there. And if Dad is happy, then maybe you’d be comfortable accepting it to beta test for us?
SON: Oh. I wasn’t aware we could do that. Your colleagues were trying to sell me on the features of the new capabilities, and that wasn’t my problem. Sure, Dad and I would be willing to go to the beta site. Thanks. Having a quicker response time would be great for us if we could make that happen and Dad is comfortable with it.

Focused on placing a solution through the strength of the product, through assumed needs and pain, the emphasis was ‘features, functions, and benefits’ instead of the real, unknowable criteria; there was no way an outsider could guess that Dad was the problem that had to be solved. Offering product or price (free) details were moot. The group’s Buying Patterns were systemic, focused on ensuring their culture remained operational. And every buying experience uses the same process, obviously in different scales of complexity.

By overlooking the full set of Buying Patterns to focus merely on placing solutions, sellers automatically restrict their full set of prospective buyers: people who will become buyers haven’t yet decided to go outside for a solution and have no reason (other than research into different ways they can fix the problem themselves) to heed your content/pitch. That’s why content marketing is spectacularly unsuccessful (close rate 0.00059%).

SELLING DOESN’T CAUSE BUYING

Please understand this: there is no way for outsiders to fully understand what’s going on behind the scenes in any person or group’s route to a decision. We don’t live in the prospective buyer’s environment; we cannot know the system, the relationships, givens, rules or priorities, of the people involved. Until they figure out how they need to resolve their problem, there is no way a seller can determine how, or why, your solution would benefit them; even they can’t know the full fact pattern until they’ve gone through their steps. And your pitching and biased questions, will only uncover the low hanging fruit who have managed the first 9 of their Buying Patterns and already become buyers.

Obviously when it’s time to buy, buyers take very specific actions as they choose one solution over another, choices based on price, reputation/brand of the solution, decision makers, etc. This is when the conventional sales tools of pushing information and content details, explaining features and functions, finding optimal demographics etc. are vital. Selling depends on information sharing. But selling doesn’t cause buying.

I’m aware that many sellers believe Buying Patterns are how buyers buy. But by focusing merely on the final stages when they actually choose a solution, you restrict your ability to facilitate those who will buy but haven’t completed their process and could use your help. Once you understand and recognize

  • the full range of steps people go through as they become buyers (Pre-Sales),
  • how the buying decision path begins much earlier than choosing the solution, with very specific stages that can be tracked,
  • the point at which the change issues have been factored in and it’s agreed to seek an external solution,

you can facilitate them through the process to become buyers. Then you can employ your sales strategy as well as your marketing and digital offerings to target each stage. By ignoring this, you’re severely restricting your market.

STAGES OF BUYING PATTERNS

Here are the Pre-Sales areas folks go through as they become buyers. And note: as outsiders we cannot be directly involved in their internal process, but we can use our knowledge of these steps to facilitate the progression so long as our first focus is to facilitate change:

WHAT’S THE STATUS QUO; WHAT’S MISSING: until or unless every element of the status quo is understood by the prospective buyer, they cannot identify exactly what’s missing. In the Dad example, what was missing was not the computer issue, but the ability to have Dad learn how to support a new one; a delay in purchasing new software is most likely not a technology issue, but might be a recent reorganization, or a merger, or a change in leadership. And an outsider can never, ever understand because they’re, well, outsiders. It’s like asking someone to know if any pieces are missing in a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle by looking at the picture on the closed box. Sure, an outsider can know what it will look like when completed, but cannot know if anything is missing until the puzzle is almost completed by the users. This stage includes meetings, research, identifying stakeholders.

RULE: a seller can facilitate someone through the process of recognizing the full fact pattern of givens within their status quo, including the people, culture, and rules, to help them learn what is keeping them from having an optimal environment. In other words, help people, in a way that does not bias their discovery, recognize if anything is missing from their status quo. Until or unless they can see this in an unbiased way, they will prefer to maintain their status quo. And posing questions biased by a seller’s need to place a solution cannot do this. The focus must be to facilitate change, first.

GATHER THE FULL SET OF STAKEHOLDERS: until or unless everyone involved with creating the problem and using any new solution is brought in, the full problem set cannot be understood. Too often only recognized leaders take the lead, or only one person recognizes a problem and fights with the status quo to be willing to change (This is often the one person we speak with, and we can’t really know if s/he’s speaking for the entire Buying Decision Team or just for him/herself, even if we ask.). Everyone’s voice must be included – Dad, and Joe in accounting. This stage includes meetings to determine who will touch the final solution and agreement as to how to involve them.

RULE: a seller can facilitate a prospective buyer through a discovery to ensure every single stakeholder is included to buy-in to any change. Until all folks who will touch the final solution are included, there is no way for them to understand their needs. Speaking with anyone about needs before this has occurred is a waste of time (i.e. all those names on your call back list and pipeline].

TRY TO FIX THE PROBLEM WITH KNOWN RESOURCES: until it’s fully understood that the problem cannot be resolved with anything that’s already been accepted by the culture – other departments or items, familiar vendors or products – and all workarounds have been tried, they will never consider bringing in anything brand new as it will be disruptive to the culture. It’s a systems thing: systems work hard at maintaining their status quo (homeostasis) as anything new runs the risk of creating problems by not fitting in. This stage includes internal research, and delegating folks to outreach for familiar resources: can our old vendors fix this? Do our colleagues know anyone they respect? Can the other department help? Until a workaround is sought and dismissed, there will be no initiative to make a purchase.

RULE: people never start off seeking an external solution but must try to fix the problem themselves. Sellers can help folks discover how to fix their own problem: What’s stopping you from using the vendors you used last year? Have you tried getting help from other departments? They are going to do this anyway as it’s part of their process. They’ll do it when you hang up, in fact. Either you help them through this, or are relegated to sitting helplessly while they do it themselves as you continue to think they’re prospects and put them in your pipeline. By helping them, you can provide further support and help them speed up their own process. In reality, this is the simplest stage, as if they could fix it, they would have done so already.

MANAGING CHANGE TO AVOID DISRUPTION.: once folks realize 1. They have a problem that all stakeholders have fully defined and agree is a problem; 2. They cannot fix it themselves, then it’s necessary to go ‘outside’ for a solution.

This is the most problematic step in the Buying Pattern because anything new will cause some sort of disruption: technology might not integrate; users must agree to use and get trained; familiar patterns of use will be scrapped for new routines; people fallout must be managed.

The cost of the new must be calculated against maintaining the status quo – if they are going to have to fire a whole department when bringing in new software, is it worth it just to speed up their output? When they figure this element out, they’re ready to choose a solution. This stage includes lots of research within the group/company/family to ferret out problems that change would incur, and figuring out the cost of each.

RULE: facilitate people to recognize what might be in jeopardy if something new is brought in. Until they weight the risk between the status quo vs a fix, and can calculate that bringing something new is has a lower cost than maintaining the status quo, they cannot buy anything as the risk is too high.

CHOOSE A VENDOR/SOLUTION: This is the last stage – where sales now enters! Once it’s calculated that it will cost less to bring in a new solution than maintaining their status quo, AND there is buy-in from the stakeholders, they become buyers. This is the low hanging fruit. These folks are ready for a pitch because they know how to manage the change and understand the costs of buying something. This stage involves sellers pitching, content marketing, website design, etc.

These elements comprise Buying Patterns. And to lead folks through these stages I my ‘new sales paradigm’ Buying Facilitation® uses a new form of question called a Facilitative Question that avoids any bias from the Asker and leads people through their Buying Patterns steps to design their own, unique, solution criteria that can then be easily matched by our products.

So one question for the Managing Change phase might be “How will you and your Buying Decision Team go about identifying the elements a new solution would need to include, to avoid disrupting your status quo?” instead of “Let me tell you how my product can help you fix that.”

First facilitate their journey through their Buying Patterns, facilitate Buyer Readiness – and THEN sell to those who are ready. You’ll avoid chasing people who will never buy, and speed up the buy cycle for those who will buy. And you’ll get results: my students using Buying Facilitation® close 40% against the control groups closing 5% using the same list and the same solution. By focusing on the tail end of the Buying Decision Path, sellers restrict their close rate by a factor of 8.

SALES VS FACILITATING BUYING PATTERNS

I always ask: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities. People become buyers ONLY when there is no way to resolve their own problem AND they know the cost of bringing in something new. There will be NO purchase until the entire series is handled somehow, even on a small item purchase. It has nothing to do with pain, or the marketing efforts, or the pitch deck, or the product. You’re products are great. The problem is you’re only focusing on those who already show up as buyers and ignore managing the full set of Buying Patterns where a far larger group of real prospects reside.

Note: trying to understand these yourself is a frustrating exercise, as we can do little more than pose questions biased by our own curiosity and generally have no way to even consider the unique situations within each potential prospect’s environment, i.e. Dad.

I understand that the sales industry doesn’t consider these elements part of the sales process. Sales continues to assume a purchase is based on how we position our solutions, when in fact that relegates us to picking off the few who show up. Let’s help those who will/can buy, facilitate them through their Buying Patterns, and when it’s time, THEN pitch to those who are ready to buy it.

I know you’re all getting accustomed to the definition of Buying Patterns now circulating. But by forgetting the original intent of the term, you overlook the change management portion of Buying Patterns: by merely focusing on the low hanging fruit, you’re missing an opportunity to prove your value by facilitating them through the process. By focusing on this small group, you’re losing the opportunity to facilitate that percentage of people on your lists will become buyers once they get through their Pre Sales change issues. You can speed it up with them, help them get it right, and then be there when they are ready to buy.

Shift the focus from selling based on the value of the solution, to first managing change: It’s a wholly different initiative and strategy using different terms, different goals, different outcomes and a different set of skills (i.e. Listening for systems Facilitative Question, etc.) . Because net net, until people understand the entire range of internal issues that will be activated as a result of adding something new, nothing will be purchased. It’s not about your solution. And as long as you continue to merely focus on that final element, you’ll only close the 5% you’re currently closing.

People who will become buyers must go through this process anyway, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. But they do this without us, as we wait, hope, push, and pitch, and lose an opportunity to both serve and differentiate ourselves. We assume they’re in pain because they’re not responding to our efforts.

Instead of the time and resource we use pushing content, why not use a different skill set (i.e. Buying Facilitation®, or some form of facilitation model that’s manages change) first to help them become buyers. Using a change management focus at the beginning you’ll even be able to recognize who WILL become a buyer on the first call, reducing your prospecting time to one quarter the time you’re now using, and close 40% of the list you’re now closing at a 5% rate.

_____________________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, thought leader, trainer, coach, consultant, speaker, and author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? As the inventor of Buying Facilitation®, Sharon Drew has been changing the sales industry since 1987 when she first trained KLM in a program titled Helping Buyers Buy. Sharon Drew is also the thought leader behind the HOW of Change. She lives on a houseboat in Portland OR.

October 14th, 2019

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A few years ago,  Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America, was interviewed as he discussed their new Customer Focus initiative: prioritizing Customer Centricity over revenue by putting their customers first. He said something like, ‘The money will come. Let’s take care of the customer!’ I haven’t noticed many companies, including Bank of America, who’ve actually done the work of re-organizing around customers; to be Customer Centric means you must put rules, staff, tasks, websites and customer interfaces in place to, um, put People first.

DEFINITION CUSTOMER-CENTRIC

My long-held ideas and questions on what a true Customer Centric company would look like begins with an admonition: stop making it so hard on your customers. They purchased something from you. That automatically puts them in a relationship with you (And probably in a leadership position, since if customers don’t buy anything you’re not in business at all.). They paid the price you set and trusted your promises enough to believe they’d get what they paid for. If they have problems, questions or needs, their resolution and your kindness are a representation of your promise, must be a part of the relationship, and cannot be separated from the purchase.

You claim you want ‘relationship’ with customers, yet you create rules that disrespect, offend, ignore, insult, and frustrate them. Your customers have bought-into being on your team; don’t make it so hard on them. All that does is cause customers to complain to their 1000 closest friends, damage your reputation and give your competition the competitive edge. You forget that your customers are your competitive advantage.

‘Putting the customer at the center’ means having rules, procedures, hiring and training practices, and baseline values that use a People filter. It demands a customer lens through which to view every aspect of your company. It demands that your customer be the heart and soul of your company.

Corporate identity: Since behaviors and rules are translations – the daily actions – of your foundational identity and values, a Customer Centric company has the commensurate People values and ethics at its core. I always ask myself, after being hung up on, or ignored, or disrespected by a contact with a company whose solution I’ve purchased, what the foundational beliefs of that company must be: That I’ve made a purchase from the wrong provider – a company that doesn’t care about me. That my problems and needs are secondary to profit. That I’m not worthy of care once I’ve made my purchase.

It must begin with an identity of ethics and integrity. How you accomplish this will take the work of change – assembling and assessing the broken elements, getting buy-in for change from each of the broken parts, addressing disruption and confusing implementations. There are lots of decisions to be made that will ripple through the company.

Stakeholder alignment: All stakeholders, all company employees, all managers and Board Directors, must share, exemplify, and communicate the exact same beliefs and values. Your marketing and customer service must portray your kindness and respect; you’ll hire people with values that match. There used to be a legend that Nordstrom had a one line customer service rule: “Use your best judgment.” Imagine how hiring practices, management, and training shift if such rule is in place.
With a People orientation, everything and everyone has one goal: to keep a customer happy. Then, a lower level rep would feel free to make this sort of adjustment on her own:

So sorry this is happening. Please accept my apologies on behalf of X company. What would make this right for you? And I’ll be your Team Leader to make sure your problem gets handled, including speak to whoever I need to speak with on my side and get back to you with a resolution.

not this rule-based, disrespecting flip-off that we all suffer time and time again:

This is not something I can take care of. I’m transferring you (and transferring you, and transferring you, and…).

With a Customer Centric filter, each rep, each internal stakeholder, each person who touches a customer, owns the problem and resolution. This will change your rules.

One more thought here: your employees are your first customers. Don’t ever forget that.

Proximity to customer: With ‘Customer’ in the center, organization is based on the proximity to the customer, giving the most importance (and training) to help desk and sales groups who directly touch customers, and Senior Management, the Board and CEO at the far end with the job of coming up with the ideas and maintaining the foundation of values and vision.

ORGANIZING A CUSTOMER CENTRIC COMPANY FROM INSIDE OUT

In order of customer proximity, here are some thoughts on the organization of a truly Customer Centric company. Again, each customer touch point must have a criteria of putting the focus on People first, with Task, Rules and Profit Margin second.

First touch point:

  • Customer service (questions, needs, problems): Reps whose job is to give product service and support must be client advocates. They must have a very strong People filter and be passionate about ensuring each customer gets their needs met. That should be their only criteria and have the right tools and skills – listening skills are especially prone to biased filters –  at their disposal to do so.

I’ve been told by customer service reps that they’re only allotted a short time frame – minutes – to handle a problem and then get on to the next customer on the cue. One rep called me back on his own cell phone because he didn’t want to ‘get in trouble’ (his words) for taking too long with a customer. Seriously?! Of course this means you’d need to train your team differently. And yes, you’ll need to hire more reps to get them off ‘the clock’ and into ‘relationship.’ Keep thinking: People vs Task. Which will it be? Here are two conversations I had with different AT&T reps, 5 minutes apart, when I called to change my billing address. I bet you can tell which one has a People filter:

Rep #1: You don’t have your password? Sorry. I can’t help you. I know you only want to change your address. But call back when you find your password….. (And then she hung up on me).
Rep #2: You don’t have your password? Hm… Let’s use your social security number to start with. Then we can change your address, and then I’ll send you a link to reset your password so you have it for the next time you call.

Same company; but one rep was Task/Rules-bound with no criteria re taking care of me and just wanted to get me off the phone quickly; one was Customer Centric and got creative so I was cared for. Both had the same customer screen in front of them when I called but one had a People hat on. And btw, who the hell was supervising that first Rep? Why was that ok? Do companies even KNOW what their representatives are saying to customers?

I urge you to consider having whoever answers the phone ‘own’ the customer’s problem. This way customers don’t get hung up on, and don’t get shuffled between departments to explain their issue over and over again – only to be disconnected after 45 minutes and on maybe the 6th person! The initial rep must take the customer’s phone number, give them a case number, and a call-back number that connects directly TO THE PERSON THEY SPOKE WITH so there is a continued process. How much will that cost? Compare that with the amount of business and reputation you’re losing now from NOT doing it, from complaints against your company showing up on social media, from customers cancelling service because they can’t take it anymore.

Website: Your site is often the first (and sometimes only) connection with a customer and it can go a long way to making sure customers feel cared for. Here is where a lot of companies fail. Almost all sites are strictly Rules, Company, Profit, Product driven. There’s no way to talk to anyone, and lots of hoops to go through before it’s even a vague possibility.

Few sites have their phone number available. What’s the deal with that? How much business are you losing because a customer or prospect can’t ask a simple question, or get directed to their best resource? What is the cost? I buy only from companies whose sites offer a phone number so I know I’ll have fewer hoops to go through if there’s a problem.

And what’s the deal with ONLY having the sign-in boxes in the Contact area? You’re soliciting their data for your marketing lists and reducing their ability to make contact only according to YOUR terms? You want something precious from them and you’re not willing to offer something in return? What percentage of real buyers won’t fill out those things? I have never, ever filled out one of those damn things. I want my vendors to take care of ME, not me take care of THEM, especially when it might involve me receiving tons of unsolicited email.

And while I’m on a rant, how ‘bout including a real time Customer Tweet roll bar on your home page? Invite customers to Tweet their thoughts, questions, and feelings to make it a living dialogue. Too scary you say? Well, if you focus on a customer, and all your rules are similarly focused, you should hear nothing but good things, no? And where there’s a negative comment, it will exhibit how quickly and accurately you handle the situation. After all, these folks are going onto social media to complain about you anyway; you might as well hear it straight and deal with it immediately and show other customers your fallible, but trustworthy.

This is your first line of contact. You can use your site as a good representation of your brand’s promise. You’re blowing it.

  • One more idea. With a People focus, online communication tools like Live Chat/Bot must abandon their Rules/Task focus and use vocabulary that is helpful soothes disgruntled people, and finds ways to take responsibility for supportive dialogue. It’s beyond infuriating. I found myself recently having a fight with a Live Chat person (Well, 3 actually, because I kept asking to speak with a supervisor.) for 2 hours (with horrible NameCheap) and finally SCREAMED in frustration at this invisible ‘person’ who kept explaining ‘rules’ that didn’t correspond to my questions; I actually wrote I HATE YOU YOU’RE A TERRIBLE COMPANY AND YOU CHEAT PEOPLE AND I’M GOING TO TELL EVERYONE NOT TO EVER USE YOU YOU’RE CHEATS. I became a tantrumy teenager as I felt more and more disrespected, misunderstood, and thwarted by invisible rules that didn’t seem to match my issue. Turns out not ONE of these folks heard me or resolved my problem. Don’t do this to your customers. They deserve better.

Second touch point:

  • Sales – Sellers are the intermediaries between you and customers. Stop relegating them to a ‘content push’ orientation. Make them the arbiters of true customer focus. Instead of being focused on pushing/placing solutions, using a facilitation model such as Buying Facilitation® (a model I invented for sales and marketing that gives sellers tools to facilitate Buyer Readiness at each stage of their Pre-Sales Buying Journey) it’s possible to use your connection to become industry leaders and become true Servant Leaders. Stop pushing! They can find your solution data on your site! Use your sales team to build and enhance customer relationships based on THEIR needs for excellence, not YOUR needs for profit. This is a place you can truly differentiate yourself from your competition.

Customers don’t need you for the details of your solutions until they’ve decided they cannot fix the problem themselves, what sort of a solution everyone agrees to, and how to manage any change that will occur when they do buy. [A purchase is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue; a prospect is someone who CAN buy, not someone who SHOULD.] Your site might be one of their steps toward deciding on whether or not to buy anything. Help them. It will not only differentiate you, but you’ll have vast amounts of data to bring back to other groups in your organization to help them be more Customer Centric, including R&D, customer service, manufacturing, billing. All areas of your company will shift according to the voices of real customers and their needs and problems – so long as the focus is on serving, not selling. Remember: People filter, not Task. Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? Two different activities.

Third touch point:

  • Day-to-day Management: These folks are in leadership positions for employees nearest the customer. Instead of pushing pushing pushing staff to close a sale, or get off the phone, continually find ways to connect, to respond in ways that make, and keep, customers happy. That means you’ll not only need to hire a people-oriented management staff, but the employees will need new types of training, especially additional listening skills. Currently, each group listens through their own Task filters and agendas: sellers listen for signs of ‘need’, help desk reps listen for easy solutions so they can stick to their 2 minute (or whatever) time limit.

Have managers sit alongside of reps and coach them for hours during a week, to check their skills real time. You could even design a Customer Service Check List to hand out to managers for their phone coaching hours. Obviously you’ll have to employ new hiring practices to hire People oriented people rather than Task oriented people. Like the AT&T story above, we all know to keep calling back until we get a ‘good’ rep. How much does that cost you?

Question for you: how will you know that the front-line staff are congruently representing your values? What is it costing you to have reps who hang up on paying customers? Or transfer transfer transfer to the point of madness because no one owns the problem? Why are managers acceding to this practice? What is it costing you?

Fourth touch point:

  • Marketing: your current focus remains selling something; your marketing efforts push product data, with no visible sign of Customer Centricity regardless of your lofty terms. What if you used your marketing to enter along the customer’s decision path to help them manage each aspect of their route to choosing you? They can get solution details on your site so add elements of facilitating the decisions that will make site visitors into customers.

Add a People/Customer filter to your marketing: send out content marketing that helps them make sense of those decisions they need to make as they figure out if they even want to make a purchase. It’s possible to create staged marketing to address each of the 13 stages of a buying decision. Because people aren’t buyers until a purchase is their only viable option to solve a problem, you’re missing entering earlier in their decision cycle and only focusing on those relative few who have already decided to buy (at the end of the buyer’s journey). Make it easier for those who CAN/WILL buy.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself moving forward:

What is the soul of your company? How can you operationalize that? Hint: Make sure you’re not a ‘financial company that serves customers’, and be a ‘customer centric company that offers banking services’. People first; it changes everything.

What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to make People your priority? How would that change your staffing? Sales? Marketing? Leadership? Training? Management?

What is the cost? What is the cost if you don’t?

How would you know it would be worthwhile to use a People filter over a Task/Rules filter? Would you need to have a pilot group with specific tracking capability re customer retention, or surveys, or increased revenue, etc.? [Call me. I’ll help you set it up.] A new Mission Statement?

Where do Integrity and Ethics factor in to your customer touch points?  Or is that not part of your equation? Do you have defined values? Do the rules you’re currently using match your company values? Why not? And don’t tell me it’s time or money – rescale if you need to. Your success depends on this. Amazon.com has an impressive focus on the customer. Takes me one minute to get a problem resolved, including them giving me my refund BEFORE they even get the product back – and often they tell me just to throw it away, or keep the extra item. They make it easy for me and actually less time consuming for them. I always feel trusted and valued, and I’ll never go to any of their competitors.

How do your current rules restrict Customer Centricity? Evaluate your current rules. What new rules would need to be in place to be Customer Centric – and what does that mean for how you run your company?

How would Customer Centricity change your hiring practices? Training? HR? Management?

How will you know in advance that it will be worth the time/effort to tackle this? Because if you don’t, your competition will. Remember: your customer is your competitive advantage.

What skills training would need to occur? Listening, certainly.

What would need to change within your company culture? How people speak to each other? The symbols of success, expectations, agreements?

How are you currently communicating your values to customers? Take a look at your site, your rules, your reps. What you see IS a representation of your corporate values.

What promises are you making to customers who buy your solution? How does this differ from what a customer thinks you promised them?

How would your technology need to change to embrace a Customer Centric mentality? In 1996 (before Google), I designed a new search tool named Hobbes based on helping a site visitors get to the exact page they needed using 3 simple questions that highlight their choice criteria. I got an offer from the VC Heidi Roisen for funding if I could find one other funding source. I could not. And to this day, no one is using my search tool; seems tech folks never understood why sorting with human criteria is necessary.

I hope I’ve inspired you to begin thinking about this issue and started a conversation. I believe that becoming Customer Centric will be your competitive edge moving forward. But that also means change. What is it worth to you?

How would Customer Centricity change your hiring practices? Training? HR? Management?

How will you know in advance that it will be worth the time/effort to tackle this? Because if you don’t, your competition will. Remember: your customer is your competitive advantage.

What skills training would need to occur? Listening, certainly.

What would need to change within your company culture? How people speak to each other? The symbols of success, expectations, agreements?

How are you currently communicating your values to customers? Take a look at your site, your rules, your reps. What you see IS a representation of your corporate values.

What promises are you making to customers who buy your solution? How does this differ from what a customer thinks you promised them?

How would your technology need to change to embrace a Customer Centric mentality? In 1996 (before Google), I designed a new search tool named Hobbes based on helping a site visitors get to the exact page they needed using 3 simple questions that highlight their choice criteria. I got an offer from the VC Heidi Roisen for funding if I could find one other funding source. I could not. And to this day, no one is using my search tool; seems tech folks never understood why sorting with human criteria is necessary.

I hope I’ve inspired you to begin thinking about this issue and started a conversation. I believe that becoming Customer Centric will be your competitive edge moving forward. But that also means change. What is it worth to you?

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a thought leader in Change Facilitation, and developed of a collaborative facilitation model used in sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, and implementations. She began keynoting in the 1990s on topics such as Make Money by Making Nice, Spirituality and Sales, the Caring Company. Her books – NYTimes business bestseller Selling with Integrity; Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell; and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? – focus on the skills to facilitate collaboration, respect, communication, and integrity. Sharon Drew has trained her process to over 100,000 people globally. She currently consults, trains, coaches, and keynotes. Sharon Drew currently lives on a floating home on the Columbia River in Portland OR.

October 7th, 2019

Posted In: Change Management

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Writing a proposal is an accepted norm in many industries: as a vendor, you receive an RFP, or get a call from a client site to bid on a job; you either take direction from the RFP or gather data on specs from a customer; you then go forth writing a proposal to explain exactly how you’ll achieve their stated goals; and figure out a competitive price that’s as low as you can go – a fight to the bottom – and still make a few shekels.

Then you sit back and wait. And close far less than you deserve, sometimes losing to folks who you know wouldn’t have done as good a job as you would do.

How do customers choose a vendor? I suggest that 1. It’s not based on your proposal (except possibly if it’s a government RFP), 2. It’s not based on your price. I believe that the process of writing proposals is not only irrelevant, but has a cost: neither you nor the customer gets the results you deserve. Here are some truths:

  • People don’t buy on price, unless all else is equal and it’s their only determining factor. They will pay to get the exact results they want.
  • RFPs are usually sent to help the client figure out exactly how to reach their goals.
  • Too often, only a fraction of the folks using the end result are involved, either to write up the RFP or discuss the project, and you have no way to know.
  • Too often, the client doesn’t have the full set of criteria for excellence needed to choose the best vendor, and the RFP/bid process often overlooks the inclusion of use, collaboration, resistance, and disruption factors that often occur during/following the project.

WHAT’S MISSING FROM AN RFP

The problem with a proposal is it only addresses the completion portion of the underlying problem to be resolved. Sure, a finished solution is needed, and that solution will have a cost. But until the entire set of stakeholders is involved to not only collaboratively define the acceptable parameters of a result, and buy in to the resultant disruption and change, any outcome will be plagued by resistance and implementation issues. Unfortunately, these important considerations are too often left out of the RFP/bid process:

  • How involved were all (ALL) the stakeholders developing the RFP, or parameters of the project?
  • Have ALL those who will touch the solution bought-in to, and understand, the full fact pattern of the entire process involved?
  • How does the new solution disrupt the status quo and what can be done to alleviate problems upfront?
  • How will integration be managed?
  • How will the vendor be connected with the customer during the process to make sure all problems are managed immediately before they fester?

I contend that most vendors will come up with a decent proposed execution and cost, but fall short during the process of developing and implementing it because the upfront work was incomplete and different types of resistance ensue unnecessarily. This is where the RFP/proposal/bid process falls short, and it’s your competitive edge.

Think about it: if you’re going to do a house remodel, you assume whoever sends a proposal will be some level of competent. But which one will make your life difficult/easy during the build? Will any of them sit down with you and the recipients of the remodel BEFOREHAND to make sure everyone has a say and is committed to the process? To make sure you’ve managed your expectations for what’s involved and find new choices if necessary? If you knew that one contractor would begin by ensuring all stakeholders had a voice in the outcome and process, led you all through the potential disruption, and designed a communication channel to minimize fallout during the process, would you mind if this group charged 15% more than the others?

Years ago my partner was a famous landscape architect who did major land rebuilds as he put in ponds, mountains and waterfalls, Chinese tea houses, etc as his landscaping. He came home daily grumbling about his clients’ anger. Knowing how brilliant his work was, I decided to follow him around for a couple of days to find out why clients were so unhappy: while his designs were magical, the clients didn’t know upfront the amount of mud, noise, filth, access problems, etc. that would take over their lives for months. I helped him understand the problem and his process changed. Before he even submitted a proposal, he sat down with the potential clients and helped them come to terms with the levels of chaos that would be involved and submitted designs and timing plans that incorporated their needs. His business doubled, and the grumbles subsided.

If you seek a new training partner for a leadership program, for example, you might send out an RFP, and seek references (separate from the price) to help make your best choice. But imagine if, before responding, one of the vendors set up a meeting asking the full set of stakeholders (or their representative) be present and helped them determine their own criteria for success, what they’d need to understand about the process and delivery of a program and how it would meet their values, and how to include post-training maintenance to ensure a learning culture would be maintained.

Years ago, when I still wrote proposals, I was friendly with my closest competitor. When we received an RFP, we agreed on a similar price to submit (usually within a few hundred dollars from each other) to make sure we were chosen specifically on our merits, not on price. I personally met with the client to include all stakeholders and manage the change upfront, and got a greater share of the business, based on my merits.

The question is: how can you be the one to assure customers get their full set of needs met – especially when they’re not always cognizant of the ‘cost’ as they send out their project for bid?

OUTCOME VS PROCESS: HOW KPMG CHANGED THEIR PROPOSAL PROCESS

Years ago, my client at KPMG didn’t return my call for many days. When I finally got ahold of him he said he was suddenly busy: a large team of the consultants were working on responding to an RPF from a company that had never used them before, always using their biggest competitor Arthur Anderson (no longer in business). “What’s stopping them from using Arthur Anderson this time?” I asked? Dave said he’d find out and call me back.

Next day Dave called: They ARE using AA. They just needed a second bid.

We went into action. Since it now made no sense for KPMG to respond to the RFP (saving a team of 4 people almost a month of time), but they really wanted to be considered for future business, we sent a cover letter stating that we’d not be sending a proposal, but instead help them recognize what they needed to do internally to ensure buy-in from all stakeholders before, during, and after the final implementation; how to ensure minimal disruption; and the specifics of how to alleviate resistance or fallout by managing relationship, compliance, and change issues BEFORE they started the project.

We sent them a list of a form of question I invented called Facilitative Questions that lead Others to discover their own best answers, rather than conventional questions that are biased by the needs of the Asker (Example: What would we all need to know, and agree to, moving forward, to recognize a glitch or resistance early and avoid fallout?). My FQs facilitate the HOW for any situation of change and went far beyond the details – the WHAT – the RFP required including:

  • input from the stakeholders who will touch the final solution,
  • the arc of change during the course of the project, from status quo through to completion, and how it collides with the people and status quo,
  • the downsides of disruption for each group, set of stakeholders, change in routines,
  • the team collaboration needed in each phase of the implementation to ensure buy-in,
  • a list of elements necessary for folks to buy-in to the final solution.

We didn’t hear back for two months. Then KPMG got a call asking them to begin the job. “We hired AA as planned. But when they started, they didn’t address the topics of your questions, where we always seem to experience fallout and resistance. We never thought about those issues before we started a project and always suffered fallout from ignoring them. Your questions taught us how to think of the whole project as a coordinated structure not just an end result. Thanks. Can you do the job for us?”

From then on, my clients at KPMG used the same questioning structure whenever they received an RFP, and never sent out another proposal – and got more business. And btw the RFP was for multimillion dollar work that involved global stakeholders; the process is equally effective with small jobs.

WHAT DO CLIENTS/CUSTOMERS REALLY WANT?

People want a job done well for them, executed in a way that will cost them the least downsides, in a way that’s acceptable to those who will be part of the process. It’s not a money thing, not an output thing; it’s a system thing. And the way proposals are now approached, it becomes a money/output thing.

Let’s think it through: people would prefer to resolve all problems themselves, but in some cases they need outside help, and as per the size of the project, need outside help.

  • Do customers know what will happen while getting from here to there? The people/jobs that will be disrupted, the time it will take and how that will affect them, the working conditions that might change? Do they know, exactly, what any disruption will look like to them?
  • Do they know how their folks will be confronted with disruption, each step along the way, or how a new implementation will collide with the existing situation?
  • How can they be certain, up front, that the vendor they choose will work in a way to maintain their stability and minimize disruption?
  • How can they get the buy-in from everyone to agree to the necessary changes?
  • Does their stated outcome represent the full set of stakeholders, or only a small group of decision makers, leaving those who may face disruption in the dark until a problem surfaces?
  • Who chooses the vendor? A small set of leaders, or the entire stakeholder team? And what’s the fallout if just a small top heavy group that ignores the internal change issues? How can you resolve this?
  • Do vendors get chosen in terms of how they’ll manage disruption, implementation, or resistance?

The reality is, unless the full set of stakeholders is involved and has a say in the process and fallout, unless there is a known route through the change/disruption/implementation process, there will be a mess for the contractor as the voices that have been silent get raised in protest.

Most folks sending out an RFP or talking to a contractor don’t include the whole group, and do NOT understand the full set of givens necessary for a good job. They are trying to choose a vendor based on referrals, websites, reputation, without actually knowing what the hell is going to go down.

But imagine if you can lead them through to the entire set of circumstances, the gathering of the right stakeholders, the understanding of the downsides to the sort of result they seek, the route through to facilitating buy in so the fallout is minimal. Imagine if you do that – and none of the other vendors do. Is it not possible they won’t need to look at other vendors? That price won’t be an issue?

In reality, you don’t really know the full set of stakeholders when you receive an RFP or get called in to price a job; you have no idea how close the specs are to the needs of the full set of those who will touch the final solution and who may be unhappy when a new solution is thrust on them; you have no idea how the implementation will play out in terms of buy in and resistance; you have no idea what level of chaos is involved under the sheets, as it were. In the same vein, neither do your clients. Help them first determine the full set of their own needs and issues, and then writing up a few details and costs will be simple. You would have already paid for yourself, and saved a lot of time writing up proposals.

___________________________________

 

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, thought leader, consultant, trainer, speaker and coach. She is the author of 9 books, including a NYTimes Business Bestseller, Selling with Integrity, and two Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?Sharon Drew works across industries, using her generic Buying Facilitation® model to enable sellers, healthcare professionals, leaders, coaches, etc. to facilitate others through to their own best decisions. She lives on a houseboat in Portland OR.

September 30th, 2019

Posted In: Communication, News

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Working with a partner in Amsterdam recently, I was one of a small team of communication experts offering a day of skills for executive leaders. Wanting to make sure my contribution would work interdependently with the other consultants, I asked my Dutch partner Thomas Blekman the topics my colleagues would be presenting. Voice and Storytelling, I was told. Did I need to contact either of them to discuss how to best fit my content in with theirs? Nope. “Just teach your great stuff.”

Hmm…. From the topic titles, it seemed the client company wanted the leaders to learn the best tools to facilitate audience buy-in. To add my knowledge appropriately, I developed an agenda that enabled these leaders to be heard without bias and encourage maximum information/idea adoption. Given my work on the unconscious biases involved in our brain’s physiologic listening processes (I wrote a book on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard – WHAT? Did you really say what I think I heard?), I know that people can accurately interpret only a percentage of what’s said. I wanted to help these leaders make sure their outreach efforts would be heard as per their intended outcomes.

Twenty minutes prior to my session, I met the man teaching Storytelling. Except it wasn’t Storytelling. He was teaching How to Pitch. He introduced himself as the winner of The Netherlands Pitching Competition.

PITCHING VS STORYTELLING

What? Not Storytelling? The blood drained from my face. Thomas noticed immediately: “You’ve got a bias against pitching. Admit it,” he whispered. I was so overwhelmed by the enormity of my misunderstanding, and the consequences to the participants, I merely agreed. But I had to very quickly try to figure out how to reconfigure what I’d developed to more accurately address the new situation.

Different from the listening skills I would now be teaching, I’ve spent 35 years training sales folks in my Buying Facilitation® method, and my pitching program teaches 1. very specific skill sets to facilitate an audience’s ability to make a new decision and be ready to act before a seller pitches anything, and 2. how to develop pitch materials that match the responses of the audience. In other words, not pushing content at them as per the speaker’s outcome, but helping them determine the type of content they’d need in order to consider making a purchase now, then giving them that exact content. Quite the opposite of conventional pitching.

For me Storytelling and Pitching are entirely different concepts. In Storytelling, the speaker shares a narrative that will hopefully facilitate audience buy inand connection, potentially shift thinking, and maybe consider new ideas. Pitching means there is a manipulation going on – with precisely chosen words and images – to get Others to act according to the speaker’s agenda. While both are potentially forms of influencing, Storytelling has an idea-shift outcome while Pitching is a persuasion tactic designed to cause an action desired by the presenter.

Had I understood the real program title was Pitching, I would have designed a very different program, including role plays to teach how to formulate the new type of question I developed (Facilitative Questions) that facilitates decision making, to use before they pitched; and then ways to develop presentation materials for their pitch that matched the audience responses rather than traditional pitch decks that focus on the seller’s information choices.

While I was able to add some new material to my original design, my presentation left the audience confused as to where my stuff fit. Not to mention that without discussing his content to see how I could collaborate, I was flying blind against The Best Pitcher in The Netherlands. Obviously, an upfront discussion weeks prior to the program would have given me the data I needed to design the best skill sets to complement his.

While there was no blame involved here (I don’t think Thomas intended to mislead – he most likely just translated wrong.), there was a cost to my misunderstanding. The participants didn’t get what they deserved because I had misunderstood my mission. The fact that it wasn’t my fault is irrelevant.

HOW WE GET IT WRONG

Often in our communications we make assumptions, mistranslate another’s words or meaning, or misunderstand the nature of a message, and unwittingly end up causing harm.

While sometimes – maybe 15% of the time – the problem isn’t your fault because you can make faulty assumptions from the facts you’re given; or you have such an entirely different world view that you cannot fully comprehend the full fact pattern. Most of the time you unconsciously bias what you hear, causing a gap between what’s said and what’s heard. It’s your brain’s fault.

  1. What you hear enters your ears as chemical/electrical signals that trigger your unconscious biases- historic, systemic, physiological – leading to flawed assumptions. You don’t even recognize that what you think you heard is inaccurate: your brain doesn’t tell you how it has ever-so-kindly (re)translated the incoming message, leaving you to believe the speaker actually said what you thought you heard even when it was never said. When you think someone’s not hearing you, that’s not true: they are hearing you, but their brain is sending your message down an incorrect synapse and discards what doesn’t fit – and then neglects to tell us what it omitted. Oops.
  2. Sometimes we translate what’s been said into an entirely different world view than intended. Recently I asked a friend – a techie – to read over a draft article to tell me if he could understand the way I explained something, or if it was confusing. After an hour (should have taken 10 minutes max) and a missed meeting, as I waited for his response (the article was time sensitive) I called him. He said he was still editing my article. What? Did he hear me ask him to be my editor? “Well I heard you say to just read it, but that’s what people say when they really want me to fix it for them.” Why didn’t he first check with me if that’s what I meant? “Why? I knew that’s what you really wanted.” His faulty assumption cost me a meeting.

So net net, it’s quite difficult to know for certain if what you think you hear is accurate without checking; when you believe your understanding is accurate, it’s pretty hard to get curious about the possibility of a misunderstanding. [Of course it’s only when an influencer can consciously recognize fact from personal, unconscious bias that it’s possible to truly understand what’s been said. For those wishing to learn how to do this, I have a chapter on this (Chapter 6) in WHAT?.

But whether it’s because a situation has occurred outside of your choice, or because your own unconscious bias caused you to misunderstand, the results are the same: when your actions are based on a fundamental misunderstanding that results in you causing harm, you must fix it. Otherwise you lose trust.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

To fix a misunderstanding, you must take responsibility for it, regardless of whether or not you believe you’re at fault. Many years ago, when leaders still made unilateral decisions, I was working with the inside sales reps at Bethlehem Steel. Over the months, it became very clear that the entire group was deeply angry. Earlier that year they had been ordered to move: leave their homes and lifestyles, and move to either Burns Harbor, MI or Sparrows Point, MD. They were given two months to sell their houses, pack, buy new houses, move their families, find new schools and new jobs for spouses, in the middle of a school year. Two months! Obviously, families split up to remain behind with kids in school, houses weren’t sold in two months, or packed, or purchased. The reps were living in rentals, flying to their families on weekends. Or the spouses moved and left teenagers to finish out the school year with neighbors, etc. A mess.

The reps lived in daily resentment, unconsciously (or consciously) dragging their heels getting things done, forgetting to do stuff. Sales numbers plummeted. They took a lot of sick time, took days off to visit their families back in their old houses, got weird illnesses like emotional blindness (Who knew that was a thing!), etc.

Because my client Dan was the instigator, I decided to do something about it. One day, Dan came out of his office to meet his mystery lunch guest. It was me. I had arranged everything with Dan’s secretary, and flew in on my own dime.

Dan: Hey, SD. You’re not supposed to be here today, are you? Are you my lunch date?

SD: No. And yes. And you’re paying.

During our lunch I explained how angry everyone was, and how he had disrupted their families and lives. Dan didn’t get it. “I gave them each $5,000 compensation to move!” Obviously he needed a bit of a push. I told him I’d set up a meeting at 2:00 that afternoon with him and the rep’s leadership team, and handed him a speech to say to them.

Dan: This is an apology!!! I’m not saying this!

SD: Yes you are.

Dan took the paper, and began pacing around the restaurant, reading. He paced for 20 minutes. Then said he was ready to go. We didn’t talk in the car. In the meeting, I sat in the back. At the table, he stood up, looked over at me, cleared his throat, and said to everyone:

It seems I overstepped my bounds and didn’t consider your needs when I forced you to move on such short notice, find other houses to move into, pack, move in the middle of the school year, and didn’t respect your family obligations.

That was all he had to say. The entire group got up and cheered. Some of the men starting crying. They all went around him to hug him. “We just needed to hear you apologize. We felt overlooked and disrespected. You didn’t seem to care about us or our families. We just needed you to take some responsibility for your mistake.”

Dan had totally misunderstood the system involved in families moving house across country and how children needed to find schools, parents needed to find playgroups, the time it takes houses to sell. The misunderstanding harmed his team. They needed an apology. They needed to be respected.

Net net. I don’t care if you believe you misunderstood anything or you believe you’re ‘right’. If there is a problem under your watch, you’re responsible.

THE HOW

Here’s what you’ll notice if there might have been a misunderstanding:

  • Something is amiss. You may not know exactly what it is, but it will feel like something is a bit off center. People will try work with the givens, but they’re not particularly happy, and not particularly at their best; they might be late for work, forgetting to do promised stuff, ignoring deadlines, etc.
  • You’ll hear people grumbling and their issues don’t seem to make sense.
  • Suggestions for change will be made in areas you believe to be stable.
  • People won’t look you in the eye, or they’ll make themselves unavailable.
  • People will not necessarily complain, but they won’t necessarily be compliant either.

Net net, there will be something wrong and you won’t know what it is. Gather the group, or the leaders, and ask if there is something you did that caused confusion or annoyance that you need to clean up. Is something wrong that you need to make right?

  1. Make sure you don’t have any attachment to being right; your goal is to make sure whatever problem has occurred will be resolved. You’ve got a ‘people’ criteria here, not a ‘right’ criteria.
  2. Listen with an unbiased ear. It’s helpful for you to walk around while you’re listening – it puts you into Observer, and will supersede your unconscious biases.
  3. Let the outcome, the fix, come from the people that are experiencing the hurt.
  4. Make sure you repeat what they say to make sure you hear them accurately and you work from their suggestions.
  5. Get agreement from everyone for the fixes, and make sure everyone is on board.
  6. Ask if there is anyone still left hurt or angry – and ask them what they’ll need from you to feel the problem resolved going forward.

Your responsibility is to have a well-functioning, thriving group, an outcome in which everyone is creative and collaborative, a conclusion that everyone can buy into and become better for. Blame, fault, mistake, are not operative. It’s just your job.

_________________________________________________________

 

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, sales visionary and inventor of Buying Facilitation®, and author of 9 books including the NYT Business Bestseller Selling with IntegrityDirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?Sharon Drew works with companies to facilitate congruent change and collaboration, with healthcare providers to facilitate patient buy-in, with folks seeking permanent change by facilitating them through their unconscious to design a conscious route to permanent change (The HOW of Change). She is a consultant, coach, trainer, speaker, change maker and award winning blogger (www.sharondrewmorgen.com). She lives in Portland, OR on a houseboat. Reach Sharon Drew at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

September 23rd, 2019

Posted In: News

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speakToday was a typical day. I arrived at my office early in the morning and began by checking email: colleagues, fans, strangers writing from around the world, each with their own agendas, each email exchange demanding a different type of communication. I then went to LinkedIn and connected with new colleagues from several countries, answered questions from followers, and added ideas to a group discussion. Twitter is always strictly relegated to 10 minutes. Then I had several Skype meetings: with a business partner from Paris and her colleague in Brussels to consider developing a healthcare app; brainstorming with my tech in India; coaching a team of banking reps studying Buying Facilitation® with me, and a strategy call with a new client to discuss a leadership implementation we’re developing; a brainstorming call with another author of listening books in India to discuss ideas for a collaborative article we’re writing. Finally, I spoke with a friend, now in London visiting her dying grandmother. I spent the rest of the day writing an article, using Google for references.

I suspect your worlds are digitally similar and equally challenging: our global interactions include people with ideas, cultural norms and assumptions, perceptions, religious beliefs, and languages different from our own. The internet has expanded our world. And therein lies the problem.

WHY IS OUR COMMUNICATION PROBLEMATIC?

We all take our communication skills seriously. But in this digital world of instant connection with people around the globe, our communication skills haven’t kept up: we speak from our normalized biases, assumptions, and patterns; we listen with our habituated, biased listening filters; we use terms and regional communication styles and (very idiosyncratic) subjective criteria and reference points.

Sometimes we hear others accurately, sometimes we don’t but think we do. Sometimes we unwittingly use terms that annoy, or are annoyed by a Communication Partner’s (CPs) terms. I remember once when living in the UK, being insulted when someone from London said my house was ‘homely’. Only later did I learn that ‘homely’ in the UK means what ‘homey’ means in the US, while ‘homely’ in the States means ugly. What was meant as a compliment almost ended our dialogue.

Using our established communication skills, we may not know when or how to modify our languaging accordingly, or hear precisely what’s intended and face the possibility of communicating ineffectively with people outside our experience and culture.

It’s time to add new skills for global communication: without knowing when what we’re doing isn’t working – listening with a cultural or subjective bias that causes an ineffective response, asking what might seem to be pushy, or manipulative, or invasive questions, responding according to our own agendas – we can only have a restricted set of communication choice points available, causing us to respond or connect inappropriately. We need soft skills training.

Soft skills always seem to be put on the back burner. When I wrote my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? I got calls from several HR Directors who wanted to bring in my unbiased listening skills training (just one day!), but couldn’t get the buy-in to actually hire me. Why? Because they said, everyone thinks they know how to listen. But of course, that’s not true. We certainly know how to hear spoken words, but there is no way we can correctly interpret them when what we hear is outside our normal references.

WE CANNOT KNOW HOW ANOTHER’S REALITY DIFFERS

Finely honed throughout our lifetimes, we all live in a reality of our own making, seeing, hearing, and feeling the world uniquely, according to our own idiosyncratic, and very unconscious, filters – obviously some degrees removed from veracity. Programmed to do this, our brains are pattern recognition devices, unconsciously on the lookout for anything (differences, disparities) that may challenge our baseline beliefs and status quo.

  • We hear what others say through biases, triggers, and assumptions that carry a modified interpretation of what’s been said through our brain’s habituated neural pathways, mistaking or misinterpreting some fraction of the intended message: we hear the message our brain wants us to hear regardless of the Speaker’s intent. And because our brains fail to tell us what it mangled, omitted, or misinterpreted, we actually believe that what we think we hear is accurate.
  • We feel our emotions through automatic feedback loops that trigger us, via normalized and habituated neural pathways, to historic events our brains have determined are similar to the current event, objective reality aside.
  • Our vision is idiosyncratic and habituated. We each see colors uniquely, for example; we remember details according to historic triggers, and our field of vision is restricted accordingly.
  • We choose neighborhoods and mates who match our beliefs; professions that are comfortable in dress codes, values, communication patterns, and culture; even our TV choices match our chosen reality and biases.

Sadly, we don’t question our experience. Our brains don’t tell us the level of interpretation or modification they’ve automatically chosen for us, nor do they tell us when we might be missing something important, expecting something that was never promised, or fabricating something never agreed to. And yes, we occasionally, unwittingly, hurt others.

Yet we continue doing what we’ve always done, believing our constructed reality to be True, believing that our skills are fine, regardless of the consequences. Why? By adhering to our subjective reality, we get to maintain our core beliefs and cultural norms so we can wake up every day and ‘be’ who we are. Our inadequacies, prejudices, mistakes, and viewpoints are built in and habituated daily. And we’re comfortable. So long as we stay in our own worlds.

Obviously, this restricted, biased reality has consequences in our global worlds. What happens when we encounter people or situations that are sufficiently different from us and our miscommunication causes us to inadvertently take a wrong action? What happens when we actually hear something inaccurately and act on what we think we heard rather than what was said? [My book explains and fixes this: What? Did you really say what I think I heard?] What happens when we perceive incoming harm, and it’s merely our unconscious biases overreacting? What happens when we misinterpret someone’s intent and miss an opportunity for joy? What happens when we consider ourselves successful, or content, or ‘right’, and blame another for any confusion? What happens when we unwittingly harm another?

What do we lose when we react inappropriately to something we mistakenly deem reality? What happens when our livelihoods are dependent upon making accurate decisions and having truly collaborative conversations with folks outside our normal sphere of influence, and our questions, or listening, or comments, or assumptions, go against the norms of our CPs? It’s all unconscious; we may never know if something untoward is occurring until it’s too late.

It’s time for soft skills training to be a Thing. Our communication status quo is just not good enough in our global worlds. It’s time to get training to

  • enlarge possibility,
  • expand our realities, understanding, inferences, and unconscious biases,
  • make fewer errors and have more choices,
  • hear what’s intended, even when it goes outside of our reality,
  • include a new set of triggers, neural pathways, and listening filters,
  • have no personal restrictions that could hinder our connections.

GUESSES AND HABITS

Often we can’t tell if what we take away from a partner communication is accurate when it seems to be fine. Unfortunately, our brains don’t tell us they’re hearing, feeling, or seeing something uniquely: it seems normal to us. Even those few instances when we notice something seems a bit ‘off’, we’re merely comparing what’s in front of us against what we have historically held to be ‘true’ and have no idea what is causing the irritation or our part in it, too often blaming the other for the problem. And even when we try to understand there’s a good chance we can do no better than confirm, misinterpret, or disprove according to our own biases, using our own ‘givens’ as comparators of ‘right’. We are actually projecting our status quo and guessing meaning per our past predictions. It’s real if we believe it to be real.

Indeed, there is no intrinsic meaning in anything, outside the meaning we give it, making a problem difficult to fix even when we suspect something is wrong: the same unconscious, habituated neural pathways that caused the problem is restricted when it needs to do something outside of its scope.

By bringing soft skills training to all of our professions, sales folks can accurately connect with prospects and customers in other countries, coaches can work with clients worldwide and effectively enable self-driven change, leaders can run groups and implementations with folks from different countries. Here are the programs I believe necessary.

  1. Listening: What we think someone says has been unconsciously curated for us by our filters, biases, assumptions, and triggers; we only hear what our unconscious wants us to hear. In fact, while our brains sift and insert, they don’t tell us what has been misinterpreted or mangled, leaving us to believe that what we think we hear is accurate. And we never realize our errors until it’s too late. I’ve lost business partners who think something has been agreed with without my awareness that anything was proposed.
    • To actually hear/understand what’s meant, we must override our normalized listening filters and develop neutral neural pathways to hear through.
  2. Asking unbiased questions: Even with colleagues, the questions we pose are indications of what we want which biases and restricts possible responses and can be easily misinterpreted by those outside our culture.
    • Pose Facilitative Questions that direct the brain to specific memory channels (i.e. not interrogation devices) to enable others to figure out what THEY want from the conversation, disconnected from our needs or guesses.
  3. Managing triggers: We all have unconscious, habituated, normalized triggers that are activated automatically with a word, phrase, or idea, causing us to use our own subjective values to judge our CPs. With global colleagues, it’s especially important to unhook our triggers to have effective communication.
    • We must learn to recognize, and make adjustments for, our own triggers and biases, and add new triggers to make mutual understanding possible.
  4. Choice: We must learn to choose communication skills that match our CPs skills, especially once we recognize a miscommunication.
    • We must know how to disconnect from our habituated responses, listening, and general communication styles and build in the cultural norms of our communication partners.
  5. Expanding curiosity: Our curiosity is limited by our current knowledge. With a global audience, we must expand our curiosity to ask better questions and listen accurately.
    • To wonder why a conversation is taking a turn, or not progressing, we must go outside of our habituated biases and subjective defenses to recognize problems outside our customary thinking.
  6. Negotiating skills: Different countries, different cultural groups, have different expectations when they negotiate. Learn them.
    • For win-win to occur, both sides must understand the other’s interpretation of what is fair, and must supersede acculturated expectations.
  7. Changing beliefs: Our beliefs are the underlying trigger in any communication. We need to examine what they are and how they align with our global communication partners.
    • Soft skills programs are designed to change behaviors but don’t cause permanent behavior change unless the originating beliefs and norms that created the behaviors are modified. All soft skills programs must focus on permanently changing beliefs so new neural pathways and triggers are installed.
  8. Gaining empathy: Short of living in a new community for years, the easiest way to understand other’s cultures and experience is by reading novels.
    • I recommend James Baldwin, Jane Austin, Toni Morrison, JD Vance.
  9. Writing: Much of our communication is through writing, albeit through our own styles that might conflict with a CPs expectations. We need to learn to write in more efficient, neutralized ways to ensure we don’t conflict with others due to how we write.
    • Training must be designed to teach skills for email exchanges, social media interactions, proposal and presentation writing.

CAN I HELP?

I believe my learning facilitation model is perfect for today’s need for enhanced soft skills. I’ve spent my life – since I was 11 – coding the steps and skills for unconscious choice and change to enable influencers (leaders, sellers, doctors, parents, coaches) to facilitate others through to their own, idiosyncratic, systemic, congruent decisions to change; I can use this Change Facilitation approach to help people prepare to learn learn, buy, change, themselves from their own core, largely unconscious, criteria. Instead of outside/in, it’s inside/out.

Used in global corporations since 1987 (first course with KLM titled Helping Buyers Buy) I developed this approach when I realized that people cannot respond accurately to the type of shared, or experienced, information offered in current training modalities (regardless of value or efficacy) due to their own habituated filters, biases, assumptions, cultural norms, etc.

As a result, learning occurs in only people who can hear, understand, and accept that approach, that idea, that representation. So: offered information is automatically biased by a listener’s filters; conventional questions merely represent the biases of the Asker and restrict the response framework accordingly; and the training approach of a set of data being offered, using the languaging, examples, and exercises of the course designers, and may cause unconscious reactions or lost learning.

In other words, the only people who will truly benefit from a program are those whose unconscious beliefs are already aligned; all those with different biases, different beliefs, different assumptions or norms, will not be able to hear, understand, abide by, or comprehend the need for, the proposed change and may find it incongruent enough to resist. This problem persists not merely in training programs, but anywhere outside influencers try to effect change. So buyers with a need won’t buy; patients with an illness won’t follow doctor’s regiments; coaching clients won’t buy-in to a needed change.

Using my learning facilitation approach, people seeking change can discover their own route to their unique learning path, eschew bias and resistance, and create their own permanent change where existing choices are found to be less than excellent.

I’ve used the training to spearhead permanent behavior change, to expand possibility and make new decisions without resistance or bias: sellers can facilitate buyers through their change management issues to enable buying; doctors can teach patients to make appropriate, permanent behavior changes; coaches can help clients buy-in to permanent change; unconscious bias and diversity programs can help people get rid of unconscious bias. Here are a few of the skill sets that I developed that are different about my training model.

Facilitative Questions – with no bias from the Asker except to facilitate congruent change (in other words, not used as interrogation vehicles), these questions are designed as directional devices to help Responders traverse through their unconscious route to change and discover how to change, using their own criteria. They are posed in a specific sequence, using specific words, to enable others to figure out their own unconscious answers, and actually, lead through the steps of congruent change. I know there is no referent for these questions. I have trained their formulation to over 50,000 people, so the skill is learnable and scalable. Please email me to start a conversation. To learn how to formulate these, take a look at this learning tool.

Listening – normal listening merely uses accepted viewpoints to make sense of what’s said. Remember: we only ‘hear’ air vibrations that hit our habituated neural pathways and are interpreted as per our biases. It’s possible to go outside our habituated pathways and listen without bias. To learn more about this, read sample chapters of my book What?. If you get excited and want to learn how to do this, use the Study Guide I’ve developed that takes you through each chapter to shift our normal skills. Or call to have me train a one day program for your folks to listen with choice.

Choice – we currently make choices according to our own biases and norms. I’ve coded the steps of choice and change and can teach people, and outsiders (i.e. leaders, coaches, trainers, etc.) to intervene in their own or other’s choices at the stage where there is a breakdown, incompatibility, or misrepresentation.

I’ve first tested, then offered, this training in global corporations such as Morgan Stanley, IBM, Kaiser, DuPont, P&G, FedEx, Wachovia, etc. using control groups and pilot studies which consistently found my learning facilitation approach 8x more successful than the control group. For those needing a more expansive discussion on this, read my paper in The 2003 Annual: Volume 1 Training [Jossey-Bass/Pfieffer]: “Designing Curricula for Learning Environments Using a Facilitative Teaching Approach to Empower Learners” pp 263-272.

So here’s the pitch: when used in training, my learning facilitation model does something well beyond conventional training models that use information as the route to helping others embrace, adopt, receive, or execute a new idea or behavior. I can actually teach people how to change their core choices, and help them develop new neural pathways for choice, using their own terms of excellence, so they can adopt the new behaviors they choose.

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Receive Sharon Drew’s original articles and essays on Mondays: http://sharondrewmorgen.com/subscribe-to-sharon-drew-morgens-award-winning-blog/

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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and thought leader. She designs change facilitation models that enable the buying decision journey in sales (Buying Facilitation®), the change issues needed for coaching clients to permanently change, the implementation issues needed for leaders to organize congruent change without resistance. Sharon Drew is a speaker, coach, trainer, and NYTimes Business bestselling author of 9 books including Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Sharon Drew is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and blogger of an award-winning blog www.sharondrewmorgen.com.

September 16th, 2019

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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resistance-300x207Do you know what’s stopping you or your company from making the changes necessary to have more success? Or why prospects aren’t buying something they need? Or why clients aren’t adopting the changes they seek? The problem is resistance. And as change agents we’re inadvertently creating it.

Change requires that a complacent status quo risk its comfort for something unknowable – the probable loss of narrative, expectations, habitual activities and assumptions with no real knowledge of what will take its place. People don’t fear the change; they fear the disruption.

THE STATUS QUO OF THE SYSTEM

To understand why our status quo is tenacious we must understand systems. Simply, a system – for the sake of this article families, corporations, or individuals – is
1. a collection of policies, beliefs, agreements, goals and history, uniquely developed over time, which
2. embrace uniform rules that are
3. recognized and accepted by all and
4. constitute the foundation of all decisions.

Because of the law of homeostasis (simply, all systems seek stability) any change potentially disrupts the status quo and will be resisted, even if the ‘new’ is more effective; even if the system seeks the change; even if the persuader is skilled at persuasion tactics.

Until or unless a system is able to shift its rules so that the new product, idea or implementation has the ability to fit in and new rules are adopted that reconfigure the status quo from within, change faces an uphill battle. The system is sacrosanct.

To get folks to change their minds or accept a solution and avoid resistance, it’s necessary to first
*help the system discover the differences between the new and the old,
*help the system discover the details of the risk,
*facilitate an acceptable route to managing the risk,
*facilitate buy-in from the right people/elements
regardless of the efficacy of the proposed change or the need.

OUR GUIDANCE PUSHES AGAINST STABLE SYSTEMS

Entire fields ignore these change management issues to their detriment:

– the sales model fails 95% of the time because it attempts to push a new solution into the existing status quo, without first facilitating a buyer’s non-need change issues;
coaches end up needing 6 months with clients to effect change as they keep trying to push new behaviors into an old system – and then blame clients for ’not listening’ or believing they have the ‘wrong’ clients;
c
onsultants and leaders have a high rate of failed implementations as they attempt to push the new into the old without first collaboratively designing new structures that will accept the change.

Persuasion and manipulation tactics and guidance strategies merely push against a stable system. As outsiders, it’s unlikely we can acquire the historic knowledge and consensus from all relevant insiders, or design the new rules for systemic change, for our ideas or solutions to gain broad acceptance throughout the system.

We can, however, facilitate the system in changing itself. Then the choice of the best solution becomes a consequence of a system that is ready, willing, and able to adopt excellence.

Obviously, having the right solution does not cause change: pitching, suggesting, influencing, or presenting before a system has figured out how to manage change is not only a time waste, but causes resistance and rejection of the proposed solution. So all of our logic, rational, good content, reasoning, or persuasion tactics are useless until the system is ready. Facilitate change first, then offer solutions in the way that the system can use it.

The question is: do you want to place a solution? Or expedite congruent change?

LISTENING FOR SYSTEMS; FACILITATING CHANGE

For the past 30 years I have designed unique models that facilitate change from the inside. Used in sales, and now being used in the coaching industry, my Buying Facilitation® model offers a unique skill set that teaches systems how to change themselves, and includes listening for systems rather than content, and a new way to use questions (Read Dirty Little Secrets). But whether you use my model or develop one of your own, you must begin by facilitating change, not by attempting to first ‘understand need’ or place a solution or idea.

I’m suggesting that you change your accustomed practices: the idea of no longer listening for holes in a client’s logic to offer guidance goes against the grain of sellers, coaches, and consultants. By listening for systems, by focusing on facilitating change and enabling consensus and change management, change agents are more likely to sell, coach, and implement.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is the NYTimes Business Bestselling author of Selling with Integrity and 7 books how buyers buy. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® a decision facilitation model used with sales to help buyers facilitate pre-sales buying decision issues. She is a sales visionary who coined the terms Helping Buyers Buy, Buy Cycle, Buying Decision Patterns, Buy Path in 1985, and has been working with sales/marketing for 30 years to influence buying decisions.

More recently, Morgen is the author of What? Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard? in which she has coded how we can hear others without bias or misunderstanding, and why there is a gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She is a trainer, consultant, speaker, and inventor, interested in integrity in all business communication. Her learning tools can be purchased: www.didihearyou.com. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com 512 771 1117; www.sharondrewmorgen.com

September 9th, 2019

Posted In: Listening

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Leaderdhip followersI’m a dancer. When I studied the Argentine Tango there was a foundational rule that I believe is true for all leaders: The leader opens the door for the follower to pass through, and the leader then follows. If anyone notices the leader, he’s not doing his job. The goal is to showcase the follower.

Much of what is written about leadership falls into the category I call ‘trait-centered leadership’: someone deemed ‘at the top’ who uses his/her personality, influence, and charisma to inspire and give followers – possibly not ready for change – a convincing reason to follow an agenda set by the leader or the leader’s boss. Sounds to me like a mixture of Jack Welch, Moses, and Justin Bieber.

What if the leader’s goal overrides the mental models, beliefs or historic experiences of the followers, or the change is pushed against the follower’s values, and resistance ensues? What if the leader uses his/her personality as the reason a follower should change? Or has a great message and incongruent skills? Or charisma and no integrity? Adolf Hitler, after all, was the most charismatic leader in modern history.

IF YOU CAN’T FOLLOW, YOU CAN’T LEAD

Whether it’s for a group that needs to perform a new task, or someone seeking heightened outcomes, the role of leadership is to

1. facilitate congruent change and choice,
2. in accordance with the values, skills, and ability of the follower,
3. enabling them to shift their own unique (unconscious) patterns,
4. to discover and attain new behaviors congruently and without resistance,
5. within the parameters of the required change.

It demands humility and authenticity. It’s other-centered and devoid of ego, similar to a simple flashlight that merely lights the existent path, enabling followers to discover their own excellence within the context of the change sought. It’s an inside job.

Being inspirational, or a good influencer with presence and empathy, merely enlists those whose beliefs and unconscious mental models are already predisposed to the change, and omits, or gets resistance from, those who should be part of the change but whose mental models don’t align.

This form of leadership has pluses and minuses.

* Minuses: the final outcome may look different than originally envisaged because the followers set the route according to their values and mental models.
* Pluses: everyone will be enthusiastically, creatively involved in designing what will show up as their own mission, with a far superior proficiency. It will more than meet the vision of the leaders (although it might look different), and the followers will own it with no resistance.

Do you want to lead through influence, presence, charisma, or rationality? Or facilitate the unique path to congruent change? Do you want people to see you as a guide? Or teach them how to congruently move beyond their status quo and discover their own route to excellence – with you as a GPS system? Do you want to lead? Or enable real change? They are opposite constructs.

POWER VS. FORCE

Here are some differences in beliefs between trait-centered leadership and more facilitative leadership:

Trait-centered: Top down; behavior change and goal-driven; dependent on power, charisma, and persuasion skills of a leader and may not be congruent with foundational values of followers.

Facilitation-centered: Inclusive (everyone buys-in and agrees to goals, direction, change); core belief-change and excellence-driven; dependent on facilitating route between current state and excellence, leading to congruent systemic buy-in and adoption of new behaviors.

Real change happens at the belief level. Attempting to change behaviors without helping people change their beliefs first meets with resistance: the proposed change pushes against the status quo regardless of the efficacy of the change.

New skills are necessary for facilitation-centered leadership:

1. Listen for systems. This enables leaders to hear the elements that created and maintain the status quo and would need to transform from the inside before any lasting change occurs. Typical listening is biased and restricts possibility.
2. Facilitative Questions. Conventional questions are biased by the beliefs and needs of the Questioner, and restrict answers and possibility. Facilitative Questions enlist the unconscious systems and show them how to adopt change congruently.
3. Code the route to systemic change. When asking folks to buy-in, build consensus, and collaborate, they don’t know how to make the necessary changes without facing internal resistance, regardless of the efficacy of the requested changes. By helping people move from their conscious to their unconscious back to their conscious, and facilitating buy-in down the line, it’s very possible to avoid resistance.

If you seek to enable congruent change that captures the passion and creativity of followers, avoids resistance, and enables buy-in, open the door and follow your followers.

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Sharon Drew Morgen has designed a servant leader-based Change Facilitation model, using the process in sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching and leadership, and communication, all enabling others to congruently change themselves. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell  and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew helps the health industry achieve buy-in between providers and patients; helps coaches and leaders enable lasting change with clients; helps sales folks facilitate the entire buying decision path from Pre-Sales to close. Her award winning blog has hundreds of articles that support change (www.sharondrewmorgen.com). She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com. 512 771 1117.

August 26th, 2019

Posted In: Change Management, Listening

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I’ve read that there are leaders and project managers who prefer not to collaborate, when engaging in an initiative, because of needs for control. And decision makers who start their information gathering before fully involving those who will implement. What sort of success is possible when one source is driving change and

  • may potentially sabotage a project because of their own biases,
  • restricts outcomes and creativity to a specific set of possibilities,
  • potentially gathers biased or insufficient data from a restricted set of sources,
  • risks alienating those involved with the ultimate fulfillment because there’s insufficient buy-in?

Without:
* real collaboration * gathering data from the best set of sources * consensus and buy-in procedures in place
* understanding the full impact from a proposed decision * front-loading for change management (to avoid failed implementations) we risk falling far short of excellence in our decision making and subsequent execution.

WHY COLLABORATION IS NECESSARY

To ensure the best data is available to make decisions with, to ensure all risk issues managed, to ensure consensus throughout the process, we must have these questions in mind:

  • How will we share, collect, and decide on the most appropriate ideas, choices, and alternatives? How will we know we are working with the most relevant data set?
  • How can a leader avoid prejudicing the process with her own biases?
  • How are collaborators chosen to ensure maximum representation? Are some stakeholders either absent or silent? How can we increase participation?
  • How can we recognize if we’re on the path to either a successful outcome, or the route that sabotages excellence? What markers should we be looking for along the way?

Let me define a few terms (albeit with my own bias):

  1. Collaboration: when all parties who will be involved in a final solution have a say in an outcome:
    a. to offer and share ideas and concerns to discover creative solutions agreeable to all;
    b. to identify and discern the most appropriate data to enable the best outcome.
  2. Decision making:
    a. weighting, choosing, and choosing from, the most appropriate range of possibilities whose parameters are agreed to by those involved;
    b. understanding and agreeing to a set of variables or decision values.

I’ve read that distinctions exist between ‘high collaboration’ (a focus on “understanding needs or managing an implementation”) and ‘low collaboration’ (defined as “putting time or control before people and possibility”, and leading from the top with prepared rules and plans). Since I don’t believe in any sort of top-down initiative (i.e. ‘low collaboration’) except when keeping a child safe, and believe there are systems issues that must be taken into consideration, here’s my rule of thumb: Collaboration is necessary early in the process to achieve accurate data identification and consensus for any sort of implementation, decision, project, purchase, or plan that requests people to take actions not currently employed.

THE STEPS OF COLLABORATION

Here are the steps to excellence in collaborative decision making as I see them:

  1. Assemble all representative stakeholders to begin discussions. Invite all folks who will be affected by the proposed change, not just those you see as obvious. To avoid resistance, have the largest canvas from which to gather data and inform thinking, and enhance the probability of a successful implementation, the right people must be part of the project from the beginning. An international team of Decision Scientists at a global oil company recently told me that while their weighted decisions are ‘accurate,’ the Implementation Team has a success rate of 3%. “It’s not our job. We hand them over good data. But we’re not part of the implementation team. We hear about their failures later.”
  2. Get buy-in for the goal. Without buy-in we lose possibility, creativity, time, and ideas that only those on the ground would understand. Consensus is vital for all who will touch the solution (even if a representative of a larger group lends their voice) or some who seem on board may end up disaffected and unconsciously sabotage the process later.
  3. Establish all system specifics: What will change? Who will manage it? What levels of participation, disruption, job alterations, etc. will occur and how it be handled? What are the risks? And how will you know the best decision factors to manage all this? It’s vital to meld this knowledge into the decision making process right up front.
  4. Specify stages to monitor process and problems. By now you’ll have a good idea of the pluses and minuses. Make a plan that specifies the outcomes and probable fallout from each stage and publish it for feedback. Otherwise, you won’t know if or where you’ve gone wrong until too late.
  5. Announce the issues publicly. Publish the high-level goal, the possible change issues and what would be effected, and the potential outcomes/fallout. Make sure it’s transparent, and you’re managing expectations well in advance. This will uncover folks you might have missed (for information gathering and buy-in), new ideas you hadn’t considered, and resisters.
  6. Time: Give everyone time to discuss, think, consider personal options, and speak with colleagues and bosses. Create an idea collection process – maybe an online community board where voices are expressed – that gets reports back to the stakeholder team.
  7. Stakeholder’s planning meeting. By now you’ll know who and what must be included. Make sure to include resisters – they bring interesting ideas and thinking that others haven’t considered. It’s been proven that even resisters are more compliant when they feel heard.
  8. Meet to vote on final plans. Include steps for each stage of change, and agree on handling opposition and disruption.
  9. Decision team to begin gathering data. Now that the full set of decision issues and people/ideas/outcomes are recognized and agreed to, the Decision Making team is good to go. They’ll end up with a solid data set that will address the optimal solution that will be implemented without resistance.
  10. Have meetings at each specified stage during implementations. Include folks on the ground to weigh in.

These suggestions may take more time upfront. But what good is a ‘good decision’ if it can’t be implemented? And what is the cost of a failed implementation? I recently heard of a hospital that researched ‘the best’ 3D printer but omitted the implementation steps above. For two years it sat like a piece of art without any consensus in place as to who would use it or how/when, etc. By the time they created rules and procedures the printer was obsolete. I bet they would have preferred to spend more time following the steps above.Here’s the question: What would stop you from following an inclusive collaboration process to get the best decisions made and the consensus necessary for any major change? As part of your answer, take into account the costs of not collaborating. And then do the math.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen teaches decision making, change facilitation, and collaboration for sellers/buyers, leaders/followers, change agents/groups to corporations such as Kaiser, KPMG, IBM, Wachovia, etc. She is the author of the NY Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. Her most recent book What? breaks down the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She’s written 7 books on her unique model Buying Facilitation® which teaches sellers how to facilitate change and consensus for buyers.
www.sharondrewmorgen.com.
sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

August 19th, 2019

Posted In: Communication

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teamwork-2198961_960_720

Your solution is great. You know the narrative of the type of buyers who buy. You’re writing appropriate content and getting it out to the right demographic. But you’re still closing less than 5% from first contact and spending a ton of resource finding different ways to touch the same people as your competition touches – in hopes that you’ll have the right message that catches them at the right time or just grind them down.

Why aren’t more buyers buying? Do you know why your well-executed sales outreach programs – salesperson, social media, digital media, marketing – don’t elicit more closed sales?

DO YOU WANT TO SELL? OR HAVE SOMEONE BUY?

You’re not closing more because you’re messages target a restricted audience, those who have already

  • tried all familiar resources and workarounds to fix their own problem and came up short,
  • decided their only route to a problem resolution is to make a purchase,
  • gotten appropriate buy-in and managed any disruption that a purchase would bring

and then you and your competitors work tirelessly to grab from that small pool of ready buyers. Seeking those you believe are probable buyers (those who SHOULD buy) limits your spectrum of buyers to those at the end of their decision path (beginning at step 10 of 13 steps. See steps below.) and concluded they not only need to buy something but are prepared for any change a purchase will cause.

We forget that a buying decision is first a change management problem, before it’s a solution choice issue (Indeed, the last thing buyers want is to buy anything. Literally: the last thing.). By acting as if selling causes buying, we disregard the internal, private, idiosyncratic, systemic change management work buyers must do before they’ve got their ducks in a row and are ready; until then, they can’t buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution. You don’t buy a house before organizing a whole bunch of stuff with your family and getting buy-in from all the stakeholders. It’s not about the house.

The sales model only handles the solution choice/buying portion of the complete Buying Decision Path targeting those you believe have a probable ‘need’ – the low hanging fruit – and have completed their journey to Buyer Readiness. But this is merely a fraction of those who will eventually buy.

Here are the problems you face when targeting probably buyers who don’t yet have all their ducks in a row:

  • Once prospects have determined a need, you’re already in a competitive situation and have to find ways to be better/cheaper/more branded.
  • You’re wasting over 90% of your time finding, following up, meeting with, and in several ways trying to connect with, those who appear to need your solution but turn out not to be buyers.
  • You ignore the high percentage of those who would/will buy but aren’t yet ready to (but could easily be gotten ready).
  • You overlook the possibility of connecting with and serving, real buyers early along their change management/decision path
  • and reduces the number of possible entry points onto the Buying Decision Team/buying decision.

Sure, you’re making great information available for those who know what to look for and are ready to engage. But by adding a new component, you could be entering earlier and facilitating the full range of steps along the buying decision process – those that are not accessible with the sales model. The problem has never been your terrific solution but in closing all the sales you deserve to close. It’s because sales are solution-placement driven, seeking optimal ways to get to probable buyers but ignores the much higher pool of real prospects who aren’t far enough down their buyer’s journey to commit or engage.

SELLING DOESN’T CAUSE BUYING

As a solution placement model, the sales model is great for when buyers have determined they cannot resolve their solution on their own and have gotten the appropriate buy-in for change. But for those buyers who SHOULD buy but haven’t yet determined if they CAN buy, sales don’t have the intent, skills, or focus on facilitating the Systems Congruence steps buyers must take first. Sales weren’t created to do that.

The ‘modern’ sales model was developed by Dale Carnegie, introduced in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People (1937). He promoted relationships, face-to-face visits, finding folks with a need, and developing great pitches. Think about it: while there are certainly a helluva lot more bells and whistles in 2017, the basic skeleton of need/relationship/appointment/pitch, remains the same. It shouldn’t be. The buying environment has changed dramatically over the past 100 or so years, far more complex than merely choosing a vendor or solution; the sales model hasn’t. It’s time for new thinking. Let’s join buyers where they really have their real ‘pain’ and facilitate Buyer Readiness earlier in their buy-in/systemic change process.

If prospective buyers might need a new CRM system, for example, they cannot buy until their tech guys, users, time frames, vendor relationships, current software etc. are in agreement, recognize they can’t fix their problem themselves and have assembled everyone who will touch the final solution to integrate the ‘new’. It’s not merely about the need; making a purchase means change and until all ‘givens’ are known and handled, the cost of a purchase is too high and they’ll maintain their status quo. And the time it takes them to manage all this is the length of the sales cycle. Having some good conversations with your sales guy, reading some good articles, and liking/needing your solution are necessary later, once they’ve finished their Pre-Sales change work.

The early portion of the decision path is based on managing internal shifts in the status quo, existent rules, internal politics, and relationships, and is decidedly not concerned with buying anything; the sales model is not the appropriate tool for this. Buyers don’t want to buy anything. They just want to resolve a problem with the least disruption and the most efficient use of a resource.

All prospects/buyers must do this anyway, with you or without you. It might as well be with you. It’s what they’re doing (inefficiently, and in confusion) as you sit and wait and hope they’ll call and buy. Why not use your industry knowledge to help them figure out how to traverse their steps efficiently?

With a different hat on and a new skill set, you can facilitate them quickly through their process and be right there with them as they decide. You want to seek/find those exact ones who CAN/WILL buy. And it’s easy to do this by shifting your initial prism from seeking prospects with a ‘need’ to seeking people who are trying to resolve a problem and are willing to change, in the area your solution handles. Until all the ducks are in a row and stakeholders on board, until they recognize the implications to their environment of adding something new, they cannot even understand their full need.

STAGES IN THE BUYING DECISION PATH

To design messaging to find buyers earlier in their Buying Decision Path, recognize the steps buyers take to be ready and able to purchase:

1. Idea stage: Is there a problem?

        *Does it need to be solved? When? How?

        *What’s the fallout?

        *Is the cost of a fix lower than the cost of the status quo?

        *Who needs to be involved?

2. Brainstorming stage: Idea discussed with colleagues.

3. Initial discussion stage: Colleagues discuss the problem, posit who to include on Buying Decision Team, consider possible fixes and fallout. Action groups formed. Research begins. New team members invited.

4. Contemplation stage: Group discusses:

        *Known workarounds and acceptable/fallout from each,

        *People who would need to buy-in.

5. Organization stage: Group collects all internal issues that need consideration, including finding more folks to invite into process; research into the elements of the status quo; fallout to change. Begins to assess the entire scope of problem, resolution possibilities, cost of change/no change.

6. Change management stage: Group to determine:

        *Types of research necessary (and who will do it),

        *If appropriate people are involved (and who else to invite),

        *A review of all elements of the problem and solution options,

        *How much change management would be required,

        *How much disruption is acceptable.

7. Coordination stage:

        *Review needs, ideas, issues of new members invited,

        *Incorporate change considerations,

        *Delineate everyone’s thoughts re goals and change capacity,

        *Appropriate research responsibilities.

8. Research stage: Specific research for each possible solution; seek answers to how fallout and change would need to be managed with each solution.

9. Consensus stage: Buying Decision Team meets to share research consider their givens: downsides per type of solution, possibilities, outcomes, problems, management considerations, changes in policy, job description changes, HR issues, etc. General decisions made. Buy-in and consensus necessary.

10. Action stage: Responsibilities apportioned to manage the specifics of Stage 9. Calls made to several vendors for interviews and data gathering.

11. Second brainstorming stage: Discussion on results of data gathering, calls with vendors and partners, and fallout/benefits of each. Favored vendors pitched by team members.

12. Choice stage: New solution agreed on. Change management issues delineated and put in place. Leadership initiatives prepared to avoid disruption.

13. Implementation stage: Vendor contacted. Purchase made. Everything put in place.

For those who want to explore these stages and all elements of how buyers buy, see my book Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it.

A NEED ISN’T ENOUGH

Instead of only targeting probable buyers (the low hanging fruit) and ignoring the much larger pool of real buyers who are merely too early in their decision process to consider buying anything (but will, once they get to that point in their process), add a new target market and new messaging: spend time interviewing real buyers and learn the full set of issues they must address before they can seek an outside solution instead of trying to resolve the issue themselves, and use your new understanding of their change management issues to help the right ones get ready.

Note: you can’t use your current messaging to begin selling if you want to influence those who WILL buy and use the stages as the focus of leading them through their change management process; it’s the wrong tool because change management issues are not information, need, solution or sales driven. You need a new skill to facilitate change first. To manage this Pre-Sales work, and as an adjunct to the sales model, I’ve developed Buying Facilitation® to

  • work with sales to enter the Buying Decision Path between Steps 1-9 above (Pre-Sales),
  • seek/find those who CAN buy (those who’ve recognized a problem in the area your solution serves, but aren’t set up to buy anything yet),
  • find the large pool of real buyers who can be facilitated efficiently through to Buyer Readiness,
  • collapse the time from problem recognition to discovery of need to purchase,
  • enable sellers to be servant leaders and real consultants, and be part of the Buying Decision Team when buyers get to the point they’re ready to buy.

Buying Facilitation® is a generic change management, decision facilitation model that can help buyers traverse that part of their journey that sales doesn’t handle. Using unique skill sets not involved in sales (Facilitative Questions, Listening for Systems, change sequencing) it was designed to optimize the change/decision process. By adding some new messaging and Buyer Persona targets, you can find those who aren’t touched by your sales messages but are in the process of becoming buyers.

By adding new messaging to target those who CAN/WILL buy rather than those you’ve determine might have a ‘need’ (probable buyers), by understanding the Pre-Sales (change management) steps all buyers take, by including messaging that teaches them how to address their internal resistance areas, disparate voices, and needs, you can facilitate the Pre-Sales decision path of those who CAN/WILL buy and enable them to ready themselves for a purchase – and your sales messaging. Here are two examples of success after learning Buying Facilitation®:

Kaiser Permanente initially made 110 visits and got 18 closed sales, wasting too much time traveling to those who COULDN’T/WOULDN’T buy. Adding Buying Facilitation® to their sales, they made 27 visits and got 25 closed sales. They still needed to sell – but only to those who were ready/able to buy. And saved a ton of time/money only traveling to those who were real buyers.

Working with Wachovia small business bankers, they went from 100 calls, 10 appointments, and 2 closed sales over 11 months, to 100 calls, 37 appointments, and 29 closed sales in 3 months. The sales folks’ opening Facilitative Question taught prospects how to do an immediate ‘sort’ for change, rather than need, and got invited to visit and meet all (all) the team members for their first appointment:

How are you adding new banking services to the bank you’re currently using for those times you need additional resource?

Know all – all – of the elements (most are hidden, personal and idiosyncratic) of your buyer’s Pre-Sales decision/change steps so you can design messaging to help them traverse their steps (Note: offering information about your solution here is irrelevant) to change and consensus – and THEN sell. We wait while they do this anyway and run after the ones who have completed this journey. Why not add a new criteria and skill set to what you’re already doing and expand your focus to find those who WILL buy.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and thought leader, the author of 1700 articles and 9 books including NYTimes Business BestsellerSelling With Integrity and two Amazon bestsellers: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and the game-changing What? Did you really say what I think I heard?  that explains, and fixes, the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Sharon Drew is the inventor of a Change Facilitation model that gives influencers a unique set of tools to facilitate congruent change for buyers in sales (Buying Facilitation®), leadership, coaching, and management. She is an inventor, speaker, trainer, consultant, and coach. Her award-winning blog www.sharondrewmorgen.com carries articles on communication, leadership, decision making, change, sales, and buying. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

August 12th, 2019

Posted In: Listening, Sales

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Until relatively recently, the United States Post Office (USPO) was a universal communication hub. It delivered birthday greetings and Dear John letters (For you youngsters, those were break-up notes – like you use text these days, only nicer.). It transported legal letters, work agendas, and Christmas gifts. It was how we moved information and communication between people and places.

Now we use the internet and social media for most of our communication. And the USPO? It became a relic of a time never to return, used now to send commercial ads and fliers, inundating us, invading us, with the originator’s needs to push data, separate from our need to utilize it. Superfluous to our lives, we discard these, even if the products they’re introducing are respectable.

SALES NO LONGER NEEDED FOR BUYERS TO BUY

The sales model is drifting down the same route. Until relatively recently, sales was universally accepted as a support and service model, representing expertise buyers needed. Sellers used their skill and product knowledge to help resolve problems; prospects actually sought meetings to get help figuring out how to improve their environments. And certainly, sellers knew their competition well and positioned themselves accordingly.

Those standards no longer apply. People can now choose our solutions without any involvement from us: much of the information buyers need is immediately accessible online – our websites, content marketing, and outreach efforts thoroughly explain our offerings, making a seller’s product knowledge expendable. Outside agencies – Google, social media – rate us independently, without our input, enabling customers to share their experiences of our products, accuracy aside. Our global competitors are at our door, at the touch of a button and shipped in days, often with lower prices. Buying decisions get made amongst large groups of stakeholders, some residing in other countries, often with no direct involvement with day to day operations and certainly well outside our scrutiny or touch points.

The sales model as we’ve known it has gone the way of the USPO – largely irrelevant; buyers now have a more extensive buying decision path that defies our standard practices, guaranteeing much is out of a seller’s control. And yet we continue using the same prism to sell through, the same techniques we used in earlier times, even though our closing rates, now less than 5% for face-to-face and 0.0059% of tech-based sales, consistently decline. Our decades-long focus of placing solutions merely finds the low hanging fruit. Here are some sales techniques we use that are problematic to the buying experience:

  • Pushing, offering, promoting content is secondary until all the right people are on board there’s agreement they can’t resolve the issue internally, and  any change issues/downsides that a new incoming solution will cause are addressed. Constant receipt of our marketing outreach becomes annoying and we’re blocked and ignored, regardless of the efficacy of our solutions.
  • Gathering information is useless if offered before all stakeholder agreement. Our questions, biased by our need to match what we guess might be their requirements to our solutions, have little relevance to the complexities of their problem (that we cannot fully understand, as outsiders) and the intricacies of what a chosen solution must include. People buy only what is agreeable to the full set stakeholders (who we can never know, as outsiders); resolving their problem is secondary to staying stable or they would have resolved it already. Net net, they won’t have accurate answers to our questions.
  • Our research into demographics and need doesn’t necessarily find buyers. Sure, we can uncover ‘target markets’ that would have a propensity to be buyers. But they’re not opening our correspondence and not open to connecting until they are ready, willing, able to become a buyer – someone who has addressed all complexities of bringing in a new solution and has gotten agreement from all internal stakeholders. Continuing to base our research and dissemination on our product assures we only close the low hanging fruit. Because a buying decision is a change management issue before it’s a solution choice issue, we can add the ability to facilitate buying to our goals and reach/convert a larger number of prospects.
  • Our ‘conversion’ rates are based on a small percent of the total population of would-be buyers, yet we use these to try to convince ourselves that our efforts, our resources, our cost expenditures are relevant. We are not converting potential buyers who haven’t yet become buyers but who will buy once they manage their change. But they are easy to recognize and convert if we shift our prism. Indeed, I’m always curious what those ‘conversion’ numbers represent. Who we seek to ‘convert’ is merely a percentage of those who will/can eventually buy (I hate to keep saying this, but the low hanging fruit.) We miss over 80% of those who will eventually buy: they don’t heed our messages. When you see conversion percentages, ask how much of the potential buying population is being represented. Current conversion numbers are specious.
  • The focus on ‘understanding needs’ is necessary only once buyers understand their own needs – at the end of their change processes: finding a route through to stability among the stakeholders and company/personal norms (Is the disruption from bringing in a new solution worse than living with the problem?) is paramount to buying anything. Until that’s resolved, they will not buy due to potential disruption. If you woke up tomorrow and decided you wanted to move, the first thing you’d do would NOT be to buy a house. You’d discuss with your family, looking at all sides from each perspective, organizing the full set of criteria that would keep the family stable first. A seller’s historic ‘need to understand’ (especially when using questions biased by our need to place a solution) is moot: until all stakeholders are on board with the specifics of how adding something new will affect them, there is no defined ‘need’, a seller’s biased questions aside.
  • Our push to make an appointment is stupid: who is the person we seek to meet with? Why are they taking the time to meet with us? Does this person represent ALL stakeholders or just the few trying to push internal change? How does the person we meet with present our data to others? And at what point in the buying decision process? We’re so busy following the norms of selling that we haven’t stopped to think this through. We get rejected for an appointment not because of our solutions, but because they haven’t yet gotten the full Buying Decision Team onboard, because they’re still trying to fix the problem themselves, because they haven’t determined if it’s worth an external fix due to the disruption that might result. Looking through our biased prism of placing a solution, sellers aren’t looking at the entire picture that people must address en route to resolving a problem.
  • We have a faulty assumption that our solution, data, convincing strategies, etc. will capture a buyer. What is it about the horrific close rates that isn’t registering? Why do we continue to believe if we just have better, faster, improved, advanced content dissemination that we will sell more when it’s a fact that we’re closing less? Why do we continue to assume that with great data, the ‘perfect’ solution, people will buy because WE think it will match what WE consider to be their need? And why is a 5% close rate (i.e. a 95% fail rate) acceptable? Isn’t is obvious there is a problem?

Everything about the selling effort is skewered to finding ways to place our solutions. But we miss the bigger opportunity: we can use our time, our skill, to facilitate Buyer Readiness. That means, leading people through the confusing stages they must – must – manage before they are buyers, before they have needs, before they know if, when, what they’ll buy. We wait on the sidelines while they go through this process; the sales model is not set up to influence this.

I have watched, over the past 35 years, as sales has drifted closer to my beliefs as it attempts to take into account the buying decision and the buyer. But because sales continues to consider buyers ONLY in relation to placing solutions, sales only reaches the low hanging fruit: people in the process of considering how to manage disruption will not have interest (yet) in our content. We haven’t accounted for the entire fact pattern of what goes into a buying decision (i.e. need, problem resolution, and product choice are the final considerations) and overlook the largest portion of buyers: those who will buy but aren’t ready yet.

People really don’t want to buy anything, they merely want to resolve a problem. And the problem is so much bigger than purchasing something. It involves

  • getting all – all – the stakeholders and influencers identified and on board (often not obvious);
  • trying to find a fix for the problem that’s familiar, and minimally disruptive;
  • stakeholder agreement that the cost of a fix is smaller than the cost of maintaining problems (not always obvious) and that they need to go outside for a solution;
  • recognizing/managing the challenges of melding something new as it replaces the old (not always obvious).

People issues. User issues. Tech issues. Human issues. Culture issues. All unique. As outsiders we can never understand the totality of what’s going on. And yet until all internal factors are managed to assure the least disruption, they are not even buyers. It’s only when they are out of options AND get buy in AND manage potential fallout, do they become buyers. Making our solutions the focus relegates us to being noticed by those at the end of their change process – order takers – and robs us of our ability to enter at a stage that helps them become buyers.

Indeed, buying is the last thing people and groups do, and only then when there is agreement that an outside fix is their only option and have figured out how to manage fallout from bringing in something new in a way that avoids disruption. You can’t buy a house without family agreement, regardless of how wonderful the house or how big the need. You can’t bring in a new CRM system unless the users are on board and are willing to use it, unless the tech folks know how to incorporate it into what they’re already using, until they’ve tried to fix what they’ve got, until a user training is developed and scheduled. It’s not about the house. It’s not about the CRM system. It’s about the change process.

So long as we focus on solution placement, we will only find those who have figured it all out. We could be helping them by shifting our focus to first connect via managing their change. Instead, buyers do all this change stuff without us as we wait and call and hope and call and send and hope and wait.

The sales industry has finally figured out that success has at least as much to do with ‘buying’ as it does selling. But it continues to use the prism of placing solutions even here: it has not gone so far as using new skill sets that help buyers manage the change (which is a necessary precursor to buying and has nothing to do with our solutions, or needs, at all – i.e. no info gathering, no understanding of needs, no information pitch, presentation AND no attempt to influence or strategize the final elements (i.e. money) perceived as reasons for buying. We begin contact by facilitating the REAL buying decision factors.).

SALES HAS A VERY LIMITED SCOPE

For goodness sakes, it’s time to stop focusing first on placing solutions. Why not help those who WILL buy be ready! And believe it or not, once we take off our ‘selling’ blinders and use a prism of facilitating the steps to change, it’s quite easy to use a different skill set to recognize people who WILL buy on the first call. For this we enter with a different type of question  (Facilitative Question) and a different goal: to recognize those who seek change in the area we can support them in.

Buying is a change management issue, not a solution choice issue – a process, part of systemic change, not an event. People become buyers only at Step 10 of a 13 step decision process that addresses the elements of recognizing and managing change. Until this is complete, buyers can’t buy and we are wasting a valuable opportunity to facilitate them, of entering earlier where we are now ignored. Let’s recognize that due to the complexity of change, selling doesn’t cause buying:

  • Our information, website, marketing materials – information – is terrific. Our brand is well positioned, and quality. But from online sales we’re closing 0.0059%. We don’t know why site visitors come to our site. Our wonderful, expensive, information-rich, and creative site is not encouraging anyone but the low hanging fruit to buy.
  • Our sales folks are well trained in content, relationship management, closing and pitching techniques. But they’re closing less than 5%. Why is this waste of expensive resource ok?
  • Our marketing folks know how to target the ‘right’ audience, but less than one half of 1% even open our emails.
  • The only folks who heed our great content are folks at the point of buying and we’re competing with global competitors for the same low hanging fruit.

We have chosen to sit back and wait while they go through their non-solution/buying-related steps. But we can enable Buyer Readiness. The sales model as we’ve known it is insufficient as a stand-alone model. It’s a Tier 2 model. Think about this:

1.    People don’t want to buy anything– they merely want to resolve a problem and the last thing they do is bring in something new. People live in environments – systems, if you will – and try to resolve their own problems. It is ONLY when they cannot, AND they have the buy-in from the full set of stakeholders AND can manage any change that a new solution would incur, that they are willing to make a purchase.

When sellers push solution information before people recognize the complexities of the environment they’re seeking to change – they waste an opportunity to facilitate change (which has nothing to do with buying anything). Again, think of that junk you now get in your mailbox.

Buyers don’t even notice our content it until they seek out a solution that will match the intricacies of their buying decision and environment – at the point they are ready to change/buy. It will NOT convince them to buy something they haven’t yet determined they cannot fix themselves. The last thing they do is seek information. In other words, it will be ignored by those you wish to reach, no matter how accurate your demographic data. It’s about the buying, not the selling.

2.     Until or unless everyone who touches a new solution is on board with whatever change will occur with a new solution, there will be no purchase. Talking to that one person who claims she has a need does NOT give us the necessary information to know what’s going on. We cannot ever know the internal dynamics. Ever.

3.    There is a very specific process that everyone (buyers) goes through before they do anything different (change, decide, buy). It involves the 13 steps to all change, a purchase is a change management decision. The sales model only enters at step 10 when it’s agreed by all that the status quo cannot resolve the problem and everyone is ready to change. Hence, we do nothing more than find the low hanging fruit – and then we all fight over the 5%.

The time it takes for everyone who will touch the new solution and processes that come from it is the length of the sales cycle.

4.    People become buyers only if they have a route to manage change. The sales model overlooks the change management piece of the equation, although sellers blame buyers for being ‘stupid’ or ‘not understanding they have a need.’ It’s not about the solution or the information or the buying. It’s about change. So long as sellers focus their interactions on placing solutions, they will merely take orders when people are ready to call in and buy.

The folks who use my Buying Facilitation® model enter all new conversations seeking who is ready, willing, and able to change. The prism is CHANGE, not NEED. Until all the elements of change are managed, people don’t even know what their need entails.

5.    Until everyone buys in to change, the environment will prefer the status quo; whatever is happening now is baked in to the norm. Need has nothing to do with who buys. The prime focus is to maintain the environment. Until they know how to do that, they won’t buy, regardless of need or solution relevance.

6.    We assume that people will understand they need us if we ask the right questions and create the right content, and that folks will wake up and notice of their need as soon as they read it!

We restrict our potential buyers to those who seek that specific information, overlooking their need to integrate information with unique circumstances, their status quo and rules, making much information provided conjecture. Not to mention we could easily reposition the way we discuss the content to meet real needs.

The sales model was designed to place solutions. That’s it. By entering early with a different mindset and skills, we can be closing 40% more sales.

A WHOLLY DIFFERENT SKILL SET

I have written extensively, and trained large numbers of global sellers, around this issue. In Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell I introduce a new model (Buying Facilitation®) that explains the 13 steps all people and groups take (even for small individual purchases) on route to becoming buyers. Since the first 9 of them have nothing to do with buying anything but with managing change, it involves a different set of skills – facilitating the right people through their change to buy sooner. No longer do we begin trying to ‘understand’ buyers, or make appointments, push our solutions, we first find folks who will become buyers and lead them efficiently through their change, and then – only then – offer solution details.

We can’t know anything about the person we’re speaking to. By knowing each step of change, we can hear where they are along their decision path. Have they collected the full set of stakeholders or are they just beginning? Do they recognize the downside to their environment of a purchase? Are they still trying to fix the problem themselves? Change is complex. People don’t even understand themselves. Here is where we can help. We can facilitate people through the steps of change and convert more people into buyers now.

To shift the focus from selling to facilitating change and the buying decision process, Buying Facilitation® employs different skills: since our normal questions are biased by our needs, I developed Facilitative Questions to help Others figure out their own change process; Presumptive Summaries that help them recognize what they’re missing in their thinking; Listening for Systems as a way to truly hear what’s being said outside of our own biases; and the 13 steps of change, to lead them through each of the steps they must, must address en route to change. The entire process is laid out in Dirty Little Secrets.

It’s not a sales process, but works as the front end of selling to help people recognize the elements in their own process that precedes seeking an external solution. Because we seek out folks who CAN change rather than seek those who SHOULD buy, we enter their buying decision path and lead them through each step of change – helping them help themselves. It’s a Servant Leader model that facilitates change, not a sales model that influences solution placement. It’s a very different mindset. I often ask: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They’re two different activities. And sales ignores one of them.

THE COST OF NO CHANGE

The sales industry is like one of those buyers we disparage for not understanding they need us. Since 1987 when I ran my first Buying Facilitation® program at KLM (titled Helping Buyers Buy), I’ve trained about 100,000 sales folks, beginning with pilot programs that always ran alongside a control group selling the same product. Here’s a calculation of the typical results, regardless of industry or price:

  • The groups I trained generally close between 6x-8x more than the control group.
  • Buying Facilitators have a very good idea on the first call who will be a buyer, regardless of complexity of sale, eradicating the need to chase folks who will never buy and concentrate their time on facilitating the buying decisions of those who will.
  • Marketing materials are created in stages of information that match the needs of each stage of change necessary prior to people becoming buyers.
  • Buying Facilitators don’t try to make appointments and yet quickly are invited to meet with the full stakeholder/buying decision team.
  • Prospects begin trusting sellers early due to their ability to help gather all stakeholders and figure out how to resolve the problem internally first.
  • Buying Facilitators don’t discuss their solutions, ask needs based questions, until people have recognized themselves as buyers, usually in 1/8 the time of normal sales.

Kaiser Permanente: went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales to 27 visits, 25 closed sales.

KPMG: selling a $50,000,000 solution, went from a 3 year sales cycle to a 4 month sales cycle.

Boston Scientific: had a 53% increase in close rates and a one call close rather than months of follow up.

IBM: I personally sold $6,400,000 worth of business as I spoke directly with existing clients during the coaching portion of my onsite Buying Facilitation® training.

Sales professionals have told me my results aren’t possible. And I agree: using the sales model, the beliefs and skills of selling, it’s not possible.

SALES CAN MAKE A BIG CONTRIBUTION – BUT NOT THE WAY IT’S BEING USED NOW

With the skills they possess, sellers and marketers can have a vital role in facilitating people through their steps of change to becoming buyers. First they must understand the differences between selling and buying. Here’s what buying entails:

A buyer is someone (or group) who has tried to resolve a problem using their own known resources (People never, ever, start out to buy something first!), has gotten buy in from everyone who will touch the solution, and knows and manages any fallout that the new will cause. A buying decision is a change management problem first, a solution choice issue second. 

Instead of assuming a buying decision is a solution choice issue and continuing as it has for millennia to push content, instead of assuming our job is still persuade folks to take action on our content, or place solutions (It’s not. It’s to facilitate buying.), sellers can facilitate the folks who CAN/WILL buy through the steps of change they must manage – and that we sit and wait for them to accomplish. I have written extensively on this. Here are some articles to peruse.

Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy?

What is Buying Facilitation® and what sales problem does it solve?

The Real Buyer’s Journey

Recognize Buyers on the First Call

Influencing Congruent Change

Plus, get ahold of my book Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. It introduces each step of the buying decision process, along with how my Facilitative Questions lead prospective buyers, step by step, through to being actual buyers. It’s time to add the ability to facilitate the full buying decision journey into our sales efforts.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is the inventor of Buying Facilitation®, a decision facilitation model that helps people traverse each step they must address on route to being willing to buy a solution while involving the steps necessary to go through congruent change. She is the author of many books, including the NYTimes business bestseller Selling with IntegrityDirty Little Secrets, and most recently What? Did you really say what I think I heard that helps close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Sharon Drew’s latest work involves the HOW of Change – teaching folks to consciously generate new synapses and neural pathways for new behaviors and habits. She is a coach, trainer, original thinker, and inventor.

August 5th, 2019

Posted In: News

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