Can you think of any business paradigms that have stayed the same over the past 100 years? These days we run our businesses differently, with new models of hiring, training, leading, and executing; we have the use of unimaginable amounts of information and search capability to connect with new people and ideas. We now care more about diversity, gender and racial bias, and collaboration. We are far more visible, know our competition better, have greater reach, and possess an astounding capability to develop new solutions from any materials, from anywhere in the world that our imaginations can envision.
For centuries, sales has focused on placing solutions by seeking buyers with needs. Yet the environment buyers buy in has changed. Even with our new technology that finds, targets, and pursues a higher level of probable buyers, we’re closing less due to both the complexity of business environments and the stakeholder involvement in buying decisions. No more single decision makers; stakeholders have a say in all decisions; the buyer’s system – the rules, criteria, history, relationships and politics – is complex and must be taken into account before anything is purchased. As a result, since the 1980s when I began training sales people, closing ratios have gone from 8% to 5%.
YOU’RE FINDING THE BUYERS YOU SEEK
Believe it or not, you’re losing sales as a direct response to the way you’re selling. Your focus on finding ‘needs’ and placing solutions is limiting your audience to those who have already become ‘buyers’, which doesn’t occur until people are three quarters of the way through their buying decision path – a fraction of those who can/will buy.
Since its inception, sales has maintained the same focus – entirely appropriate until the days of global connections – and overlooked the change issues all people must manage before even identifying as buyers. And for some reason, even with the obvious decline in numbers (and increase in effort), we haven’t changed. Indeed sellers keep finding new ways to push every which way, becoming so desperate to close that you’re willing to lie, or hire 9x more sales staff, or wait months or years to finally close a sale that could be closed in a fraction of the time.
Has it never occurred that just maybe the 5% close rate is an indication of a problem? Would you go to a doctor with a 5% cure rate? Or fly a plane with a 5% safety rate? Why should sales be any different?
Indeed, even though your solution/product is most likely terrific, it gets lost in the inefficiency of the sales model: people who need your information aren’t reading it; people who would be helped if they purchased your solution aren’t buying. The problem is not the buyers or your content or your solution. The problem is the sales model itself; it’s so critically outdated and so mistakenly focused that you can’t ever get appreciably more closed sales.
In a nutshell, you’re entering with the wrong focus, at the wrong time, with the wrong criteria and faulty tools, connecting with the wrong people, and closing a fraction of what you could be closing. It’s really easy to add some new skills to what you’re doing and change the equation. You could be closing 40% of the lists you’re now using, but not by using the sales model alone.
NEED IS THE WRONG FOCUS
The way you’re selling, regardless of the new tools for targeting and visibility, guarantees you can’t close all the sales you deserve to close because your focus restricts your buying audience to those ready, willing, and able to buy and are seeking the information you offer. And that’s fine – if you are happy with a 5% close rate (which means you’re wasting 95% of your time). But you can be closing 8x more. In pilot studies, folks who added my Buying Facilitation® model to the front end of their sales process closed 40% using the exact same list and product as the control group.
I’m curious: when was the last time you responded to a pop up, or a spam call? Why are you ignoring them? The products they’re selling are fine – you might even need them. How ‘bout the last time you went onto a gym website and read the content – all the course descriptions, trainer descriptions? Was it prior to your decision to join? Or did you just go on to read the content because you had nothing else do to even though you could lose 10 pounds and might need for a gym? So… given possible needs, you’re not reading the content being sent even though it’s been targeted for you? Hmmmm… maybe a need is not the criteria needed to buy?
One of the causes of lost or inadequate closed sales is your focus on finding buyers with a ‘need’ to sell your solution to. Here’s what’s wrong:
Over the decades you find better and better ways to sell less, and yet you continue to use the same organizing factors of solution placement based on need. Has it not occurred to you that it’s not working? That just maybe you might try something different like, oh, I don’t know, maybe focus on facilitating the comprehensive buying decision path? Maybe realize that without buyers you can’t sell anything? Because the truth is, selling doesn’t cause buying.
WHY PEOPLE BUY
People buy your solution because they want to effect positive change, and they can’t do it using the resources in front of them. And it’s only once they’ve done the internal, idiosyncratic change work necessary to get the buy in – STRATEGIC – are they willing to bring in an external solution (i.e. buy). And your great solution, your terrific content, your nice personality and fake relationship – your TACTICAL approach – isn’t noticed or welcome if their status quo will be broken beyond repair if they buy, or if the cost of the addition is greater than the cost of the status quo.
In other words, people don’t buy because they have a need. They buy only when they need a different form of excellence that they cannot achieve without something from the outside – so long as whatever it doesn’t cause irreparable disruption (for systems theorists, this is called Systems Congruence).
I have a brief story I often use to explain this. Years ago I was training Buying Facilitation® at IBM. I was asked to speak with a customer who had an old version of a new system they’d just developed and they needed a local beta test site. In exchange for being a beta, the client would get to keep the new hardware for free. And my client knew the old version and model the client had purchased years before couldn’t be working effectively given the way the company had grown.
Two sales folks had already called on this client, and the client said ‘no’ to both. They asked if I could give it a try. Here was my conversation:
SDM: Hi. I’m Sharon Drew Morgen calling from IBM. I’m wondering how your current system is working.
CLIENT: Well, it’s ok. [Odd. They turned down a free brand new, fast, system and weren’t ecstatically happy with the old one?] SDM: I’m confused. I heard that we offered you a brand new system that would be much faster than your current one. What stopped you from taking it?
SDM: Excuse me? Dad? Could you explain?
CLIENT: Sure. We’re a Mom & Pop shop, and Dad is Pop. He’s 75 now, and he’ll retire in about 2 years. He handles all of the technology, so I don’t want to confuse him or upset him. He might as well keep doing what makes him comfortable, even if our system is a bit slow.
SDM: So Dad’s comfort is your criteria. From what I know, users find the new system as easy to use as the old one. What would you need to know about the new beta to know if it’s easy enough for Dad to stay comfortable?
CLIENT: Dad would have to try it and be comfortable with it.
SDM: We happen to have another beta site about a mile from you. Would you be willing to have me come by and pick you and Dad up for a trial?
And so we placed the beta. It had nothing to do with need, and everything to do with the system, the change management issues, the buy in issues.
Buyers don’t need your solution. They need excellence. 100 years after Dale Carnegie used ‘need’ as the criteria [and in 1937 it was!], ‘need’ is no longer the reason people buy. In fact 80% of your current prospects will buy your solution within the next 2 years (probably not from you) once they’ve gotten their ducks in a row. Which means they were always buyers, but not ready or able to buy. And instead of facilitating their buying decision (not possible using need or solution placement as a focus), instead of helping them find their own best answers, you spend your time and focus on need, demographics, and targeted marketing campaigns that couldn’t convince them.
YOU DON’T BUY THE WAY YOU SELL
Take a moment to think how you buy. Do you wake up in the morning after a wild dream and go straight to a Porsche showroom and spend $100,000 on a car that sort of looked like the one in your dream? Of course not. You think about it, discuss it with your spouse, talk to friends, go online, find out how much your car is worth to sell, look at your bank account, consider your timing. If you did take yourself to the dealership the first moment you thought about it odds are you wouldn’t have made a purchase that day until you did all of the other background work.
Same with your workplace. Are there communication problems? Leadership issues? Motivation, diversity, personnel issues?? Why hasn’t someone hired a consultant to help you fix it? You’ve got a need – but someone, something assumes you can either fix it yourself, or there are budgeting issues, or it’s not a big problem, or or or…
Since its inception, sales has overlooked the change issues all people must manage before even identifying as buyers – and continues to blame buyers for not knowing they need to buy. Has it never occurred that just maybe the 5% close rate is an indication of a problem?
A buying decision is a process that begins with some sort of stimulus, goes through a few rounds of discussion and examination against the rules, values, and stability of the status quo, some rounds of fixes with workarounds or tech solutions, some understanding of the downsides of change and consideration if the change can be tolerated or managed, and ultimately an agreement and considered preparation among all stakeholders that confirms they’re ready for something new to enter – the 5%, the low hanging fruit that finally, finally have completed their Pre Sales/change management work and become buyers. And yet you continue pushing pushing pushing your solution every which way in the hope that this set of words, this pitch, this website, will influence/inspire/manipulate/persuade people to buy.
Given that a buying decision is a change management problem, unless there buy in by all stakeholders, unless they are certain they cannot fix the problem with a known solution, until they are certain the new solution won’t cause irreparable disruption, people cannot buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution:
Here’s a wrap up of why your selling doesn’t cause buying: Besides narrowly listening for an inkling of ‘need’ (I wrote What? Did you really say what I think I heard? to teach you how to listen without bias), you’re overlooking the systems elements that must be managed before anyone can buy anything. You’re an outsider, using biased languaging, questions, and assumptions; your pitch merely represents what YOU think will inspire them to buy. But all that does is find those who 1. Have already done their Pre Sales change work, and 2. Seek exactly what you’re selling; it overlooks those who will shortly become buyers once they’ve traversed their route to congruent change. Got it?
ADD BUYING FACILITATION® TO YOUR SALES PROCESS
I invented Buying Facilitation® and successfully trained it to over 100,000 people in global corporations with consistent results. It is not sales. It does not focus on finding buyers but in facilitating those people who WILL become buyers down their decision steps so they can do what they need to do to be ready and able to buy. Using Buying Facilitation®, Kaiser Permanente went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales to 27 visits and 25 closed sales. You choose which is more effective.
As part of Buying Facilitation®, I developed a new form of question (Facilitative Question) that eschews information gathering or the Asker’s curiosity and instead uses brain science in conjunction with the steps of decision making to lead people through to congruent change. I also developed a new way to listen (see my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) that avoids bias and listens for systems. And I shifted the opening focus from ‘need’ to finding those who are willing and able to change – in the sphere I’m selling in, of course. I’m facilitating those who can/will buy to Pre Sales Buyer Readiness.
Buying Facilitation® works with marketing as well.By understanding all elements necessary in the buying environment of your industry, you can write articles that move prospective buyers through their decision path using the steps of change, not with product content, but with change thinking. To find an audience for my listening book, I wrote an article on meetings, for example, because I know the steps of groups needing communication tools. I got dozens of Thank You notes from team leaders who shared the article to hundreds of employees, giving me a 54% conversion rate. And I did not discuss my book or even mention it until the footer.
As long as your sales model is focused on placing solutions and searching and listening for need, you will only close the low hanging fruit – those who have done their change management work, know a new solution won’t change their status quo beyond repair, and have gotten the buy in to proceed. It’s time to add Buying Facilitation® to the front end of sales, sell 8x more, and really help buyers buy.
For those of you who want to read more about this, here are some articles I’ve written:
If you’d like to discuss this with me directly, call or email: 512 771 1117; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, sales thought leader, and NYTimes Bestselling author of Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. She is the inventor of Buying Facilitation®, a skill set that facilitates decision making along each stage of the Pre Sales buyer’s decision path, and assembling all decision makers and addressing all elements subject to change, pre purchase. Sharon Drew has trained global corporations, using pilot studies that consistently prove that adding BF to sales is 8x more effective at closing sales. Sharon Drew is also the thought leader behind the game changing book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew speaks, trains, and consults in Communication, Sales, Listening, Buy-In. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Sharon Drew Morgen December 10th, 2018
Posted In: Sales
The problem with accurately hearing what others mean to convey is not that we don’t hear their words accurately. The problem is in the interpretation. During the listening process, our brains arbitrarily filter out, or reconfigure the uncomfortable, unknown, or confusing, to make what’s been said match something we’re more familiar with. And it fails to inform us of its creative editing.
As a result, we’re left understanding some fraction of what our Communication Partner(CP) meant to convey. So if I say ABC and your brain tells you I’ve said ABL, you not only have no way of knowing that you’ve not understood my intended message, but you’re thoroughly convinced you heard what I ‘said’. Obviously, this interpretation process puts relationships and communication at risk.
CASE STUDY OF PARTNERSHIP LOST
While at a meeting with co-directors of a company to discuss possible partnering, there was some confusion on one of the minor topics:
As our brains haphazardly and unconsciously interpret for us, we naturally respond according to what we think we heard rather than what’s meant, restricting creativity, collaboration, and relationships.
How, then, do we have unrestricted conversations? Find ways to expand possibilities? Hear what others mean to say? Know how to take appropriate action, or negotiate creatively? I found the topic so interesting that I wrote a book on the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, the different ways our brains filter what’s been said (triggers, assumptions, biases, etc.), and how to supersede our brain to hear accurately (Read First 2 chapters of What Did you really say what I think I heard?).
CASE STUDIES OF PROSPECTS LOST
One way our brains restrict our conversations happens when we enter with a preset agenda and unconsciously tell our brains to ignore whatever doesn’t fall outside the category. So when sellers listen only for ‘need’ they miss important clues that would exclude or enlist the CP as a prospect. A coaching client of mine had this conversation:
Seller: Hi. I’m Paul, from XXX. This is a sales call. I’m selling insurance. Is this a good time to speak?
Buyer: No. it’s a horrible time. It’s end of year and I’m swamped. Call back next week and I’ll have time.
And the prospect hung up on him. Because the Seller used the traditional Buying Facilitation® opening for a cold call which welcomes prospects into a collaborative conversation, the prospect was willing to speak. But he lost interest when the Seller ignored his invitation and switched to taking care of his own needs with a pitch.
SDM: What happened? He told you he’d speak next week. And why did you speak so quickly?
Paul: He had enough time to answer the phone, so I figured I’d try to snag him into being interested. I spoke fast cuz I was trying to respect his time.
And this is a very simplistic example. Here is another one:
Halfway into a sales call, my client got hooked on his own agenda and didn’t hear reality:
Prospect: Well, we don’t have a CRM system that operates as efficiently as we would like, but our tech guys are scheduled 3 years out and our outsourcing group’s not available for another year. So we’ve created some workarounds for now.
Seller: I’d love to stop by and show you some of the features of our new CRM technology. I’m sure you’ll find it very efficient.
And that was the end of the conversation. He should have heard his intent and replied:
Wow. Sounds like a difficult situation. We’ve got a pretty efficient technology that might work for you, but obviously now isn’t the time. How would you like to stay in touch so we can speak when it’s closer to the time? Or maybe take a look at adding a few bells and whistles now to help out a bit while you wait?
By hearing and respecting the prospect’s status quo the seller would have created a ‘We Space’ where they both shared the same goals, and kept them speaking over time. Not to mention it would have been respectful. But the sellers, in both instances, only listened for what they wanted to hear and misinterpreted what was meant, and followed their own agenda at the cost of a real prospect.
We restrict possibilities when we enter calls with an agenda. We:
Here is a short list of ways to alleviate this problem (and take a look at What? for more situations and ideas):
Prospects are those who will buy, not those who should buy. Enter each call to form a collaboration in which together you can hear each other and become creative. Stop trying to qualify in terms of what you sell. You’re missing opportunities and limiting what’s possible.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the NYTimes Business Bestselling author of Selling with Integrity and 7 books how buyers buy, including Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. 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
firstname.lastname@example.org 512 771 1117 www.didihearyou.com; www.sharondrewmorgen.com
Sharon Drew Morgen December 3rd, 2018
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
* 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:
Let me define a few terms (albeit with my own bias):
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:
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. 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® including the NY Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell which teaches sellers how to facilitate change and consensus for buyers.
Sharon Drew Morgen November 19th, 2018
Posted In: Communication
For years I’ve written about how sales suffer because the sales model, designed to seek buyers and place solutions by information sharing and gathering, ignores the vast opportunity to close more sales by adding the function of facilitating Buyer Readiness (i.e. systemic change). The absence of this capability restricts sales to searching for those ready to buy, and causes objections en route:
You’re getting objections not because of your terrific solution, your professionalism, your lists, your competition, the buyer’s need, or your price (It’s never ever about price.). Nor because buyers are liars (David Sandler once told me he never meant the take-away that that expression has evolved into.), stupid, or connivers.
You’re getting objections because you’re using content push and various methods of information sharing as your main vehicle to selling, before buyers are ready or able to buy, before they know why, or when, or if to hear your message. As a result, you’re getting objections because you end up merely seeking those who SHOULD buy, ignoring the vastly larger group who CAN buy but haven’t yet gotten ready (and who won’t object once they get their ducks in a row).
You’re getting objections because you’re reducing your entry points, and along the way, annoying those who don’t (yet) know how to respond to what feels like an invasion.
Sales is designed to
and as a result you’re getting objections. With a function limited to using solution-based information as the route to placing solutions and searching for those who SHOULD buy – and getting objections from those who don’t find relevance in your offering, or may feel insulted or made ‘stupid’ – sales overlooks the possibility of facilitating the far larger group who CAN buy. It’s only when they’re certain they can’t fix the problem themselves AND get buy-in, do buyers consider going ‘external’ for a solution. And objections are merely a reaction to feeling pushed by your content and goal to place a solution.
WHY YOU GET OBJECTIONS
I define ‘buyer’ as a person/group who has discovered they can’t fix a problem internally, traversed their change management issues, and has gotten agreement to seek an external solution. The very last thing buyers need is your solution – literally.
So here, in no particular order, is a list of reasons why you get objections, and why/how the limited solutions-push focus of the sales model merely handles a small fraction of a Buying Decision Path instead of actually enabling buying. And fyi: by adding the functionality to help potential buyers traverse their systemic change management issues first, you’ll never get objections.
You’re actually causing your own objections. You get no resistance when facilitating prospects through their own steps to congruent change first, get them ready to change, and continue on to placing your terrific solution content with those specific prospects who CAN buy. (Read my article on the Buyer’s Journey that lays out the entire Pre-Sales buying decision process.) But you’ll need to take a different – additional – path through a different lens. You’ll need to understand the change management issues within your industry. And no, you cannot use your current sales skill to accomplish this.
FOCUS ON FACILITATING BUYER READINESS FIRST
Here is the deal. Until now, you’ve waited while buyers do this change stuff: they must do this anyway (with you or without you). So you can continue pushing your content and getting objections, or you can add a new function to your outreach to connect with the right ones sooner: enter their decision path, get onto their Buying Decision Team, and facilitate the ones who CAN buy through to buying. Just recognize the sales model doesn’t do the facilitation portion as it’s solution-placement based.
I designed a new methodology to facilitate the front end of the decision path (Buying Facilitation®). It’s a change facilitation model that works with sales to help buyers congruently and
Buying Facilitation® is a generic change facilitation skill set, with no content focus, no bias, and is systemic in nature. It involves facilitating change (vs pushing content) with a new form of question (Facilitative Question) that enable systems to recognize their own criteria and manage change congruently; a new form of listening that involves Listening for Systems; and Presumptive Summaries to enable people to move outside of their subjective experience and view the entire situation as an Observer/Coach. I’ve trained it to about 100,000 sales folks globally, in several industries and product price points, and generally get a close rate of 5x the control group.
Right now, you’re closing 5% and wasting a lot of resource to find them. You’re hiring too many people to close too few; ignoring real prospects on route to making an appointment – and then going to appointments with a fraction of the appropriate people present, to push content they don’t know how to listen to, and fighting with competitors for the same restricted group of buyers – when if you could enter differently, with a willingness to add a new skill set, you could find/close more buyers.
There are a lot more REAL buyers suffering from lengthy Buying Decision Path confusions as they fumble through change. They really could use your help. Read Dirty Little Secrets; why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and learn about the systems involved in buying (or any change), and add this to your sales initiatives. You’ll have more clients, shorter sales cycles, meaningful relationships built on trust, and no objections.
Sharon Drew Morgen is a Change Facilitator, working with sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, buy-in, implementations, and consultants. She has trained sales and management teams in global corporations for 35 years. She is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon best sellers 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 is also a coach, speaker, and consultant. She can be reached at email@example.com
Sharon Drew Morgen November 12th, 2018
Posted In: Communication
I started up a tech company in London in 1983. I never meant to. And I certainly didn’t know what I was doing.
I was brought across the pond by a tech company as a sales director. But after a few days and a few conversations with my husband Ben (brought over by the same company to do contract tech work), I realized there was a far greater opportunity than just selling services for the first Fourth Generation Language (4GL) Database Management software FOCUS we supported: programming support, of course. But what about users? Since it was a user-focused tool, and users weren’t techies, I envisioned two problems: they might not have the knowledge to cull, organize and manage their data; they might not have the skills to communicate effectively with the techies they had to collaborate with. (As a non-techie married to a techie, I was well aware of the communication challenges of different types of brains.) What if we could be a decision support group that provided a broad range of services for users?
I somehow convinced my new manager to let me ‘go’ with my ideas. But truth be told, I didn’t know what I was talking about. That wasn’t a problem: because I think in systems, I had a high-level understanding of the problems but none of the details. In other words, I understood the structure but not the content (and it’s always easy to find the right content once you’ve got the structure). Never occurred to me I wouldn’t succeed.
None of us were smart enough to know what we didn’t know, although they must have known something: I became their most successful group, bringing in 142% of the gross profit of their 5 companies. Me? I ended up an entrepreneur, starting a tech group (which became its own company) in two countries (UK, Germany), with no experience; making a whole bunch of money for me and my investors; serving a large, diverse client base; traveling extensively around Europe; having full expression of my creativity; and living in London. But it didn’t start that way.
As I share my experiences, I’d like you to consider that this was the early 1980s: there was no internet, no Google, no email, and no websites with phone numbers and names. It was necessary, in general, to call Information to get a phone number, and they needed the address before they gave you the number. True story. Computers weren’t even used for much – think Commodore, with floppys; Macs weren’t even introduced until 1984; Google not until 1996. So in the pre-internet,pre-information age, selling and marketing were decidedly different than today. And yet I found a way, in a country strange to me, in an industry I knew nothing about, selling a product I didn’t understand, to be quite successful. Just a bit of old-timee caring, trust, and integrity. Let me begin.
WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW
I’d never been an entrepreneur. With only 5 years as a successful salesperson (and 12 years prior as a social worker and journalist), I had no idea what ‘business’ meant. In fact, I didn’t know:
I was ignorant. But I did understand people, systems, structure, hard work, risk-taking, communication, and integrity. And I knew who, what, and why to trust. I was on my way.
I began in a tiny, tiny office (Obviously once a closet, it was so narrow I had to move the chair so the door would open; the ‘desk’ was a plank of wood attached to the wall.) in a group office space. I sat, that first day, and stared at a British phone not even knowing how to dial out or get Information. I had to hire people, obviously. But for what? And how did I find them? I had to get revenue, but from who? This was in 1983 before the ‘tech’ boom. No one knew what was going on; I had no one to even ask these questions to.
Should I start selling first to bring in revenue? or hire support staff? Should I hire techies to go into client environments – for when I made a sale? But how could I hire anyone before I knew what prospective clients needed? What criteria should I use to hire techies – since the 4GL was for users, techies needed both tech skills and people skills, no? What percentage of each was necessary? How would I know what to pay them?
It was a conundrum. I couldn’t pay anyone until I was getting revenue; I couldn’t get revenue until I got clients; I couldn’t get clients until I had people to do their work. Where to begin? I could design a path forward once I figured out the elements. And as I later realized, starting with no expectations, no biases, no knowledge, and no comparators, was a blessing. I was given a clear road on which to travel, using any means of transport I could develop within a miasma of confusion, to get wherever I wanted to go. Best fun ever.
EMPLOYEES RUNNING THE COMPANY
I took on all the tasks concurrently: afternoons interviewing techies and hiring staff, mornings on sales calls. I decided to be my own salesperson so I could learn the components of the underlying system and understand the full range of givens going forward. I needed to know where I was at so I could get where I was going. (Did you ever try to get directions when you didn’t know the address where you were?)
I solved the ‘which comes first’ problem by initially hiring contract techies (who I later made permanent). This also solved my cash flow issue so I needn’t lay out money until I landed a client. But who was a good hire? I had Ben design a tech test I could score myself using an overlay with answers; I personally added some client service questions to understand their people skills. Between this test and the interview, I knew exactly the pluses and minuses of each person.
To hire staff, I had to determine the job scope and potential outcome that each hire would offer, certainly hard to do when I had no way of knowing what jobs were necessary; it was a year before we realized we needed a training group, for example. So I made a lot of (mostly good but not always) guesses. Before our interviews, I told prospective hires to determine how much they wanted to earn (I trusted people knew how much they were worth; I sure didn’t.) bring a P&L (Someone said I needed that. No idea what it was.) to the interview with a plan to illustrate how they could earn their salary, cover their costs, and make a profit. The ones who came in with creative ideas were hired. I didn’t know until years later what a crazy idea this was. But not that crazy, turned out.
Since I didn’t know the difference between a cost center and a profit center, I hadn’t realized ‘obvious’ things, like you can’t make Reception a profit center. But I didn’t know I couldn’t, so I did. A bit more about that in a moment. Suffice it to say, by making each person their own profit center, everybody ran their own companies and became wholly committed to being successful because that’s how they got paid. Plus they were having such fun creating. Sounds silly now, but it worked: I hired people who wanted to be creative, take responsibility, and work from the same parameters of ‘excellence’ that I wanted the company to exemplify:
So now I knew how to hire staff and techies when I needed them. But that was the tip of the iceberg.
SELLING AN UNKNOWN
Because I had a successful history of taking on challenges without knowing anything, I didn’t think twice about selling something I didn’t understand. And truly, although I had very general knowledge, I knew nothing of the specifics – what I was selling, who used it, the need for it, or the buying environment for it. I didn’t even know how to get phone numbers or company names (1983, remember? No Google, no information ‘online’. Think about it.). Reception gave me a phone book to look up American companies that I knew had offices in London and who possibly might be using FOCUS. But it was all a guess; I was flying blind. My first call was to the Receptionist at American Express:
SDM: Hi. I wonder if you could help me. This is a sales call, and I have a product that will help the folks using a new Fourth Generation Language get better reports. But I’m new in London, and new in the business, and haven’t a clue what groups are using this or who to ask for. Do you have any ideas for me?
REC: Interesting. I’ll give you the names of a few group heads and you can call and see if they fit. If these don’t work, call me back and I’ll keep digging. My name is Ann.
First on her list was Jim. No idea what he did or his title; I just had a name and extension number.
SDM: Hi Jim. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen. Ann gave me your name and suggested you were a good person to speak with but neither of us was sure. This is a sales call. I’m selling support services for the Fourth Generation Language FOCUS, and I wonder if you’re using the language or need any help. Is this a good time?
JIM: How refreshing! Thanks for telling me it’s a sales call. Can you tell me more about what you offer (No idea.) because we are using FOCUS but because it’s so new I don’t know what I don’t know (Hahahaha. That made two of us).
SDM: (I was in trouble here. My only option was to keep putting the focus on him.): I have an idea. Rather than me tell you what I can do for you, tell me exactly how you’re currently using the software, what your target goal is and if you’re reaching it, where you’re not, and I’ll put it all together in my head (with Ben’s help!) and see if there is anything I can do to support you, then get back to you if I can. I do have a curiosity: what’s stopping you from knowing more than you do about using the software to its fullest capability? (This was curious to me. As a systems thinker, I always want to know the parameters of any problem. What was going on that Jim didn’t know them?)
JIM: Wow. I should know more, right? Let me tell you how I’m using it (and so began my learning!) and we can schedule another call once you’ve had time to think. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to give you the names and phone numbers of my colleagues so we can all be on the same page here. I also havea friend at DEC with the same problems I’m having, so I’ll give you his number as well. I suspect you can help us all.
And so began my journey to success. Helping people figure out how to take care of their own needs first, and then helping where I could add something, was so much easier than pitching what I thought would be meaningful, especially since I had no earthly idea how to discuss a product I didn’t yet have.
GROWING THE COMPANY WITH PEOPLE
I soon began selling contract services for systems engineers, programmers, project leaders, and managers. When visiting them in the field at their new jobs, I began to understand the ‘need’ not only for technical support but as I had originally guessed, for ‘communication management’ within their teams and with the users who had no clue how to manage or direct techies. I quickly realized that merely putting techies into client teams wouldn’t keep the core communication issues, inherent in this first report tool, at bay.
I needed to hire someone with tech skills, communication skills, and people skills. A tall order that few could do. But unless someone could take that on, I could foresee plenty of innate problems that could crop up and cause fires and lost time and business.
Thankfully, I found John to hire as a ‘Make Nice Guy’. John had it all; I paid him a fortune (around $100,000, which in 1984 was a huge salary – just about broke the bank) and gave him this job description:
I never wanted my phone to ring with problems; I had a company to grow. John’s job was to run all operations. And he was so good at everything that our projects almost always got done ahead of schedule and under budget, causing clients to keep us around for far longer than the initial contract as their trust grew. And because we were so reliable, clients began giving us whole projects to do on our own, freeing up their own people for more creative work. We were in Bose, British Airways, Amdahl, DEC, for years, causing me to hire more and more tech staff. We grew to about 43 techies in under 4 years. And there was very little ‘beach’ time.
I had very high criteria around keeping staff happy; without them, I didn’t have a business. Since so many folks were in the field and I couldn’t see them regularly, I called each and every techie at least once a month to check in, discuss birthdays and holidays, share gossip. I offered current staff a new job opening before seeking anyone from outside to fill it. I let them trial the job for 3 weeks, and if they wanted it and we all agreed, it was theirs. And because I thought it important that those in the field didn’t feel isolated, once a month I treated the whole team of techies and staff to a darts night with a few pints at a local pub. I always lost. I still can’t play darts.
As we grew, my growing group of employees were coming up with their own ideas, certainly better than mine. One of the running jokes became the ability to get me to say “WE’RE DOING WHAT?????” When I said those words, someone would gleefully shout out, “SHE SAID IT! SHE SAID IT!” It was never little stuff either. They sure took risks.
SDM: Hey Harold. Nice seeing you. I’ve not seen you for days. Where’ve you been?
HAROLD: We needed to expand our training programs so I was scouting out new venues. I’m just getting ready to sign a contract to rent about 1000 feet of space in an adjoining office.
SDM: WE’RE DOING WHAT????”
Damn if he didn’t rock out. He’d put together user training, tech training, and even a manager training that he somehow got me to teach (I’M TEACHING WHAT????). Harold figured that since I did such a good job managing techies with no technical experience myself, I could teach user managers how to work with techies. He was right. And it was a very popular program. Who knew!? All I had to do was do what I was told.
The other prominent wish I heard from the managers was an admonishment: “Please, please don’t sell anything we don’t have today please!” Yeah, right. As a salesperson, I always can think of things I can sell someone when I hear what I think is a need. And once I knew how flexible our services were, I could promise something could be delivered. Immediately.
STAFF PERSON SEEING MY FACE AS I RETURNED TO MY OFFICE: She’s done it again!!
SDM: [as the team hustled into my office, arms crossed, scowling, knowing]: I couldn’t help it. Sorry guys. It’s not a big deal. We only need to do X. Won’t be bad.
STAFF: And when did you promise we’d deliver this?
STAFF: BUT IT’S WEDNESDAY!!!!! We’ll need to work all weekend!!!! My wife will kill me!!!!
SDM: I’ll run the Xerox machine, keep you in Pizza and Coke, edit while you’re writing. I’ll buy the beer! I’ll help you!
And so we stayed up to the minute in our offerings and program designs and had a steady flow of new solutions. What a blast we had, albeit a missed birthday or two. Sorry kids.
One more fun thing. The technical training guy wanted to be able to see into the work the students were doing at their desks and correct their errors from his front computer. He needed a computer with a large screen, capable of connecting to, and viewing, multiple computers at once. You might shrug at this now, but in 1985, no one had ever heard of such a thing. Julian made a bazillion calls and actually found a man in Amsterdam to come over, raise our training room floor to organize all the cables, and built Julian the computer he wanted. Done and done.
THE PROFIT CENTER RECEPTION AREA
I promised you this story. And it’s quite wonderful. Shows what can happen when you really trust your staff.
I hired a woman named Anne-Marie as the receptionist. She had run a car dealership and was accustomed to dealing with aggressive men, without an ounce of need for any social relationships.
Anne-Marie’s pitch to me during our interview for the job of Receptionist was that she wanted a percentage of our net profits (and this was in 1984!); for this, she would create an environment run like a well-oiled machine, with everyone intent on taking care of customers with nothing getting in the way. I didn’t know what that meant; I just trusted her.
She was imposing in every way: very tall – about 6 feet – and wore very tidy, officious, crisp suits. She wore bright red, severe lipstick; she walked with lowered eyes, with a sort of strut; her brown hair was tied up in some 1920s hairstyle that increased our perception that she knew what she was doing. And I can’t say often enough that she was terrifying. It was like having a dictator around all the time, watching, watching. We did whatever she said. Seriously. No one, no one, messed with her. We didn’t even want to find out what the ‘or else’ was.
Anne-Marie figured out what needed to be done within a month on the job. As the person in the front, Anne-Marie overheard staff gossiping about each other, obviously taking time away from their work and her profit; she noticed phones being unanswered, which didn’t serve customers; she overheard people saying they ‘didn’t know’ something, which didn’t serve customers either. She wasn’t having it.
She put us to work. EVERY DAY Anne-Marie made us write up what was going on with our clients, problems with our job and caseload, our conflicts with each other. We had to leave these pages on her desk before we left at night, and she would come in early and distribute them by 7:00 A.M. She wanted everyone to have all the knowledge necessary to serve clients and each other, every day.
She called these things TOADS. Take what you want and destroy…. I don’t remember what the blasted acronym was, but trust me, I still have nightmares. Those bloody TOADS. We hated them. EVERY DAY we all had to stay an extra hour at night to write the damn things – and remember, there were no computers and many of the staff couldn’t type on the typewriters, so mostly we wrote them by hand. Pages. They went on for pages. And in addition to staying late EVERY NIGHT to write the dratted things, we had to come in early every day to read the ten or twelve sets of TOADS that Anne-Marie left on our desks from our teammates. One of the things I did when designing our new offices was to install glass walls so we could all see each other (Open plan offices weren’t a Thing yet.). We would glumly look up from our writing at 6:30 or so at night, see each other sitting there writing, give each other grim smiles, chuckle, and put our heads back down to write. We suffered together.
What happened was astonishing. All internal conflicts stopped, since everyone knew, and aired their grievances. Office communication became more intimate. Staff knew each other’s challenges and shared resources and ideas, creating a collaborative environment filled with new possibility. We all got a much deeper appreciation of our clients and their challenges. And any time a phone rang, whoever was closest picked it up.
Oh Hi, Mr. Jones. I’m SO sorry that happened to Martin! How’s he doing! Jane isn’t here now, but is there something I can help you with? I know our folks are just finishing up your project. Is there a problem?
We fixed problems immediately. We all had all the information we needed to see a problem coming and fix it before it happened. Clients trusted us even more and gave us more business. She’d accomplished her goal: customers were happy, and we all made money. Between Anne-Marie taking care of the inside, and John taking care of the field, I had absolutely nothing to do but grow my company.
HAPPY CUSTOMERS, SAD COMPETITION
But in truth, my clients grew my company for me. I did whatever it took to keep them satisfied. And this became my brand. One month in 1986 or so, I decided to place a full-page ad in The Financial Times of London. Very expensive. But I wanted to be on record as a company with a commitment to serve. Instead of writing copy, I left the page blank except for these words written right in the middle of the empty page:
The Quality Is Free
and at the bottom of the page, in small print, my company contact details. One day after submitting the copy, I got a surprise visit from the Times Editor. He brought with him a page of copy that he’d written for me (He assumed I wasn’t smart enough to write my own copy?).
EDITOR: You can’t have just an empty page. But don’t worry. I wrote you some content.
SDM: Naw. I’m good, thanks. Want some tea?
An hour after he left, I got a call from the big big boss in the States who suggested I take the Editor’s offer for content (The Editor went around me to call the big boss? Awwww what a silly woman! Obviously she needs a man! With brains! Awwww.).
SDM: I got a better idea
Geoff: Why not fly over, take my job, and you can do anything you want. No? You don’t want that? So what else would you like to discuss. How the hell are you?
In those days, Brand Marketing wasn’t a thing. I certainly had no idea what it was. I just wanted potential customers to know what we stood for and elevate my brand in the larger market. One thing I quickly learned: let the people who knew what they were doing ‘go’ and learn whatever I could from them. My wonderful team, my lovely customers, taught me everything. They certainly all had their own answers so long as I helped them figure out how to figure it out. In fact, this process of helping others figure out their own answers was the foundation of my Buying Facilitation®model that I’ve taught to 100,000 sales folks globally since 1987. How naïve I was as a salesperson before that to ever think I had an answer for prospects.
Ultimately, our customers were so happy the following resulted:
I can send you someone with those exact specifications in seven weeks, or I you must have someone sooner, I can send someone with the X skill set but not the Y skills, and you’d need to get that part covered yourself.
I never ever lied or hyped and my track record was perfect. Clients trusted us. I even had situations where our team got to a new client site to begin a project and the client was on vacation (“Dave where are you???” “Sharon Drew, your folks are so good they’ll figure it out. Talk in two weeks when I’m back.”). I once got a call from someone who said, “What, no resume? You’re going to tell me who I need, and you think you’re going to get it right?” Yup.
My revenue doubled every year. I lost no staff in four years even though they were approached regularly from my competitors and offered higher salaries. I was as successful in Germany as I was in England. And I learned a lot: how to run a company; how to choose staff – and let them do their thing and get out of their way; to trust that clients had their own best answers; to trust my ignorance to find the most integrous route to a solution.
My years in London gave me the ability to exercise my own creativity, serve a bunch of people, and get paid for it (difficult for a woman to achieve in America still). And I never had so much fun in my life. One more personal note: while in London I also started up a non-profit (The Dystonia Society) that served kids with my son’s disease. I set up local support groups around the United Kingdom and Europe and raised money for mobility implements. By day I was an entrepreneur, by night I ran a non-profit, and on weekends Ben and I traveled around Europe (and simultaneously brought in a bunch of new clients) and hiked in the Lake District.
After I left my company in 1988, I was contracted by the vendor of FOCUS to get the business back that I had taken from him. True story. In England, that was called ‘Getting money for old rope.’
And after I left my company, it went downhill. During my years there, the big boss regularly tried to get me to lower my prices so I’d be ‘competitive’. “But I’m not IN a price competition, I’m in a quality competition.” Didn’t stop him from haranguing me: “You’d get a lot more business if your prices were reasonable.” He was thinking mainstream, but I wasn’t running a mainstream company. Different rules. When I left, he not only put up blinds on the glass walls so no one could see each other, stopped the ‘time wasting’ TOADS and dart games, and fired John Make Nice Guy because of his ‘exorbitant’ salary, AND he lowered our prices.
Guess what happened. You got it. In a short time, the company actually became mainstream like the others: From having our own 11% market share to sharing the market equally among the 27 competitors – each company getting their 4%. Lesson: when the magic sauce has a recipe, don’t change it.
I then moved back to the States to a ranch in Taos, N.M. After sleeping for a year (Seriously.) and traveling a bit, I wrote my first book (Sales on the Line) published in 1992 followed by 8 more (one, on the NYTimes Business Bestseller’s list called Selling with Integrity, one on the Amazon bestseller’s list called What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), and developed my Change Facilitation model Buying Facilitation® that I’ve trained globally to sales folks, coaches, and leaders ever since. And while many of my coined terms have become part of mainstream sales thinking (buy cycle, buying patterns, buyer’s journey, helping buyers buy, buying decisions – coined to define the change management steps necessary before people become buyers) I’ve done it all my own unique way, never trying to be, or compete against, the mainstream.
I hope that my story offered some ideas to budding entrepreneurs. And I do realize the environment is different in 2018 than it was 35 years ago. But maybe parts of it are not that different.
Receive Sharon Drew’s original articles and essays on Mondays: http://sharondrewmorgen.com/subscribe-to-sharon-drew-morgens-award-winning-blog/
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, and author of 9 books, including the New York Times 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? She is the developer of Change Facilitation, used in sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, and management – any influencing situation in which integrity, ethics, and collaboration are involved. Sharon Drew is a speaker, trainer, consultant, and coach for sales and listening. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org; her award-winning blog has thoughtful articles on change, systems, decision making, and communication. www.sharondrewmorgen.com
Sharon Drew Morgen November 5th, 2018
Today 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.
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
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.
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.
Receive Sharon Drew’s original articles and essays on Mondays: http://sharondrewmorgen.com/subscribe-to-sharon-drew-morgens-award-winning-blog/
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.
Sharon Drew Morgen October 29th, 2018
How many times have you tried to sell an idea to a colleague, only to have it be misunderstood or ignored? Or offered important knowledge in a marketing piece or sales pitch meant to encourage or educate a prospect to buy, only to have it overlooked? Why don’t patients follow new healthcare regimens prescribed by doctors they trust, to heal an illness they know they have?
I began thinking about this recently when I heard a noted leader in healthcare say: “There is a persistent consensus that insufficient evidence exists that behavior can be modified.” Hmmm. And yet the industry is throwing hundreds of millions of dollars researching Behavior Modification (without a parallel model to test it against! So much for the scientific method.). This is similar to my own aphorism, after decades of facilitating prospect buy-in in the sales industry: “Selling doesn’t cause buying.” Both recognize that the outside-in push method for causing compliance isn’t an effective way to elicit permanent change. Indeed: as outsiders, we’re trying to cause behavior change, rather than elicit it.
The common thread behind both is the enduring belief (even with a 5% success rate in sales, and a only fraction of patients complying with necessary health-based regimens) that with the ‘right’ idea and the ‘best’ data, offered by someone who is ‘trustworthy’ and ‘credible’, written, offered, or spoken in a way that ‘inspires’ action, that people will act as they ‘should’ and make the ‘right’ choices we’re ‘certain’ they need to make.
But they’re not. And instead of recognizing that maybe we’ve got it wrong, that maybe we’re looking at the problem from the wrong angle while doing the same thing over and over hoping to get the results we want, we’re calling THEM irrational?? Seems to me we’re the very definition of insanity.
Is it any wonder people aren’t compliant? Pushing OUR ideas, OUR beliefs, OUR biases, OUR assumptions, onto another, in the format WE’VE chosen, assuming because we’re right, or smarter, or caring, or ‘scientific’ or or or, that they’ll do what WE want them to do! And then we’re surprised at the paucity of compliance?
We know this doesn’t work. For decades, if not centuries, sellers, coaches, leaders, and now healthcare providers, have bemoaned the lack of success we’ve achieved (even building failure into our expected results) with our push methods. And yet we continue, hoping that we’ll say it right this time, or offer impeccable research data, or use terrific apps, or pitches, or marketing that will instigate permanent change or decisions in our favor. Has it never occurred that just maybe outside-in push doesn’t work? Or is it just that we don’t know what else to do?
THE FAILURE OF PUSH
Selling doesn’t cause buying. Good content creation doesn’t cause action. Behavior Modification doesn’t cause behavior change. Do you see a pattern here? As reflected in our failed attempts across industries and time, an external push – regardless of how trustworthy, or researched, or ‘rational’, or necessary as it may be – cannot cause another person to change permanently.
As outsiders, we forget: change is an inside job. Yet our activity – all sales models and healthcare apps, coaching models and leadership trends – focuses on attempting to cause change from the outside. With our reports and regimens, proof and advice, stories and examples, we try to convince others to change before teaching them how to, and then complaining they’re not listening to us. Let me offer the reasons it’s not possible for people to change merely because we offer them terrific reasons why they should.
1. Subjective Listening: This is the main hurdle with information push: people don’t hear the intent of a message, when it falls outside of their conditioned, subjective listening filters and habituated neural pathways, regardless of the efficacy of the information offered. When our clients, or children, or patients, ‘mis-hear’ us, it’s not their fault; their brains actually tell them something different from what was intended.
We all listen unconsciously, through our biases, assumptions, triggers, habits, and normalized neural pathways. I’ve written a book about the gap between what’s said and what’s heard (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) and it’s formidable: our brains ‘kindly’ keep us comfortable and safe by hearing what they want, discarding bits of meaning and intent at will, without letting us know that what we end up ‘hearing’ is highly subjective and some unknowable percentage removed from what the speaker (or article, or app) intended. Try as we might – the best wording, or clever text/apps – whatever we say will be interpreted uniquely and not necessarily as we wish it to be interpreted; we’ll be heard more accurately only by those who already think exactly as we do.
So: information-in will probably not be heard as intended and translated according to some unconscious filtering that we outsiders cannot control. And this is compounded by our assumption that because we believe we’ve said something clearly it should be understood, i.e. ‘they’re not listening’. They are. To the very best of their unconscious ability. And it’s a good reason to not rely on sharing information as the way to influence change.
2. Status Quo: Every day we wake up being who we were yesterday. We live our lives and make decisions according to our unique Identity, our personal system of rules, experience, hopes, goals, culture, education, etc. developed over a lifetime, that cause us to operate in the world uniquely. This is how we wake up knowing how to brush our teeth and drive our cars, vote the way we prefer, and love who makes us happy – all regardless of the way others would like us to be.
When any change is required of us our entire habituated, unconscious system/status quo faces disruption: to be willing and able to change, we must find a way for our personal system to buy-in to the new, get rid of the old, and find a way to maintain the habits and beliefs that keep us stable. Indeed, when we ask someone to change, regardless of the need, benefits, or the efficacy of the solution, we are asking people to unravel their status quo and do something different before they know if change would threaten who they know themselves to be. Their system, their status quo, is sacrosanct, and we are asking them to risk who they are.
3. Trust: When we assume we have answers for another, we are basically telling them we know more than they do, that we’re ‘right’ and they’re wrong, that we don’t trust them to find their own best route to excellence. So with the best will in the world, we push against their personal, habituated, normalized system (and yes, it’s the same system that caused the problem in the first place), and get… wait for it… resistance. And then we call them ‘stupid buyers’ or ‘non-compliant patients’. By not trusting our clients, by not enabling them to traverse their OWN route to congruent change, by assuming we have their answers and working at getting them to comply, we’re causing the very resistance we blame them for.
4. Beliefs: For some reason, outsiders attempt to change someone’s behaviors without realizing that behaviors are merely the transactions of our beliefs. It’s like trying to get an app to do something it’s not meant to do without changing the underlying programming. This is why Behavior Modification largely fails: it seeks to cause behavior change; only belief change, and systems buy-in, can elicit behavior change.
5. Bias: Even when accurately assessing another’s needs and have solutions that could resolve problems, our own needs for specific results bias our interactions. We’re outside the Other’s system, using our own preferred languaging, our own biased choices of stories and examples, our own approaches, posing biased questions meant to pull the data we want to understand (often regardless of how the Other uses or hears language i.e. biased) and assuming we’ll be heard and heeded! By choosing the words and story line we adhere to, by choosing activities or making requests according to our own need to get our suggestions recognized, we’re unintentionally biasing our interactions and restricting success to those who think, act, assume like we do.
So with the best will in the world, with solutions that can actually save lives and fix problems, we’re inhibiting success. We must stop pushing the change WE want to have happen, and begin facilitating others through their own behavior change, from within. We must elicit change rather than attempt to cause change. We must trust that everyone has their own answers and lead them through, and design, their own route to discovery and change, within their own norms and identity, so they remain congruent.
We’ve not been given the tools to facilitate permanent change, depending instead on many ways to push information/change in. Yet information – heard through subjective filters, chosen, offered and presented in formats designed by biased do-gooders – doesn’t teach someone HOW to change congruently, from the inside. Inside-out. Pushing data in merely causes resistance. Here are the skills necessary to facilitate others through permanent, congruent change from the inside.
1. The Steps of Change: There is a specific set of sequential steps that human systems follow unconsciously en route to change, starting with enabling Others to rise above the weeds, into an Observer position, so they can get into an unbiased and disassociated state to begin dispassionately noticing, assembling and assessing the elements that caused the systemic problem to begin with. [Note: information-in, and push models, cause people to dig in and defend.] I’ve coded the steps of change that every human system – i.e. every person, group, etc. – must traverse sequentially to remain congruent through change. Change will not occur until a person recognizes
It’s possible to lead people down their own steps of change to make their unconscious beliefs conscious and enable them to consider if it’s time to change. No one, no one, from outside can ever, ever understand what’s going on in other’s personal system.
2. The Direction of Change: People think in habituated patterns; to find the elements that maintain their status quo they must go beyond their habituated thinking to seek out bits of their unconscious that aren’t necessarily obvious. How to do this? By being Neutral Navigators, Change Facilitators, that guide the brain to its own answers. I’ve been thinking about this problem since 1980, understanding that conventional questions are biased by the Asker, and responded to accordingly. Repeat: any time we ask a question of another, it’s biased by our own need to know and word choices, and will be heard with biased ears.
To overcome bias, to help people find their own answers, and knowing that conventional questions are biased by the Asker, I’ve developed Facilitative Questions that actually direct the brain sequentially, through its own givens, to discover best answers (often unconscious) and avoids the bias of influencers who net/net seek answers/pull information THEY think relevant. (Definition: Facilitative Question – a systemic, action-based, directive question, (not information-pull) that uses specific words, in a specific order, to lead people through sequential steps of discovery and buy-in without bias.) These questions can be used in surveys, questionnaires, and research to elicit ‘good’ information, without bias. I know this is a bit outside of mainstream thinking, but I’ve been successfully teaching the formulation of these questions for decades, in sales with Buying Facilitation®, coaching, and leadership – any place congruent change is required. Sometimes new ideas are needed, right?
3. The Who of Change: By taking on the mantel of Change Agents, Facilitators, Influencers regardless of field (i.e. in apps, in sales, in coaching), we must begin by trusting Others to discover and design their own change, not attempt to cause change with wizzy content, Behavior Mod approaches, pricing ‘deals’ or any other outside-in push techniques. They don’t work – hence a 95% failure rate in sales, and patients regularly not completing regimens that would help them heal. Once people recognize how to change themselves in a way that’s congruent with their personal system, they will then need outsiders to supply relevant information. First facilitate change for Others; then supply necessary data according to THEIR needs.
4. Testing for Change: By only doing research on Behavior Mod or other behavior change approaches, we’re ignoring the real problem and not helping people make permanent change. Let’s begin doing research on Change Facilitation practices in side-by-side experiments with behavior change approaches. Then we’ll have real answers.
For those who want to think about the inherent problems of pushing change from the outside, below I’ve summarized the baseline beliefs in this article so you can begin thinking of why an inside-out approach is the only way to elicit successful change (Note: I’ve designed a Change Facilitation approach to handle this; design your own, or call me to discuss.):
It’s possible to develop healthcare apps that first enable Others to be ready for change prior to offering Behavior Mod. It’s possible for sellers to first facilitate prospect buy-in, notice those who WILL buy and are ready for change on the first call. It’s possible to facilitate coaching clients through permanent change. And I know that influencers like to be the pivot point, the arbiter of change. But if an outside-in line of questioning or directing is used, only people who have done their own change work first will be compliant. Let’s elicit change; let’s stop pushing.
I’m happy to discuss the above with anyone, and seek situations to test, use, offer my stuff to enhance excellence. Sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com
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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and change agent. She is the developer of a unique Change Facilitation model currently used in sales (Buying Facilitation®) and trained to many Fortune 500 companies globally. Sharon Drew is the author of nine books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestseller’s Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers don’t buy and sellers don’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?. She uses her original ideas as a foundation for thoughtful essays and articles on topics such as decision making, change, listening, trust, systems, and collaboration. All of her models and thinking are based on Servant Leadership, and how we – as companies and individuals – can serve each other to become Excellent. Sharon Drew lives on a floating home in Portland OR. email@example.com www.sharondrewmorgen.com
Sharon Drew Morgen October 22nd, 2018
I recently heard yet another excuse as to why a buyer didn’t buy. This one was a hoot – seller/buyer misalignment. Seriously? Because the seller didn’t close a sale (That was expected by the seller? In the mythical pipeline?) there was a relationship problem? Because the buyer didn’t buy (according to the expectation of the seller) there was a bonding problem? No. The problem stems from sellers not understanding what a buyer is. In this case, there was no buyer to be ‘misaligned’ with.
FROM PERSON TO BUYER
A decision not to purchase has very little to do with the seller, the solution, the relationship, or the need. In fact, a purchase is the very last thing a buyer wants. Just because a situation seems like a perfect fit with your solution does not make it a buying/selling opportunity; just because someone really needs your solution does not mean they are ready, willing, or able to buy.
Let me begin by defining ‘Buyer’: a person (or group) who has
and decides to purchase an external solution as their only option.
1. A buyer isn’t a buyer unless they’ve bought something. Until then they are people with a problem that may, if all else fails, require an external solution.
2. People first recognize a problem that keeps them from the type of Excellence they require. They may or may not decide to fix it. It never begins as a decision to make a purchase (unless a small personal item).
3. There are usually a range of ‘fixes’ available for problems. Workarounds are always the first option, a purchase the last.
4. All people (buyers, groups, individuals) live in a unique unconscious, human system (rules, relationships, beliefs, experience, goals, etc.) that created the problem and maintains it as part of their status quo. The system exists AS IS, with problems factored in. If an element is recognized as problematic, the system would need to agree on possible forward routes. Any change would need to end up as an integrated part of the core system.
5. A purchase means something new will enter the system and replace or reconsider what’s already there without leaving a mess. It’s only when there’s agreement from all elements that created the problem that
* it can’t be fixed with known resources or workarounds,
* the cost in resources/change is lower than the cost of fallout,
* a path forward is defined by everyone who will touch the final solution,
that the full scope of a solution is understood. Until then ‘need’ isn’t fully defined. Here is where sellers often get caught thinking there’s a ‘need’ before there is one.
6. There is a defined series of 13 (generic) steps that all systems traverse (often unconsciously) to decide if, when, why, how, what to change. Until they’ve agreed they can’t fix the problem with familiar resources AND developed a plan for congruent change, (step 10), there is no willingness to seek an external solution. In other words, people become buyers at step 10; before that they’re merely people trying to fix a problem themselves.
7. During the steps of change, people within the system do research to find a variety of ideas that could possibly help them fix their problem themselves. If they have contacted a solution provider during their research phase (and have not yet gotten group buy-in) they’re not buyers regardless of their apparent need and the efficacy of a seller’s solution.
8. Making a purchase is first a change management issue, last a solution choice problem; the first question people ask is how they can achieve Excellence without leaving an internal mess; the last question they ask is what solution they’d need from ‘outside’. Using the sales model, only solution placement criteria and activities are considered and any questions posed are biased to inspire agreement, admission of need, ‘relationship’ – all with an intent to sell something (i.e. steps 10-13); there is no element of the sales model that facilitates systemic change to enable sellers to enter earlier.
9. Until any disruption caused by a purchase (i.e. all purchases are ‘foreign’ elements) is understood, planned for, and agreed to, no purchase will take place. The existing system is sacrosanct; keeping it running smoothly is more important to them than fixing a problem that’s already been baked into the system.
10. Everyone and everything who created the current problem and would potentially touch a new solution must agree to any modification (possible purchase). Until then, they won’t, they can’t buy and they are not buyers.
11. The time it takes people/buyers to discover their own answers and know how to manage change in the least disruptive way, is the length of the sales cycle. It has nothing to do with selling, buying, need, relationship, content, or solutions until the route to congruent change is defined and agreed to. It’s change management issue before it’s a solution choice issue.
12. The last thing people want is to buy something. With their only criteria of ‘solution placement’, sellers often enter at the wrong time in the buying journey, ask the wrong questions, and offer the wrong data – and sell only to the low-hanging fruit (the 5% who have planned their route to change already).
13. Buyers buy using their own buying patterns, not a seller’s selling patterns. Using a specific type of sales effort further restricts the population of those who will buy.
14. There is a difference in goals, outcome, capability of changing, and level of buy-in between those who CAN/WILL buy (based on congruent change) vs those who sellers think SHOULD buy (based solely on need/solution match) and hence waste a helluva lot of time.
15. The time it takes people to come up with their complete set of buy-in and change-based answers is the time it takes them to make a decision to seek an external solution – i.e. become a buyer. It has nothing whatsoever to do with their need, your solution, or your relationship until they are certain they will end up with Systems Congruence. And THEN they are ready to discuss the full complement of needs, criteria for buying a solution, and seek a compatible relationship with a seller.
By only listening for clues that lead you to assume a ‘need’ for your solution, by entering into ‘relationships’ based on what you’re selling, by only asking questions to ‘prove’ a need/solution match (too often with only one or two members of the full Buying Decision Team [BDT]), you’re not only biasing the interaction, but limiting your sales to closing those who have gotten to the point when they’re ready, willing, able to change – the low hanging fruit; you’re missing the opportunity to enter earlier, develop a real relationship, and facilitate the path that people who CAN buy must take before they are buyers. The sales model does not facilitate systemic change issues; buyers can’t buy unless this occurs and sellers aren’t helping them, merely waiting for them to show up rather than doing the real job of relationship managers and facilitating through their necessary change issues.
HOW SALES RESTRICTS POSSIBILITY
Because we’ve restricted selling to placing solutions, people with problems we could resolve slowly figure out their own path to change while we sit and wait for those who have completed their process to show up. Prospective buyers, facing confusing choices, would be happy to have help navigating through their Pre-Sales systemic decision/change process and adding a true facilitator onto their BDT.
Right now, you’re seeking out those people you’ve determined SHOULD buy (and getting ignored, misaligned, dropped, etc.) and ignoring ways to facilitate those who CAN buy but haven’t yet become buyers. If you enter with a Change Facilitation focus, it’s possible to find those who CAN buy on the first call, and use your relationship and knowledge to facilitate them through the steps of the change management process first, and THEN be there as they determine the need for your solution.
By adding a Change Facilitation processes to your upfront tools (seller-, marketing-, or software-led) you can enter at any step along the Buying Decision Path and be part of the BDT to help them get their ducks in a row. Then you’ve gotten ahead of the competition, reduce your sales cycle by half, only connect with those who WILL buy, close a helluva lot more sales (my clients close 5x more than the control groups using the same lists), and truly serve the people who need you.
I’ve developed a model (Buying Facilitation®) that uses wholly unique skills (Listening for Systems, Facilitative Questions, etc.) to facilitate the discovery of a congruent route to Excellence. A generic model used for coaching, management, leadership, healthcare, I’ve been quite successful teaching it to global corporations ( i.e. IBM, Kaiser, Wachovia, KPMG, etc.) to increase their sales. Currently you’re now wasting 95% of your time running after those few who have finally arrived at step 10 – the low hanging fruit – ignoring the much larger pool of those who are on route, and fighting for a competitive advantage.
By adding new functionality to your sales model, you can enter earlier, be a Servant Leader, and facilitate congruent change and THEN be on board and accepted as a provider as they go through their buying decision process. It’s NOT sales; it’s NOT selling/purchase-based; it IS change-based. Right now you’re waiting while buyers do it anyway (or merely running after those you THINK have a need but end up fixing the problem in other ways). Why not add a skill set, stop wasting time/effort, and close more. Then you’ll never be ‘misaligned.’
Sharon Drew Morgen is a thought leader in two industries – sales and listening. Her original thinking on facilitating congruent decisions is the basis of apps and experiments.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and thought leader. As the originator of Change Facilitation, she invented Buying Facilitation® for the sales industry; she’s trained over 100,000 sellers globally to diverse industries and cultures. Sharon Drew is the author of 9 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 works with individuals and teams as a coach, speaker, trainer, and consultant, in sales, change implementations, healthcare, technology. Her work on listening without bias has been called ‘game-changing’ and is used by corporations globally. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sharon Drew Morgen October 15th, 2018
Posted In: Sales
Our biases have been developed through the stories of our lives. From birth, our parent’s beliefs become part of our unconscious, very personal, ecosystem; the cultural norms of our youth create our habits, behaviors, and identity; the schools we attend or the gangs we join introduce us to the way our world works and how to behave accordingly; our professions are chosen to allow us to spend our days within the confines of environments that comfortably maintain our norms. Net net, our lives are inspired by our unconscious biases, causing us to live and work, marry and spend time with, people whose norms, interpretations, and beliefs are very similar to ours.
Our normal skill sets aid and abet us: we listen through biased filters and hear and respond to, basically, what our biases tell us was said (I wrote a book on this: What? Did you really say what I think I heard? ); we play and read and watch according to what we already believe and rarely venture far afield; we notice what we notice in response to our nucleus of personal norms, values, and learned habits.
Indeed, we trust our unconscious biases and interpretations, and the resulting responses, so thoroughly that we are often unaware that our actions – built in, normalized and habituated, accepted by our family, peers, and profession – may harm others.
WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND OTHERS
We believe, with certainty, that what we see, hear, and feel is ‘real’ because it IS our reality; we restrict our lives accordingly, making it difficult, if not impossible, to fully understand another’s reality. What we might hear as powerful might be heard as insulting by another person; an incident might be noticed by one person, ignored by another, and an excuse for violence by another. We cannot help but judge others according to our reality.
I, for one, never lock doors. My car is always unlocked. My house is always open even when I travel. Many people would find this unthinkable. I find it safe. As an incest survivor and a rape victim, I always need a quick way in and out. If a door is locked around me, I hyperventilate. Terrifying. These past events, of which locks on doors are only a subset of the aftereffects of my early life, have affected my communication, my lifestyle, my choice of friends and mates, my political views, my unconscious triggers, and my choice of professions even after decades of therapy. There is no way you can understand my interpretation of anything, or the resulting behaviors I exhibit, unless you’ve lived in my shoes. And yet my differences might cause you to judge my actions against your own and find them wanting.
And herein lie the problem. When we run into others with different lifestyle choices, or communication styles, or education, or assumptions, or race, or political beliefs, we may not have the skills to connect with them in ways they understand; we may wrongly misinterpret their intent. Certainly we may not notice we’ve been triggered and behave automatically in ways that inadvertently harm another.
I believe that most people don’t intend to harm anyone. But without common ground, the best we can do is act from our habituated interpretations and assume because we ‘mean well’ that we’re not causing harm.
NEED FOR CHANGE
Historically, we’ve done a bad job caring about resolving the problems of inherent bias that may ultimately harm others. I think this might be changing. Companies and public servants are now taking unconscious bias seriously and requiring unconscious bias training in the hopes of giving people new choices and eradicating harm. Good. But I have a concern.
As someone who has spent decades coding and scaling the stages of how human systems change, I know it’s not possible to cause change from the outside; each individual must find a way to evaluate and reconsider their own core norms and biases to make any necessary corrections that only they can make, from within (i.e. inside/out). I don’t believe we’re doing that. Current training approaches are based on helping folks recognize and change behaviors by offering information, practice, scientific data, videos, etc. from the outside (outside/in), hoping to create new triggers, new behaviors, and new awareness. This approach cannot fix the problem permanently because it:
Current unconscious bias training assumes people can learn enough from videos, discussions, ‘practicing ‘real’ situations, etc. what unconscious bias looks like to create awareness to recognize a problematic situation before or while it’s happening (have you ever tried to do that?) and know exactly what behaviors need changing – and what to change them to!
In other words, just when our brains are unconsciously registering ALERT, we want it to tell itself ‘Nope. Wrong thinking. Don’t do that. Don’t think that. Stop responding that way. Do something different. NOW!’ just as it’s occurring. It’s possible to do so, but not with the training offered.
WHAT IS BIAS? AND WHY IS IT SO HARD TO CHANGE?
Bias is the unconscious, habitual, involuntary, and historic reaction to something deemed ‘different’ (skin color, gender, lifestyle choices, etc.) that negatively triggers someone’s largely unconscious beliefs and values – going against what the person deems ‘right’ or ‘good’ as per the subjective filters through which they experience their lives – causing an automatic feeling of, and defense against, some sort of violation.
Our reactions to external stimuli are unconscious and automatic, and follow our brain’s historic and habituated neural pathways whenever our unconscious triggers go off. To alter these, it’s necessary to go to the source; it’s not possible to permanently change behaviorsby merely changing behaviors. Offering training that merely offers examples and experiences of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviors, and expecting people to undo their habituated triggers because they ‘admit’ to, or recognize ‘bad’ behaviors, uses the wrong thinking. Changing core biases permanently is not a behavior change issue; it’s a core Identity/Belief problem that must be resolved at the source, within the system that created it. I’ll lay the problem out for you piece by piece, then introduce a solution for permanent change. Basically, this level of change is a systems problem.
WHAT IS A SYSTEM, AND WHY IS IT NECESSARY TO ADDRESS IN BIAS TRAINING
A system is a conglomeration of (historic, unique) elements (consisting of our norms, culture, history, values, beliefs, dreams, etc.) that we hold largely unconsciously. They are formed during our lifetimes starting from birth, and as in all systems, are made up of elements (beliefs, values, cultural norms, ethics, morality, etc.) that operate from the same set of rules. Indeed, we live our lives in cities alongside others of similar political beliefs, marry people of similar education, and even listen with biased filters that keep out uncomfortable ideas.
Systems are congruent (Systems Congruence, Homeostasis) entities that always seek stability; they define our politics, our mate selection, even where we live and how we listen to others. Because systems seek to maintain congruence, they have a finely tuned unconscious organizational structure of filters that seek out, and avoid, situations that make them uncomfortable or they find incongruent. Attempting to shift them causes resistance as this level change causes the system to be incongruent, regardless of the seeming need to do something different or the efficacy of a new/better solution. In other words, our status quo shows up every day to maintain itself and we will do whatever it takes to maintain it. It’s who we are.
For permanent change to occur, for new behaviors to be exhibited and chosen, there must be a change in core beliefs before new skills or situations are offered because anything ‘new’ would have no place to fit in our largely automated ‘system’. Current bias training uses methods don’t facilitate this change:
And herein lie the problem. Because of the complexity and sophisticated combination of the elements above, merely doing something different because we are told to, or even want to, won’t change our behaviors or our systems permanently. It’s the equivalent of trying to get a forward moving robot to move backwards because we tell it it needs new options, or think it would be better if it did, or show it pictures of other robots who do move backward. To change behaviors permanently it’s necessary to change the system, the programming, which created them to begin with. And this cannot be accomplished by trying to change the output of the problem itself. Remember Einstein? Trying to change behaviors with the system that created them won’t permanently change behaviors.
CHANGE IS A SYSTEMS PROBLEM
Change is the alteration of something that has existed in a certain way, using specific and accepted norms, in a specific configuration, for a period of time. To amend our responses to bias, we must first recognize, then modify, the specific triggers (historically produced for a reason) that have been developed to operate unconsciously as the norm.
It’s basically a systems problem: for permanent change to occur, we must reconfigure the system that has created and maintains the status quo, and has operated ‘as is’ for some amount of time. Anything new coming in to our system (any problem to fix, any new information that creates disruption, any new activity the system is asked to take) demands changing the status quo. Indeed, any new decision is a change management problem. The way we are addressing the problem of changing people’s unconscious biases is not enabling permanent change.
Change means that a system (by definition stable) must go through a process to become something different:
Does any element of the original need to be kept in place? How will the system know? How would any change effect the whole? How will the bits that need change shift while still maintaining its core values? The system will fight to maintain itself. If all of the above aren’t managed, the system will fill in the blanks with something comfortable and habituated (regardless of its efficacy). In other words, if there is not systemic agreement, no known way to resolve the problem using its current givens, no known way to incorporate something new to the existing system so the system doesn’t implode, no change will happen regardless of the need or the efficacy of the solution.
Indeed, you can’t change a behavior by trying to change a behavior. And all of the current bias training involves a focus on getting behaviors changed without addressing the source that created the behaviors and triggers to begin with.
WHAT IS A BEHAVIOR?
Current Bias Training attempts to get behaviors changed by using ‘rational’ means: showing learners biased situations, offering data and research, and playing videos to learn what bias looks like. In other words, offering Information: showing and telling people what’s wrong with what they’re doing and what ‘right’ would look like – all of which can be misinterpreted, misread, or objected to, regardless of our intent. While it certainly can make people more aware, these attempts will not cause permanent change: they develop no new habituated triggers or neural pathways to set off a new response to a stimulus. Let’s delve into this a bit.
Behaviors are what we do – transactions automatically initiated by our core system of beliefs, norms, and experience, to act out and express, who we are. We all develop behaviors that ‘be’ who we are, to represent us. Behaviors are the output, the forward movement of the robot, the actions others see.
If asked in a vacuum if we want to harm anyone, few of us would want to. And yet in small and large ways, our unconscious behaviors too often end up unjustly ignoring, being mean to, or harming someone because of their gender, or race or or… I once heard Malcolm Gladwell, who is bi-racial, say that when tested for unconscious racial bias, he came up biased. We all carry some biases. The question becomes 1. Do we notice when, or before, problems occur, and if not what would we need to know or believe differently to notice, and 2. Once we notice (or not) can we have choice over our actions and avoid biased behaviors or make adjustments at the time, or just before, they occur.
To permanently change a behavior, a system must:
To change our unconscious, automatic responses that cause us to respond defensively, the system that has created and maintains the status quo must be reconfigured to produce alternate outputs while still maintaining Systems Congruence. And unfortunately, information-based training (showing, feeling, telling, explaining) is ineffective.
Offering any sort of information before the system knows why, how, when, or if to do anything different – a belief change – will only inspire resistance as the system won’t know how to apply it as it’s ‘just fine, thanks.’ It’s a belief change issue. We’re asking the system to repopulate its status quo that created the problem to begin with, design new behavioral responses, and develop a new set of triggers to tell the system it’s time to behave differently. Initially the system doesn’t know what it doesn’t know and has no inherent desire to do anything different.
In pursuit of excellence, people need some sort of stimulus to begin a process. It’s only during this process the holes in their knowledge become clear: what’s the distance between its current norms and something new and why isn’t the status quo good enough; between what’s been working and what’s now accepted as not working; the old behaviors and responses and designing new ones.
It’s only in the distance between here and there, one set of givens vs another, a known against an unknown, is there’s a desire to change something. And here is where it needs information. If it’s believed that all is well, regardless of any evidence otherwise, the system will not seek out, or pay attention to, any information, regardless of its efficacy.
As per my robot example, if you think the robot should have the option of moving backwards, telling it when and how to know when or if to move backward, giving it scientific data as to why it should move backward, or pushing it backward, will not cause the robot to change. The programming must be changed. And so it is with all of us: when we change our habituated beliefs and norms (our programming), our behavior will automatically change.
CHANGING BEHAVIORS DOESN’T CHANGE BEHAVIORS
Real change demands a systemic shift to create new triggers, new assumptions, new neural pathways, and ultimately, as an outcome, new behaviors. No one, no information, no person, from outside is able to go into someone’s unconscious to (re)create all these things. And permanent change will not happen until it does. The goal is not to train someone to rid themselves of unconscious bias; it’s to teach the system itself how to discover where it is designating the bias and facilitate it through to new behaviors a way that maintains the foundational norms of the system. It’s using the old to trigger the new. Both/And, not Either/Or. I know this is a lot to understand. Call me and I’ll discuss. 512 771 1117.
Basically, to alter the foundation that will develop new behaviors, the brain must change itself. Over the past decades, I’ve coded the 13 steps that constitute the route to systemic, human change so people can make their OWN internal changes that will lead to new choices, i.e. new behaviors. I’ve taught this model in sales as Buying Facilitation® to global corporations (KPMG, Morgan Stanley, IBM, P&G, Kaiser, etc.) for over 30 years, and written several books on it. The book that details each of the stages is Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell.
We must become Facilitators, not Influencers. We must teach folks to create and habituate new neural pathways and filters.
I’ve developed a new way to train that facilitates self-learning and permanent change from within the system. For those wishing a full discussion, I’ve written an article on this that appeared in The 2003 Annual, Volume 1 Training (I’m happy to send you a more specific discussion of this if you’re not already bored) Just note: my process leads people, without any bias, to those places in their brains, into their system of beliefs and cultural norms, which made the decisions to employ their biased behaviors to begin with, and teaches them how to reconfigure their system to adopt something new (so long as its aligned with their beliefs). We are making the unconscious conscious and developing more appropriate triggers and behaviors.
How will you know that by adding systemic change elements to your training that you can enable more people to make more appropriate behavioral choices around their bias?
If you would like my help in designing a program that resolves unconscious biases permanently, I’d love to help. I believe it’s an important task. I believe it’s time we had the tools to enable learners to permanently change and become non-judgmental, accepting, and kind. And above all, cause no harm. All of our lives depend on it.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, change agent, author of 9 books, including one 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?). She is the inventor of the Buying Facilitation® method that gives sellers the tools to help buyers navigate through their Pre Sales change management issues (an area of the buy cycle that sales overlooks), and has trained over 100,000 sales people and leaders internationally. She also developed a listening capability that enables all communicators to hear others without bias. Sharon Drew’s award winning blog (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) has original, thought leader articles on the skills of change, negotiation, questions, sales, buy-in, and negotiation. She is a coach, speaker, trainer, consultant, and inventor. Reach her at email@example.com.
Sharon Drew Morgen October 8th, 2018
After spending 30 years deconstructing the inner processes of how people decide, and training a decision facilitation model I developed for use in sales, coaching, and leadership, (Buying Facilitation®), I’m always amused when I hear anyone deem a decision ‘irrational’.
Only outsiders wishing for, or assuming, a different outcome designate a decision as ‘irrational’. I doubt if the decision maker says to herself, “Gee! I think I’ll make an irrational decision!” I could understand her thinking it irrational after reaping surprising consequences. But not at the moment it’s being made.
We all make the best decisions we can at the moment we make them. It’s only when someone else compares the decision against their own subjective filters and standard, or using some academic/’accepted’ standard as ‘right’, or judging the decision against a conclusion they would have preferred, that they deem it ‘irrational’. I always ask, “Irrational according to who’s standards?” Outsiders don’t have the same data set, criteria and beliefs, or life experiences the decision maker uses to evaluate.
Indeed, there is no such thing as a decision maker making an irrational decision. The decision maker carefully – partially unconsciously – weighs an unknowable set of highly subjective factors including 1. Personal beliefs, values, historic criteria,assumptions, experience, future goals; 2. Possible future outcomes in relation to how they experience their current situation. There is no way an outsider can understand what’s going on within the idiosyncratic world of the decision maker, regardless of academic or ‘rational’ standards, the needs of people judging, the outcome as viewed by others.
CASE STUDY OF AN ‘IRRATIONAL DECISION’
I recently made an agreement with a colleague to send me a draft of his article about me before he published it. Next thing I knew, the article was published. How did he decide to go against our agreement? Here was our ensuing dialogue:
BP: I didn’t think it was a big deal. It was only a brief article.
SDM: It was a big enough deal for me to ask to read it first. How did you decide to go against our agreement?
BP: You’re a writer! I didn’t have the time you were going to take to go through your editing process!
SDM: How do you know that’s why I wanted to read it first?
BP: Because you most likely would not like my writing style and want to change it. I just didn’t have time for that.
SDM: So you didn’t know why I wanted to read it and assumed I wanted to edit it?
BP: Oh. Right. So why did you want to read it?
SDM: My material is sometimes difficult to put into words, and it has taken me decades to learn to say it in ways readers will understand. I would have just sent you some new wording choices where I thought clarity was needed, and discussed it with you.
BP: Oh. I could have done that.
While a simple example, it’s the same in any type of personal decision (vs. those decisions that get weighted against specific academic or group criteria – such as coordinates to drill a well): each decision maker uses her own subjective reasoning regardless of baseline, academic, or conventional Truths. In our situation, my partner wove an internal tale of subjective assumptions that led him to a decision that might have jeopardized our relationship. I thought it was irrational, but ‘irrational’ only against my subjective criteria as an outsider with my own specific assumptions and needs.
And, although I’m calling this a personal decision process, anyone involved in group decision making does the same: enter with personal, unique criteria that supersede the available academic or scientific information the group uses. This is why we end up with resistance or sabotage during implementations.
STOP JUDGING DECISIONS BASED ON OUR OWN NEEDS
What if we stopped assuming that our business partners, our spouses, our prospects were acting irrationally. What if we assume each decision is rational, and got curious: what has to be true for that decision to have been made? If we assume that the person was doing the best they could given their subjective criteria and not being irrational, we could:
Of course, we would have to switch our listening skills. We’d need to become aware of an in congruence we notice and be willing to communicate with the ‘irrational’ decision maker. My new book What? explains why/how we hear others with biased ears, only understanding some percentage of their intent. Because if we merely judge others according to our unique listening filters, many important, creative, and collaborative decisions might sound irrational.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the author most recently of What? Did you really say what I think I heard? as well as self-learning tools and an on-line team learning program – designed to both assess listening impediments and encourage the appropriate skills to accurately hear what others convey.
Sharon Drew is also the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller ‘Selling with Integrity’ and 7 other books on how decisions get made, how change happens in systems, and how buyers buy (Dirty Little Secrets). She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® a facilitation tool for sellers, coaches, and managers to help others determine their best decisions and enable excellence. Her award winning blog sharondrewmorgen.com has 1500 articles that help sellers help buyers buy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 512-771-1117
Sharon Drew Morgen October 2nd, 2018
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