By Sharon Drew Morgen

What Makes A Decision Irrational?

After spending 30 years deconstructing the inner processes of how people decide, and training a decision facilitation model I developed, I’m always amused when I hear anyone deem a decision ‘irrational’.

Only outsiders wishing for, or assuming, a different outcome designate a decision as ‘irrational’. I doubt if the decision maker says to herself, “Gee! I think I’ll make an irrational decision!” I could understand her thinking it irrational after reaping surprising consequences. But not at the moment it’s being made.

We all make the best decisions we can at the moment we make them. It’s only when someone else compares the decision against their own subjective filters and standard, or using some academic/’accepted’ standard as ‘right’, or judging the decision against a conclusion they would have preferred, that they deem it ‘irrational’. I always ask, “Irrational according to who’s standards?” Outsiders don’t have the same data set, criteria and beliefs, or life experiences the decision maker uses to evaluate.

Indeed, there is no such thing as a decision maker making an irrational decision. The decision maker carefully – partially unconsciously – weighs an unknowable set of highly subjective factors including 1. Personal beliefs, values, historic criteria, assumptions, experience, future goals; 2. Possible future outcomes in relation to how they experience their current situation.

There is no way an outsider can understand what’s going on within the idiosyncratic world of the decision maker, regardless of academic or ‘rational’ standards, the needs of people judging, the outcome as viewed by others.

CASE STUDY OF AN ‘IRRATIONAL DECISION’

I recently made an agreement with a colleague to send me a draft of his article about me before he published it. Next thing I knew, the article was published. How did he decide to go against our agreement? Here was our ensuing dialogue:

BP: I didn’t think it was a big deal. It was only a brief article.

SDM: It was a big enough deal for me to ask to read it first. How did you decide to go against our agreement?

BP: You’re a writer! I didn’t have the time you were going to take to go through your editing process!

SDM: How do you know that’s why I wanted to read it first?

BP: Because you most likely would not like my writing style and want to change it. I just didn’t have time for that.

SDM: So you didn’t know why I wanted to read it and assumed I wanted to edit it?

BP: Oh. Right. So why did you want to read it?

SDM: My material is sometimes difficult to put into words, and it has taken me decades to learn to say it in ways readers will understand. I would have just sent you some new wording choices where I thought clarity was needed, and discussed it with you.

BP: Oh. I could have done that.

While a simple example, it’s the same in any type of personal decision: each decision maker uses her own subjective reasoning regardless of baseline, academic, or conventional Truths.

In our situation, my partner wove an internal tale of subjective assumptions that led him to a decision that might have jeopardized our relationship. I thought it was irrational, but ‘irrational’ only against my subjective criteria as an outsider with my own specific assumptions and needs.

And, although I’m calling this a personal decision process, anyone involved in group decision making does the same: enter with personal, unique criteria that supersede the available academic or scientific information the group uses. This is why we end up with resistance or sabotage during implementations.

STOP JUDGING DECISIONS BASED ON OUR OWN NEEDS

What if we stopped assuming that our business partners, our spouses, our prospects were acting irrationally. What if we assume each decision is rational, and got curious: what has to be true for that decision to have been made? If we assume that the person was doing the best they could given their subjective criteria and not being irrational, we could:

  1. ask what criteria the person was using and discuss it against our own;
  2. communicate in a way that enabled win-win results;
  3. ensure all collaborators work with the same set of baseline assumptions and remove as much subjectivity as possible before a decision gets made.

Of course, we would have to switch our listening skills. We’d need to become aware of an in congruence we notice and be willing to communicate with the ‘irrational’ decision maker. My new book What? explains why/how we hear others with biased ears, only understanding some percentage of their intent. Because if we merely judge others according to our unique listening filters, many important, creative, and collaborative decisions might sound irrational.

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

August 16th, 2021

Posted In: News

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

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

SALES NO LONGER NEEDED FOR BUYERS TO BUY

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

Those standards no longer apply.

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

The sales model as we’ve known it has gone the way of the USPO – largely irrelevant; buyers now have a more extensive buying decision path that defies our standard practices, guaranteeing much is out of a seller’s control.

And yet we continue using the same prism to sell through, the same techniques we used in earlier times, even though our closing rates, now less than 5% for face-to-face and 0.0059% of tech-based sales, consistently decline. Our decades-long focus of placing solutions merely finds the low hanging fruit.

Here are some sales techniques we use that are problematic to the buying experience:

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

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

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

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

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

People issues. User issues. Tech issues. Human issues. Culture issues. All unique. As outsiders we can never understand the totality of what’s going on. And yet until all internal factors are managed to assure the least disruption, they are not even buyers.

It’s only when they are out of options AND get buy in AND manage potential fallout, do they become buyers. Making our solutions the focus relegates us to being noticed by those at the end of their change process – order takers – and robs us of our ability to enter at a stage that helps them become buyers.

Indeed, buying is the last thing people and groups do, and only then when there is agreement that an outside fix is their only option and have figured out how to manage fallout from bringing in something new in a way that avoids disruption.

You can’t buy a house without family agreement, regardless of how wonderful the house or how big the need. You can’t bring in a new CRM system unless the users are on board and are willing to use it, unless the tech folks know how to incorporate it into what they’re already using, until they’ve tried to fix what they’ve got, until a user training is developed and scheduled. It’s not about the house. It’s not about the CRM system. It’s about the change process.

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

The sales industry has finally figured out that success has at least as much to do with ‘buying’ as it does selling. But it continues to use the prism of placing solutions even here: it has not gone so far as using new skill sets that help buyers manage the change.

SALES HAS A VERY LIMITED SCOPE

For goodness sakes, it’s time to stop focusing first on placing solutions. Why not help those who WILL buy be ready! And believe it or not, once we take off our ‘selling’ blinders and use a prism of facilitating the steps to change, it’s quite easy to use a different skill set to recognize people who WILL buy on the first call.

For this we enter with a different type of question  (Facilitative Question) and a different goal: to recognize those who seek change in the area we can support them in, and facilitate them through their Pre-Sales change management activities they must complete before they become buyers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The time it takes for everyone who will touch the new solution and processes that come from it is the length of the sales cycle. Buying Facilitation® starts at the beginning and leads folks through each step, with sales taking over once they’re ready – and already buyers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A WHOLLY DIFFERENT SKILL SET

I have written extensively, and trained large numbers of global sellers, around this issue. In Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell I introduce a buying-based model (Buying Facilitation®) that explains the 13 steps all people and groups take (even for small individual purchases) on route to becoming buyers. Since the first 9 of them have nothing to do with buying anything but with managing change, it involves a different set of skills – facilitating the right people through their change to buy sooner.

No longer do we begin trying to ‘understand’ buyers, or make appointments, push our solutions, we first find folks who will become buyers and lead them efficiently through their change, and then – only then – offer solution details.

We can’t know anything about the person we’re speaking to, and if they haven’t yet gone through their entire change management process they certainly can’t answer questions about ‘need’.

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

To shift the focus from selling to facilitating change and the buying decision process, Buying Facilitation® employs different skills:

  • since our normal questions are biased by our needs, I developed Facilitative Questions to help Others figure out their own change process;
  • Presumptive Summaries that help them recognize what they’re missing in their thinking;
  • Listening for Systems as a way to truly hear what’s being said outside of our own biases;
  • and the 13 steps of change, to lead them through each of the steps they must, must address en route to change.

The entire process is laid out in Dirty Little Secrets.

It’s not a sales process, but works as the front end of selling to help people recognize the elements in their own process that precedes seeking an external solution and teaches them how to become buyers. Because we seek out folks who CAN change rather than seek those who SHOULD buy, we enter their buying decision path and lead them through each step of change – helping them help themselves.

It’s a Servant Leader model that facilitates change, not a sales model that influences solution placement. It’s a very different mindset. I often ask: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They’re two different activities. And sales ignores one of them.

THE COST OF NO CHANGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy?

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

The Real Buyer’s Journey

Recognize Buyers on the First Call

Influencing Congruent Change

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

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

August 9th, 2021

Posted In: News

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Is your team communicating effectively? Are you all on the same page and reach goals without resistance? Are there subgroups that (unwittingly) restrict the outcomes? Are all voices included during brainstorming to assure the full fact pattern and set of possibilities emerges? How are communication breakdowns handled?

I thought of these questions during a recent client chat and remembered a situation I had with Los Alamos Labs in New Mexico some years back. While the tale is a bit outdated, it will serve as a starting point for my belief that teams aren’t doing enough to make sure their communication and collaboration is as effective as it should be.

The cost of failed team communication is higher than you’d like to admit and happening more often these days with new-forming teams, remote relationships, and distance meetings. And it’s not a difficult problem to fix with a few new skills.

Here’s my Los Alamos Labs case study that might provide a few thoughts. I’ll follow it with ideas and suggestions.

LOS ALAMOS LABS

Case study

In the 1990s, Los Alamos Labs had a mailroom [Yes! We used snail mail in those days!] that sorted and delivered incoming mail – contracts, client letters, invoices, etc. It took them 6 days (6 days!) to distribute it; leadership wanted it done in one.

After months of failing to shorten the time line, leadership decided to contract out the work and fire the 26-person mailroom team. Before they took that drastic step, they brought me in to see if I could solve the problem with a team-building training program.

Speaking only to the client who hired me (Big mistake, it turned out) I created a nifty program. I arrived at the client site an hour early to observe the team in action before delivering the training. But immediately I noticed much larger problems than merely team issues.

To begin with, the racial disparity was glaring: as the company was in New Mexico (a largely Hispanic population), there were 24 Hispanic people and two Anglos; it was quite obvious they didn’t speak to each other. The two Anglos stayed to themselves, never connecting in any way with the other 24 in the hour I watched them.

Next, there were cliques that operated in sort of a ballet, connecting, speaking, moving within their small groups with none of them going outside their cliques for questions, discussions, or sharing. So either their jobs were unique to each person, or there was massive inefficiency.

Didn’t seem like my team building program was an answer. I promptly threw away the program, went into the assigned training room down the hall, and put two facing chairs in the middle of the room with the rest of the chairs in a circle facing the two middle ones.

When the group came in, I told them I noticed some communication issues that I found disturbing, so before we did the real ‘training’ I wanted any personal issues resolved.

I invited whoever was having a personal issue – a grudge, an annoyance, a distrust – to sit in one of the middle chairs and invite their colleague to sit in the other and discuss the problem. I sat on the floor between the two chairs as the interpreter.

Nothing happened for 15 minutes. Silence. Then I stood up and announced I’d sit there all day if need be, but maybe the manager should begin. Surely he was annoyed with someone!

Roberto reluctantly came and sat on one of the chairs and said that instead of sharing his annoyances, he invited anyone annoyed with him to sit across from him and share their feelings.

After a few minutes, a young Hispanic woman came and sat down.

Theresa: I thought so hard about the delivery problems we were having and came up with what I thought was a great idea. But you gave me five minutes and basically didn’t listen. I’ll never bring in any new ideas again. And now we might all get fired because nothing has changed. I tried.

Roberto: I was annoyed too because I thought you were complaining about…

I stopped him so I could translate what she was actually saying:

SD: I heard Theresa say she’s having trust issues because she spent time and care presenting ways to try to resolve the problem and felt you ignored her. As the manager your job is not only to make sure your folks trust you but acquire as many ideas from your team as possible. Try a different response.

Roberto: OK! Um. Theresa: I’m so sorry I didn’t hear you as you deserved to be heard. And I’m sad I’ve not heard all your other ideas. I’m sure they were all good and certainly worth discussing. I sometimes am focused on other issues going on and don’t listen properly. What can I do to regain your trust? And can we set a time later this week to discuss any ideas you have that might help the group be more efficient?

After Theresa came one of the two Anglo people saying he felt the group had a racial bias against him. (Note: racial bias in New Mexico was a long-term cultural issue that affected everyone. I lived in Taos for 11 years and bear the scars.) Again, Roberto started off defending himself, but with my intervention opened up a race-based dialogue that continued most of the day. In fact, by the time everyone was finished on the chairs discussing angers, annoyances and biases, it was 11:30 at night.

To their credit, there was great authenticity, honesty, and quite a few tears and hugs. Ideas were shared, brainstormed, listened to by all. When there were misunderstandings people were asked to clarify. Ideas seemed to have wings, flying around the room. Everyone was listening attentively and respectfully. We even had a few laughs (A few in-jokes of course, but mostly I was the ‘butt’ of the jokes for sitting so long on the floor. No idea why I didn’t sit on a chair for god’s sakes!).

On Day Two, I led the newly-formed collaboratory through ideas and plans for better communication, more productivity, sharing, and task efficiency. Within days after our time together they brought the 6-day delivery time down to one day and kept their jobs. Problem solved.

One more thing: the team took those 2 chairs and put them outside their manager’s office. Every time there was a confusion or disagreement, the people involved went to the chairs: “Let’s discuss this. Meet you at the chairs at 2:00.” The next year they sent me a photo of all of them next to the chairs. On one of the chairs sat a Malcolm Baldrige Excellence Award. They were holding a banner that said, “THANK YOU SHARON-DREW!”

Ahhhhh. I love my job. Although next time I used that strategy I did sit on a chair. 😊

Take Aways

I’d like to think that the skills involved with the final excellence were ones any team could adopt.

  1. Willingness to be honest and authentic regardless of the ‘politically correct’ rules of social conversation.
  2. Willingness to be vulnerable, admit wrong-doing and apologize.
  3. Willingness to be honest about racial issues and hold Truth above feelings or fears.
  4. Willingness to look at the problem and recognize what was working, what responsibilities they had to take to make it right, and willingness to fix it.
  5. The necessity of the whole team being present as witness and judge, through discomfort and exhaustion. There was no place to hide – everyone knew the truth, and it had to be spoken for the greater good, separate from roles or personalities.
  6. Patience to sit for 14:30 hours to resolve all the issues.

The role I played as translator was also vital. It took the sting out of any blame and played a role in a meta understanding, away from unconscious human/racial biases or personal traits. Because I didn’t know any of these folks, I was not tangled in any past relationship, role, or status issues. I suspect that another outsider, from another department maybe, could have done the job. But bringing in a consultant isn’t a bad idea when an impartial eye/ear is needed.

SELF-CORRECTING TEAMS

This team was so comfortable with their long-standing cultural norms that it hadn’t realized their communication problems that led to ineffective work habits.

How many companies face the same problem? How many groups just keep on keepin’ on in ignorance or denial, making excuses and playing the blame-game with their resultant failures? How many groups only collect data from a chosen few and omit the entire population that would yield imaginative ideas that conventional leadership seems to ignore?

The cost of doing nothing is high:

  1. A minimization of good ideas. Client-facing employees are often omitted from company change and problem-solving because they’re not ‘on the leadership team.’ Yet they have great ideas that leadership can’t think of. Use these folks. You hired them each for a reason. Put their ideas into action. Your employees are your competitive edge.
  2. A minimization of collaboration and job effectiveness. With cliques, lack of diversity, teams bound by job descriptions and hierarchies, there’s no opportunity to pollinate new ideas, try new actions, make new norms. And without these, the company dies from its core.
  3. A continuation and exacerbation of problems. Accepted communication practices get factored in to the culture and become built in forever, taking failure along for the ride and causing fall-out to become normative. A well-known global software company I worked with saw no problem with treating staff and clients from a win/lose position. “I need to have control and make people do what I want. I was told to do this on my first day here.” It was endemic. Brought in to get the leadership team to work from integrity, I mentioned that Win/Win was the goal. They were confused when I said Win/Lose equaled Lose/Lose, which cost them trust and creativity and ultimately business. “But what do I need Win/Win for? I’m the one in control. They have to do what I say regardless”.
  4. A colossal time waste. I recently went through a review of my state taxes due to a glitch in the system from 1994. There were 6 departments involved, and none of them spoke to the others. If I didn’t call the other 5 when something occurred, I got caught up in the lag between departments, dates, paperwork. By the time we were done we all hated each other. They asked what the rush was, that it usually took 6 months not 6 weeks (I bet!) and I just didn’t understand their system. Nope. I did not. Talk to each other! Make sure there are systems set up so everyone has the same data at the same time. In 2021 that’s simple, no?
  5. Unnecessary resistance:Without everyone’s buy-in, without everyone who touches the proposed solution having a say in the outcome, there will be resistance that costs unknown time, money, personal fallout. With proper communication up front, everyone is on board and has a stake in the success of the project. There is absolutely no need for resistance. If you’re getting resistance, you’re doing it wrong.
  6. Dimished results. Until or unless
    • the full set of facts are known and gathered from the full spectrum of resources,
    • the full complement of possible ideas are tried,
    • the downsides are factored in before completion,

a project will not be successful. Nothing else to say.

THE TOOLS YOU NEED

Here are the necessary skill sets for effective team communication:

Unbiased Listening. This sounds much easier to do than it is. Let me start by saying that nothing has meaning – no words, no dialogues, no sounds – until our brains translate it. Like the earth has no color – color is a function of the rods and cones in our eyes translating incoming vibrations – words have no meaning until the incoming sound vibrations get translated within our neural circuitry (I wrote a book on this: What? Did you really say what I think I heard?).

In other words, we only understand what someone says according to the existing circuits in our brains. Listening is a neural/brain thing: none of us can hear others without bias.

For those who are curious, sound enters our ears as vibrations without meaning (i.e. not words!). They become signals that seek out ‘close enough’ circuits already existing in our brains from some prior experience and get translated accordingly.

In other words, everything we hear gets translated by our subjective experience. Sad but true. And we think we listen attentively, but can only hear/understand what our brains listen for. Obviously this is where misunderstanding and miscommunication come from. People DO listen. They just hear what their brains interpret for them.

The easiest way to fix this problem is to say during a conversation:

I want to make sure I understood what you said. I will say what I think I heard, and ask that you please correct me so I can get it right.

This way you can take away an accurate understanding without guesswork, even if you initially thought what you heard was accurate.

Gather data from every person or you’ll not have the full fact pattern. Too often we gather data from the folks we consider ‘obvious’. not necessarily the full set of stakeholders who are part of the problem and hold some very necessary data.

So many customer service initiatives are developed without the input of the customer facing folks and omit addressing real customer needs. How many times are HR folks omitted because, well, why use HR (except that the initiative will transfer, fire, reorganize people)? Think of everyone who will be touched by the final solution and bring them in at the start.

Ask the right questions. This one is a head scratcher because conventional questions are meant to gather data, – and in most cases, the data being requested is biased by the needs, language choices, and goals of the Asker and gather very restricted data points from the Receiver.

To manage this problem, I’ve invented a new form of question (took me 10 years!) I call a Facilitative Question. Different from a conventional question that seeks answers for the Asker, FQs lead Others into their brains to discover a much, much broader set of possibilities beyond the biases of the Asker. It takes a while to learn to formulate as specific words in specific sequences are used so the brain peruses its unconscious. But once you learn how it changes the arc of all conversations.

Do a congruence check. Are all team members contributing? If not, there’s a reason. Are they feeling unheard, that their ideas aren’t ‘big’ enough? Do they feel powerless? Do they feel any gender, race, or ability bias?

All voices are necessary. Bring them in or you risk restricting all that’s possible, not to mention setting up the initiative for failure and resistance.

Only hold meetings if ALL members are present! Do not hold a meeting if someone is ill or can’t make it. It biases the outcome, causes resistance, and leaves out important ideas.

IS YOUR COMMUNICATION WORKING?

I have some questions for teams to consider:

  • Is your team is functioning optimally? What would suboptimal communication look/sound/act like?
  • Do you have any vehicle in place to take a meta stance and discover problems without biases or defense?
  • What do you have in place to ensure you’re not operating with any racial, gender, or ability prejudice? It’s inherent and unconscious. How do you test it?
  • Do you regularly get resistance – either from your own team or during client initiatives? What are you willing to do to develop strategies that enable group buy-in from the full set of stakeholders (i.e. including ‘Joe in accounting’)?
  • If you regularly notice dysfunction, during an initiative or with less-than-steller results, what are you doing about it?

I believe this is a problem that needs focus, especially with so much change occurring in our organizations now. Make it a priority. Your productivity, creativity, stability and integrity depend on it.

____________________________________

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

June 21st, 2021

Posted In: News

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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.

WHAT IS OUR JOB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONTROL

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

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

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

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

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

STRUCTURE VS CONTENT; CONTEXT VS COMPONENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STARTING UP A COMPANY AS A LEADER/FOLLOWER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRUST

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

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

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

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

THE HOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a thought leader, original thinker, consultant, trainer, and speaker. Sharon Drew trains leadership teams and sales forces. She is the author of 9 books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew’s award winning blog www.sharondrewmorgen.com carries original articles on topics such as sales, leadership, decision making, questions, collaboration, and values.

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

June 14th, 2021

Posted In: News

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

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

THE STORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS A CUSTOMER?

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

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

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

THE CUSTOMER VS THE COMPANY

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

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

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

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

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

THE TRUTH BEHIND CUSTOMER SERVICE METRICS

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

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

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

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

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

REAL METRICS

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

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

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

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

How much staff turnover are you experiencing?

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

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

How many customers are leaving? Do you know why?

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

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

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

CUSTOMER LOYALTY AND RETENTION

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

Here are my thoughts for improving loyalty and retention:

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

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

______________________

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

May 31st, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A BUYING DECISION IS A CHANGE MANAGEMENT PROBLEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

CASE STUDIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DAD STORY

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

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

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

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

B: Hi. Um, it’s ok.

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

B: Dad.

SD: Dad? I don’t understand.

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

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

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

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

B: Good idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and then selling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

May 24th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________

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

May 10th, 2021

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

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

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

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

INSANITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALES USES INCOMPLETE THINKING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A BUYING DECISION IS A CHANGE MANAGEMENT FUNCTION

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

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

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

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

Walk with me now through the history of buying decisions.

LET’S LOOK AT BUYING

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

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

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

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

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

DO YOU WANT TO SELL? OR HAVE SOMEONE BUY?

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few bullets to think about:

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

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

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

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

________________________

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

April 26th, 2021

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

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

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

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

“Are you going on vacation?” I asked?

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

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

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

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

WHAT ARE OUR JOBS?

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

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

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

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

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

OUR JOBS ARE TO SERVE

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

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

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

__________________________

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

April 23rd, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUR EMPLOYEES ARE OUR FIRST CUSTOMERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO IS YOUR CLIENT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________

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

April 19th, 2021

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