By Sharon Drew Morgen

Note: This article introduces the teachings in my new, transformative How of Change™ video course for folks seeking real behavior change.

Because I wanted choice over my actions, I’ve spent a good portion of my life coding the trajectory of change so I could intervene to do something differently. I realized early on that knowing WHAT I wanted to change, WHAT doing it ’right’ entailed, and WHY I wanted to change, didn’t reliably lead me to the HOW of successful change, regardless of my willpower and discipline. Even my attempts at Behavior Modification were unsuccessful.

After studying brains and how they generate behaviors for many decades, and after trying unsuccessfully to try to change some of my own habits, I realized the problem: because behaviors are merely mechanical responses (outputs) to how my brain is programmed (inputs), real change can only come by rewiring my brain. In other words, I’ve been doing it wrong.

Seems by merely trying to change a behavior by ‘doing’ something different – a behavior being the output of a series of brain signals – I failed to change my brain circuits at the place where the behavior is initially prompted.

How is it possible to consciously change our brains, you might ask? I spent decades figuring it out. And I’ve made it possible to generate new circuits whenever you want to change a behavior or habit. Let me explain what’s going on, and then I’ll introduce the program I’ve developed so you, too, can permanently change behaviors at will.


Brains require a very specific sequence of activity to generate behaviors: First we

  1. send a message to our brains for what we want to accomplish
  2. that gets checked against our risk filters and beliefs that agree, or not, to proceed and
  3. creates signals that seek out similar-enough circuits
  4. which carry the message to an action.

Our behaviors are merely the output of our brain’s signaling system, the response to a set of instructions that travel down a very fixed pathway. They are not stand-alone features, or values-laden actions, but the activity, the output, the response, from a series of electro-chemical brain signals that have no meaning at all.

It’s like putting liquid red rubber into a machine and a red chair emerges. Something inside is programmed in a way that produces ‘chair’. If it were programmed differently, even using the same red rubber, a ‘ball’ might emerge. It’s all in the programming.

These brain signals, this specific circuit that carries out that specific behavior, is hard-wired. And once we have a circuit for a behavior set up in our brains, it becomes a habit. Hence, the problems we all have when we attempt to change an existing behavior.

Indeed, trying to change a behavior by trying to change a behavior is like trying to get a forward moving robot to go backwards by pushing it: until the programming is changed, until the signals and motivators are reprogrammed to trigger new wiring with different responses, it cannot do anything different than what it was programmed to do. And merely trying to change our behaviors will not alter our existing, programmed, circuits. Hence our difficulty losing weight, or maintaining an exercise regimen.


The good news is that our brains are more than happy to generate new behaviors when they’re reprogrammed, which we do by developing brand new circuits (neuroplasticity). I’ve spent decades unwrapping the ‘how’ to generate new messaging and circuits and the steps involved, eventually developing a training model of change facilitation that I’ve been teaching in sales (Buying Facilitation®), leadership, and coaching for 40 years.

Recently I developed a new model to facilitate others through the steps to generate new circuits for their own new behaviors (i.e. transformative change) and ending old habits – not to modify what’s there, but to actually consciously transform their brain’s pathways for permanent behavior and habit change. It includes:

  • why it’s so hard to change a habit [By merely trying to change a behavior by trying to change a behavior we’re unwittingly recruiting the same circuits that caused the habit to begin with.];
  • why we can’t change behaviors by trying to change behaviors [Behaviors are outputs and reside in habituated circuits that unconsciously hook up with what’s already there and normalized, regardless of our desire to change.];
  • why we must develop new signals and circuits to generate new behaviors [Brains will always generate new circuits when they receive new messaging for new circuits that cause new behavior generation.];
  • how our brains enable or prohibit change, habits, and behaviors [Our Beliefs are our traffic cops and react unconsciously to incoming signals, separate from our conscious wishes.];
  • how to build a scalable model to develop new messaging to generate new circuits that to trigger new outputs and choices, from input to output, while avoiding resistance and failure.

Take a look at the program syllabus:


Here is a chart of the elements of The HOW of Change™ model. It isolates the brain elements necessary to generate new circuits that will create new behaviors, habits, ideas. Certainly our brains are able to generate new circuits (but they cannot get rid of existing ones), but to do so requires very specific elements be included in a very specific sequence. It’s really not as simple as merely doing something different. Take a look at the chart as it explains the trajectory of change:

Let me explain a bit of the chart, and it’s a bit geeky, so hang in.

When your wish (I want to be better organized) enters in the CUE it gets translated into an electro-chemical signal that then gets sent to the CEN which matches circuits that are ‘close-enough’, and behaviors emerge. If you want to do something different than you’ve done before, the Trial Loop (in chart) is instigated (I developed this Trial Loop) to facilitate agreement, buy-in, congruency and risk during a learning process. Watch as I discuss the process in my sample one hour video.

I’m writing a new book on this, and now offer a 5-part video training program available to teach leaders, change makers, coaches to help their clients change. Let me know if you’d like a conversation to learn if the program could help you stop smoking, lose weight, start your exercise regimen, or any other new behaviors you’d like to make habits. And watch my sample video, or see the program syllabus, here.

This is a new-type of program, in that it asks you to actually work hard on making your unconscious conscious. It’s not behavior-change based, or information-based, but brain change-based and takes more concentration. It produces permanent change via wholly new circuits. If you’re interested in real change, take a look. And I’m here for questions.


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. She can be reached at

October 28th, 2020

Posted In: Change Management, Communication

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Why does it seem so hard to change a habit or a behavior? Why do we drag our feet when buying a replacement appliance or car? Why do our teams go through disruption when going through a merger? Why do we resist changing our diets or adding exercise to our day when we know it’s good for us?

The oft-repeated myth claims people hate change, that change is hard. But that’s not true. People like the results of change; they just fear the process, the disruption and disorientation that change seems to cause. But the problem isn’t the change; it’s the way we’re approaching it.

The very skills we use to instigate change cause the resistance, struggle, failure to change, and conflict that occur when we initiate doing anything outside of our habituated norm. With a different skill set we can not only avoid resistance altogether, but change in a way that’s pain free, creative and expansive. In fact, change can be a pleasure.

In this article I’ll briefly discuss the topics necessary to consider painless change, and link to five 30-minute podcasts I taped a while ago with Nathan Ives of Strategy Driven Magazine. Since I recorded these podcasts, I’ve since developed a How of Change program that actually teaches how to isolate the exact elements in the brain to consciously generate new neural pathways to stimulate easy change. As always, I’m here to discuss.


Change means doing/thinking something different than our status quo – our internal system that has been accepted, habituated, standardized, and normalized through time – potentially replacing it with something unknown, untried, and therefore risky.

And therein lie the problem: because our change methods don’t take systems into account, anything we do to effect change potentially causes a destabilizing effect and puts our system at risk. This fact alone causes disruption, pain and confusion. We’re trying to push an as-yet unaccepted element into a fully/long-functioning stable system that hasn’t agreed to alter itself, and it’s defending itself.

To do anything different, we need approval and a route forward from our unconscious system; to change congruently, we must consciously facilitate our normalized, unconscious internal structure to design new and acceptable rules for any additions.

Once the ‘new’ is acceptable, seen to be nonthreatening, recognized as having the same rules, norms, values as the status quo, it will be easily adopted. Note: regardless of the efficacy of the new, or the problems inherent in the status quo, change is not acceptable until the status quo, the system, the group of norms and beliefs that have been good-enough, recognizes a way to normalize itself with the new included.

#1 What is Change? and Why is Change so Hard?


Historically, we have approached change through information sharing, traditional problem-solving methods, personal discipline and behavior modification, and strong leadership, assuming by pushing new information – new activities, new ideas, new rationale, requests for different behaviors – into the status quo it will be sufficient. But it’s not. We’re ignoring the system, causing it to resist to maintain itself.

Why are systems so important? Systems are our glue. Our lives are run by systems – families, teams, companies, relationships. Each of us individually is a system. Systems are made up of rules and norms that everything/everyone buys in to and that maintain the beliefs and values, history and experience, that make each system unique and against which everything is judged against.

And each system holds tightly to its uniqueness as the organizing force behind the activities, goals, and output of our behaviors. Change any of the elements and we change the system; try to push something new into the system, and it will defend itself. We learned in 6th grade that systems seek homeostasis (balance), making it unlikely we can pull one thing out of a system and shove something else back in without the system resisting.

Currently, our attempts at change (sellers, coaches, negotiators, or diets, exercise programs, etc.) are little more than pushing a new agenda in from the outside and assuming compliance will follow because the new is ‘better’ or ‘rational’. But because the new most likely doesn’t match the unique, internal norms already in residence, we get implementation problems in teams, closing delays in sales, resistance to changing eating and exercise habits, modification problems in healthcare and coaching. Indeed, all implementations, all buying decisions, all negotiations, all new behavior generation, are change management problems.

It’s possible to introduce change in a way that does not cause resistance – from the inside out, by teaching the system how to reorganize along different lines, in accordance with its own rules and values.

For lasting change, it’s necessary to enlist buy-in from the system. Any reasoning or validation for needed change will be resisted because the system fears disruption. Hear how systems are the organizing principle around change – and what to do about it.

#2 What are Systems and How Do They Influence Change


The universally held concept is that resistance is ubiquitous, that any change, any new idea, will engender resistance. University programs teach it how to manage resistance; Harvard professors such as Chris Argyris and Howard Gardner have made their reputations and written books on it; consultants make their livings managing it. Yet there is absolutely no reason for resistance: we actually create the resistance we get, by the very models we use to implement change.

The underlying problem is, again, systems. As per homeostasis, a system will fight to continue functioning as it has always functioned, regardless of how impractical or non-efficient it is or how compelling the new change might be. And by attempting change without an agreement from the system, without designing any implementation of the new around the inherent beliefs, values, and norms of the status quo, we’re causing imbalance.

Systems just are. They wake up every day maintaining the same elements, behaviors, beliefs, they had yesterday, and the day before. They don’t notice anything as a problem – the problems are built in and, well, part of the givens. When anything new attempts to enter a system and the system has not reorganized itself to maintain systems congruence, it is threatened (Indeed, we are threatening the status quo!) and will defend itself by resisting. Hence, we always define and create our own resistance.

It’s possible to avoid resistance by beginning a change process by first facilitating the system to re-think, re-organize, re-consider its rules, relationships, and expectations, and garner buy-in from all of the elements that will touch the final solution, while matching the introduction of the new accordingly. Believe it or not, it’s not difficult. But we do need a new skill set to accomplish this.

#3 If Decisions Are Always Rational, Why Are Changes Resisting?


As sellers, change agents, coaches, doctors, parents, and managers, we seek to motivate change. Whether it involves a purchase, a new idea, a different set of behaviors, or a team project, all successful change requires

  • matching the new with the values and norms of the status quo,
  • shifting the status quo to adapt to something new,
  • facilitating buy-in from everyone who will touch the new addition,
  • working from inside out by aligning with the core values and norms of the system.

[Note: I teach this change process as Buying Facilitation® to sellers to facilitate Pre-Sales buying decisions, and coaches as a tool to generate permanent change.] Until this is accomplished, resistance will result as the system attempts to defend itself.

#4 Why is Buy-in Necessary and How to Achieve It


Until now, we have approached change by starting with a specific goal and implementation plan and seeking buy-in to move forward successfully. While we take meticulous steps to bring aboard the right people, have numerous meetings to discuss and manage any change or disruption possibilities, our efforts are basically top-down and outside-in and end up causing resistance and disruption.

Starting from the inside begins with an explicit goal that everyone agrees to, but leaving the specifics – the Hows – up to the people working with the new initiative, an inside-out, bottom-up/top-down collaboration. While the result may not end up exactly like imagined, it will certainly meet the objectives sought, and include far more creativity and buy-in, promote leadership, continue through time, and avoid resistance and disruption – and potential failure.

#5 A Radical Approach to Change Management, Real Leadership

Change need not be difficult if we approach it as a systems problem. I’ve developed models for sales, leadership, coaching, and healthcare that facilitate systemic, congruent, values-based change. I’m happy to help you think this through or implement it. To learn more about systemic models for decision making, change, and sales, go to or contact Sharon Drew at

Here’s a link if you wish to have copies of the entire series Making Change Work.


Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, thought leader, author, and the inventor of the Buying Facilitation® model, a decision facilitation and change management model often used in sales to help sellers facilitate the change issues buyers must address before they can make a buying decision. She’s written 7 books on the topic including NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. Sharon Drew has trained many Fortune 500 hundred companies to help people become buyers, to help staff change and be motivated, to give leaders the tools to lead effectively without resistance.

Sharon Drew also tackles listening, and closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Her book on how to hear others without bias, What? Did you really say what I think I heard?, is used by several organizations to enable them to hear each other, and clients, accurately.. See for a range of articles on change, buying decisions, and hearing others. She can be reached at

October 26th, 2020

Posted In: News

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Many years ago, just as technology was becoming ubiquitous, I closed $6,400,000 worth of business in the sales reps’ long-term accounts during the real-time call portion of my Buying Facilitation® training with IBM. This particular group had had their accounts for 3 years on average and knew their clients quite well…. Or so they thought.

The funny/sad thing was that I had no specific details about what I was selling, and I certainly had no relationship with the clients I spoke with. But not only did the clients and I discover things they needed to buy during our facilitation process, they gave me the orders without a pitch (Obviously I couldn’t pitch anything.) in the first 15 minutes of speaking with me – a stranger with no prior relationship.

The group director who had hired me to train this pilot had mixed emotions. Incredulity that I could close so much given I was a complete stranger with no product knowledge and the long-term reps hadn’t thought of it; Excitement that I’d closed so much (in two days!); and Frustration that not only did these 15 top reps themselves know nothing about the needs or business sitting there (Sitting there!), but the other 235 reps in that group who hadn’t been trained yet most likely had that sort of business sitting undiscovered in their accounts also.

I asked some of the team members what they thought was the reason they weren’t upselling in their accounts. The two responses I heard led me to suspect that more sales folks might fall into the same traps:

  • An assumption that because of the long-term relationship, clients would call with an order when they had a need;
  • A belief that because they knew the client ‘so well’ that they’d know when/if the client had a need.

Obviously, both assumptions were false.

During the two days I made calls for an hour with each of the 15 course participants, I found client needs that went beyond what the reps had been selling them. I’ll recount a call I had with one of the clients below. In each call introduced myself as a new member of their rep’s team, and called each rep’s smallest client or one they thought had a need but hadn’t been able to close. The call below was to a man from student services at a small college who only bought a printer once or twice a year. And note: although I was given the client’s direct line, the number didn’t go directly to the client. Apparently, the rep had been receiving incoming calls and hadn’t placed calls himself for some time.

Note: This situation occurred quite some time ago but I believe the presenting problem remains valid: sales reps often don’t know what’s really going on in their long term accounts, and even when they do they don’t do more than sell what they’ve always sold to that client, or off-handedly ask if anything new is going on without facilitating a real discussion. I’ll discuss more after the story.


Secretary: Hello. This is the technology support group.

SD: Oh. Hi. I was given this number for Charles. Am I calling the wrong number?

Secretary: No. Charles has been working in a team of 5 for about 9 months and I try to take care of them. Can I help you?

SD: Yes. I’m with IBM and work with Steve, and I’d like to speak with Charles if he’s around. But I’m curious. Is Charles no longer in the same student services group he was in before?

Receptionist: Well, yes and no. The group has vastly expanded its focus to include technology needs so we can help our students and school use the new technology and connections coming available. We’re trying to become tech savvy, and it’s been quite a learning curve for us. Let me get Charles for you.

C: Hi there. Susan said you work with Steve? How’s he doing? We’ve not spoken for a few months.

SD: Hi Charles. Steve is great. He’s just here. As I’m a new member of his team, I’m making calls to his regular clients to introduce myself. My name is Sharon-Drew. Hi! So… wow. Susan says you’re all getting into some kinda trouble these days.

C: We are! What fun we’re having, although the learning curve is steep. And it seems to be changing every moment.

SD: It’s interesting from this end too, as IBM keeps inventing new products for us to offer. I’m curious. Given all the change going on, what are you responsible for now that you weren’t responsible for before?

C: Me and my team are responsible for the student/university interface.

SD: I didn’t know you had one.

C: We didn’t. But we’ve decided to give all incoming freshman laptops as part of their matriculation so they can have access to all our departments. We plan on rolling this out next September when the new students come in.

SD: Are you set up for that?

C: What do you mean? What do we need to have set up? (Note: this was before the world was wired.)

SD: Well, you’d need to have the whole university wired so laptops and students could connect, you’d need servers – you’d need a massive overhaul of your grounds to get proper wiring so the computers could talk to the departments and to each other. It’s not as simple as just buying computers and it’s a pretty disruptive process. And it’s November now, and you want it all done by September? I’ll need a bit more data from our folks here to know the exact time frames involved, but I believe it would take many months to get your campus set up for technology. I’m not even sure it could all be completed to be ready by then.

C: Oh! I didn’t know that! We’d better get started now.

SD: Have you decided who you’d be purchasing your laptops from?

C: Well, you folks of course. You’d give me a good price on 2000 laptops, no? And are you able to set up our campus? I’d prefer if IBM did it all for us if possible.

SD: Sure. We won’t send you the laptops until you need them, and Steve will get back to you on the details of the actual work. But we should probably wait until we speak with the rest of your team, no? I notice you’ve got a team of folks involved in the same project. What would we need to do to help them buy in to such a large undertaking?

C: They’re all here. We just came back from lunch. Give me a moment and I’ll have Susan patch us all together.

C: Hey folks. Sharon-Drew works with Steve at IBM who has supplied me with printers for the past years and now can walk us through our project to get students laptops and wire the campus so the laptops and departments and students are all connected. I thought we could just buy computers but seems we have a much bigger problem.

I then brought Steve into the conversation, and for the next hour we noodled on the problems inherent in a project this size and how we could resolve them together. For this I posed Facilitative Questions such as:

Who would you need to involve to make sure you had the best data to make choices around, and get buy-in for, X or Y?

What would we need to set up together, at earliest, to make sure we would cause the least disruption to your campus?

Obviously we didn’t have all the details, but I gave them the questions to begin planning such a huge project; Steve became a partner in their discovery and delivery. And they decided during our meeting that they’d better begin immediately. They started with a $2,000,000 order.

Here’s one of the things I didn’t tell you. Steve was becoming a team leader in the next two months. If his clients had waited until the next September to place the $2,000,000 order, not only would they have to wait another year to implement their plans, Steve wouldn’t have gotten his very large commission check.


Instead of assuming you know your accounts, why not call each of them and discuss with them what their future looks like, what has changed in their current situation, and how you can serve them best going forward. If they haven’t given you new business in a while, make sure you notice who else has been added to their team when you ask about what’s changed, because new stakeholders might have preferred suppliers that aren’t you.

One other consideration. Sometimes project leaders running teams that serve the healthcare and technology industries are not sales folks per se, but more technical folks who are only curious in a limited, ‘do-ing’ way without taking the ‘people’ side into account. This thinking might bias conversations and overlook future needs or unaware stakeholders.

When you’re ready to discuss potential needs, remember to include these issues:

  • Have client include all stakeholders. See if there are new ones or folks from other departments, even if you think you know them all.
  • See if the objectives have changed over time. You might have met these clients under different circumstances and aren’t aware of their growth.
  • Notice if there are issues you think need to be resolved, even if they haven’t yet noticed or aren’t prepared to resolve them. If this is the case, use Buying Facilitation® to help them discover how to bring in all stakeholders, try workarounds, and figure out the cost of bringing in something new. Don’t put on your sales hat until then: there’s a reason why they haven’t resolved the problems yet so don’t use your own assumptions to push or sell, even if your solutions would help them.

In these times of change, reorganizations, mergers, and a shifting economy make it likely that your regular clients are going through some sort of transformation. Call them and check in. You never know when you’re going to find new business opportunities and ways to serve.


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. She can be reached at

October 12th, 2020

Posted In: News

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Do you ever wonder why all those folks who obviously need your solution don’t buy? No, really. Do you? Do you think it’s because they’re, um, stupid? or ill informed? How ‘bout your belief that if you can get a chance to explain it better, or get in front of them, they’ll buy?

Here’s a hint: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your solution. It’s great. And no, buyers aren’t stupid. And no, your information won’t help. And trying to get in front of them to enable your captivating personality woo them, is just wasting time.Buyers buy exactly what they need, when they need it, and who they want to buy it from – your content is searchable and your site professional and data rich.

Buyers are smart. They’re just not listening to you.


The way you’re using the sales model is the problem: everything you do, everything you say, everything you send, has one focus: to sell. Don’t get me wrong. You’re a fine sales professional and your product, your marketing, and your pitches, are great. But you’re using the wrong thinking if you’re using the sales model itself to find actual buyers.

Not only is the sales model a second tier model – great for placing solutions once buyers are ready – but it’s useless as a prospecting and qualifying tool. Used to discover need, persuade and convince, it’s a time and resource waste.

The sales model does nothing to promote buying.The sales model (the baseline being a tool to get solutions placed) is based on Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1937): find the folks who need what you’re selling, explain it as many ways necessary so they’ll recognize it will resolve their need, and keep following up to remind them that you’re still there and here’s why they should buy your solution.

Believe it or not, and even with the new technology, the baseline thinking of the sales model hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. The sales process:

  • analyzes demographics to uncover areas with a higher probability of prospect need;
  • maximizes content/information distribution to match those demographics;
  • maximizes buyer touch points to develop brand and trust to minimize objections;
  • prices the solution competitively;
  • connects with buyers personally when possible to create trust and build relationship;
  • beat the competition.

Everything is focused on selling a solution. But there’s a problem with that focus: Every penny spent on recognizing buyer personas, or demographics, or buyer personality types, not only assumes that a seller can convert that name to gold, but assumes you’re meeting these prospective buyers at the point they’re ready to buy, which occurs 5% of the time. That success rate (No other industry would call 95% failure success!) alone should be a hint that maybe something’s wrong. There is. And yet it’s always, always considered to be a sales problem, not a change management problem.

Instead of wondering how you can find folks with a need so you can place your solutions, maybe you should start thinking of what comes first: how to facilitate folks through their change management decision process that occurs before they become buyers in the first place. By starting with the sales model and sales thinking, there is no way to address or facilitate the full buying decision process that puts ‘buying’ last.

It’s time to forego the focus on selling and instead concentrate on the process, the steps, people go through as they navigate through their decisions to make a change or bring in a solution. A buying decision is a strategic process, not tactical like sales. And it’s not focused on buying anything.

Why is it assumed that the solution, the purchase, the final act of attempting to resolve a problem, is the focus for how people become buyers or choose a solution? Or the only decision to be made is the product purchase decision? Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They’re two different processes.


Believe it or not, even with all the cool technology and knowledge of demographics, the core sales thinking hasn’t changed. But the environment has. And so has the close rate (It’s going down.). And yet we’re still using the same baseline thinking. Here are the problems with this:

A. Obviously, as per travel in 1937, most of Carnegie’s prospects didn’t live too far away. And he knew most of them personally.

  • We don’t personally know our prospects. Oh, sure, we’ve got high tech methods to ‘find’ probable buyers. Yet when I train the model I developed (Buying Facilitation®) to sellers, the control group using the sales model closes 5% and my learners close 40%. That means we’re ignoring 8x more real prospects using the sales model alone. By first helping people traverse through their pre-sales cultural decision issues – stakeholder buy in, trying workarounds, figuring out the how to manage any downside to bringing in something new (all stuff we wait for them to do anyway) it’s possible to find folks who will become buyers on the first call, and shorten the sales cycle dramatically.
  • Our push to ‘create trust/relationships’ is silly. Everyone knows it’s not a real relationship, that it’s a ploy to sell. Not to mention trust can’t occur when one person is trying to convince another to make a purchase. And frankly, just because someone likes you doesn’t mean they can convince their team to buy given the complexity and politics of the stakeholder decision process.

    B. Carnegie stressed describing details of a new product/solution.
  • There was no internet, no regular phone use, no content marketing, no search. Not to mention people looked forward to sitting down with sellers to learn to solve their problem. Now they use Google and don’t need sellers to explain anything. Let me say this again: our prospects do not need us to pitch product content! They do not need us to tell them price, features, functions. They do not need us to ‘gather information’ so WE can find out ‘their needs’. Everyone knows those are all ploys and entries to them pitching them what WE want to tell him. Not to mention as outsiders we can NEVER understand their ‘needs’ as they’re systemic, not tactical.

    C. Buying decisions involved the seller, the problem, the product, and the buyer.
  • There are layers of stakeholders and decision makers now; buyers live in complicated systems of norms, rules, history, group/individual needs – all of which must be addressed before a buying decision takes place. Pushing solution content before these issues have been addressed does nothing to facilitate group buy-in; it merely causes distrust.

    D. A purchase was tactical.
  • Now, unless it’s a small personal item, most purchases are strategic and involve a range of conscious and unconscious issues that must be managed first before folks even become buyers. With all the demographics in the world, with even the knowledge that this person will buy eventually, an outsider using the sales model cannot, cannot facilitate people through the steps they MUST take before deciding to buy. The sales model just does NOT facilitate the strategic elements of enabling buy-in for change. And that’s 3/4 of what people do before they become buyers. And we’re ignoring this vast pre-sales capability.

    Here’s what Carnegie didn’t know:
    • People don’t want to buy anything. They just want to resolve a problem at the lowest ‘cost’ to their culture and become buyers only when they recognize they cannot resolve the problem internally and everyone understands the ‘cost’ of bringing in something new.
    • Until people have determined they’re buyers, they have no inclination to read or hear a pitch because they haven’t yet determined the need or know if it can be resolved internally. They won’t read our information because they’re not aware they need it yet, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. Not to mention, pitching too early creates objections.
    • Need doesn’t determine who buys. Just because there’s a real need doesn’t mean it’s the right time, there’s the proper buy in, and the calculation of cost to the system: the cost of bringing in a new solution must be less than the cost of maintaining the problem. Not to mention it’s quite difficult for sellers to recognize real ‘need’ when they pose biased questions to obtain cues that obviate a pitch or follow up.
    • There’s no way a seller can know the unique, idiosyncratic issues going on within a buyer’s environment that dictate how their decisions get met. And until whoever will touch the final solution buys in to something new, a purchase will not be made. Hint: assuming we have a prospect because we interpret what we hear as a ‘need’ doesn’t make someone a prospect.

      The crucial missing pieces are systemic and have nothing to do with a purchase:
    • Buying an external solution has a cost beyond money. It’s much ‘cheaper’ and far less disruptive to fix the problem with known resources if they can. Until they figure this out if a workaround is viable, they will not buy regardless of need.
      Rule #1: Prospects aren’t always prospects.
    • Buying is systemic. People won’t become buyers until they have: the full set of facts that caused the problem and maintain it (or they can’t know the extent of the problem); a fair exploration of workarounds or internal fixes to try first to resolve the problem themselves; an understanding of the downside of bringing in something new that must be implemented, learned, accepted, used. Until then they’re just people with a problem they want to resolve. Themselves.
      Rule #2: Need has little to do with who is a buyer and it’s the wrong metric to use to help buyers buy.
    • People with a problem won’t be researching our information unless it’s to learn from as they attempt their own fix – not to buy. While they will certainly seek out information once they become buyers, we’ve got that market covered with our sites and marketing. That’s the low hanging fruit – your 5% close.
      Rule #3: Our content, marketing, emails, and requests for appointments won’t be noticed nor needed until folks consider themselves buyers.
    • Until or unless the entire stakeholder group is on board and buys in to any change that will occur once they implement the new purchase, they will never buy.
      Rule #4: Buying is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue.
    • 40% of the folks we’re prospecting will buy our solution (maybe from a different provider) within about two years: the time it takes them to figure out how to figure it out is the length of the sales cycle.
      Rule #5: Sales concentrates on placing solutions to the exclusion – to the exclusion – of facilitating the buying decision process which is change based, not solution choice based. The change process can be accelerated, but not with sales.
    • People aren’t seeking to buy anything, they just want to resolve a problem. They only become buyers if they cannot resolve the problem with internal workarounds. If the only way they can resolve the problem is to make a purchase, the ‘cost’ of the solution must be less than the cost of maintaining the status quo.
      Rule #6: People won’t notice details, pitches, content marketing about our solution until they consider themselves buyers and know how to manage the cost of implementing it – regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution.

      Net net: Seeking need isn’t working or we’d close more. Creating a trusting relationship isn’t working or we’d close more. Generating terrific content isn’t working or we’d close more. Finding the right demographic isn’t working or we’d close more.

      All of those tools will uncover those who are specifically seeking your solution at this precise moment. That’s it. They will not expand our audience. And those who are ready are a small percent of folks who need our solution but can’t buy until they’re ready (5% vs 40%).

      Let’s take the inherent problems with sales and the extremely low close rate, and shift to a new way of thinking about this. Here are some tips to truly serve folks exactly where they need you (Remember: they don’t need us to pitch or inform.) during their change facilitation process, and steps to actually help those who WILL become buyers to buy:
    • Before selling, help folks do what they need to do to become buyers – facilitate them through their change management (their Buying Decision Path). They have to do it anyway, with us or without us. So let’s go a bit outside the sales/solution placement model, and just help them with the change management first.

      Change the goal of prospecting calls. Stop trying to find someone with a need. Find folks considering change in the area you support. These folks are easy to find if we stop trying to push our products or ask biased questions. The time it takes them to figure this out is the length of the sales cycle. So help them figure it out. Then we’re already there when they become buyers. NOTE: the initial effort must be on facilitating change – not selling.
    • Facilitate potential buyers through the steps to change they they must go through (I’ve coded 13 steps involved in the Buying Decision Journey) before they become buyers.
      • recognize the full extent of the problem, possible by assembling the complete set of stakeholders (which sellers can never know) to share information;
      • attempt to fix the problem internally (which sellers can never do as outsiders);
      • manage any disruption an outside fix would entail (which we can’t do for them).

        I can’t say this enough times: a purchase is NOT about ‘need’; and no purchase will be made if the cost of the solution is higher than the cost of maintaining status quo regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution. And an outsider, a seller, can never, never make any of those determinations.
    • Stop posing biased questions. I invented Facilitative Questions which do NOT gather information, but point the client in the direction they need to consider on route to change. Many folks in the sales field misuse my term Facilitative Questions (which I invented in 1993). Let me be clear: If you haven’t studied with me and try to formulate these questions, you’re using ‘Susan’s questions’, or ‘Joe’s questions’, not Facilitative Questions.

      Facilitative Questions take some training. They use brain function to lead people down their path to change and decision making. They do NOT attempt to gather information! And they use brain science: They contain very specific words in a very specific order, often with a time element involved, and always pulling data points in a very specific sequence from one memory channel to the next. If you want to discuss, email me: If you want to learn, take a look at this learning accelerator.

      The problem with using conventional questions, regardless of your intent, is that
      • They’re biased by your need to know and most likely overlook vast bits of knowledge;
      • They are restricted in scope by your outcome and languaging;
      • They cannot be heard as intended due to the bias that your communication partner (all people!) listens through;
      • There’s a high probability that the real answer to what you want to know either doesn’t exist, or isn’t fully formed yet.
    • So don’t use conventional questions based on your needs to inform and discuss your solution until these folks are at the end of the change steps and have real answers. And please operate from a different focus: learn Facilitative Questions to help them manage the change necessary so they can become buyers. Facilitative Questions address change. Conventional questions try to gather data – unnecessary until folks are already buyers and need specifics that can be elicited through normal questions.
    • Stop trying to make an appointment. All you’re getting are folks who are either using your content to craft their own pitch to their team, or to compare against their internal, or historic, vendor. People who will become buyers generally do their research and call to ask for a sales person. I’m not saying don’t visit. But only visit those who are real buyers, and the whole Buying Decision Team is present. That’s a great use of sales.
  • The sales model is great for people who have become buyers – the low hanging fruit. Unfortunately, it does nothing at all to engage or facilitate folks still in the process of trying to resolve a problem themselves and who have a good shot at becoming buyers when they’re done. By prospecting from the knowledge you first seek those seeking to change, you can find very highly qualified folks who WILL become buyers, and using Buying Facilitation® you can reduce the sales cycle by 3/4.
  • With a Change hat on, it’s easy to find those in the process of becoming buyers and facilitate them through their Buying Decision Journey. You’re already spending time following up vast numbers of people who will never buy; why not find those who WILL become buyers (possible on the first call) and speed up their change process.
  • In summary, if you facilitate folks through their Buying Decision Path, you can lead them through their discovery of the full set of stakeholders (which you would never have known or discovered); their search for an internal solution (They would have had one already if it were available – but if they discover one, they wouldn’t have been buyers anyway!); managing the change. Then, when they’re buyers, they will invite YOU to visit and ALL of the stakeholders will be there ready to buy. Then you can sell! Not to mention the facilitation process takes a lot less time than pitching, trying to get an appointment, and following up.
  • Sales is a necessary model to introduce solutions beyond what’s possible on the internet. It’s just illogical to use as a prospecting or qualifying tool. With 8x more real buyers on your lists, stop wasting time on those who will never buy, find the ones who will once they figure it all out, and help them figure it out. Then sell.
  • I’m not taking away the sales model, only the frustration, expenditure of resource – not to mention it’s far easier to sell when you have buyers. One more thing: for those interested in truly serving your customers, facilitate them through their confusing decision making. Then you’ll have a customer for life.
  • For those interested in learning about my Buying Facilitation® model, here’s a link to some articles. I’ve also got gobs more on
  • What is Buying Facilitation®?
  • What is Buying Facilitation®? What sales problem does it solve
  • Prospects Aren’t Always Prospects
  • Steps Along the Buying Decision Path
  • How, Why, and When Buyer’s Buy
  • Recognize Buyers on the First Call
  • Don’t You Realize Selling Doesn’t Cause Buying?
  • Do you want to make a sale? or an appointment?______________________________________
  • 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 IntegrityDirty 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. She can be reached at

October 5th, 2020

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.

September 28th, 2020

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

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

* real collaboration * gathering data from the best set of sources * consensus and buy-in procedures in place
* understanding the full impact from a proposed decision * front-loading for change management (to avoid failed implementations) we risk falling far short of excellence in our decision making and subsequent execution.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

September 21st, 2020

Posted In: Communication

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Do you want to make a sale, or an appointment? Does an appointment create a ‘relationship‘ that will close the deal? Give you a higher probability of closing a sale? And how’s that working for you? Are you closing all the sales you deserve to close?

By seeking appointments with prospects with a ‘need’ who could buy your solution (a prospect is someone who WILL buy, not merely someone who COULD buy), you severely limit your ‘intro meetings’ to either those already seeking your solution (and competitors), or those you’re guessing might (might) be buyers. Indeed, what you determine a ‘sales qualified opportunity’ might be nothing more than a biased interpretation of a biased conversation that affords the opportunity to try to convince someone to buy; the odds are very high you’re wasting your time.

Maybe you’re not finding the right prospects. Maybe a qualified opportunity isn’t qualified. But the real problem is that by sorting for prospects with both a ‘need’ and a willingness to take an appointment, you’re severely restricting the playing field and most likely closing well under 5% of qualified leads. So something is awry. But by shifting your criteria, by seeking candidates who CAN buy, it’s possible to make appointments with buyers ABLE to buy.


Right now you’re spending a lot of resource for a very low return, with a substandard ratio between seeking, and connecting with, initial conversations to the actual closing of a sale:

200 cold calls = 10 conversations = 1 meeting (.5%) Lots of meetings = unknown closes

I have a colleague who charges $5,000 per “C” level appointment; it takes his team 1500 cold calls to get an appointment, and again, he has no concrete numbers on how many sales are actually closed. (Sales Development groups consider themselves finished when they book appointments, and have no attachment to whether or not the sale closes.)

I believe that the way you’re going about seeking appointments is costing you sales.

Ask yourself this: Would you rather sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities. When you start off with a goal to make an appointment, you’re

  • greatly narrowing your prospect field by those who seem to have a ‘need’ and ignoring those who are ‘able’ – those who should buy instead of those who will buy;
  • potentially setting up appointments before the buyers have assembled the full Buying Decision Team (often unknown at the beginning, and certainly not all obvious) and haven’t yet fully defined their needs or gotten consensus (i.e. no way of knowing if they’re really buyers, hence the huge gap between appointments and closes);
  • assuming that your bright shiny face and sterling personality is necessary to close a sale.

What makes ‘need’ the criteria anyway? What if your criteria were to discover those who CAN buy? By using your first interaction to facilitate a buyer’s ability to buy, by facilitating Buyer Readiness, you can find real buyers and get an appointment with all of the appropriate influencers and decision makers present on your first call.


Have you ever even asked yourself why you believe it’s necessary to make an appointment as part of your sales process? Here’s why: because in 1937, in How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie suggested sellers needed to make appointments. That’s right, 1937. In 1937, without the internet, computers, good phone lines or travel, sellers probably didn’t go too far from their homes to sell.

What else are you doing from 1937? There’s now a completely different set of global, technology, capability givens: buyers have all the data they need at their fingertips; sellers needn’t be physically present to actually demonstrate a solution; it’s easy to sit at a desk and communicate anywhere in the world.

You can actually facilitate a buying decision with prospects who will buy, once they’ve got their ducks in a row, in less time than it takes to make an appointment. Here are the problems sellers face when their goal is to make an appointment with those with a ‘need’, and why you’re closing such a paltry percentage:

  1. Meet prospects who won’t ever buy (99+ %): The only prospects who can offer an accurate description of needs have already assembled their complete Buying Decision Team, have completed their Pre-Sales (systems-based, not need-based) steps toward determining the range of best possible fixes for an agreed-upon problem, and understand the challenges they face when bringing in a new solution. Those not ready/able to buy may meet with you to gather data to present options to their teammates, learn about something interesting that they won’t ever buy, or compare against their current vendor, or or or.
  2. Need is not the right criteria: Just because it seems someone has a need doesn’t make them ready or able to buy. They might end up with their old vendor, or not fixing the problem now, or facing too much internal conflict to make a change. But 80% of these folks will buy within 2 years. You can teach them how to buy now in the time it takes to make an appointment.
  3. Double sale: By seeking an appointment, your first ‘sale’ is the appointment. In other words, you’re expunging real, potential buyers who might need your solution but didn’t want, or aren’t ready for, an appointment (but could easily be made ready).
  4. Wasting resource:  1. Who (Yes: who?) would use their valuable time to learn something they can learn online? 2. You can use the exact same syllables, and less time/resource/effort to focus on the buying side and offer a service within an interaction that creates a real reason to meet. 3. You’re throwing away numbers of potential buyers because they say ‘NO’ to an appointment.
  5. You’re one of many: You’re most likely not the only meeting they’re having, so you’re already in a (price) competition by the time you arrive. The odds are against you that you’re the only game in town.
  6. Person meeting you is an unknown: You have no idea who, or what, the person who takes the meeting represents in re Buyer Readiness, regardless of their title. Is he using your data to get buy-in from his team to push his own agenda? Will she use your data to send to their current vendor? If there are only 1 or 2 people at the meeting, these folks are merely conduits, regardless of what they tell you. Not only are the odds good that the ‘needs’ you’re gathering aren’t accurate, the content you’re pitching may not be the most relevant data for their buying situation. Again, do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? Admit it: you have no understanding of the real reason this person has agreed to an appointment.
  7. Buying Decision Team may not yet have defined the full scope of need: Has the full complement of Buying Decision Team members been assembled? Has everyone’s voice been considered and integrated, and the person you’re meeting with carry the full complement of problems/needs/change issues? If not, there is no defined, consensual ‘need’.
  8. Person may not deliver your message appropriately: You are dependent upon this person to represent you to the Buying Decision Team, at the right time, in the right way. Will he explain your content accurately, at the most advantageous time? What will she unwittingly omit? Will he use your data to compare with your competition? Just because you managed to wangle an appointment doesn’t mean you know how to deliver the message appropriately for that person’s situation, or that person will know how to appropriately share your great content. Hint: you can never, ever know what’s going on behind closed doors.
  9. Your message might not be heard: Without an accurate set of data culled from the fully assembled Buying Decision Team, you have no idea what this person is listening for in your meeting.
  10. Your message might be inadequate: Are you discussing your solution according to your need to sell or their ability to bring in a new solution? Are you positioning your message to help them get consensus for a purchase they may not be set up to buy?
  11. Information gathering/’understanding needs’ dubious: You have no idea what percentage of their Pre-Sales (change management) issues have been handled before the meeting, and cannot know their state of Buyer Readiness. The completeness of the Buying Decision Team, the state of change, and consensus, determine when/if a buyer buys; ‘need’ is irrelevant. When you’re only gathering data based on your assumptions/your need to sell, the data you gather will be flawed or incomplete. And your questions and listening will be biased by your own expectations and needs, missing important data. If you were doing a better job at this, your closing rates would be higher.
  12. Neglecting opportunity to facilitate those not ready but able: By merely seeking an appointment, you’re ignoring buyers with real needs who merely need to complete their Pre-Sales change management work. Buyers cannot buy if a purchase will cause disruption that costs more than fixing the original problem.

It’s possible to use your lists and phone time to first facilitate Buyer Readiness– on the first call – before asking for an appointment. Then, with your expert help, buyers assemble the appropriate Buying Decision Team, quickly determine necessary change/purchase issues, and know how to handle the fallout a purchase would entail. You can do this on the phone less time than it takes you to get an appointment.


Here’s a situation that happened to me years before Sales Development Consulting to find ‘sales qualified opportunities’ was a thing. It’s a funny example of how little we know when we make an appointment, and how costly our assumptions of ‘need’ can be.

When I lived in Taos, NM, I hired a sales professional in Albuquerque. While it was only 147 miles door to door, that trip was treacherous going up and down the Sangre de Christos Mountains in the winter and I hated the drive. One day my new hire Anna called to tell me she made an appointment for us to meet with senior folks in a local bank. Working with me she knew she wasn’t supposed to make appointments. “But they asked to see us!” she said, excitedly. “And they need sales training. They’re very excited to meet with you.” I bet her a lunch at my favorite Japanese restaurant in Albuquerque that she’d realize she shouldn’t have made an appointment, that I would do the best I could, but she’d surely owe me a lunch.

We entered a boardroom, with 2 seats for me and Anna on one side, and 3 men sitting on the other. According to their business cards, it was the Branch Manager, Assistant Branch Manager and the Training Director. At the start of the meeting, the men’s chairs were pretty much equidistant.

We shared a few pleasantries as I watched Miguel, the Training Director on the far left, move his seat, bit by bit, away from his colleagues. Within about 5 minutes, he was at least 2 feet away from his nearest seatmate. After the pleasantries, I asked:

SDM: How’s your current sales training working?

PAT: (Branch Manager): It’s fine.

SDM: Sooo how did you decide to see me today?

PAT: Well, Anna called and told me all about you (Again, something she is not supposed to do.) and I found it interesting. I thought it might be fun to just sit and talk about sales training.

SDM: So your sales training is merely fine, and you didn’t seek anyone out to find out how to make it better?

PAT: Well, it’s working well enough. [NOTE: Obviously, this wasn’t a buyer; he’s got nothing to buy.]

SDM: And what is it about sales training that you would hear from me that you’d find interesting? It’s sort of confusing me since you seem to be fine as you are.

PAT: (silence for about 3 very long minutes.) Oh, I don’t know, maybe we can talk about the sort of results banks might get from sales training?

SDM: Pat, I’m not sure why I’m here. Sounds like you’ve got training that’s working for you and you haven’t been seeking anything new. I’m confused. How ‘bout you call me if you decide you want to do something different and we can talk on the phone.

The visit lasted 10 minutes. Anna and I walked out, wordlessly got in the car, and she drove me to my Japanese restaurant. Cost: SDM – 6 hours of driving time. Anna – 3 hours of lost calling time to facilitate real buyers, plus $100 for lunch.

The next day, Pat called me.

PAT: I’d like to apologize for yesterday. That wasn’t fair to you. What you didn’t know was that Miguel, on the end, was the nephew of the owner of the bank. He designed all the sales training we’ve used for the last 10 years. It’s awful and our results are terrible. But politically, I couldn’t be the one to say we needed you. I hoped with you being there he’d be willing to discuss the problems and maybe seek a new solution. I kept giving him opportunities to say something. He never did.

A coda: I ran into Pat in Taos about 4 years later. Seemed they were still using the same sales training, getting the same bad results. Note: I could have spoken to Pat on the phone and avoided this meeting. They were never buyers, although they certainly had a ‘need’ I could fulfill.

I suggest you shift the focus to facilitate buying, and use appointments to sell once there is a real buying opportunity. The problem has never been in your solution, has it?


We can use our early moments on an initial call to immediately begin facilitating Buyer Readiness. Here’s a story I often share. Sorry if you’ve read this from me before now, but the example bears repeating. When I trained a group of small business bankers at a large bank, their initial cold calls sought an appointment:

Banker: Hi. I’m John Smith and a small business banker at W bank. I’m going to be in your neighborhood next week to introduce folks to our new solutions for small businesses. Would you have time for me to come by Tuesday or Thursday afternoon? I’d come by to show you resources that would help your business grow.

The bankers got 10% agreement to make an appointment, and closed 2 in 11 months. 2% close.

During my training with these folks, we designed a Facilitative Question (a skill in Buying Facilitation®) that helped the prospects determine how they could achieve excellence and solve a problem from the first question in our interaction:

Banker: Hi. I’m John Smith and a small business banker at W bank and this is a sales call. How are you currently adding new resources to use with the bank you’re currently using, for those times your bank can’t give you all that you need?

The bankers got 37% agreement to make an appointment. The question caused those with a need realize their current bank wouldn’t be able to give them large loans, and they actually requested the appointments with their whole Buying Decision Team present. The bankers closed 29 for a 29% close in 3 months.

By starting with facilitating excellence, we highlighted an area we knew to be a problem, took into account our understanding of the small business owner’s historic relationships with their bankers, and quickly taught prospects how to ‘think forward’ to develop a plan to add resources without threatening their long-standing relationships. And we immediately, on our first question, taught almost 4x the number of prospects HOW to buy from us, and found truly qualified prospects who invited us to an appointment – with everyone present. It saved us from seeking out only those prospects who didn’t have banking relationships and expanded the field.

By beginning your interactions seeking to make an appointment with prospects with a ‘need’, you’re short-changing your sales. Change your criteria. Begin your sales calls by seeking how you can facilitate excellence. Using the model I designed for this process (Buying Facilitation®) my clients have been able to close 30% more than the folks using the same list in the control group, in half the time with ¼ the resources, and without going through the call/conversation/meeting process. And it’s certainly possible to develop scripts and email campaigns to accomplish this.

Design your own facilitation system. Just shift your goals and expectations for what a successful appointment would need to look like (i.e. those who can buy, and who invite the full Buying Decision Team to meet you) and enter each call to facilitate buying. You’ll not only stop wasting time and resource, but you’ll close a helluva lot more sales. Teach your prospects how to know what they need and how to get consensus – and close quickly. And in addition, you’ll be a servant leader Make money and make nice.


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. She can be reached at

September 14th, 2020

Posted In: News

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conversation1 (1)Our brains make it difficult, if not impossible, to fully or accurately comprehend what our Communication Partners wish to convey. We hear their words, of course, but we often end up interpreting them well outside the intent of the Speaker. I spent 3 years researching and writing on this topic for a book, (What?) and came away in awe of the magnitude of this issue and how deeply our unconscious choices prejudice our conversations.


As a coach to coaches, sellers, and managers, I’m painfully aware of how sellers often listen only to ‘recognize a need’, or coaches listen for a problem they’ve had success resolving before, or managers listen for a difficulty they know how to regulate.

By listening for something specific, we end up taking away a myth as meaning. With mischaracterized and potentially inaccurate data (compounded over the length of the conversation), we then have no accurate data with which to base follow-on decisions, not to mention that everyone potentially walks away from the conversation with mistaken beliefs, feelings, and expectations. And then we blame the Other for any failure. Sadly, because our brains don’t tell us they have misunderstood or biased what was meant (we actually believe we’ve ‘heard’ accurately), we’re rarely aware that we have missed the meaning or the possibility, until it’s too late.


Here are some tips to create a discipline to help minimize any biases and assumptions that ambush your understanding of what others are saying:

  1. Prepare and De-stress. Before each conversation, clear your mind of any expectations or hopes, or feelings from past conversations. Otherwise your brain will unconsciously seek confirmation (Confirmation Bias) for that very thing while ignoring or misconstruing possibilities (minimizing your chances of success or creativity).
  2. Humility and humor. Unless you have written a script that everyone speaking has signed off on, you have no way of knowing what your Communication Partner will say, mean, need, or feel. I often hear people attempt to push their own agenda and don’t recognize what the Other has conveyed. Since there is no such thing as win/lose, this tends to create lose/lose, although the offended Communication Partner might not mention it during the conversation.
  3. Flexibility. All conversations demand flexibility to be present to the messages within the dialogue that actually occurs. The larger the bias or expectation going in, the harder it is to achieve, the greater the gap in understanding and expectation, and the greater the fallout from unrealized possibility.
  4. Trust. I know it’s hard to walk away without getting exactly what you want, or to hear things that don’t match your needs or expectations, but somewhere in the conversation there is a creative win for everyone. It may not look or act like your dream, but it will be something that everyone can accept. Besides, if you’re not trusting the dialogue actually occurring, you’re merely pushing your own agenda. And then you can’t even trust the outcome you’ve devised.

Unless both sides of a conversation fully understand what the Other intends to convey, there is no reality to work with and everyone risks unnecessary failure or limited possibility: it might have been possible to achieve success in a different way, or maintain a relationship over time for future possibilities. In almost every in-person coaching session I have had, my client has missed real possibilities (even of getting exactly what they want) in pursuit of hearing what they believe they should hear.

Here are some questions to think about as you consider adding some discipline to your listening skills:

  • How adept are you at entering conversations with no needs, no expectations, no biases?
  • How capable are you of showing up in a conversation with the ability to have a We Space – not two “I’s” which lead nowhere except self-serving exchanges, but a genuine melding of the people involved to find the win for all?
  • What do you need to believe differently to recognize that when you enter conversations with personal biases, assumptions, and triggers, that you will only succeed those times when the Other has the exact same biases, assumptions, and triggers – and all those who could truly benefit from your expertise and heart will not be able to hear you either (regardless of how well-meaning or accurate you are)?
  • How willing are you to learn to show up with an open mind, recognize when you have biases or expectations and quiet them before starting the exchange?
  • How can you react to something you’re not prepared for in a way that encourages collaborative dialogue?

You can continue doing what you’ve been doing, of course. But for those times you seek excellence in your conversations, a bit of preparation is in order.


Sharon Drew Morgen is the author most recently of What? Did you really say what I think I heard?, as well as self-learning tools and an on-line team learning program – designed to both assess listening impediments and encourage the appropriate skills to accurately hear what others convey.

Sharon Drew is also the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller ‘Selling with Integrity’ and 7 other books on how decisions get made, how change happens in systems, and how buyers buy. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® a facilitation tool for sellers, coaches, and managers to help Others determine their best decisions and enable excellence. Her award winning blog has 1500 articles that help sellers help buyers buy.
Sharon Drew can be reached at

September 8th, 2020

Posted In: Listening

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With untold millions of sales professionals in the world, sellers play a role in any economy. While our jobs are nominally to place solutions, we are uniquely positioned to make a difference: as the intermediary between clients and providers, we can make sales a spiritual practice and become true facilitators and Servant Leaders (and close more sales).


The current sales model is a time-waster, restricts success, and is horribly inefficient. We close 5% of our sales and waste 95% of our time (approximately 130 hours a month per seller); our product data is well-represented online so pitches based on product details may be irrelevant; we connect with only those who are ready to buy, and ignore the possibility of facilitating and serving people en route to becoming buyers.

Until people have tried, and failed, to fix their problem themselves, and then figured out how to manage any disruption that a new solution might cause their environment,  they aren’t buyers. It’s only when:

  • they know exactly how to manage and recognize any change that bringing in something new creates,
  • they’ve calculated that the cost of bringing in something new is lower than the cost of maintaining the status quo,

will they seek help through a purchase. Indeed, buying is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue.

People don’t want to buy anything, they merely seek excellence and will buy something only if that’s the only way to achieve it, and they are absolutely certain they cannot fit it themselves. And the sales model, using eyeballs, content, price, and needs assessments seeks to place solutions, ensuring that the only people they find are the low hanging fruit – those who have already gone through their process of determining they need an outside solution.

Because sales focuses on only the final steps of a buying decision, and overlooks the change process necessary to get to that point, it’s only possible to attract interest from those who have ended up there. Others who may need us eventually won’t even heed our messages, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. As a result, we end up closing 5% and wasting a helluva lot of time being ignored and rejected.

It’s not what we’re selling that’s the problem – our solutions are just fine. It’s the process of pushing solutions rather than first helping those who will become buyers facilitate their necessary change process that’s misplaced, mistimed, and misguided, leading to the win-lose quality of sales: sales becomes a product/solution push into a closed, resistive, private system, rather than an expansive, collaborative experience between seller and buyer wherein both attain a win-win.

And we end up seeking and closing only those ready to buy at the point of contact – unwittingly ignoring others who aren’t ready even though they may need our solutions, and just need to get their ducks in a row before they’re prepared to make a decision.

Imagine having a product-needs discussion about moving an iceberg and discussing only the tip. That’s sales; it doesn’t facilitate the entire range of hidden, unique change issues buyers must consider – having nothing to do with our solutions – before they could buy anything. Failure is built in.

But when we begin our conversation at the point where people are considering change in the area our product resolves, and lead them through their change management before selling, we are in a position to truly facilitate them through all of the issues they must resolve (even those that aren’t obvious), have all stakeholders in the loop from the start, and help them figure out how to address the disruption of bringing in a new solution. Then we are true servant leaders.


Seller’s restricted focus on placing solutions, the listening for needs rather than for ability to serve, all but insures that kindness, respect, and true facilitation are unwittingly overlooked as we focus on selling instead of facilitating buying. A major factor is our one-sided communication:

  1. Prospecting/cold calling – driven by sellers to gather needs/information and offer solution details (all biased by the need to place solutions). It ignores the full unique fact pattern of the buyer’s environment and change issues and enlists only buyers seeking THAT solution at THAT time at THAT period of readiness, omitting those who could buy if ready or knew how to include the solution congruently into their current plans.
  2. Content marketing – driven by the seller to push the ‘right’ data into the ‘right’ hands at the ‘right’ time according to their biased interpretations of ‘right’, but really only a push into the unknown and a hope for action. Wholly seller-centric.
  3. Deals, cold-call pushes, negotiation, objection-handling, closing techniques, getting to ‘the’ decision maker, price-reductions – all assuming buyers would buy if they understood their need/the solution/their problem, all overlooking the real connection and service capability of addressing the person’s most pressing change issues. Wholly seller-centric.
  4. Real communication involves each communication partner, in this case a buyer and a seller, being equally served; sellers can facilitate buyers through their private change management issues first as they travel towards a purchase (rather than try to extract a purchase from those who have gotten to the point of buying), thereby facilitating Buyer Readiness, AND developing a win/win connection, AND closing more sales. Win-win.

I’ve been a seller, trainer, consultant, and sales coach since the 1970s, been a buyer as founder of a tech start up 1983-1988, and have personally worked with dozens of global corporations and untold thousands of sellers. I see sales as a near-predatory job: sellers spend their time seeking and following, pitching and positioning, networking and calling to find those few set up to buy something, and ignoring a large population of potential buyers who merely aren’t ready, but could be with true facilitation.

The model is fraught with guesswork and hope, manipulation and persuasion, white lies and exaggerations – not to mention highly ineffective when the time spent vs sales closed ratio is examined. Not only are we wasting time pushing/chasing folks we’ve deemed prospects (A real prospect is one who WILL buy, not someone who SHOULD buy; the current sales model doesn’t know the difference.), but the global nature of staffing patterns and decision makers in our client’s environments causes closing to take 30% longer. And the very nature of the web makes most pitches and presentations moot. In fact, buyers often know more than sellers.

Sales unwittingly ignores the real problem: it’s in the buying, not the selling. The sales model’s focus on placing solutions keeps us from using our positions as knowledge experts and Leaders to facilitate buyers down their own path to excellence.

Truth is, as outsiders we can never know all the elements that have created and maintained their status quo, or what needs to happen internally for them to be ready to make a purchase. We might ‘know’ how our solution would make a difference, but we can never know how they will buy. And here is where we can truly serve.


Indeed, the job of ‘sales’ as merely a solution-placement vehicle is short-sighted.

  1. Buyers can find our products online. They don’t need us chasing them.
  2. Our solution isn’t the problem – it’s the buyer’s behind-the-scenes timing and change management process that gums up the works.
  3. 80% of prospects will buy our solutions (but not necessarily from us) within two years of our connection.
  4. The lion’s share of the buying decision (9 out of the 13 step decision path) involves buyers traversing internal change with no thoughts of buying anything until there’s consensus.

But we can truly serve clients AND close more sales, by adding a Change Facilitation capability that expands our entry points into the buy cycle, makes the buying decision process much more efficient and makes sales a spiritual practice (that closes dramatically more sales in a fraction of the time). Here’s my definition of ‘spiritual’:

  • the whole is greater than the parts;
  • we’re all here to serve each other;
  • everyone has their own unique excellence;
  • no one has an answer for someone else.

Different from sales, which

  • purpose to be win/win but often is ‘win-lose’,
  • believes the parts might be greater than the whole,
  • causes buyers to feel pushed with content and contacts,
  • considers their solution the ‘right’ answer,
  • only addresses the tail end of a larger (and unknowable to outsiders) system of rules, internal politics, relationships, and status quo.

To elaborate:

Aspiring to a win-win

Win-win means both sides get what they need in equal measure. Sellers believe that placing product or resolving a problem offers an automatic win-win but that’s not wholly accurate.

Buying isn’t as simple as choosing a solution; buyers first must resolve the entire system that created and maintains their problem (problems never occur uniquely). The very last thing they want is to buy anything, regardless of their apparent need. As outsiders we can’t know the tangles of people and policies that hold their problem/need in place. The time it takes them to design a congruent solution that includes buy-in and change management is the length of their sales cycle. Buyers need to do this anyway; it’s the length of the sales cycle. They will do this with us or without us, so it might as well be with us.

If we enter first as Change Facilitators and help buyers efficiently traverse their internal struggles (that we can never be a part of per se), we can help them get to the ‘need/purchase’ decision more quickly and be part of the solution – win-win.

We’re wasting a valuable opportunity to share this process with them by only wanting to sell – and then wait and hope, while competitively chasing after those who show up after they’ve completed their internal work without us.

If we enter earlier, work with them as Change Facilitators (with wholly different skills and goals) to help them facilitate their change, we can spend our time capturing and serving more real prospects, and spend less time seeking out the low hanging fruit. We can use our time more profitably to develop real buyers and simultaneously serve them, rather than fighting to find those who are ready. Let’s shift gears and enter earlier with a different hat on.

Believe it or not it becomes a very efficient process and great time saver: no more chasing those who will never close; no more turning off those who will eventually seek our solution; no more gathering incomplete data from one person with partial answers. We can enable those who can/should buy to buy in half the time and sell more product – and very quickly know the difference between them and those who can never buy. Win-win. [All the change issues buyers must address are in my book Dirty Little Secrets].

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

There are several pieces to the puzzle here.

  • The buyer and the system the buyer lives in, including people, policies, job titles, egos, relationships, politics, layers of management, rules, etc. that no one on the outside will ever understand and are focused on excellence, not on buying anything. It’s never as simple as just changing out the problem for a new product; their focus is to have the best situation possible and will buy a solution only when they’re certain they can’t fix their own problem.
  • Resolving the problem needs full internal buy-in from the system before being willing to change (i.e. buy) regardless of the efficacy of the fix. A purchase is not necessarily their best solution even if it looks like a fit to a seller.
  • The ability of the buyer to manage the disruption that a new purchase would incur on the system, people, and policies. A fix, or purchase, might be worse than the problem.
  • The seller and the seller’s product may/may not fit in the buyer’s environment due to idiosyncratic, political, or rules-based issues, regardless of the need.
  • The purchase and implementation and follow up that includes buy-in from all who will experience a potentially disruptive change if a new solution enters and shifts their job routines.
  • The sum of these parts is the whole; seller and buyer can work together to facilitate systemic change first. Surprisingly, this is a very quick process, uncovering real prospects almost immediately. Win-win for all.

We are all here to serve each other

Sellers understand enough about the systems in our areas of expertise to help buyers traverse their change route that could lead to a sale. With an entry point of systems excellence rather than solution placement, buyers immediately recognize the benefits from a collaboration with the seller and are happy to invite sellers onto their decision team and not seek other competitors. Win-win. The Facilitative Question I developed for Wachovia’s Small Business Banker’s cold calls helped prospects immediately realize a problem they had to resolve rather than say ‘No’ to an appointment request:

“How are you currently adding banking resources to the bank you’re currently using for those times you seek additional support?”

With no disrespect, no push, no information gathering or asking for an appointment, this Facilitative Question above (as one of several asked in a specific sequence, using specific words) merely pointed to the problem they might have to resolve over time. [Note: I invented Facilitative Questions to lead brains through to change, rather than conventional questions that elicit biased data.] The results were astounding: against 100 prospecting calls and a control group: 10% appointments vs 27%; 2 closes in 11 months vs 19 closes in 3 months; we facilitated discovery immediately and served: we actually helped folks figure out their own configuration for change. And we only visited those who could close.

One more note: people are happy to buy in a short time frame once they know, and figure out how to manage, the full set of change issues they’ll have to deal with (Fire a team? Retrain users? Get rid of software they’ve used for years?). As I’ve said above, they must do this before they can buy. And we’re not helping them. But we could. And truly serve them in the process.

There is no right answer

Sellers often believe that buyers are idiots for not making speedy decisions, or for not buying an ‘obvious’ solution. But sales offers no skills or motive to enter earlier where buyers are not at the point of even knowing if – let alone what – they might buy. We must expand the definition of a buying decision as the route down the 13-step path from the status quo through to congruent change. Includes the people, policies, relationships, and history – the systems issues that insure Systems Congruence – that maintain the status quo and must be addressed before they consider buying anything.

Once buyers figure out their congruent route to change, they won’t have objections, will close themselves, and there’s no competition: buyers are the ones with the ‘right answer’; sellers facilitate change management first and then sell once everything is in place. No call backs and follow up and ignored calls. Win-win.

No one has anyone else’s answer

By adding decision facilitation, everyone focuses on uncovering the right questions. Collaborative decisions get made that will serve everyone.

Let’s change the focus: instead relegating sales to a product/solution placement endeavor, let’s add the job of facilitation to first find people en route to becoming buyers, then lead them through to their own type of ‘excellence’ through their internal change process first, and then using the sales model when they’ve become buyers. Then buyers make better, quicker, more congruent decisions – with more/quicker sales, less tire-kickers, better differentiation, and no competition, and sales close in half the time.


As a seller and an entrepreneur (I founded a tech company in London, Hamburg, and Stuttgart in 1983), I realized that sales ignored the buying decision problem and developed Buying Facilitation® to add to sales as a generic change management to be used as a Pre-Sales tool.

Buyers get to their answers eventually; the time this takes is the length of the sales cycle, and selling doesn’t cause buying. Once I developed this model for my sellers to use, we made their process far more efficient with an 8x increase in sales – a number consistently reproduced against control groups with my global training clients over the following decades.

With Buying Facilitation® we can add a new capability and level of expertise and be a part of the decision process from the first call. Make money and make nice.

We no longer need to lose prospects because they’re not ready, or cognizant of their need. We can become intermediaries between our clients and our companies; use our positions to efficiently help buyers manage their internal change congruently, without manipulation; use our time to serve those who WILL buy – and know this on the first contact – and stop wasting time on those who will never buy. Let’s stop merely trying to place our solutions, and use our knowledge and care to serve our buyers and our companies in a win-win. Let’s make sales a spiritual practice.


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. She can be reached at    

August 31st, 2020

Posted In: Communication, Listening, Sales

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Things are changing these days. Of course we’re always in flux, but during this pandemic we’re also in confusion. People either aren’t working, aren’t working in their normal business location, are having difficulty accomplishing normal tasks, or getting shuffled in reorgs; companies are reexamining their status quo and making shifts not considered just months ago. Norms and rules that worked are now suspect.

As we figure out what change means to us, I think there’s a central question businesses need to answer: How will we compete when our industry has new rules, new players, new outcomes and possibly new marketing and sales efforts to respond to, when we don’t know what will stick, what will arise, who our competitors are? Little, it seems, is as it was, and there’s literally no way of knowing what will be. Old standards don’t apply. Now what?


Because there’s so much confusion, because the norms are shifting, there doesn’t seem to be a clear way forward. I have an idea on how to use this time of uncertainty to differentiate yourself.

If you’re like most companies or vendors, differentiating yourself is one of your longstanding challenges. Although your offering is obviously unique, you most likely show up as more similar to your competitors than you’d like: the language, words, phrases, you use to describe your solution and market yourself might be considered industry standard; your website might use fonts, themes, phrases and syntax similar to others in your industry. You might use a more tactical approach that unwittingly sounds like everyone else, making it more difficult to differentiate. After all, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it’s hard to explain that you’re really a goose.

I suggest you use this time to differentiate yourself as a Servant Leader-focused vendor practicing win-win and integrity. In other words, as Authentic. Showing up as genuine, reliable, and trustworthy, with care, concern, and respect, would be a good place to start to become the new you, and certainly a great way to differentiate.


Here’s a case study where the company told me exactly who they were by their disrespectful actions – certainly in contrast to what they say on their site or in their marketing materials. Remember that companies, like people, are always telling you exactly who they are by their actions. And this company told me they had no integrity. They certainly don’t care about customers.

In the past week I spent upwards of 45 hours being abused by the absolutely dreadful Best Buy’s Geek Squad that I pay to provide me with tech support. Phones didn’t pick up; kept on hold for hours and then told by voice message to ‘call back at a later time’; 39 hours worth of holding, waiting, holding; 14 reps, 7 wrong transfers; hang ups. One time, after I’d been on hold for 45 minutes after 22 hours of frustration trying to get a simple problem fixed, the man who answered asked how I was doing and I burst out crying. And he hung up on me.

For 2 days I begged, yelled, screamed, waited, waited, waited, listening to that blasted audio telling me how much their customers matter to them, all the while unable to work because of the infuriating problem that remained unfixed.

Finally, at 5:36 in the morning, after waiting 13 hours after trying trying trying 26 previous hours, (to fix what turned out to be a four minute fix), the tech wrote in the little box that he’d tried to call (not true) but when no one answered (I was on the computer with phone next to me!) he was hanging up (even though he had all the details and passcodes!); I immediately tried talking/writing to him on the little screen but was ignored. Tears. Big tears of frustration. I called back one more time before throwing my computer into the river (I live on a floating home). A young tech answered, saw the problem and immediately fixed it. Four minutes.

I decided to complain, that just maybe someone cared like the audio messages told me they did when I was on hold. I placed many calls to the GM at my Best Buy store where I pay for service. She, Caitlin O’Something, refused to return the calls, but finally, finally, the next day I got a return call from the Tech Manager. Here was the conversation:

Man: I hear you have a complaint?

SD: I’m a client. I tried for 2 days – 45 hours – to get you folks to solve a 4 minute problem. I was treated very disrespectfully. Hung up on, kept on hold for hours and hours and hours. Lied to. Transferred over and over to the wrong people. Let waiting for service for 13 hours. Finally my initial problem was resolved but there are side problems still occurring. I want to speak with the GM.

Man: I’m a tech supervisor and work under her. I can try to see if I can get someone to help.

SD: Why don’t you start off with “I’m sorry.”

Man: Sure. Now let me see if I can get someone to help. I’ll try.

SD: Wait, what? No ‘sorry’?

Man: I understand your frustration.

SD: You do? You understand my frustration? How could you? I find that disrespectful. I bet you’ve never waited for 45 hours to get help from a service provider you paid for. Or been hung up on after waiting a full day? Or kept on hold for dozens of hours? Or been redirected over and over again. I’ve heard your hold recording and know it by heart by now. It tells me you care about me and care about my problems. It tells me my feedback is important to you. That you want to serve me. Right? So serve me. Telling me ‘you can TRY to SEE’ if you can help is not helping. You’re a senior manager, not an hourly worker. You’re representing the GM. Take ownership of the problem. You need to step up and take responsibility. Isn’t that your job? Stop telling me you understand what you cannot possibly understand, say “I’m sorry that happened, Ms Morgen. That shouldn’t have happened to a loyal client. I am a tech manager and will make sure you get the help you deserve. I will own the problem and make sure it gets fixed.”

Man: I’m sorry you feel that way.

And then he hung up on me.

That’s not customer service. That’s not integrity, or Servant Leadership. That’s just plain abuse.


The world is sort of shifting now, in favor of kindness, trust, integrity and authenticity. You can indeed make money by making nice. Here are some questions to ask yourself to see if you’re ready to leave the tactical behind and be willing to differentiate yourself with your care:

  • What do you need to believe differently to be willing to truly serve your customers? What does that mean to you? What internal ‘rules’ and ‘norms’ need to be considered? What behaviors could you offer that would exhibit that level of care? What’s the difference between those rules in place now and what you’d need to change? Maybe having real people available for customers to speak with? Or enough folks for support to avoid anything longer than 10 minute wait times? Or human being to call customers within an hour?
  • Do you know how your current rules and norms actually affect your customers? I’m sure Best Buy didn’t understand what their sweet promises during hold time actually meant. They don’t care about customers. Does your company? How do you show your customers you really care?
  • Are you willing to differentiate yourself by being the best service provider in your industry? To offer such good service that no one would ever think of going to anyone else, that your brand would be equivalent to CARE, or GREAT SERVICE? Most customers would be HAPPY to pay for great service, certainly preferring you over the competition.

In these days, having a good product, a good solution, isn’t enough. What are you willing to do to show up authentically? By showing up as a trustworthy vendor, by having integrity and a great service mentality, by truly seeking to facilitate Excellence with them, you can not only differentiate yourself, but make a lot of money by being nice.


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. She can be reached at

August 24th, 2020

Posted In: News

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