By Sharon Drew Morgen

A friend of mine delivers leadership training in police departments. On the first morning, he has the partners dance with each other, taking turns for an hour at a time as leader and follower. As most of them are men, they start off very uncomfortable as the ‘follower’, usually a woman’s role in dance. But follow they must; he tells them if they can’t follow, they can’t lead.

As leaders with specific goals we’re responsible for, we operate from the assumption we’re in charge. But what, exactly, are we in charge of? I believe our job is to set the tone, and enable our followers to create a path to a successful goal. As they say in Argentine Tango, if you notice the leader, he’s not doing his job.

WHAT IS OUR JOB

With unconscious blinkers, limited by our biases and assumptions, leaders often begin with a plan, an idea, a fantasy if you will, of how to achieve an outcome. We then work at creating and driving the path to execute it. But this strategy faces several unknowns:

  1. We really have no way of knowing beforehand if it could succeed.
  2. We don’t know the follower’s unspoken beliefs, creative capabilities, or dynamics, how their process factors in, or the range of ideas they might come up with if encouraged.

Even with an aim to be inclusive, we too often carry our plan into the initial sessions with the group and, maybe unconsciously, try to persuade them to adopt the path we imagine. This route might yield resistance at best; at worst, it restricts the full range of possible outcomes.

I recently heard Presidential Candidate and Senator Amy Klobuchar say: “I haven’t gone on TV for interviews much before now. But my team told me I needed the exposure. So here I am.” Was she the follower? Or the leader? While smart enough to be considered to be leader of the free world, she didn’t have the foresight of her team to expand her publicity. That makes her the leader AND the follower.

I contend that as leaders using our own assumptions, ideas, and expertise, it’s not possible to achieve an optimal result: until followers develop their own values, vision, and voices; until the group discovers a path through their own group dynamics; until the group works collaboratively to develop creative outcomes that they can all buy into; there’s no condition for success as the outcome will be restricted.

So here’s the question: do you want to facilitate a route through to the best result? Or drive the path to the result you’ve imagined? You can’t do both.

  • What would you need to believe differently to trust you can achieve the best outcome if it’s driven by the followers?
  • What is your role if the followers are in charge of the route to a successful outcome?

I believe that leading and following are two sides of the same coin. And I believe it must be an interdependent process.

CONTROL

I once trained a group of executive leaders at a company with a reputation of having values. They were the most manipulative group I’ve ever trained. Getting them to consider any form of leadership that didn’t involve them having total control was a herculean task. Seeing my frustration one of them said: “But our message is values-based. Of COURSE it’s our job to convince them to do it our way! It’s the RIGHT way.” Having a great outcome does not give license to push our agendas to get it done OUR way.

As leaders, we must give up our egos, our needs for control, our perceived value of being ‘right’, of being The One to exert power and influence. We obviously need to have some sort of control given we’ve got a job to do. But control over what?

There are two components to our job: reaching a goal, and getting there; we cannot control both unless we do it alone. To work with a group of followers, I suggest we manage the goal and supervision of the journey through change; the process of getting there, the details and actions along the route, must be managed by the followers. It’s an interdependent process. On a day-to-day basis that means the leader

  • controls the space that will enable all voices to be heard, giving rise to creativity, collaboration, and mutual responsibility for planning and delivery;
  • leads the group through forming, failure and resistance, discovery and confusion, trials and success;
  • guides the group through the route they designed and helps them maintain equilibrium.

Here I’m reminded of another great Argentine Tango expression: The leader opens the door; the follower dances through using her own unique steps; the leader follows.

STRUCTURE VS CONTENT; CONTEXT VS COMPONENTS

I contend that we must assure results, but hand over the control of the journey to the followers.

Let’s look at the two components, the goal and the route, from a systems perspective. Considering the result we seek to achieve from the viewpoint of the structure – the context, the boundaries that define the goal – the goal is clear and unadorned. The structure is the headline that identifies what’s within, so a headline that reads: Sandals are Worn in Summer, would have an article about shoes, not recipes for spaghetti.

I refer to the components within the structure as the content – the details, the story line, the items that fit within the parameters of that specific structure. Using the above headline, the content might include different types of sandals, shoes worn in summer vs those worn in winter.

Another simple example would be the structure defines the size and use of a room, while the content includes the size and type of furniture that will fit into it; so an 8’ by 10’ room to be used as a bedroom would not hold a 12’x12’ living room couch.

The structure strictly limits, controls, defines, and identifies the content. Any content is acceptable so long as it fits within the confines of the structure.

If leading a team through an initiative to enhance customer service, for example, the leader is responsible for ending up with happier customers and supervising the journey to get there, while the followers are responsible for

  • the route taken to get there,
  • the choice of the components of the new services,
  • what these services will do, the planning to get there, and the rules that will maintain them,
  • what each team member will do,
  • how it will be delivered.

Here’s the deal: we can only have real control over a single factor – the structure OR the content. Sadly, leaders too often try to control both. The real control and power is in controlling the structure:

  • By controlling the structure, any components that fit would be acceptable so long as they clearly meet the goal’s criteria. By controlling the structure, we’re a problem seeking a solution. If we have a 3 foot box, we can choose whatever we want to put into it – balls or bananas – so long as it fits. Improved customer service might mean more reps, better phone coverage, more focused email responses, year-end gifts, better website access. Humana offers televisits for patients who can’t get to a doctor’s offices. Whatever fits, whatever the group agrees to within the parameters of the structure, is up for discussion. The content will correspond with the structure.
  • By controlling the content, by focusing on the components, it’s necessary to find a structure that confines them. We become a solution looking for a problem – obviously limiting the field of possibilities. With 12 green 10” balls, we need a very specific-sized box. Using our example, we might train reps to answer phones by the third ring and lower prices; then must define a goal to match that. And of course the full range of options for improving customer service would be overlooked. Obviously, starting from the components, the content, is the less flexible, less creative route.

It’s by controlling the structure we can plant a stake in the ground with the rules and criteria for success that all else emanates from. Our job then becomes to maintain the tone and vision; how we get there is the job of the followers, tasked with creating the content.

When followers control the content, they create a collaboration amongst themselves, use their combined imaginations to develop a set of behaviors and outcomes that will fit within the rules and structure, and take ownership of the process and journey to success. Each follower is a leader who buys-in to the change and process, owns the solution, manages any resistance, and takes responsibility for implementation. The leader then maintains the space the followers created.

STARTING UP A COMPANY AS A LEADER/FOLLOWER

I’d like to share a story of my own journey as an entrepreneur of a tech start up in London. I began with no knowledge of business and even less of technology (Those were early days, remember?). I was smart enough to know my range of content knowledge – nil. So I wrote an outline of what I wanted to achieve (the structure):

  • a company that would take great care of the needs of customers in the area of 4th Generation Languages (Really early days!) with integrity, honesty, and win/win values;
  • be seen as a premier provider by charging high prices and great service expertise;
  • have my staff be as happy and cared for as my clients;
  • make money and have fun.

That was my structure. I had no idea what would be in the content. I did my best to research, speak with people, read a few books. Then I realized that it would be best if I hired good people who designed their own jobs. My hiring process included asking applicants to bring in a P&L that included their salary and the route, within the confines of their job and the structure I put forth, to getting their salary AND bringing in a profit for the company. We ended up providing programming, training, and consulting services to users and teams. But I didn’t know that when I started.

The applicant for the job of receptionist was quite creative. Ann Marie wanted a small salary and a percentage of the gross income. For this, she would make sure the company ran efficiently and staff and clients would be thoroughly taken care of to the point they wouldn’t want to go anywhere else and would have the time to do their best job. Wow. I hired her. And she did exactly what she said. She made us write these daily TOADs – I don’t remember what the acronym stood for…something like Take what you want And Destroy the rest… but it took us an extra hour each night to write them up (No computers in daily use in the early 80s, remember?). Each morning we found the full set of everyone’s TOADS on our desks when we arrived. They involved current initiatives, our frustrations, any good/bad issues with clients and prospects, any good/bad issues we had with each other.

As a result of us all knowing ‘everything’, on any given day, if a phone would ring and the person wasn’t there to answer, anyone could answer it and be able to help. As the receptionist, Ann Marie would take the time to make kind comments to whoever was calling, making every caller feel wanted and comfortable. Office squabbles and gossip didn’t have a way to fester as we knew who was mad at who and the argument dissipated. Team members helped each other by coming up with creative solutions, or sharing resource. We had the knowledge to introduce clients to each other for follow-on partnerships. Frankly, Ann Marie terrified me. Tall, officious, unsmiling, we all did what she told us to do (Talk about leaders!). And she walked away with pockets full of money as she helped the business double each year.

I hired John as a ‘Make Nice Guy’ to bridge the divide between technical and people skills. He wanted a $100,000 salary (in 1985!) to make sure techies, their code, and how our contractors maintained relationships with the teams they worked with, all ran smoothly. That was a no brainer. With John taking care of all outside stuff, I was left with no fires, no problems, no crashes, no personality issues, no client problems, and I could grow my business. He even found out when a client was buying new software that we could support well before it arrived on site; when the vendor came to install it, my folks were there waiting, well before the vendor tried to sell their services.

The team worked hard to get me to say “We’re doing WHAT??” I was once walking down the hall and ran into my Training Manager. When I asked where he’d been hiding since I hadn’t seen him in days, he told me he was busy scouting out extra office space for the new training programs being developed. “We’re doing WHAT??” And fill the seats he did, bringing in new clients and new programs. Including me as a trainer. “I’m doing WHAT??” Apparently, the team believed I supervised techies so well as a non techie that I should teach other non-techie managers how to supervise their techie staff. I would never have thought of that myself. So they got me to run monthly programs which were always packed.

As part of my commitment to creativity and growth, I told the management team to take risks but to let me know if a disaster was imminent at least three feet before they fell off the edge (If they waited until they were already off the cliff there wouldn’t be a thing I could do but wave). And they did. As a result they created unique programs, processes, and initiatives that I could never have dreamed of. And they mostly got it right.

By setting a tone of authenticity, I regularly discussed my failures and got input from the team as to how to make things better. This obviously opened the door for us all to discuss failures as part of our job. Also my maintaining control of the structure, by trusting the staff and enabling them to be leaders and innovators, I was able to double the company income every year. With no computers, no internet, no email, no websites, we had a $5,000,000 revenue (and 42% net profit) within four years. Everyone made money, loved coming to work, and grew individually. We controlled 11% of the market (the other 26 competitors shared the other 89%), had loads of fun, and we changed the landscape of what was possible.

TRUST

I could never, ever have been that successful if I hadn’t trusted my followers to create their jobs. I controlled the structure. They controlled the content. Win/win. Interdependent. Trust. Respect. Their joke was that they were the ones with the brains, and I was the one with the mouth. Cool beans. I opened the door, they danced through it, and I followed.

Leadership is an interdependent process with followers and leaders working together from the inside and outside simultaneously to inspire trust and reach the best possible outcome. Here are the givens:

  • The process is always transforming and dynamic, rendering pockets of success, confusion and failure, creativity;
  • There’s no way to know until the end what the trip will include so it’s necessary to build in trust, collaboration, and openness;
  • The result will be what everyone wants. The process will not be what the leader envisaged;
  • The process will proceed according to the values, creativity, and needs of the followers;
  • The leader will be respected so long as s/he uses her/his power to shepherd the process;
  • Failure is part of the process and can be used to inspire creativity;
  • Resistance will be visible and managed by group with no fallout;
  • The result will be the best amalgam of everyone involved bringing their values and hearts.

A real leader enables their followers to operate interdependently, using their own values, their own creativity, their own vision. As leaders we must stop trying to exert influence over the entire process, and begin trusting followers to lead us.

THE HOW

If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you know that I always include a ‘how’ so readers can use the ideas I espouse. In this case, my suggestions will be a bit challenging: the necessary skills to implement this style of leadership includes rethinking and enhancing two skills we all believe we’re good at and take great pride in – our listening and our questioning.

The reality is that no matter how professional, how fair, how honorable, how impartial we believe ourselves to be, when we use our conventional questioning and listening skills there’s a high probability we’ll be (unconsciously, unwittingly, automatically) biased by our words, ideas, needs, beliefs, and history. I’ve developed ways to listen and question that avert bias and indeed facilitate transformation and expanded possibility. I train these skills to leaders when I train in organization

1.    Listening. The biggest problem is that it’s just not possible to listen without bias no matter how hard we try to show up as good listeners, or how carefully we listen to every word. We just cannot separate our intent from our physiology.

Words, as sounds, come into our ears as electrical/chemical signals, devoid of meaning. Simplistically, these signals go down neural pathways in our brains to find the nearest synapses that carry similar signals – assumed, sometimes wrongly, to be a match, regardless of the accuracy of the underlying meaning. So our brains might find a match with ABL when the speaker actually said ABC. Listeners actually hear ABL with no recognition that there’s a misunderstanding; our brains don’t tell us it omitted D, E, F, G… Net net, we unwittingly listen with biased ears and ‘hear’ what our brains tell us has been said…often some degree ‘off’ of the speaker’s intended message.

There is a way to mitigate this. (My book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? teaches how.) By listening in Observer/Coach, on “the ceiling” we supersede our normal neural pathways and enable our brains to find a more accurate match. Using normal listening, it’s only possible to hear what is most comfortable and habitual. For those who don’t get a chance to read the book and learn how to listen to whole conversations without bias, I suggest you at least take this shortcut and say: “I want to make sure I understand you accurately. I’m going to tell you what I think I heard; can you please tell me if I’ve got it right and correct me where I’m wrong?” That will keep the conversation on track.

2.    Questioning. Conventional questions elicit information as per the Asker’s curiosity. Of course given our unconscious biases, our curiosity is restricted by our beliefs and life histories, resulting in questions limited to what we think we need to know (certainly not the full universe of available information). It goes without saying that there’s no way an outsider can know what’s going on within someone else’s life experience. It’s even more difficult within a group setting. Hence, normal questions can only gather information that’s some fraction of what we need, and an unknown level of accuracy.

Of course often people need information to act from, and normal questions are necessary. But for those times change is part of the process, people/followers need to understand their own motivation, values, and beliefs to act from. For this I invented a new form of question called a Facilitative Question that makes it possible to enable Others to mentally (unconsciously) aggregate their own values and needs to make their own best decisions, define their own outcomes, recognize their own success criteria, and chart their own next steps, with no bias or influence from the leader.

So: Why do you wait for six rings before answering the phone? would be replaced with What would need to be willing/able to answer an incoming call by the third ring? Instead of gathering information, facilitate people through to their own actionable answer and non-resistant choice, using their own criteria. Used in a group setting this process enhances creativity and responsibility for action.

For those wishing to learn how to formulate these questions, read this article, and take a look at this learning module I developed. Formulating Facilitative Questions employs listening for systems, understanding word usage and word placement, and the sequence of decision making in the brain. A much different process than posing normal questions.

As leaders, our job is to facilitate a collaboration with our followers to interdependently create a successful goal. It demands that leaders enter with a different outcome, a different mindset, and a different tool kit. But it’s worth it. We’ll end up with the real power of spearheading harmony, integrity, creativity, and excellence. And have a greater success than we ever could have achieved alone.

____________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a thought leader, original thinker, consultant, trainer, and speaker. Sharon Drew trains leadership teams and sales forces. She is the author of 9 books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and 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’s award winning blog www.sharondrewmorgen.com carries original articles on topics such as sales, leadership, decision making, questions, collaboration, and values.

Sharon Drew is the inventor of Buying Facilitation® the first new paradigm that gives sales people, healthcare professionals, leaders, and managers, the tools to enable others to generate real change based on their own internal beliefs, rules, systems, and vision. She has spent her life decoding how brains decide and how to generate real change at the core neurology of synapses and neural pathways. She has also designed innovative training models to facilitate learners in producing permanent change. Sharon Drew lives on a houseboat in Portland OR.

June 14th, 2021

Posted In: News

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As a preamble to a discussion about failing consciously, I’d like to retell a story. Many years ago Xerox was beta testing a then new-type digital printer. The testers sent back complaints: it was hard to figure out how to work the damn thing, and the user guide was confusing. Obviously, User Error, the designers concluded. Yup. More stupid users. So they set up an internal focus group to test what exactly was happening.

They brought in three middle managers, put them in a room with the new printer and user guide, and from the one-way mirror watched while mayhem ensued. They watched while the managers got confused by the directions in the user guide, spent literally hours arguing amongst themselves about what the user guide meant, kept pressing the wrong buttons, and finally gave up – never getting it to work.

User Error, they again said. Obviously, went the thinking, the managers weren’t smart or savvy enough to understand simple directions. Except they didn’t know a trick had been played on them: the testers were actually PhD computer scientists. Oops. It wasn’t User Error at all. They had failed to design a machine and a user guide that had clear user interfaces. So while the printer itself might have been a marvel of machinery for its day, it couldn’t be used. It was a failure. Or was it?

WHAT IS FAILURE

I contend that until every ‘failed’ step was taken, and every ‘failed’ assumption made, there was no way to know exactly what problems needed to be fixed or if indeed their printer was a success. The failure was part of the march to success.

We call it failure when we don’t achieve a goal we’ve set out to accomplish, whether it’s starting up a company, reaching a job goal, learning something new, or starting a new diet. I think that part of who we are as humans is the strive to succeed, to be seen as competent, to be ‘better than’, even if we’re only in competition with ourselves. It’s natural to want our products, our teams, our families, our competitive activities, to reap success. To be The Best. And we plot and envision how to make it happen.

But the road to success isn’t straight; sometimes we face disappointment, shame, and self-judgment along the route. We get annoyed with ourselves when results don’t seem to comply with our mental images, and tell ourselves maybe we didn’t follow the original plan, or didn’t plan well enough, or maybe we’re self-sabotaging. We blame teammates or vendors, spouses or neighbors.

I’m here to tell you that failure is a necessary part of success. It’s built in to learning and succeeding, actually a natural part of the process of change and accomplishment. Before we win we gotta fail. Tiger Woods didn’t wake up the best in the world. Neither did Pavarotti or Steve Jobs. For anyone to get to the top, to achieve success in any industry, any endeavor, any sport, it’s necessary to fail over and over. How surprising that no one teaches us how to fail consciously. I suggest we develop conscious failing strategies that become built in to our success procedures.

WHAT IS OUR STATUS QUO? AND WHY IS IT SO STUBBORN?

Getting to success is a sequential process that includes trial and error – i.e. winning and losing are both part of the same process, and each adding a piece of the puzzle. Of course there’s no way to know what we don’t know before we start – no way to even be curious, or ask the right questions because we don’t know what we don’t know. And unfortunately, part of the process is internal, unconscious, and systemic.

Change – and all success and failure is really a form of changing our status quo – has a very large unconscious component, and when you only try to add new behaviors you miss the unconscious elements that will rear their ugly heads as you move toward hitting our goals: you can’t change a behavior by trying to change a behavior. It just doesn’t work that way.

Let me explain a few things about how your brain works in the area of change. Anything new you want to do, anything new that requires, ultimately, new behaviors, or added beliefs or life changes, requires buy-in from what already exists in your make up – your status quo. Indeed, as the repository of your history, values, and norms, your status quo won’t change a thing without congruency. Indeed it will reject anything new, regardless of how necessary it is, unless the new has been properly vetted.

Setting a goal that’s behavior-based without incorporating steps for buy in assures resistance. Sure, we lay out the trajectory, attempt to make one good decision at a time, and use every feeling, hope, data point, guess, to take next steps. But when we don’t take into account the way our brains unconsciously process, it may not turn out like we envision. Lucky there’s a way to manage our activities to take into account what a brain needs for congruent change and a successful outcome.

THE STEPS TO FAILING CONSCIOUSLY

In my work on how brains facilitate change and make decisions to shift what’s already there (my The How of Change program teaches how to generate new neural routes) I offer ways to create new synapses and neural pathways that lead to new behaviors. Take a look at the Change Model chart I developed, with a careful look at The Trial Loop:

When developing the Change Model, it became important to me to diagram how we learn and developed The Trial Loop to explain it.

The Trial Loop is where the brain learning occurs. It’s here we iterate through several touch points: new data acquisition, buy-in, trial behaviors, and the stop/go/stop action (double-arrowed line between Beliefs (CEN) and red Stop) as each new element is tried and considered before new behaviors are formed.

So as we try out new stuff, our personal mental models of rules, beliefs, norms, history, etc., go through iterations of acceptance, rejection, acceptance, rejection, etc. until the new is congruent with the norms of the system, something we cannot know before we go through this process. So let’s call our disappointments all part of the iteration process that precedes success. Here is a closer look at my chart:

  1. An initial goal/idea/thought enters (through the CUE),
  2. then gets sorted through an acceptance/rejection process for beliefs and systems congruence (the CEN), which
  3. darts around the brain seeking a match for an existing neural pathway for earlier incidence of achieving this goal.
  4. If no existing pathway is found, a new synapse/neural pathway must be formed.
  5. The brain goes through an iterative process to form a new path to a new action with agreement (buy in) needed at each step (notice the iterative arrows in the chart).
  6. Iterative process includes: gathering data, trialing new activity, getting internal buy in, testing for Systems Congruence (All systems must be in a congruent state. Individually and personally, we’re all a system.)
  7. Process of Stop/New choice-data acquisition-action/Stop etc. as each new thing is tried.
  8. Final success when there’s congruency and new is adopted without resistance as a final Behavior. (And note: the Behavior is the FINAL activity. You cannot change a behavior by trying to change a behavior.)

Now you know the steps to conscious change. Should you want to learn more talk with me about my How of Change program let me know.

THE STEPS TO CONSCIOUS FAILING

Now let’s plot out the steps to conscious failure to avoid large-scale malfunction. To begin with, write down components and sub-outcomes for each stage of the route between input (start of the initiative or goal) and final outcome; examine each stage and resistance point against this; examine what’s not doing what was expected through time; come up with new choices to try, and run through the Trial Loop again; then ultimately create steps to ensure the new is integrated and on track to become a new behavior. Success!

The Beginning: to start the process toward succeeding at a goal, you need:

  • Include all (all) stakeholders (including Joe in accounting) and all who will touch the final solution;
  • Agree upon the wording for the final goal, including specifics of new behavioral elements, rules, politics, outcomes – i.e. what, exactly, will be different;
  • Write up a ‘guess list’ of problems that might occur (failures) to the status quo as a result: what they might look like, as well as possible workarounds;
  • An agreement clause from all stakeholders to act when something is going off course. Note: listening without bias is urgently needed here;
  • Consider possible ways your starting goals may shift the status quo and make sure it’s tenable;
  • Know how the new outcome will be maintained over time (including the people, rules, norms, changes, that will be involved) and what else has to buy in to maintenance;
  • State potential, detailed steps toward achievement that are agreeable to all stakeholders;
  • Agreement to reconsider all previous steps if the problems that show up cause new considerations.

The Middle: to make changes, add new knowledge to trial, get continuous buy in, you need:

  • Re write the original goals, with delineated outcomes for each;
  • Notice how the new is disrupting the status quo. Is it necessary to amend the new plans to ensure Systems Congruence? Is the cost of the new lower than the cost of the original? There must be a cost-effective decision made;
  • Find ways to acquire the right knowledge to learn from;
  • Check on the ways you’re failing. Were they expected? Do they conform to your goals? Do you need to shift anything?
  • Agreement to develop new choices where current ones aren’t working as per plan.

The End: making sure the outcome is congruent with the original goal:

  • Go through the Beginning steps and check they’ve been accomplished;
  • Compare end result with original goal;
  • Make sure there is congruent integration with the thinking, beliefs, values of the original;
  • Make sure the status quo is functioning without disruption and the system ends up congruent with its mental models and belief systems.

Here are more specifics to help you integrate the necessary failure, and avoid guesswork and reactions to what might seem inconsistent with your goals:

  1. Lay out specifics for each step you’re considering to your goal. Include timelines, parameters, and consequences of results, specific elements of what success for that step should look like, and what possible failure might look like. Of course, you can’t truly know the answers until they occur, but make your best guess. It’s important to notice something new happening when it’s happening.
  2. If something unplanned or feared occurs (i.e. failure), annotate the details. What exactly is happening? What elements worked and what didn’t, and how did they work or not work – what/who was involved, how did the result differ from the expectations? What does the failure tell you – what IS succeeding instead of what you wish for? How does the remedy for the problem influence the next step? How long should you allot for each occurrence before determining whether it’s failure, or just part of the success trajectory you weren’t aware of?
  3. Are all stakeholders involved and shared their input? Do you need to bring in more stakeholders?
  4. Notice the consequences of the outcomes for each: employees, clients, hiring, firing, quitting, vendors, competition, state of the industry and your place in it. What comes into play with these factors when considering if you want to continue down one trajectory rather than designing a new one? What will it look like to decide to change course? How will your decisions effect your vision of an outcome? How are the stakeholders affected by each choice?
  5. How much failure are you willing to risk before you determine that either your outcome is untenable, or you need to make structural changes? What part does ego and denial play? Does everyone agree what constitutes failure? Success?
  6. What will you notice when your trajectory to success is negatively effecting your baseline givens? What are you willing to change, or accept, to reach your goal?
  7. What will it look like, specifically, when you’ve concluded your efforts? Will parts of the failure be factored in as success? Do all stakeholders buy in to the end result? If not, what remains unresolved? And how will you bring this forward?

Of course there’s no way to know before you start what any specific stage will look like. But using the steps, the thinking, above, you’ll be able to get a handle on it. And by including the failure, you’ll have a far better chance of succeeding.

For some reason, as leaders or individuals, companies or small businesses, we shame ourselves when we don’t achieve what we set out to achieve during our change processes. I contend we must think of each step as an integral part of the process of getting where we want to be. As they say in NLP, there’s no failure, only feedback.

________________________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

June 7th, 2021

Posted In: Change Management, Communication

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I live on a floating home in the Columbia River in North Portland, OR. Daily life is just like living anywhere else, except occasionally my services are a bit wonky. For example, for the past months I’ve had issues with my cable/internet provider Comcast and thought maybe it was because my cable lines are under water.

Turns out that wasn’t the problem; it was a case of bad customer service. Seems me and my provider have two different definitions of what constitutes good customer service.

THE STORY

After 10 calls and tech visits in the last three months to get the same problem fixed, Comcast tech David Peters showed up. This time I was particularly annoyed because I had no cable, no internet, no tv, from Saturday til Monday. I love to read, walk, kayak. But geesh – Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic were playing and I missed them!

David was the last in a long line of young men (yes, all men) to show up. But this time there was a difference.

“I noticed how many people have been here to fix the problem. Seems they all did something different but each tried just one thing. But I’m going to fix it permanently. I’m going to think about your problem as a system. I’m going to change out the cabling from the source, give you all new switchers (Did he say routers??), and then check the frequencies to see where there are glitches. By the time I’m done the problem will be resolved.”

David was here for hours – apparently he defied the management calls he received telling him he’d exceeded his allotted customer interval (and most likely one reason my problem was never resolved to begin with, just sayin) – and was quite diligent.

He did it all: came into the house to check all internal lines, got a ladder and checked outside connections, went to his home office to get new cable, and actually got a special tool to remove the deck where the cable lines initiated under the water! And he fixed it! No more problems! Then he came and found me and asked me to check his work to make sure I was satisfied.

I told him he gave me great customer service and asked if Comcast ever requested ideas from him as to how to best serve customers, or on patterns he noticed in the field that the management could correct from their end.

“One would think they’d come to us, no? Hahahaha. But they don’t. Instead they send these bot calls to ask if you’d choose Comcast again because of the field tech’s work. That makes no sense! It’s an annoying, pointless question with no answer. Why not ask me? Why not ask me what they could do differently? Or ask what I need from them to give customers I’m visiting great service? I am not convinced they really want to resolve any problems.”

His response was spot on. But this makes me curious: how many companies really (really!) care about fixing problems from their end to make customers happy?

WHAT IS A CUSTOMER?

Best I can tell, companies don’t understand how, or even why, to put customers first. I recently read this sentence on a customer service site (Revechat): “With increasing evidence that customers are the backbone of businesses….” Do we really need evidence that customers are the backbone? Without customers we’re not in business.

The best service I ever received was in the health-food store Cyd’s in Taos, NM. He started each day with a staff meeting, asking “Who pays your salary?” and they yelled out in unison: “Our Customers!”

And who is a customer anyway? I believe our employees are our first customers. When I keep my team happy they keep clients happy. Remember the old myth that the Nordstrom customer service rule book was one line: Use your best judgment. Once you require employees to use best judgment, you must hire employees you can trust. And then you must trust them.

THE CUSTOMER VS THE COMPANY

The biggest misunderstanding companies have is that it’s about them. To truly care about customers, they must actually put the customer at the very center and TRUST that their service, their reputation, and the resultant customer acquisition will pay off the resource expenditure.

Most companies are rule-bound and tech heavy to save money, time, and resource. I was once called back by a customer service rep on his own phone, during his break. He wanted to make sure I got my problem fully resolved because there wasn’t time within the 3 minutes he was allowed per call to take care of me. That’s just wrong. They hired the right guy but gave him the wrong rules.

Companies must regulate at the values level and stop trying to police staff and clients at the rules level. It harms everyone and you lose just as many good employees as you do good customers.

I was recently hired by a well-known multinational to find out why they had such high turnover. I spoke with 30 department heads and middle managers. 4 of them cried (literally!) when recounting feelings of being disrespected and ignored. They had even stopped complaining because they felt the management didn’t care.

The company was paying them well above industry standard, so they just collected paychecks and no longer offered ideas, creativity, or enthusiasm. Most of them admitted they were looking for other jobs. And from their comments, sounded like they weren’t taking such good care of their customers either.

THE TRUTH BEHIND CUSTOMER SERVICE METRICS

Personally, I believe that most metrics in this area (CSAT, NPS, CES) are designed to gather specious, meaningless data. Frankly I have no idea why they are a ‘thing’. They certainly do not offer companies ideas with which to improve.

The NPS score is short term and merely highlights results following a single interaction, albeit in a distorted way. Indeed it’s spurious: if a customer has a good interaction they’ll provide a higher score, a bad interaction a bad score. How do I rate a poor call from a good company? Or… Useless. There’s no way to know what, exactly, worked or didn’t work, or what to do differently.

The CSAT score only tracks people who respond, obviously a biased sampling. It certainly misses any specificity of what a company can do to become better.

CES score is devious. While a customer might ignore a company they find difficult to work with, they won’t necessarily choose a company that’s easy. Not to mention ‘ease’ is not necessarily an indicator of good customer service. What, exactly, is being measured?

And save me from those chatbots! They don’t work, get people annoyed, and everyone I know figures out how to avoid them. A colossal waste of time, effort, and money. Maybe in 10 years when bots know how to have real conversation and show concern.

REAL METRICS

To have good data to improve your company, I’d create a wholly different type of scoring system based on surveys and questionnaires that provide the data to be better. Might not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. Questions like:

  1. What would you need to see from us to be willing to continue working with us?
  2. What has stopped you from getting the best experience from us – the type of experience you deserve?
  3. What would we be doing differently for you to continue, or return to, using us?
  4. What would you prefer we add to our outreach to keep you happy over time?
  5. What could we do better to help you decide to buy from us going forward?

The answers will provide companies specific ways and ideas to improve and let customers know they are cared about and their ideas are respected. So much more specific than ‘happy’ or ‘easy’.

Current metrics don’t give companies the data they need to improve. But I’ve got some ideas. Since I believe that happy employees lead to happy customers, I’d take the company pulse first.

How much staff turnover are you experiencing?

A high turnover means unhappy employees and most likely unhappy clients.

Then, I’d look at customer retention/customer churn. Happy customers don’t leave, even if there’s a better price elsewhere:

How many customers are leaving? Do you know why?

I’d also want to know how long it takes, and how many contacts, for a customer to get their needs met. I personally believe it should be a first-contact resolution. It not only saves a customer’s frustration, but saves time and money and effort with staff:

Whoever answers the phone owns the problem or takes responsibility. This person will ask the appropriate questions and do whatever is necessary to solve the problem and get back to the client. It saves a company so much time, saves on hiring and training the folks down the line who quit due to customer frustration (After speaking with 7 people, repeating their problem over and over, and being on hold for countless hours, customers are not happy communication partners). The customer does not get served, the staff don’t get treated well, it’s lose/lose.

To provide good customer service, respect and serve your customers! Make it easy for them. They bought your service along with their purchase. Take care of them!

CUSTOMER LOYALTY AND RETENTION

As business owners, we are responsible for serving people – staff and customers. Our companies are the vehicles with which we serve. We must trust that by serving people we will profit and grow.

Here are my thoughts for improving loyalty and retention:

  • HAVE ENOUGH REPS Current customer service has been created for the ease and cost savings of the company. Long hold times? Hire more reps! It’s not the customer’s responsibility to be patient because you don’t hire enough support staff! Best Buy kept me on hold once for 13 hours! When the guy finally called it was 3:10 AM! When I answered he said, and I kid you not, “So how are you today?”. When I groggily said, “Not so happy to start my day at 3:00 in the morning with this phone call after waiting 13 hours” he hung up on me. 13 hours. That’s just wrong.
  • OWN THE PROBLEM The ‘not my job’ syndrome is endemic. Whoever answers the phone should own the problem! So many companies keep me on hold, then pass me along to many (many!) reps – each with long hold times – as part of the ‘not my job’ syndrome. It’s wrong. It IS your job.
  • NO MORE CONTACT FORMS Get rid of those damn contact forms on your websites. No one wants to fill them out because we know you’re merely capturing my name to send me spam. Give me an email address connected with someone who will take care of me and solve my problem.
  • STOP WASTING CUSTOMER TIME Most processes are set up to save companies money, not to take care of customers. We’ve all spent hours and hours trying to ‘get through’ to phone companies or tech companies or government groups. Why is my time less important than your time? To save you money? I’m the customer! I paid your salary for goodness sakes.
  • RETURN CONTACT WITHIN 24 HOURS How many days, on average, does it take to get a return call to solve a problem? I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out. Certainly more than three. Again, it’s just wrong. Makes me never buy from that company again.

Customer loyalty and retention are the same. When you put customers first they are loyal. And it’s never a price issue. Make customers feel cared for and they’re yours.

______________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

May 31st, 2021

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As sellers, we’ve been taught that someone with a need for our solution is a prospect. But that’s not true or we’d be closing a lot more business and wasting a lot less time following prospects who will never buy. Just because we see a need does not mean they

  • want it resolved,
  • want it resolved now,
  • have the buy-in to bring in an external solution rather than using their own internal fix or beloved vendor,
  • are ready to give up the work-around they have in place that resolves the problem well-enough.

Not to mention we use our biased questions and listen through biased ears and ‘hear’ what’s being said as a ‘need’. In fact, given our predisposed assumptions and restricted inquiries, we have no way of knowing when, or how, or if the people we speak with are willing to bring in an outside solution regardless of a possible match or need.

A decision to make a purchase is based on dozens of factors that go far beyond need. So rule number #1: need does not a prospect make.

Unfortunately, the sales model has no capability to go behind-the-scenes to facilitate buy-in from the buy side, from folks within the buyer’s environment who

  • don’t yet see a need,
  • don’t want to share budget,
  • want to address the problem in-house,
  • have their own agendas.

And the sales model, used to attempt to place solutions, doesn’t have the tool set to enable prospective prospects to manage all their internal, systemic, and hidden issues that are beyond the purview of buying anything. Here’s rule #2: until everyone and everything that will touch the new solution buys-in to bringing it on board, there will be no purchase, regardless of a need.

A BUYING DECISION IS A CHANGE MANAGEMENT PROBLEM

People don’t want to buy anything, they merely want to reach excellence at the least ‘cost’ to the system (their culture, their environment). It’s only when it becomes clear that they cannot resolve a problem internally, and they’ve determined that the ‘cost’ of bringing something in is equal to or less than their status quo, that they’re willing to purchase anything, regardless of need or the efficacy of your solution.

That doesn’t mean they’re not buyers. It just means they’re not buyers yet. And because they’re change focused to start with, they can’t hear, or notice, the content we introduce them to that would lead to a sale.

Buyers have change management problems well before they have solution choice issues. A purchase is merely the last element in a chain of events that must take place, most of which are outside of a seller’s purview.

Of course once the person/group becomes a buyer, they will need the questions and pitches offered by the sales model. But not until then. You see, people take some time to become buyers even when their problem ‘needs’ our solution. Unfortunately, they won’t read our marketing content or take calls, or even buy, until then.

One of the biggest fallacies of sales is that someone is identified as a buyer when it seems they have a need. Because people merely want to resolve a problem, they must explore all avenues of an internal fix, and then get buy-in for change, before recognizing a purchase is their only alternative. And the sales model does nothing to facilitate this.

Indeed, until they figure out if a fix will ‘cost’ less than the status quo, people aren’t even buyers. Remember: they were doing ‘good enough’ until now, and if a new solution causes more disruption than the cost of staying the same, they aren’t buyers. Rule #3: the status quo is sacrosanct, regardless of the need or the efficacy of your solution.

CASE STUDIES

Here are two situations in which I failed miserably (and lost quite a bit of money), prior to understanding that buyers (in companies and individuals) must know how to manage internal change before they can buy. I’ve since figured out how I could have first facilitated these issues, but at the time, I was a victim to their decisions.

  1. I did a pilot for the sales group in an iconic multinational. Using Buying Facilitation® the group had a 400% increase in sales over the control group (And we shortened the sales cycle from 7 months to 4 weeks). Yet they chose not to roll out my program because cash flow issues from the short sales cycles caused by Buying Facilitation®, shifts in the manufacturing schedules, etc., would cost many millions to resolve. They preferred to maintain their status quo rather than increase sales, regardless of the relatively short time frame to recoup the costs (2 years).
  2. I trained Buying Facilitation® to a large insurance group who got a 600% increase in sales over the control group (They went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales to 27 visits and 25 closed sales). After the test month, the trained team handed in their resignations because they’d been hired as ‘field sales’ reps and would rather quit than be ‘inside sales’ reps, regardless of how much money they made. They liked handing out donuts and schmoozing. True story.

In both situations it seemed crazy to me to give up vast increases in sales rather than figure out how to manage the change. But this is where I had my ‘aha’ moment, where I realized the difference between what I had to sell, their ‘need’, and how they bought: People need to maintain the equilibrium of their status quo at all costs – at all costs – regardless of the benefits of our solutions.

If they have to fire a team to bring in new software, they have a decision: software or people. Do they need the software? Sure. But maintaining the system might have a higher value. Indeed, sellers can’t know the internal criteria – the history, the relationships, the future plans – of prospective buyers, especially with a sales hat on.

By starting first with a solution placement goal, and with ‘need’ as the criteria, sales will only ever succeed with the low hanging fruit – once folks have done their change work and show up as ready. All those who still have to manage change and address their internal issues aren’t buyers yet, regardless of need.

But wearing a different hat, it’s easy to find the ones who are on route to becoming buyers and facilitate them through their change – and be there with them as a real trusted advisor as they become buyers. We wait while they do it anyway. Might as well help and become part of their Buying Decision Team in the process.

THE DAD STORY

I’m going to tell a story I’ve told dozens of times. For those who have read it in other articles or my books, I apologize. But it’s a terrific story.

Years ago, while running a Buying Facilitation® program at IBM, they asked me to speak to folks at a ‘Mom and Pop’ store nearby who they wanted as a Beta test site. These folks would be getting a free computer for their efforts, yet three sales folks had been unable to get a Yes from them even though their old computer was far too slow for their growing company.

A man answered when I called. Here was the conversation:

SD: Hello. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen. I’m calling from IBM. I’m a consultant for them and was reading the files they have on you here when they offered you a free Beta. Can I ask how your current computer is working?

B: Hi. Um, it’s ok.

SD: What’s stopping it from being better than OK?

B: Dad.

SD: Dad? I don’t understand.

B: This is a Mom and Pop shop. I’m the son. The owner is my Dad. He started the company 40 years ago, is now in his 70s, and has been handling all tech issues [Note: those were the early days of the net when there was so much confusion]. He’s retiring next year.

SD: Ah. So you can’t consider bringing in anything new that he might be uncomfortable with and will wait until he leaves to look into it?

B: Right. I would love to do your Beta as our system is so slow. I’ve just got to take care of Dad.

SD: I wonder if you and Dad would be willing to travel about 5 miles to X company on Y street. They are using it right now and are one of our Betas. Maybe you and Dad could go play with it a bit, ask them some questions, and see if Dad is comfortable?

B: Good idea.

They went, and a week later took the Beta. They had a need, but weren’t buyers until they figured out how to resolve the change management issues that were keeping them in place.

No matter how much you think your solution matches with a ‘need’, your goal, your questions, your inquiries, are all based on what you’re selling and you’re not facilitating them in the first steps they must take before they become buyers, steps based on systemic change, not need or solutions.

By this fact alone, you will only ever close those folks who need what you’re selling, the way you’re selling it, at the moment you show up, and you’re only closing the low hanging fruit. My clients find those who WILL buy on the first call, facilitate them through the change process, and close 40% of their list against the control group’s 5.4%. And it actually takes less time (and less wasted resource! And less sales folks!) to close.

Using the sales model you cannot influence what’s going on behind the scenes – the personalities, the history, the internal politics, and the ‘givens’ that an outsider can never understand. And they will never buy until it’s done – regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution.

THE SALES MODEL IS SOLUTION-BASED; BUYING IS SYSTEMS-BASED

Philosophically the sales model is necessary and important: as sellers we clearly see needs that our solutions will resolve. But we don’t have a prospect until or unless their Buying Decision Team – everyone who will touch the final solution – is ready, willing, and able to

  • manage any changes that our solution causes to their people, rules, relationships, or job descriptions,
  • ensure the disruption won’t cost more than the problem it’s resolving,

or they cannot buy. Indeed: a prospect is someone who WILL buy, not someone who SHOULD buy. And ‘need’ has nothing to do with it. In other words, sales is a second tier effort – first facilitate the buying decision/change management process, then when they’re buyers, sell.

And unfortunately, as outsiders, we can’t ever really know what’s going on within their decuiosn process. But sometimes, they don’t either. And we can use our knowledge of our industries to really help them in this area before we start selling. After all, we wait while they do it anyway. Might as well be competitive and help them with an add-on skill set.

I developed Buying Facilitation® in 1983 to manage the issues my own sales team faced in my tech startup. The model is an add-on tool for sellers to first facilitate people through their Pre-Sales change management issues before they sell.

As a sales professional, I never understood why ‘prospects’ weren’t buying as often as was logical. When I became an entrepreneur, I realized the problem people have when deciding to either fix their own problems or make a purchase, when I had needs myself.

When potential vendors came in to pitch new solutions to me, they ignored the change management issues I had to deal with as part of my buying decision process. Everything these folks discussed, every question asked, was focused on selling me something.

It never occurred to anyone that just maybe I wasn’t ready to be a buyer yet, that just maybe they had nothing to sell until I could clearly see my way through to a path to buy, to manage any changes that a solution would entail, even though I certainly needed their products. And it never occurred to them they actually could have really helped me make the decisions I needed to make that would have led me to buying.

Our time together should have been used to facilitate my change management issues. And then not only would I have been a prospect, but I would have been a buyer in a fraction of the time it would have taken me to figure it out on my own.

So I developed my Buying Facilitation® model to add to sales to begin prospecting by

  1. first facilitating people who might have a need to recognize and organize the full Buying Decision Team,
  2. helping them try to find an internal workaround that would maintain their stability,
  3. facilitating them through to buy-in and change management when it became clear they needed to go external for a solution (i.e. when they became buyers), [Note: people need to do this anyway, and we wait in limbo while they do it. Might as well add a new skill set to have the tools to help them through their steps to becoming buyers.]

and then selling.

After training this material for decades, I’ve found the most difficult part of Buying Facilitation® is the difficulty sales folks have in remembering to first put aside the ‘need’ or ‘sale’ and instead truly serve others in discovering their most efficient path to their own best solutions. People want excellence. The last thing they want is to buy anything. The last thing.

And you’re pushing the last thing far too soon, certainly depriving yourself of a real possibility of becoming a servant leader, a relationship manager, and a true professional and acting competitively as a true facilitator to enable the change management process that comes before the buying process.

I’m not suggesting you not sell. I’m suggesting you don’t begin by attempting to assess ‘need’ or ‘value’ when there’s no way for them to know the full extent of their need until they’ve gone through their change management and buy-in issues. Indeed, once they’ve got the entire fact pattern, they may indeed need to buy more from you. Using Buying Facilitation® enables you to become more competitive.

One more thing: once you enter a call with the goal of facilitating change rather than trying to sell, you’ll know who will be a likely buyer on your first call: It’s those who seek change, and have been flummoxed by being able to resolve the problem your solution can resolve.

Stop seeking those with ‘need’ and seek those who want to change. And then facilitate them through their process. When it’s time to buy, they’ll be ready, won’t worry much about price, and you’ll barely have to pitch. By that time you’ll be on their team, be a truly trusted provider, be ahead of the competitors, and there won’t be a price issue.

Also remember: Prospects don’t need your help to buy. All of your content is on your website. What they need help with is managing their change decisions – that’s the length of the sales cycle and what takes so long. It’s your competitive advantage.

Help prospective buyers determine how to change, how to get buy-in, how to bring in your solution. And then you can sell. Buying Facilitation® first, then sales. You need both. Then you can help buyers decide to be prospects – and they will buy.

_______________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

May 24th, 2021

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

DEFINITION CUSTOMER-CENTRIC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ORGANIZING A CUSTOMER CENTRIC COMPANY FROM INSIDE OUT

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

First touch point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second touch point:

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

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

Third touch point:

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

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

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

Fourth touch point:

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

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

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________

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

May 17th, 2021

Posted In: Change Management

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Enjoying my post-gym coffee outside a coffee shop last week I looked up and noticed a maskless man drinking his coffee at a near-by table. I got a shock when I saw his whole face.

A face! The whole face! I’ve gotten so adjusted to only seeing eyes and mask that I was startled, and surprised on many levels. Indeed, an entire population of people wearing masks that have covered half our faces for a year has had some unintended social consequences.

As an Aspie I’ve always felt unsafe looking directly into someone’s eyes and learned to connect by looking at the space between them. Yet somehow, with masks covering half a face, looking directly into eyes unexpectedly became natural and safe. I think I can now do this always! Lovely.

My next surprise, not as pleasant as the first, was my level of judgement. Seeing a stranger’s entire face, now, seemed to confuse me. Seems I’d been making quick assessments of people’s socioeconomic and education levels – even character! – based on the half a face visible! How biased and superficial! After a lifetime of writing, teaching, training, on how we can best serve and respect others, I certainly would never have described myself as biased and superficial. Yet there it was. And I don’t like it.

One other surprise. BC (i.e. Before Covid) walking down a street included smiling at others if eyes happened to connect. Now, no one looks at each other. Why? Certainly smiles cause crinkly eyes, easy to notice even with masks covering mouths. This is a mystery. I’ve been extending myself to smile at strangers under my mask but am met by downcast eyes not noticing my attempts. I’ve never experienced this level of what seems like unsociability. And I don’t even know if this is what’s going on. Have we stopped caring about casual connections? I don’t like this either.

I especially notice this lack of eye contact at the gym. My old gym closed during the pandemic, so I started attending a new one when I returned. Usually it takes only a couple of times attending to get to know the folks who work out at the same time. In the decades I’ve been working out I’ve always enjoyed the comradery and friendliness of other gym rats. But now? Nothin’. Sure, we’re all wearing masks. But no one looks up or makes contact of any kind. No one. I don’t understand it. And I don’t like it.

I wonder why we’ve stopped looking at each other. Is it because talking is difficult with a mask covering our mouths? Or because we don’t want to look directly into someone’s eyes? Or think we can’t be seen? Or after a year of wearing masks or staying home or seeing faces only on zoom have we become comfortable not connecting in person? Have we become shy or are we just feeling separate? Or….? It’s a mystery to me.

I don’t like this new disconnection. Makes me wonder if we see each other at all.

____________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.    

May 10th, 2021

Posted In: News

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DiversityDiversity is vital, yet often difficult to attain due to barriers of communication and biases, making assimilation complicated. We know that by diversifying our companies, our schools, our neighborhoods we’re capable of creating all that’s possible; without diversity we limit who gets heard, who gets to lead, what knowledge we deem important, what we teach our children, what creativity looks like. Indeed, misrepresenting and under representing categories of people cost an unimaginable price in money, possibilities, and life. And yet our unconscious biases seem to restrict our choices.

People much smarter than I have evaluated the high cost of the lack of diversity and offered behavioral approaches to change. But I’d like to offer a modest way to begin the process of overriding our biases: we can shift how we listen.

BIASES ARE SILENT, STEALTHY EXECUTIONERS

While researching my new book (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) I learned that the listening process involves 1. our ears collecting and funneling the sounds of words spoken, then 2. our brain (filtering meaning subjectively through our own unique, cultural, and historic beliefs, values, rules, etc.) interprets meaning from the sounds. In other words, every one of us hears, interprets, understands, and biases an incoming message uniquely, through our personal subjective filters, regardless of the accuracy. The problem is compounded when our brain filters what’s been said, it forgets to tell us what it omitted from a Speaker’s meaning, causing us to believe that we’ve heard accurately. Our biases and assumptions potentially lead us to misinterpretations, or worse. And we sometimes aren’t even aware it’s happening.

The way our filters work, the job of our biases and assumptions is to notice ‘differences’. As a result, we may unconsciously, and quite quickly, deem a person ‘unsafe’ (judged against our status quo), causing automatic prejudice outside conscious awareness. I heard Malcom Gladwell, the noted author of Blink say in an interview that when tested for unconscious racial bias, his results revealed something like a 53% bias against African-Americans – and he’s half black. And because these historic prejudices become part of our automatic thought process, we end up living and thinking in bubbles of our own making. The ideas, the capability, the innovation that gets lost is unimaginable.

At a dinner party once a man at my table discussed what I knew to be a naïve idea in my area of expertise. I ‘kindly’ explained to him the error of his ways. He merely smiled and ignored me, while everyone else at the table seemed to be annoyed. I was confused. After all, I was ‘right’! Afterwards I learned that I had been admonishing a Nobel Laureate (in a different field than mine). Had I known that, I might have listened to his ideas as merely different or even interesting. Ditto if he knew I was a noted expert on the topic. Maybe together we could have changed the world in a unique and wonderful way. Instead, we listened to the other with biased, judging, ego-filled ears. What would we each have needed to believe differently to be able to hear each other without restriction?

On another occasion my biases potentially kept the world from glorious music. Visiting an ill friend at a nursing home recently I chatted with the orderly on staff. Whatever he heard me say motivated him to ask me to mentor him. I’m embarrassed to admit I declined. Thankfully he persisted. I went to his place for a lovely dinner, serenaded by a CD of his wonderous compositions! I coached him going forward, to find funding to make his music available to the public. But I almost missed that opportunity because I immediately judged him negatively.

LISTEN WITHOUT BIAS

A bit of the problem in judging others as ‘different’ lies with how we interpret what we hear. We can take steps to recognize when we are judging, biasing, or assuming, and then supersede our brain’s natural tendencies and listen neutrally:

  • Enter conversations with a bias of listening for all that’s possible.
  • Notice when we begin hearing differences or an internal judgment, and return to concentrating on what’s really being meant.
  • When our internal voice begins judging, reducing, disparaging, or condemning, pose the question to your internal self: What would I hear if I only heard what this person wants to share with me?

If we can at least aspire to hearing what others have to share, we can be further along the path of diversity and avoiding limitations. It’s not easy, as our brains automatically delete and misrepresent the intended meaning of what was said when the message goes against our comfort zone. The problem gets compounded when our brain doesn’t let us know what it omited during its translation process, leaving us to believe what we think we hear was what was said; our interpretations are often inaccurate, regardless of how hard we try to hear accurately. It’s neurological, and not our fault, but this process unfortunately puts us out of choice.

I’ve actually developed tools for those who wish to have choice to listen neutrally – without bias, assumptions, or triggers, and how to do Dissociative Listening that supersedes our habituated listening filters. First read What? Did you really say what I think I heard?. Then go to the Learning Tools on www.didihearyou.com and get the Assessment Tool to identify your biases and the Study Guide to learn how to listen without filters. Or contact me, and we can discuss ways your team can gain new skills for meetings, implementations, sales, HR, or diversity training. It’s time, folks. We need to hear the uniqueness of everyone.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

May 3rd, 2021

Posted In: Listening

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Ever since the serpent convinced Eve to eat the apple there’s been someone trying to sell something. The original idea was fairly simple: find folks with a problem, then create and sell a product that will fix it.

For centuries, companies worked hard to understand customer needs then create good products to fill those needs. With limited reach and communication tools, early sellers went around to neighbor’s homes and showed their wares; those with money advertised in the most prestigious magazines (TIME, LOOK, LIFE). Sellers closed 25 – 40% back in the day.

Forward a few decades to Silicon Valley that began creating products because they could, with little concern for need, assuming ‘if they build it they will come.’ Using technology to covertly track and gather huge swaths of data, sellers used their new marketing metrics, human behavior predictors, and an ‘understanding’ of sales demographics to reach high-probability buyers.

Theoretically it became possible to cheaply find those who might need a solution after it was already created, and sell by sending ‘possible buyers’ some ‘targeted messages’ and play the percentages. Given the low cost per touchpoint, sellers only needed a small percentage to take the bait for the investment to pay for itself.

INSANITY

So did it work? Did more sales close? During this new era of using technology, of creating solutions first and then finding potential buyers, sales fell. Here are the actual numbers: according to numbers averaged out from my own clients (Fortune 1000 companies), email marketing closes 0.0059%; sales professionals close less than 5%.

But those numbers don’t seem to matter to the field as it continues to use the same thinking that caused the numbers to begin with. Sales just pushes harder, always assuming they only have to find buyers. Build it and they will come indeed.

To me, those numbers matter. They tell me the industry is failing: A 5% close rate means a 95% failure rate! There is no other industry that finds a 95% failure rate acceptable. No one would even go to a hairdresser with a 95% failure rate. Imagine getting on a plane with a 95% failure rate!

Yet this hasn’t caused a re-think; it’s merely caused sellers to seek more targeted prospects, use more technology, gather more private data, all with the assumption that with better data, sellers can pitch better and close more. And yet, with all the expenditure and brilliant minds working on the problem, the numbers continue to go down as the field continues to attempt to place solutions.

At no point has the sales industry wondered why their sophisticated technology doesn’t close more sales. Well, there’s been a bit of movement: When I began writing about internal buying decisions and decision makers (starting with my first book Sales on the Line in 1992 on facilitating buying decisions) the sales industry fought back (“I know how my buyers decide!!”). Eventually the field took decision makers into consideration (“Yup. A great way in! Let’s include them because they’re smart enough to buy when they hear the facts and how they need us.”), but only as a way to prompt sales.

At no point has the industry realized there might be something going on within a prospect’s environment that causes and maintains the problem the sellers want to fix. At no point has the system, the environment, that prospective buyers live in been a real consideration.

And so it continues. The thinking has remained steadfast: It’s all about the sale. Just find the eyeballs, predict and influence the behavior, and you’ll sell whatever.

SALES USES INCOMPLETE THINKING

Take a moment and think with me, given I suspect that if ‘need’ were the criteria for a purchase, more folks would be buying. And they’re not. Why? Maybe the problem isn’t about what you’re selling.

The industry recognizes that over 40% of a buying decision is based on internal change criteria (i.e. nothing to do with buying anything) and occurs before sales gets involved. So why aren’t sellers doing anything about this? Trying to ‘understand’ to get in and sell misses the point.

Let’s look at the facts. You’ve hired good professional folks, successful, with good instincts. Your marketing materials are great. You’ve learned how to pitch and present your material perfectly. And yet you’re closing less sales than occurred decades ago, when you didn’t have all the technology.

Obviously the problem is not your product or solution. The problem is on the buying decision end and more complicated than the sales model has tools for. There seems to be a gap between the moment people consider themselves buyers and seek solutions, and what and how sellers are selling; the push for eyeballs and understanding don’t address the Pre-Sales, non-buying portion of a buyer’s journey that is focused on change.

But you’re doing nothing about it. With a continued focus on placing solutions, it’s a different mind-set to think about change facilitation as a first step in finding a home for your products.

That’s where the bulk of real buyers are. And you’re ignoring them. They don’t heed your solution data, don’t want appointments, don’t read your marketing materials. They’re just not ready. But they will be. And they can be.

Think with me about the changes in decision making and leadership. Businesses have become sophisticated, as employees and customers and partners are global; leadership is no longer top-down and more inclusive and collaborative.

Given the complexity of environments and their increasingly multifaceted dynamics, and the issues that come up when a problem arises that needs resolving, it’s just not possible for anyone to purchase a new solution on their own. There are just too many consequences with relationships and job functions, chains of command and responsibility to other business practices and partners.

A BUYING DECISION IS A CHANGE MANAGEMENT FUNCTION

To address the complexity, a buying decision has become a change management function before reaching the stage of a solution choice problem.

And the sales industry hasn’t kept up. Instead of helping facilitate the change issues first, it’s still trying to sell, to place solutions, to find buyers, almost at any cost (hacking, spam, false advertising…), insuring they only close the 5% who have already completed their change process on their own.

But the answer is so much cheaper and simpler (and has integrity and far greater success): It’s possible to find those who will seek change in the area your solution can help by putting on a change facilitator’s hat and leading them through the changes they must address before seeing their way clear to buying. And then selling.

By then you’ll both agree to the need, and the sale will be based on values and a real relationship.

Walk with me now through the history of buying decisions.

LET’S LOOK AT BUYING

Originally if there was a need, whoever was in charge would just make a purchase. Now, there are complex decisions to be made even for simple purchases: the days of a single-person purchasing decision are gone; everyone must be involved to fix problems or find workarounds or manage change before any purchase can be considered.

Indeed, all purchases involve some sort of change. It’s a systems problem. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to buy something and ignore everyone else who has a stake in maintaining the status quo.

  • If you’re a member of a family and considering moving to a larger house when the kids get older, you don’t begin by calling a realtor. You begin by discussing everyone’s problems and needs, first figuring out if it’s possible fix your house to avoid the disruption of a move. It’s only when the full fact patterns emerge from everyone – needs, fears, current responsibilities, future plans – does the group come up with a solution. It’s not about the house.
  • What about buying a CRM app? I bet you don’t read about a new one on Monday, buy it on Tuesday, then tell everyone it’s arriving to be implemented on Wednesday. Why not? Because whoever uses the CRM needs to be consulted; tech folks need to give a heads up; and then users would have to buy-in to any changes. You’d probably first try to fix what you’ve been using to avoid the downtime or cost. It’s got nothing to do with the new CRM app.

People who need to fix a problem must not only rearrange some of the status quo, but also must have the buy-in and implementation procedures in place before they buy anything. It’s imperative: they must do this anyway, with you or without you. Might as well be with you. You wait (and push, and lower price) while they do so.

But you’ll need to begin with a different thinking and skill set. Rather than pushing pushing pushing product data at someone you guess might have a need, just learn to recognize someone who WILL buy once they’ve managed their change and facilitate them through the steps of change that lead to a purchase.

DO YOU WANT TO SELL? OR HAVE SOMEONE BUY?

Why continue to build your strategies on selling solutions when the sticking point is in the buying? People don’t really want to buy anything, merely resolve a problem at the lowest cost to the system. And change is the key at this early stage. Regardless of need or the brilliance of a product or the efficacy of a new solution, nothing will be bought, no solution will be purchased, if the new disrupts the system.

A buying decision is a change management problem well before it’s a solution choice issue. Making a purchase is the last – the last – thing anyone does. Indeed, among the 13 stages of a buy cycle buying is stages 10-13 and the decision/change process stages 1-9 (See my book on these stages.).

This is where you’ll find the greatest concentration of new buyers. And they really, really need help, as figuring out all the stakeholders and the downsides of the change takes them quite a long time… it’s the length of the sales cycle.

Why has the sales industry overlooked this? It’s where the real decisions get made. Nothing, nothing, nothing, to do with your solution and the reason folks still in their change stages don’t heed your marketing or pitches or don’t return calls.

When they’re considering their change issues, they are not yet buyers. Maintaining a working system is their highest criteria: they people will not buy if the ‘cost’ of the fix is greater than the cost of the status quo.

Here are a few bullets to think about:

  1. Without the ‘buying’ the ‘selling’ doesn’t have a role. Yet sales continues to think of ‘buying’ through the lens of ‘selling’. It’s wrong. The ‘buying’ should be looked at through the lens of ‘change management’ first.
  2. Sellers can’t understand buyers. They’ll never know the weight of influence of ‘Joe in Accounting’, or the history of two feuding teams who have to share budget to buy a new solution, or the relationship shared between their old vendor they’d need to get rid of to buy your solution. People who might become buyers must manage all this before looking for outside solutions. It has nothing to do with sales, solutions, needs or selling.
  3. Sellers can never know what that that a prospective buyer’s change configuration is as outsiders can’t know or assess the variables that capture the ‘cost.’ The current state has been good-enough for now; it can continue if the cost of change is too high.
  4. Just because someone has a need doesn’t mean they’re a buyer.
  5. The time it takes all stakeholders to
    1. know they must seek an external solution because their workaround doesn’t help,
    2. change with the least disruption,
    3. manage the implementation with the least fallout,
    4. get buy-in from all who will be effected by bringing in something new,

6. By focusing only on finding folks with ‘need’, sales reduces the number of potential buyers down to the low hanging fruit (i.e. a 5% close), those who show up after having completed their change.
7. By entering with a change management hat on and focusing first on facilitating change it’s possible to find 8x more prospects – those in the process of becoming buyers but haven’t yet completed their change management – and facilitate them down their decision path. My clients using my Buying Facilitation®method close 40% against the control groups that close 5.2%.
8. It’s possible to find those who will become buyers on the first call – but not with a sales hat on.

It has nothing to do with need, seller, or solution. I can’t say this enough.

It’s time for sales to begin the sales process by facilitating buying decisions as an add-on to their approach. I am not taking away selling from the equation, just adding new thinking to help people buy. After all, without buyers, what are you doing anyway?

________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

April 26th, 2021

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I used to live in Taos, New Mexico, where I bought everything I ate from a small grocery called Cid’s Market. Run by Cid and Betty Backer, they always offered fresh organic produce, freshly cooked healthy meals, and a health/vitamin section that had everything I wanted. The store environment was happy and very obviously committed to the Taos community. It felt like MY STORE each time I went in. Any question I had was answered; anything I needed was procured, even if it meant they went out and bought me the item at a different store! I was a rabid fan.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who loved them. In the 11 years I lived there (1989-2000) I watched while he grew from a small store to a three story building taking up half a city block. Their service to customers was exceptional. Every morning as the store opened, Cid held a brief meeting with the entire team. “Who pays your salary?” he’d ask. They’d respond “The Customer!” And then they’d start their day.

Everyone’s job was to take care of customers, whatever that entailed. They didn’t need to ‘follow the rules’: that WAS the rule. And creativity and service ensued: In the health department, the manager created free evening community programs for different groups – diabetes sufferers, parents with kids who wouldn’t eat veggies; the produce manager created free cooking classes and lessons on growing organic veggies. Everyone was trusted to make their best decisions and the customers felt their commitment and respect. And in 1993 that was unusual.

One year, on a plane to Mexico to give a keynote address about Servant Leadership, I noticed Cid and Betty.

“Are you going on vacation?” I asked?

“No. We’re going to a conference on Servant Leadership.”

“Oh. I didn’t think a grocery store would seek out that sort of thing.”

“We’re going mostly to learn what we need to learn to serve our employees. If we can’t give them the respect they deserve, and create an environment in which they thrive, we can’t run a business that will also serve our customers. We go to one conference a year to learn all the tools we can so we all have the best knowledge available to serve with.”

They understood that their success came from serving people, community, customers and staff. And they actively made it a priority.

WHAT ARE OUR JOBS?

When corporations consider what their jobs are, they sometimes think Profits, or Products, or Shareholders. But I think it’s something else. Think about it: there’s no job that doesn’t include serving:

  • Sell more? Serve customers.
  • Grow the business, be respected in the industry, and retain clients? Serve the company.
  • Retain and inspire good people with tools to inspire creativity? Serve employees.
  • Maintain optimal skills and health? Serve ourselves.
  • Maintain communication skills? Serve each other.

Without hiring and retaining good people that know how to lead collaboratively; without the skills to help managers, sales folks, team leaders, facilitate buy-in; without the creativity from an entire group that, working together, can develop top notch solutions that produce competitive and imaginative solutions; none of us are in business. No matter what our jobs, our core business is to serve.

Unfortunately, too many of us unwittingly follow trends that take us away from our core business of serving. For example, too many companies have chosen the trend of using their websites to collect names. They embed pop ups to retrieve email addresses, making it impossible to find answers to questions and rendering the site unusable (unless you agree to the cookies) and annoying folks with real interest who might even be customers.

Obviously they’re putting their own goals before those of a possible customer. Why would a company do that? Especially the smaller companies who truly depend on offering information as a sales strategy. Is acquiring my name to push out marketing materials that important? Don’t they know I’ll leave the site rather than agree to accept more spam? That they’ll lose my business because I don’t want my name captured? Those companies have lost their way: they are only serving themselves.

OUR JOBS ARE TO SERVE

What if our real jobs weren’t to collect data, or create content, or push products? What if our jobs were merely to serve? That requires a new skill set, a different viewpoint that produces very different results:

  1. Leaders wouldn’t be getting resistance because they’d attain buy-in and work collaboratively to engage all voices before making change.
  2. Sellers would only pitch to those ready to buy, and use the bulk of their now-wasted time to facilitate people them through their buying decision path as they figured out how to achieve their own type of excellence (and possibly buy solutions).
  3. Managers would hire people whose goal was to serve and retain them because the company’s practices facilitated their excellence.
  4. Coaches would use Facilitative Questions to guide folks to their own answers, trusting each person had their own type of excellence to achieve without the biases of an outsider.
  5. Tech folks would save a great deal of time on projects because they’d be curious without bias, gathering the most accurate data the first time and avoiding biased assumptions that caused flawed results and user complaints.
  6. Companies would be aware of the environment, the role they play in it, and factor in climate issues as a way to serve the planet while serving customers.
  7. Senior Management would dictate that each employee, as well as customers, be cared for respectfully. When an employee isn’t happy, it’s difficult for them to care about customers.

By maintaining focus on ourselves, on our individual needs, we miss the larger picture. By using our jobs and companies as the vehicle to serve others and the planet, we will all live in an excellent world.

__________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, author NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell), listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

April 23rd, 2021

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Early this morning I went to my favorite ‘big box’ supermarket, WinCo. If you’re not in one of the 5 states where it operates (Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California, and Oregon), you may not be familiar with it.

WinCo is an employee-owned food-supply chain that cares as much for its employees as it does for its customers. As a result, the customer service and store care is personal: the stores are spotless, well-stocked, and employees are easy to find if you have a question, not to mention always kind, informed, and personal. And it’s always a surprise to find items I purchase in more specialty stores – even Amazon! – at least 40% cheaper! Who knew my favorite Roasted Salsa Verde (Herdez) was available at half the price! I love this store and am willing to drive out of my way to shop there.

As I was walking down an aisle I noticed a tall woman and young man walk over to a much older man as he was cleaning the floors:

Woman: We’d like to give you a gift (She handed him an envelope – I assume it was a check.) for all the hard work you do and how well you take care of us all. You always go the extra step to make this store even better. We deeply appreciate you and all do you for us. We all thank you.

I must admit I stopped in my tracks and began crying a bit. I had never heard this in any store, nor have I been aware of supermarkets gifting and thanking employees for their service. I sought the woman (his manager?) out.

SD: Do you choose an ‘employee of the month’ each month and hand out checks to the winners?

Woman: No. It’s on an individual basis. Sometimes we hand out a few in one month, sometimes only a few a year. It depends. When we notice someone doing a great job we reward them and let them know they’re important to us. It’s pretty simple. We take care of each other and show our appreciation when one of us shines.

‘We take care of each other’. So simple! When was the last time you let an employee, one of your staff or team, know how much s/he was appreciated? Went out of your way to take care of her?

OUR EMPLOYEES ARE OUR FIRST CUSTOMERS

When I started up my tech company in 1983 in London I had never run a business before. But even without knowing ‘the rules’ I knew it was as important to care for my team as well as I cared for clients. To that end I put in place some initiatives to make sure they felt taken care of.

Every year I gave the management team a fully paid week off and a $3,000 check for tuition and travel to take any type of course they wanted (Photography? Pottery?), even if the subject matter had nothing to do with their jobs. The goal was to help them keep their brains creative and curious. Certainly a way to let them know I appreciated them.

I also didn’t give them vacation time per se but told them to take off whatever time they needed (so long as they covered their responsibilities) when they felt they weren’t operating on all cylinders. I told them I trusted them to know when they needed rest – it wasn’t about the time.

Surprisingly I had to force them to take time off. I would call their wives – and in those days (1980’s) the team was mostly men and the women were usually at home doing child care – tell them to give the kids to the grandparents for a few days, and keep them in bed. To make sure they had plenty of time to relax, I had restaurants deliver food to them so no one had to cook or shop. My folks would return rested with a happy faces.

Because it was quite important to me that we all meshed even though in scattered locations, I took my inside and outside folks to a pub once a month for beer and darts. I always lost (I never figured out darts in all my years in London!); out of pity, I suspect, they then bought the next round.

To keep abreast of the field folks (the techies) and make sure they felt like part of the company, I called each of them once a month to check in. Sure, I only had 40 people in the field so it was doable (My secretary would schedule the calls to make sure we connected).

One of the pluses of my check-ins was they would tell me when our client was preparing to upgrade the program/package we supported. I knew the vendor had a team that installed it, but that would have taken business away from us and we could easily do the installation.

I would then call my client before they hired the vendor. Of course they were happy to have us do the work, given my staff’s excellence. This factor alone caused my business to explode. I once even got a call from the vendor: “You’re killing me. Clients order the upgrade and then we don’t hear from them because you’re already handling it. How do you find out so fast?”

My colleagues chided me: “Are you running a spa?” they’d ask. “Don’t you think your folks will take advantage?” I think they were jealous, but that didn’t stop them from trying to hire my staff away from me. I would hear grumbles at conferences, gossip that they were offering big bucks to lure my folks away. But nope, I never lost an employee to anything other than relocation in four years. They were happy.

Together we grew the business from zero to almost $5,000,000 in under four years – with no internet (1984 -1988), no websites, no email, no Twitter, no LinkedIn. Just me – a rookie entrepreneur – and my team dedicated to caring for our clients and each other.

WHO IS YOUR CLIENT?

I believe our employees are our first customers – happy staff happy clients. Why do we forget this? How is it possible that some of the larger companies are known to have high turnover, low pay, and very strict hours with rules designed to minimize variance and kill the creative spirit rather than maximize kindness and respect?

Why are companies willing to harm employees, to be disrespectful and unkind, just to save a buck? When did money become more important than values, or humanity? What are they saving, anyway?

When I did consulting work at KPMG I noticed a bravado about working all night, or 80 hour weeks. No surprise that many of the partners were on their third marriages – almost all on their second. Working that hard – hard enough to ignore sleep, relationships, food – was a highly valued part of the culture. Why?

Why don’t we take care of our employees better? Trust them and their ideas? Take time to listen to them? Make them understand that without them we can’t be successful? How did people become expendable to save money at all costs?

I know a very large, successful multinational that forces all levels of management to spend an hour in meetings begging for funds to support their employees – even $200! – to buy an online course or get them needed coaching. It’s a misuse of time, disrespectful, and not even rational. Why not give managers a slush fund to have on hand when someone needs something and trust their judgment!?

We all put so much energy into our clients and customers so we can make money. Why don’t we offer our staff the same respect? We ‘carefully’ hire the ‘right’ people and then create rules and restrictions so we can monitor ‘success’, and treat them like chits, like cogs in a wheel and make them replaceable, ‘things’ without value. And yet we want them to deliver for us and complain about turnover.

What we lose is not only ideas and loyalty, but the spirit of a man, the heart of a woman. We too often make our employees objects. I’ve interviewed middle managers in large corporations who tell me they’ve stopped bringing in new ideas because they don’t get heard, or live only for their vacation time because they’re so miserable and stay only because they’re getting paid so well.

Let’s take as good care of our employees as we do our clients and customers. Let’s make sure everyone is given the time, the respect, the remuneration, to lead fulfilled, exuberant, satisfying lives so they can’t wait to come to work each day. Let’s treasure each of our employees. They are, indeed, special. That’s why we hired them.

What’s the cost? What’s the cost if we don’t? 

_________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventorBuying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with IntegrityandDirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly.www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

April 19th, 2021

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