For years I’ve written about how sales suffer because the sales model, designed to seek buyers and place solutions by information sharing and gathering, ignores the vast opportunity to close more sales by adding the function of facilitating Buyer Readiness (i.e. systemic change). The absence of this capability restricts sales to searching for those ready to buy, and causes objections en route:
You’re getting objections not because of your terrific solution, your professionalism, your lists, your competition, the buyer’s need, or your price (It’s never ever about price.). Nor because buyers are liars (David Sandler once told me he never meant the take-away that that expression has evolved into.), stupid, or connivers.
You’re getting objections because you’re using content push and various methods of information sharing as your main vehicle to selling, before buyers are ready or able to buy, before they know why, or when, or if to hear your message. As a result, you’re getting objections because you end up merely seeking those who SHOULD buy, ignoring the vastly larger group who CAN buy but haven’t yet gotten ready (and who won’t object once they get their ducks in a row).
You’re getting objections because you’re reducing your entry points, and along the way, annoying those who don’t (yet) know how to respond to what feels like an invasion.
Sales is designed to
and as a result you’re getting objections. With a function limited to using solution-based information as the route to placing solutions and searching for those who SHOULD buy – and getting objections from those who don’t find relevance in your offering, or may feel insulted or made ‘stupid’ – sales overlooks the possibility of facilitating the far larger group who CAN buy. It’s only when they’re certain they can’t fix the problem themselves AND get buy-in, do buyers consider going ‘external’ for a solution. And objections are merely a reaction to feeling pushed by your content and goal to place a solution.
WHY YOU GET OBJECTIONS
I define ‘buyer’ as a person/group who has discovered they can’t fix a problem internally, traversed their change management issues, and has gotten agreement to seek an external solution. The very last thing buyers need is your solution – literally.
So here, in no particular order, is a list of reasons why you get objections, and why/how the limited solutions-push focus of the sales model merely handles a small fraction of a Buying Decision Path instead of actually enabling buying. And fyi: by adding the functionality to help potential buyers traverse their systemic change management issues first, you’ll never get objections.
You’re actually causing your own objections. You get no resistance when facilitating prospects through their own steps to congruent change first, get them ready to change, and continue on to placing your terrific solution content with those specific prospects who CAN buy. (Read my article on the Buyer’s Journey that lays out the entire Pre-Sales buying decision process.) But you’ll need to take a different – additional – path through a different lens. You’ll need to understand the change management issues within your industry. And no, you cannot use your current sales skill to accomplish this.
FOCUS ON FACILITATING BUYER READINESS FIRST
Here is the deal. Until now, you’ve waited while buyers do this change stuff: they must do this anyway (with you or without you). So you can continue pushing your content and getting objections, or you can add a new function to your outreach to connect with the right ones sooner: enter their decision path, get onto their Buying Decision Team, and facilitate the ones who CAN buy through to buying. Just recognize the sales model doesn’t do the facilitation portion as it’s solution-placement based.
I designed a new methodology to facilitate the front end of the decision path (Buying Facilitation®). It’s a change facilitation model that works with sales to help buyers congruently and
Buying Facilitation® is a generic change facilitation skill set, with no content focus, no bias, and is systemic in nature. It involves facilitating change (vs pushing content) with a new form of question (Facilitative Question) that enable systems to recognize their own criteria and manage change congruently; a new form of listening that involves Listening for Systems; and Presumptive Summaries to enable people to move outside of their subjective experience and view the entire situation as an Observer/Coach. I’ve trained it to about 100,000 sales folks globally, in several industries and product price points, and generally get a close rate of 5x the control group.
Right now, you’re closing 5% and wasting a lot of resource to find them. You’re hiring too many people to close too few; ignoring real prospects on route to making an appointment – and then going to appointments with a fraction of the appropriate people present, to push content they don’t know how to listen to, and fighting with competitors for the same restricted group of buyers – when if you could enter differently, with a willingness to add a new skill set, you could find/close more buyers.
There are a lot more REAL buyers suffering from lengthy Buying Decision Path confusions as they fumble through change. They really could use your help. Read Dirty Little Secrets; why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and learn about the systems involved in buying (or any change), and add this to your sales initiatives. You’ll have more clients, shorter sales cycles, meaningful relationships built on trust, and no objections.
Sharon Drew Morgen is a Change Facilitator, working with sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, buy-in, implementations, and consultants. She has trained sales and management teams in global corporations for 35 years. She is the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon best sellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew is also a coach, speaker, and consultant. She can be reached at email@example.com
Sharon Drew Morgen November 12th, 2018
Posted In: Communication
I started up a tech company in London in 1983. I never meant to. And I certainly didn’t know what I was doing.
I was brought across the pond by a tech company as a sales director. But after a few days and a few conversations with my husband Ben (brought over by the same company to do contract tech work), I realized there was a far greater opportunity than just selling services for the first Fourth Generation Language (4GL) Database Management software FOCUS we supported: programming support, of course. But what about users? Since it was a user-focused tool, and users weren’t techies, I envisioned two problems: they might not have the knowledge to cull, organize and manage their data; they might not have the skills to communicate effectively with the techies they had to collaborate with. (As a non-techie married to a techie, I was well aware of the communication challenges of different types of brains.) What if we could be a decision support group that provided a broad range of services for users?
I somehow convinced my new manager to let me ‘go’ with my ideas. But truth be told, I didn’t know what I was talking about. That wasn’t a problem: because I think in systems, I had a high-level understanding of the problems but none of the details. In other words, I understood the structure but not the content (and it’s always easy to find the right content once you’ve got the structure). Never occurred to me I wouldn’t succeed.
None of us were smart enough to know what we didn’t know, although they must have known something: I became their most successful group, bringing in 142% of the gross profit of their 5 companies. Me? I ended up an entrepreneur, starting a tech group (which became its own company) in two countries (UK, Germany), with no experience; making a whole bunch of money for me and my investors; serving a large, diverse client base; traveling extensively around Europe; having full expression of my creativity; and living in London. But it didn’t start that way.
As I share my experiences, I’d like you to consider that this was the early 1980s: there was no internet, no Google, no email, and no websites with phone numbers and names. It was necessary, in general, to call Information to get a phone number, and they needed the address before they gave you the number. True story. Computers weren’t even used for much – think Commodore, with floppys; Macs weren’t even introduced until 1984; Google not until 1996. So in the pre-internet,pre-information age, selling and marketing were decidedly different than today. And yet I found a way, in a country strange to me, in an industry I knew nothing about, selling a product I didn’t understand, to be quite successful. Just a bit of old-timee caring, trust, and integrity. Let me begin.
WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW
I’d never been an entrepreneur. With only 5 years as a successful salesperson (and 12 years prior as a social worker and journalist), I had no idea what ‘business’ meant. In fact, I didn’t know:
I was ignorant. But I did understand people, systems, structure, hard work, risk-taking, communication, and integrity. And I knew who, what, and why to trust. I was on my way.
I began in a tiny, tiny office (Obviously once a closet, it was so narrow I had to move the chair so the door would open; the ‘desk’ was a plank of wood attached to the wall.) in a group office space. I sat, that first day, and stared at a British phone not even knowing how to dial out or get Information. I had to hire people, obviously. But for what? And how did I find them? I had to get revenue, but from who? This was in 1983 before the ‘tech’ boom. No one knew what was going on; I had no one to even ask these questions to.
Should I start selling first to bring in revenue? or hire support staff? Should I hire techies to go into client environments – for when I made a sale? But how could I hire anyone before I knew what prospective clients needed? What criteria should I use to hire techies – since the 4GL was for users, techies needed both tech skills and people skills, no? What percentage of each was necessary? How would I know what to pay them?
It was a conundrum. I couldn’t pay anyone until I was getting revenue; I couldn’t get revenue until I got clients; I couldn’t get clients until I had people to do their work. Where to begin? I could design a path forward once I figured out the elements. And as I later realized, starting with no expectations, no biases, no knowledge, and no comparators, was a blessing. I was given a clear road on which to travel, using any means of transport I could develop within a miasma of confusion, to get wherever I wanted to go. Best fun ever.
EMPLOYEES RUNNING THE COMPANY
I took on all the tasks concurrently: afternoons interviewing techies and hiring staff, mornings on sales calls. I decided to be my own salesperson so I could learn the components of the underlying system and understand the full range of givens going forward. I needed to know where I was at so I could get where I was going. (Did you ever try to get directions when you didn’t know the address where you were?)
I solved the ‘which comes first’ problem by initially hiring contract techies (who I later made permanent). This also solved my cash flow issue so I needn’t lay out money until I landed a client. But who was a good hire? I had Ben design a tech test I could score myself using an overlay with answers; I personally added some client service questions to understand their people skills. Between this test and the interview, I knew exactly the pluses and minuses of each person.
To hire staff, I had to determine the job scope and potential outcome that each hire would offer, certainly hard to do when I had no way of knowing what jobs were necessary; it was a year before we realized we needed a training group, for example. So I made a lot of (mostly good but not always) guesses. Before our interviews, I told prospective hires to determine how much they wanted to earn (I trusted people knew how much they were worth; I sure didn’t.) bring a P&L (Someone said I needed that. No idea what it was.) to the interview with a plan to illustrate how they could earn their salary, cover their costs, and make a profit. The ones who came in with creative ideas were hired. I didn’t know until years later what a crazy idea this was. But not that crazy, turned out.
Since I didn’t know the difference between a cost center and a profit center, I hadn’t realized ‘obvious’ things, like you can’t make Reception a profit center. But I didn’t know I couldn’t, so I did. A bit more about that in a moment. Suffice it to say, by making each person their own profit center, everybody ran their own companies and became wholly committed to being successful because that’s how they got paid. Plus they were having such fun creating. Sounds silly now, but it worked: I hired people who wanted to be creative, take responsibility, and work from the same parameters of ‘excellence’ that I wanted the company to exemplify:
So now I knew how to hire staff and techies when I needed them. But that was the tip of the iceberg.
SELLING AN UNKNOWN
Because I had a successful history of taking on challenges without knowing anything, I didn’t think twice about selling something I didn’t understand. And truly, although I had very general knowledge, I knew nothing of the specifics – what I was selling, who used it, the need for it, or the buying environment for it. I didn’t even know how to get phone numbers or company names (1983, remember? No Google, no information ‘online’. Think about it.). Reception gave me a phone book to look up American companies that I knew had offices in London and who possibly might be using FOCUS. But it was all a guess; I was flying blind. My first call was to the Receptionist at American Express:
SDM: Hi. I wonder if you could help me. This is a sales call, and I have a product that will help the folks using a new Fourth Generation Language get better reports. But I’m new in London, and new in the business, and haven’t a clue what groups are using this or who to ask for. Do you have any ideas for me?
REC: Interesting. I’ll give you the names of a few group heads and you can call and see if they fit. If these don’t work, call me back and I’ll keep digging. My name is Ann.
First on her list was Jim. No idea what he did or his title; I just had a name and extension number.
SDM: Hi Jim. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen. Ann gave me your name and suggested you were a good person to speak with but neither of us was sure. This is a sales call. I’m selling support services for the Fourth Generation Language FOCUS, and I wonder if you’re using the language or need any help. Is this a good time?
JIM: How refreshing! Thanks for telling me it’s a sales call. Can you tell me more about what you offer (No idea.) because we are using FOCUS but because it’s so new I don’t know what I don’t know (Hahahaha. That made two of us).
SDM: (I was in trouble here. My only option was to keep putting the focus on him.): I have an idea. Rather than me tell you what I can do for you, tell me exactly how you’re currently using the software, what your target goal is and if you’re reaching it, where you’re not, and I’ll put it all together in my head (with Ben’s help!) and see if there is anything I can do to support you, then get back to you if I can. I do have a curiosity: what’s stopping you from knowing more than you do about using the software to its fullest capability? (This was curious to me. As a systems thinker, I always want to know the parameters of any problem. What was going on that Jim didn’t know them?)
JIM: Wow. I should know more, right? Let me tell you how I’m using it (and so began my learning!) and we can schedule another call once you’ve had time to think. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to give you the names and phone numbers of my colleagues so we can all be on the same page here. I also havea friend at DEC with the same problems I’m having, so I’ll give you his number as well. I suspect you can help us all.
And so began my journey to success. Helping people figure out how to take care of their own needs first, and then helping where I could add something, was so much easier than pitching what I thought would be meaningful, especially since I had no earthly idea how to discuss a product I didn’t yet have.
GROWING THE COMPANY WITH PEOPLE
I soon began selling contract services for systems engineers, programmers, project leaders, and managers. When visiting them in the field at their new jobs, I began to understand the ‘need’ not only for technical support but as I had originally guessed, for ‘communication management’ within their teams and with the users who had no clue how to manage or direct techies. I quickly realized that merely putting techies into client teams wouldn’t keep the core communication issues, inherent in this first report tool, at bay.
I needed to hire someone with tech skills, communication skills, and people skills. A tall order that few could do. But unless someone could take that on, I could foresee plenty of innate problems that could crop up and cause fires and lost time and business.
Thankfully, I found John to hire as a ‘Make Nice Guy’. John had it all; I paid him a fortune (around $100,000, which in 1984 was a huge salary – just about broke the bank) and gave him this job description:
I never wanted my phone to ring with problems; I had a company to grow. John’s job was to run all operations. And he was so good at everything that our projects almost always got done ahead of schedule and under budget, causing clients to keep us around for far longer than the initial contract as their trust grew. And because we were so reliable, clients began giving us whole projects to do on our own, freeing up their own people for more creative work. We were in Bose, British Airways, Amdahl, DEC, for years, causing me to hire more and more tech staff. We grew to about 43 techies in under 4 years. And there was very little ‘beach’ time.
I had very high criteria around keeping staff happy; without them, I didn’t have a business. Since so many folks were in the field and I couldn’t see them regularly, I called each and every techie at least once a month to check in, discuss birthdays and holidays, share gossip. I offered current staff a new job opening before seeking anyone from outside to fill it. I let them trial the job for 3 weeks, and if they wanted it and we all agreed, it was theirs. And because I thought it important that those in the field didn’t feel isolated, once a month I treated the whole team of techies and staff to a darts night with a few pints at a local pub. I always lost. I still can’t play darts.
As we grew, my growing group of employees were coming up with their own ideas, certainly better than mine. One of the running jokes became the ability to get me to say “WE’RE DOING WHAT?????” When I said those words, someone would gleefully shout out, “SHE SAID IT! SHE SAID IT!” It was never little stuff either. They sure took risks.
SDM: Hey Harold. Nice seeing you. I’ve not seen you for days. Where’ve you been?
HAROLD: We needed to expand our training programs so I was scouting out new venues. I’m just getting ready to sign a contract to rent about 1000 feet of space in an adjoining office.
SDM: WE’RE DOING WHAT????”
Damn if he didn’t rock out. He’d put together user training, tech training, and even a manager training that he somehow got me to teach (I’M TEACHING WHAT????). Harold figured that since I did such a good job managing techies with no technical experience myself, I could teach user managers how to work with techies. He was right. And it was a very popular program. Who knew!? All I had to do was do what I was told.
The other prominent wish I heard from the managers was an admonishment: “Please, please don’t sell anything we don’t have today please!” Yeah, right. As a salesperson, I always can think of things I can sell someone when I hear what I think is a need. And once I knew how flexible our services were, I could promise something could be delivered. Immediately.
STAFF PERSON SEEING MY FACE AS I RETURNED TO MY OFFICE: She’s done it again!!
SDM: [as the team hustled into my office, arms crossed, scowling, knowing]: I couldn’t help it. Sorry guys. It’s not a big deal. We only need to do X. Won’t be bad.
STAFF: And when did you promise we’d deliver this?
STAFF: BUT IT’S WEDNESDAY!!!!! We’ll need to work all weekend!!!! My wife will kill me!!!!
SDM: I’ll run the Xerox machine, keep you in Pizza and Coke, edit while you’re writing. I’ll buy the beer! I’ll help you!
And so we stayed up to the minute in our offerings and program designs and had a steady flow of new solutions. What a blast we had, albeit a missed birthday or two. Sorry kids.
One more fun thing. The technical training guy wanted to be able to see into the work the students were doing at their desks and correct their errors from his front computer. He needed a computer with a large screen, capable of connecting to, and viewing, multiple computers at once. You might shrug at this now, but in 1985, no one had ever heard of such a thing. Julian made a bazillion calls and actually found a man in Amsterdam to come over, raise our training room floor to organize all the cables, and built Julian the computer he wanted. Done and done.
THE PROFIT CENTER RECEPTION AREA
I promised you this story. And it’s quite wonderful. Shows what can happen when you really trust your staff.
I hired a woman named Anne-Marie as the receptionist. She had run a car dealership and was accustomed to dealing with aggressive men, without an ounce of need for any social relationships.
Anne-Marie’s pitch to me during our interview for the job of Receptionist was that she wanted a percentage of our net profits (and this was in 1984!); for this, she would create an environment run like a well-oiled machine, with everyone intent on taking care of customers with nothing getting in the way. I didn’t know what that meant; I just trusted her.
She was imposing in every way: very tall – about 6 feet – and wore very tidy, officious, crisp suits. She wore bright red, severe lipstick; she walked with lowered eyes, with a sort of strut; her brown hair was tied up in some 1920s hairstyle that increased our perception that she knew what she was doing. And I can’t say often enough that she was terrifying. It was like having a dictator around all the time, watching, watching. We did whatever she said. Seriously. No one, no one, messed with her. We didn’t even want to find out what the ‘or else’ was.
Anne-Marie figured out what needed to be done within a month on the job. As the person in the front, Anne-Marie overheard staff gossiping about each other, obviously taking time away from their work and her profit; she noticed phones being unanswered, which didn’t serve customers; she overheard people saying they ‘didn’t know’ something, which didn’t serve customers either. She wasn’t having it.
She put us to work. EVERY DAY Anne-Marie made us write up what was going on with our clients, problems with our job and caseload, our conflicts with each other. We had to leave these pages on her desk before we left at night, and she would come in early and distribute them by 7:00 A.M. She wanted everyone to have all the knowledge necessary to serve clients and each other, every day.
She called these things TOADS. Take what you want and destroy…. I don’t remember what the blasted acronym was, but trust me, I still have nightmares. Those bloody TOADS. We hated them. EVERY DAY we all had to stay an extra hour at night to write the damn things – and remember, there were no computers and many of the staff couldn’t type on the typewriters, so mostly we wrote them by hand. Pages. They went on for pages. And in addition to staying late EVERY NIGHT to write the dratted things, we had to come in early every day to read the ten or twelve sets of TOADS that Anne-Marie left on our desks from our teammates. One of the things I did when designing our new offices was to install glass walls so we could all see each other (Open plan offices weren’t a Thing yet.). We would glumly look up from our writing at 6:30 or so at night, see each other sitting there writing, give each other grim smiles, chuckle, and put our heads back down to write. We suffered together.
What happened was astonishing. All internal conflicts stopped, since everyone knew, and aired their grievances. Office communication became more intimate. Staff knew each other’s challenges and shared resources and ideas, creating a collaborative environment filled with new possibility. We all got a much deeper appreciation of our clients and their challenges. And any time a phone rang, whoever was closest picked it up.
Oh Hi, Mr. Jones. I’m SO sorry that happened to Martin! How’s he doing! Jane isn’t here now, but is there something I can help you with? I know our folks are just finishing up your project. Is there a problem?
We fixed problems immediately. We all had all the information we needed to see a problem coming and fix it before it happened. Clients trusted us even more and gave us more business. She’d accomplished her goal: customers were happy, and we all made money. Between Anne-Marie taking care of the inside, and John taking care of the field, I had absolutely nothing to do but grow my company.
HAPPY CUSTOMERS, SAD COMPETITION
But in truth, my clients grew my company for me. I did whatever it took to keep them satisfied. And this became my brand. One month in 1986 or so, I decided to place a full-page ad in The Financial Times of London. Very expensive. But I wanted to be on record as a company with a commitment to serve. Instead of writing copy, I left the page blank except for these words written right in the middle of the empty page:
The Quality Is Free
and at the bottom of the page, in small print, my company contact details. One day after submitting the copy, I got a surprise visit from the Times Editor. He brought with him a page of copy that he’d written for me (He assumed I wasn’t smart enough to write my own copy?).
EDITOR: You can’t have just an empty page. But don’t worry. I wrote you some content.
SDM: Naw. I’m good, thanks. Want some tea?
An hour after he left, I got a call from the big big boss in the States who suggested I take the Editor’s offer for content (The Editor went around me to call the big boss? Awwww what a silly woman! Obviously she needs a man! With brains! Awwww.).
SDM: I got a better idea
Geoff: Why not fly over, take my job, and you can do anything you want. No? You don’t want that? So what else would you like to discuss. How the hell are you?
In those days, Brand Marketing wasn’t a thing. I certainly had no idea what it was. I just wanted potential customers to know what we stood for and elevate my brand in the larger market. One thing I quickly learned: let the people who knew what they were doing ‘go’ and learn whatever I could from them. My wonderful team, my lovely customers, taught me everything. They certainly all had their own answers so long as I helped them figure out how to figure it out. In fact, this process of helping others figure out their own answers was the foundation of my Buying Facilitation®model that I’ve taught to 100,000 sales folks globally since 1987. How naïve I was as a salesperson before that to ever think I had an answer for prospects.
Ultimately, our customers were so happy the following resulted:
I can send you someone with those exact specifications in seven weeks, or I you must have someone sooner, I can send someone with the X skill set but not the Y skills, and you’d need to get that part covered yourself.
I never ever lied or hyped and my track record was perfect. Clients trusted us. I even had situations where our team got to a new client site to begin a project and the client was on vacation (“Dave where are you???” “Sharon Drew, your folks are so good they’ll figure it out. Talk in two weeks when I’m back.”). I once got a call from someone who said, “What, no resume? You’re going to tell me who I need, and you think you’re going to get it right?” Yup.
My revenue doubled every year. I lost no staff in four years even though they were approached regularly from my competitors and offered higher salaries. I was as successful in Germany as I was in England. And I learned a lot: how to run a company; how to choose staff – and let them do their thing and get out of their way; to trust that clients had their own best answers; to trust my ignorance to find the most integrous route to a solution.
My years in London gave me the ability to exercise my own creativity, serve a bunch of people, and get paid for it (difficult for a woman to achieve in America still). And I never had so much fun in my life. One more personal note: while in London I also started up a non-profit (The Dystonia Society) that served kids with my son’s disease. I set up local support groups around the United Kingdom and Europe and raised money for mobility implements. By day I was an entrepreneur, by night I ran a non-profit, and on weekends Ben and I traveled around Europe (and simultaneously brought in a bunch of new clients) and hiked in the Lake District.
After I left my company in 1988, I was contracted by the vendor of FOCUS to get the business back that I had taken from him. True story. In England, that was called ‘Getting money for old rope.’
And after I left my company, it went downhill. During my years there, the big boss regularly tried to get me to lower my prices so I’d be ‘competitive’. “But I’m not IN a price competition, I’m in a quality competition.” Didn’t stop him from haranguing me: “You’d get a lot more business if your prices were reasonable.” He was thinking mainstream, but I wasn’t running a mainstream company. Different rules. When I left, he not only put up blinds on the glass walls so no one could see each other, stopped the ‘time wasting’ TOADS and dart games, and fired John Make Nice Guy because of his ‘exorbitant’ salary, AND he lowered our prices.
Guess what happened. You got it. In a short time, the company actually became mainstream like the others: From having our own 11% market share to sharing the market equally among the 27 competitors – each company getting their 4%. Lesson: when the magic sauce has a recipe, don’t change it.
I then moved back to the States to a ranch in Taos, N.M. After sleeping for a year (Seriously.) and traveling a bit, I wrote my first book (Sales on the Line) published in 1992 followed by 8 more (one, on the NYTimes Business Bestseller’s list called Selling with Integrity, one on the Amazon bestseller’s list called What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), and developed my Change Facilitation model Buying Facilitation® that I’ve trained globally to sales folks, coaches, and leaders ever since. And while many of my coined terms have become part of mainstream sales thinking (buy cycle, buying patterns, buyer’s journey, helping buyers buy, buying decisions – coined to define the change management steps necessary before people become buyers) I’ve done it all my own unique way, never trying to be, or compete against, the mainstream.
I hope that my story offered some ideas to budding entrepreneurs. And I do realize the environment is different in 2018 than it was 35 years ago. But maybe parts of it are not that different.
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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, and author of 9 books, including the New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets – why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? She is the developer of Change Facilitation, used in sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, and management – any influencing situation in which integrity, ethics, and collaboration are involved. Sharon Drew is a speaker, trainer, consultant, and coach for sales and listening. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org; her award-winning blog has thoughtful articles on change, systems, decision making, and communication. www.sharondrewmorgen.com
Sharon Drew Morgen November 5th, 2018
Today was a typical day. I arrived at my office early in the morning and began by checking email: colleagues, fans, strangers writing from around the world, each with their own agendas, each email exchange demanding a different type of communication. I then went to LinkedIn and connected with new colleagues from several countries, answered questions from followers, and added ideas to a group discussion. Twitter is always strictly relegated to 10 minutes. Then I had several Skype meetings: with a business partner from Paris and her colleague in Brussels to consider developing a healthcare app; brainstorming with my tech in India; coaching a team of banking reps studying Buying Facilitation® with me, and a strategy call with a new client to discuss a leadership implementation we’re developing; a brainstorming call with another author of listening books in India to discuss ideas for a collaborative article we’re writing. Finally, I spoke with a friend, now in London visiting her dying grandmother. I spent the rest of the day writing an article, using Google for references.
I suspect your worlds are digitally similar and equally challenging: our global interactions include people with ideas, cultural norms and assumptions, perceptions, religious beliefs, and languages different from our own. The internet has expanded our world. And therein lies the problem.
WHY IS OUR COMMUNICATION PROBLEMATIC?
We all take our communication skills seriously. But in this digital world of instant connection with people around the globe, our communication skills haven’t kept up: we speak from our normalized biases, assumptions, and patterns; we listen with our habituated, biased listening filters; we use terms and regional communication styles and (very idiosyncratic) subjective criteria and reference points.
Sometimes we hear others accurately, sometimes we don’t but think we do. Sometimes we unwittingly use terms that annoy, or are annoyed by a Communication Partner’s (CPs) terms. I remember once when living in the UK, being insulted when someone from London said my house was ‘homely’. Only later did I learn that ‘homely’ in the UK means what ‘homey’ means in the US, while ‘homely’ in the States means ugly. What was meant as a compliment almost ended our dialogue.
Using our established communication skills, we may not know when or how to modify our languaging accordingly, or hear precisely what’s intended and face the possibility of communicating ineffectively with people outside our experience and culture.
It’s time to add new skills for global communication: without knowing when what we’re doing isn’t working – listening with a cultural or subjective bias that causes an ineffective response, asking what might seem to be pushy, or manipulative, or invasive questions, responding according to our own agendas – we can only have a restricted set of communication choice points available, causing us to respond or connect inappropriately. We need soft skills training.
Soft skills always seem to be put on the back burner. When I wrote my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? I got calls from several HR Directors who wanted to bring in my unbiased listening skills training (just one day!), but couldn’t get the buy-in to actually hire me. Why? Because they said, everyone thinks they know how to listen. But of course, that’s not true. We certainly know how to hear spoken words, but there is no way we can correctly interpret them when what we hear is outside our normal references.
WE CANNOT KNOW HOW ANOTHER’S REALITY DIFFERS
Finely honed throughout our lifetimes, we all live in a reality of our own making, seeing, hearing, and feeling the world uniquely, according to our own idiosyncratic, and very unconscious, filters – obviously some degrees removed from veracity. Programmed to do this, our brains are pattern recognition devices, unconsciously on the lookout for anything (differences, disparities) that may challenge our baseline beliefs and status quo.
Sadly, we don’t question our experience. Our brains don’t tell us the level of interpretation or modification they’ve automatically chosen for us, nor do they tell us when we might be missing something important, expecting something that was never promised, or fabricating something never agreed to. And yes, we occasionally, unwittingly, hurt others.
Yet we continue doing what we’ve always done, believing our constructed reality to be True, believing that our skills are fine, regardless of the consequences. Why? By adhering to our subjective reality, we get to maintain our core beliefs and cultural norms so we can wake up every day and ‘be’ who we are. Our inadequacies, prejudices, mistakes, and viewpoints are built in and habituated daily. And we’re comfortable. So long as we stay in our own worlds.
Obviously, this restricted, biased reality has consequences in our global worlds. What happens when we encounter people or situations that are sufficiently different from us and our miscommunication causes us to inadvertently take a wrong action? What happens when we actually hear something inaccurately and act on what we think we heard rather than what was said? [My book explains and fixes this: What? Did you really say what I think I heard?] What happens when we perceive incoming harm, and it’s merely our unconscious biases overreacting? What happens when we misinterpret someone’s intent and miss an opportunity for joy? What happens when we consider ourselves successful, or content, or ‘right’, and blame another for any confusion? What happens when we unwittingly harm another?
What do we lose when we react inappropriately to something we mistakenly deem reality? What happens when our livelihoods are dependent upon making accurate decisions and having truly collaborative conversations with folks outside our normal sphere of influence, and our questions, or listening, or comments, or assumptions, go against the norms of our CPs? It’s all unconscious; we may never know if something untoward is occurring until it’s too late.
It’s time for soft skills training to be a Thing. Our communication status quo is just not good enough in our global worlds. It’s time to get training to
GUESSES AND HABITS
Often we can’t tell if what we take away from a partner communication is accurate when it seems to be fine. Unfortunately, our brains don’t tell us they’re hearing, feeling, or seeing something uniquely: it seems normal to us. Even those few instances when we notice something seems a bit ‘off’, we’re merely comparing what’s in front of us against what we have historically held to be ‘true’ and have no idea what is causing the irritation or our part in it, too often blaming the other for the problem. And even when we try to understand there’s a good chance we can do no better than confirm, misinterpret, or disprove according to our own biases, using our own ‘givens’ as comparators of ‘right’. We are actually projecting our status quo and guessing meaning per our past predictions. It’s real if we believe it to be real.
Indeed, there is no intrinsic meaning in anything, outside the meaning we give it, making a problem difficult to fix even when we suspect something is wrong: the same unconscious, habituated neural pathways that caused the problem is restricted when it needs to do something outside of its scope.
By bringing soft skills training to all of our professions, sales folks can accurately connect with prospects and customers in other countries, coaches can work with clients worldwide and effectively enable self-driven change, leaders can run groups and implementations with folks from different countries. Here are the programs I believe necessary.
CAN I HELP?
I believe my learning facilitation model is perfect for today’s need for enhanced soft skills. I’ve spent my life – since I was 11 – coding the steps and skills for unconscious choice and change to enable influencers (leaders, sellers, doctors, parents, coaches) to facilitate others through to their own, idiosyncratic, systemic, congruent decisions to change; I can use this Change Facilitation approach to help people prepare to learn learn, buy, change, themselves from their own core, largely unconscious, criteria. Instead of outside/in, it’s inside/out.
Used in global corporations since 1987 (first course with KLM titled Helping Buyers Buy) I developed this approach when I realized that people cannot respond accurately to the type of shared, or experienced, information offered in current training modalities (regardless of value or efficacy) due to their own habituated filters, biases, assumptions, cultural norms, etc.
As a result, learning occurs in only people who can hear, understand, and accept that approach, that idea, that representation. So: offered information is automatically biased by a listener’s filters; conventional questions merely represent the biases of the Asker and restrict the response framework accordingly; and the training approach of a set of data being offered, using the languaging, examples, and exercises of the course designers, and may cause unconscious reactions or lost learning.
In other words, the only people who will truly benefit from a program are those whose unconscious beliefs are already aligned; all those with different biases, different beliefs, different assumptions or norms, will not be able to hear, understand, abide by, or comprehend the need for, the proposed change and may find it incongruent enough to resist. This problem persists not merely in training programs, but anywhere outside influencers try to effect change. So buyers with a need won’t buy; patients with an illness won’t follow doctor’s regiments; coaching clients won’t buy-in to a needed change.
Using my learning facilitation approach, people seeking change can discover their own route to their unique learning path, eschew bias and resistance, and create their own permanent change where existing choices are found to be less than excellent.
I’ve used the training to spearhead permanent behavior change, to expand possibility and make new decisions without resistance or bias: sellers can facilitate buyers through their change management issues to enable buying; doctors can teach patients to make appropriate, permanent behavior changes; coaches can help clients buy-in to permanent change; unconscious bias and diversity programs can help people get rid of unconscious bias. Here are a few of the skill sets that I developed that are different about my training model.
Facilitative Questions – with no bias from the Asker except to facilitate congruent change (in other words, not used as interrogation vehicles), these questions are designed as directional devices to help Responders traverse through their unconscious route to change and discover how to change, using their own criteria. They are posed in a specific sequence, using specific words, to enable others to figure out their own unconscious answers, and actually, lead through the steps of congruent change. I know there is no referent for these questions. I have trained their formulation to over 50,000 people, so the skill is learnable and scalable. Please email me to start a conversation. To learn how to formulate these, take a look at this learning tool.
Listening – normal listening merely uses accepted viewpoints to make sense of what’s said. Remember: we only ‘hear’ air vibrations that hit our habituated neural pathways and are interpreted as per our biases. It’s possible to go outside our habituated pathways and listen without bias. To learn more about this, read sample chapters of my book What?. If you get excited and want to learn how to do this, use the Study Guide I’ve developed that takes you through each chapter to shift our normal skills. Or call to have me train a one day program for your folks to listen with choice.
Choice – we currently make choices according to our own biases and norms. I’ve coded the steps of choice and change and can teach people, and outsiders (i.e. leaders, coaches, trainers, etc.) to intervene in their own or other’s choices at the stage where there is a breakdown, incompatibility, or misrepresentation.
I’ve first tested, then offered, this training in global corporations such as Morgan Stanley, IBM, Kaiser, DuPont, P&G, FedEx, Wachovia, etc. using control groups and pilot studies which consistently found my learning facilitation approach 8x more successful than the control group. For those needing a more expansive discussion on this, read my paper in The 2003 Annual: Volume 1 Training [Jossey-Bass/Pfieffer]: “Designing Curricula for Learning Environments Using a Facilitative Teaching Approach to Empower Learners” pp 263-272.
So here’s the pitch: when used in training, my learning facilitation model does something well beyond conventional training models that use information as the route to helping others embrace, adopt, receive, or execute a new idea or behavior. I can actually teach people how to change their core choices, and help them develop new neural pathways for choice, using their own terms of excellence, so they can adopt the new behaviors they choose.
Receive Sharon Drew’s original articles and essays on Mondays: http://sharondrewmorgen.com/subscribe-to-sharon-drew-morgens-award-winning-blog/
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and thought leader. She designs change facilitation models that enable the buying decision journey in sales (Buying Facilitation®), the change issues needed for coaching clients to permanently change, the implementation issues needed for leaders to organize congruent change without resistance. Sharon Drew is a speaker, coach, trainer, and NYTimes Business bestselling author of 9 books including Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Sharon Drew is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and blogger of an award-winning blog www.sharondrewmorgen.com.
Sharon Drew Morgen October 29th, 2018
How many times have you tried to sell an idea to a colleague, only to have it be misunderstood or ignored? Or offered important knowledge in a marketing piece or sales pitch meant to encourage or educate a prospect to buy, only to have it overlooked? Why don’t patients follow new healthcare regimens prescribed by doctors they trust, to heal an illness they know they have?
I began thinking about this recently when I heard a noted leader in healthcare say: “There is a persistent consensus that insufficient evidence exists that behavior can be modified.” Hmmm. And yet the industry is throwing hundreds of millions of dollars researching Behavior Modification (without a parallel model to test it against! So much for the scientific method.). This is similar to my own aphorism, after decades of facilitating prospect buy-in in the sales industry: “Selling doesn’t cause buying.” Both recognize that the outside-in push method for causing compliance isn’t an effective way to elicit permanent change. Indeed: as outsiders, we’re trying to cause behavior change, rather than elicit it.
The common thread behind both is the enduring belief (even with a 5% success rate in sales, and a only fraction of patients complying with necessary health-based regimens) that with the ‘right’ idea and the ‘best’ data, offered by someone who is ‘trustworthy’ and ‘credible’, written, offered, or spoken in a way that ‘inspires’ action, that people will act as they ‘should’ and make the ‘right’ choices we’re ‘certain’ they need to make.
But they’re not. And instead of recognizing that maybe we’ve got it wrong, that maybe we’re looking at the problem from the wrong angle while doing the same thing over and over hoping to get the results we want, we’re calling THEM irrational?? Seems to me we’re the very definition of insanity.
Is it any wonder people aren’t compliant? Pushing OUR ideas, OUR beliefs, OUR biases, OUR assumptions, onto another, in the format WE’VE chosen, assuming because we’re right, or smarter, or caring, or ‘scientific’ or or or, that they’ll do what WE want them to do! And then we’re surprised at the paucity of compliance?
We know this doesn’t work. For decades, if not centuries, sellers, coaches, leaders, and now healthcare providers, have bemoaned the lack of success we’ve achieved (even building failure into our expected results) with our push methods. And yet we continue, hoping that we’ll say it right this time, or offer impeccable research data, or use terrific apps, or pitches, or marketing that will instigate permanent change or decisions in our favor. Has it never occurred that just maybe outside-in push doesn’t work? Or is it just that we don’t know what else to do?
THE FAILURE OF PUSH
Selling doesn’t cause buying. Good content creation doesn’t cause action. Behavior Modification doesn’t cause behavior change. Do you see a pattern here? As reflected in our failed attempts across industries and time, an external push – regardless of how trustworthy, or researched, or ‘rational’, or necessary as it may be – cannot cause another person to change permanently.
As outsiders, we forget: change is an inside job. Yet our activity – all sales models and healthcare apps, coaching models and leadership trends – focuses on attempting to cause change from the outside. With our reports and regimens, proof and advice, stories and examples, we try to convince others to change before teaching them how to, and then complaining they’re not listening to us. Let me offer the reasons it’s not possible for people to change merely because we offer them terrific reasons why they should.
1. Subjective Listening: This is the main hurdle with information push: people don’t hear the intent of a message, when it falls outside of their conditioned, subjective listening filters and habituated neural pathways, regardless of the efficacy of the information offered. When our clients, or children, or patients, ‘mis-hear’ us, it’s not their fault; their brains actually tell them something different from what was intended.
We all listen unconsciously, through our biases, assumptions, triggers, habits, and normalized neural pathways. I’ve written a book about the gap between what’s said and what’s heard (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) and it’s formidable: our brains ‘kindly’ keep us comfortable and safe by hearing what they want, discarding bits of meaning and intent at will, without letting us know that what we end up ‘hearing’ is highly subjective and some unknowable percentage removed from what the speaker (or article, or app) intended. Try as we might – the best wording, or clever text/apps – whatever we say will be interpreted uniquely and not necessarily as we wish it to be interpreted; we’ll be heard more accurately only by those who already think exactly as we do.
So: information-in will probably not be heard as intended and translated according to some unconscious filtering that we outsiders cannot control. And this is compounded by our assumption that because we believe we’ve said something clearly it should be understood, i.e. ‘they’re not listening’. They are. To the very best of their unconscious ability. And it’s a good reason to not rely on sharing information as the way to influence change.
2. Status Quo: Every day we wake up being who we were yesterday. We live our lives and make decisions according to our unique Identity, our personal system of rules, experience, hopes, goals, culture, education, etc. developed over a lifetime, that cause us to operate in the world uniquely. This is how we wake up knowing how to brush our teeth and drive our cars, vote the way we prefer, and love who makes us happy – all regardless of the way others would like us to be.
When any change is required of us our entire habituated, unconscious system/status quo faces disruption: to be willing and able to change, we must find a way for our personal system to buy-in to the new, get rid of the old, and find a way to maintain the habits and beliefs that keep us stable. Indeed, when we ask someone to change, regardless of the need, benefits, or the efficacy of the solution, we are asking people to unravel their status quo and do something different before they know if change would threaten who they know themselves to be. Their system, their status quo, is sacrosanct, and we are asking them to risk who they are.
3. Trust: When we assume we have answers for another, we are basically telling them we know more than they do, that we’re ‘right’ and they’re wrong, that we don’t trust them to find their own best route to excellence. So with the best will in the world, we push against their personal, habituated, normalized system (and yes, it’s the same system that caused the problem in the first place), and get… wait for it… resistance. And then we call them ‘stupid buyers’ or ‘non-compliant patients’. By not trusting our clients, by not enabling them to traverse their OWN route to congruent change, by assuming we have their answers and working at getting them to comply, we’re causing the very resistance we blame them for.
4. Beliefs: For some reason, outsiders attempt to change someone’s behaviors without realizing that behaviors are merely the transactions of our beliefs. It’s like trying to get an app to do something it’s not meant to do without changing the underlying programming. This is why Behavior Modification largely fails: it seeks to cause behavior change; only belief change, and systems buy-in, can elicit behavior change.
5. Bias: Even when accurately assessing another’s needs and have solutions that could resolve problems, our own needs for specific results bias our interactions. We’re outside the Other’s system, using our own preferred languaging, our own biased choices of stories and examples, our own approaches, posing biased questions meant to pull the data we want to understand (often regardless of how the Other uses or hears language i.e. biased) and assuming we’ll be heard and heeded! By choosing the words and story line we adhere to, by choosing activities or making requests according to our own need to get our suggestions recognized, we’re unintentionally biasing our interactions and restricting success to those who think, act, assume like we do.
So with the best will in the world, with solutions that can actually save lives and fix problems, we’re inhibiting success. We must stop pushing the change WE want to have happen, and begin facilitating others through their own behavior change, from within. We must elicit change rather than attempt to cause change. We must trust that everyone has their own answers and lead them through, and design, their own route to discovery and change, within their own norms and identity, so they remain congruent.
We’ve not been given the tools to facilitate permanent change, depending instead on many ways to push information/change in. Yet information – heard through subjective filters, chosen, offered and presented in formats designed by biased do-gooders – doesn’t teach someone HOW to change congruently, from the inside. Inside-out. Pushing data in merely causes resistance. Here are the skills necessary to facilitate others through permanent, congruent change from the inside.
1. The Steps of Change: There is a specific set of sequential steps that human systems follow unconsciously en route to change, starting with enabling Others to rise above the weeds, into an Observer position, so they can get into an unbiased and disassociated state to begin dispassionately noticing, assembling and assessing the elements that caused the systemic problem to begin with. [Note: information-in, and push models, cause people to dig in and defend.] I’ve coded the steps of change that every human system – i.e. every person, group, etc. – must traverse sequentially to remain congruent through change. Change will not occur until a person recognizes
It’s possible to lead people down their own steps of change to make their unconscious beliefs conscious and enable them to consider if it’s time to change. No one, no one, from outside can ever, ever understand what’s going on in other’s personal system.
2. The Direction of Change: People think in habituated patterns; to find the elements that maintain their status quo they must go beyond their habituated thinking to seek out bits of their unconscious that aren’t necessarily obvious. How to do this? By being Neutral Navigators, Change Facilitators, that guide the brain to its own answers. I’ve been thinking about this problem since 1980, understanding that conventional questions are biased by the Asker, and responded to accordingly. Repeat: any time we ask a question of another, it’s biased by our own need to know and word choices, and will be heard with biased ears.
To overcome bias, to help people find their own answers, and knowing that conventional questions are biased by the Asker, I’ve developed Facilitative Questions that actually direct the brain sequentially, through its own givens, to discover best answers (often unconscious) and avoids the bias of influencers who net/net seek answers/pull information THEY think relevant. (Definition: Facilitative Question – a systemic, action-based, directive question, (not information-pull) that uses specific words, in a specific order, to lead people through sequential steps of discovery and buy-in without bias.) These questions can be used in surveys, questionnaires, and research to elicit ‘good’ information, without bias. I know this is a bit outside of mainstream thinking, but I’ve been successfully teaching the formulation of these questions for decades, in sales with Buying Facilitation®, coaching, and leadership – any place congruent change is required. Sometimes new ideas are needed, right?
3. The Who of Change: By taking on the mantel of Change Agents, Facilitators, Influencers regardless of field (i.e. in apps, in sales, in coaching), we must begin by trusting Others to discover and design their own change, not attempt to cause change with wizzy content, Behavior Mod approaches, pricing ‘deals’ or any other outside-in push techniques. They don’t work – hence a 95% failure rate in sales, and patients regularly not completing regimens that would help them heal. Once people recognize how to change themselves in a way that’s congruent with their personal system, they will then need outsiders to supply relevant information. First facilitate change for Others; then supply necessary data according to THEIR needs.
4. Testing for Change: By only doing research on Behavior Mod or other behavior change approaches, we’re ignoring the real problem and not helping people make permanent change. Let’s begin doing research on Change Facilitation practices in side-by-side experiments with behavior change approaches. Then we’ll have real answers.
For those who want to think about the inherent problems of pushing change from the outside, below I’ve summarized the baseline beliefs in this article so you can begin thinking of why an inside-out approach is the only way to elicit successful change (Note: I’ve designed a Change Facilitation approach to handle this; design your own, or call me to discuss.):
It’s possible to develop healthcare apps that first enable Others to be ready for change prior to offering Behavior Mod. It’s possible for sellers to first facilitate prospect buy-in, notice those who WILL buy and are ready for change on the first call. It’s possible to facilitate coaching clients through permanent change. And I know that influencers like to be the pivot point, the arbiter of change. But if an outside-in line of questioning or directing is used, only people who have done their own change work first will be compliant. Let’s elicit change; let’s stop pushing.
I’m happy to discuss the above with anyone, and seek situations to test, use, offer my stuff to enhance excellence. Sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com
Receive Sharon Drew’s original articles and essays on Mondays: http://sharondrewmorgen.com/subscribe-to-sharon-drew-morgens-award-winning-blog
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and change agent. She is the developer of a unique Change Facilitation model currently used in sales (Buying Facilitation®) and trained to many Fortune 500 companies globally. Sharon Drew is the author of nine books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestseller’s Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers don’t buy and sellers don’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?. She uses her original ideas as a foundation for thoughtful essays and articles on topics such as decision making, change, listening, trust, systems, and collaboration. All of her models and thinking are based on Servant Leadership, and how we – as companies and individuals – can serve each other to become Excellent. Sharon Drew lives on a floating home in Portland OR. email@example.com www.sharondrewmorgen.com
Sharon Drew Morgen October 22nd, 2018
Our biases have been developed through the stories of our lives. From birth, our parent’s beliefs become part of our unconscious, very personal, ecosystem; the cultural norms of our youth create our habits, behaviors, and identity; the schools we attend or the gangs we join introduce us to the way our world works and how to behave accordingly; our professions are chosen to allow us to spend our days within the confines of environments that comfortably maintain our norms. Net net, our lives are inspired by our unconscious biases, causing us to live and work, marry and spend time with, people whose norms, interpretations, and beliefs are very similar to ours.
Our normal skill sets aid and abet us: we listen through biased filters and hear and respond to, basically, what our biases tell us was said (I wrote a book on this: What? Did you really say what I think I heard? ); we play and read and watch according to what we already believe and rarely venture far afield; we notice what we notice in response to our nucleus of personal norms, values, and learned habits.
Indeed, we trust our unconscious biases and interpretations, and the resulting responses, so thoroughly that we are often unaware that our actions – built in, normalized and habituated, accepted by our family, peers, and profession – may harm others.
WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND OTHERS
We believe, with certainty, that what we see, hear, and feel is ‘real’ because it IS our reality; we restrict our lives accordingly, making it difficult, if not impossible, to fully understand another’s reality. What we might hear as powerful might be heard as insulting by another person; an incident might be noticed by one person, ignored by another, and an excuse for violence by another. We cannot help but judge others according to our reality.
I, for one, never lock doors. My car is always unlocked. My house is always open even when I travel. Many people would find this unthinkable. I find it safe. As an incest survivor and a rape victim, I always need a quick way in and out. If a door is locked around me, I hyperventilate. Terrifying. These past events, of which locks on doors are only a subset of the aftereffects of my early life, have affected my communication, my lifestyle, my choice of friends and mates, my political views, my unconscious triggers, and my choice of professions even after decades of therapy. There is no way you can understand my interpretation of anything, or the resulting behaviors I exhibit, unless you’ve lived in my shoes. And yet my differences might cause you to judge my actions against your own and find them wanting.
And herein lie the problem. When we run into others with different lifestyle choices, or communication styles, or education, or assumptions, or race, or political beliefs, we may not have the skills to connect with them in ways they understand; we may wrongly misinterpret their intent. Certainly we may not notice we’ve been triggered and behave automatically in ways that inadvertently harm another.
I believe that most people don’t intend to harm anyone. But without common ground, the best we can do is act from our habituated interpretations and assume because we ‘mean well’ that we’re not causing harm.
NEED FOR CHANGE
Historically, we’ve done a bad job caring about resolving the problems of inherent bias that may ultimately harm others. I think this might be changing. Companies and public servants are now taking unconscious bias seriously and requiring unconscious bias training in the hopes of giving people new choices and eradicating harm. Good. But I have a concern.
As someone who has spent decades coding and scaling the stages of how human systems change, I know it’s not possible to cause change from the outside; each individual must find a way to evaluate and reconsider their own core norms and biases to make any necessary corrections that only they can make, from within (i.e. inside/out). I don’t believe we’re doing that. Current training approaches are based on helping folks recognize and change behaviors by offering information, practice, scientific data, videos, etc. from the outside (outside/in), hoping to create new triggers, new behaviors, and new awareness. This approach cannot fix the problem permanently because it:
Current unconscious bias training assumes people can learn enough from videos, discussions, ‘practicing ‘real’ situations, etc. what unconscious bias looks like to create awareness to recognize a problematic situation before or while it’s happening (have you ever tried to do that?) and know exactly what behaviors need changing – and what to change them to!
In other words, just when our brains are unconsciously registering ALERT, we want it to tell itself ‘Nope. Wrong thinking. Don’t do that. Don’t think that. Stop responding that way. Do something different. NOW!’ just as it’s occurring. It’s possible to do so, but not with the training offered.
WHAT IS BIAS? AND WHY IS IT SO HARD TO CHANGE?
Bias is the unconscious, habitual, involuntary, and historic reaction to something deemed ‘different’ (skin color, gender, lifestyle choices, etc.) that negatively triggers someone’s largely unconscious beliefs and values – going against what the person deems ‘right’ or ‘good’ as per the subjective filters through which they experience their lives – causing an automatic feeling of, and defense against, some sort of violation.
Our reactions to external stimuli are unconscious and automatic, and follow our brain’s historic and habituated neural pathways whenever our unconscious triggers go off. To alter these, it’s necessary to go to the source; it’s not possible to permanently change behaviorsby merely changing behaviors. Offering training that merely offers examples and experiences of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviors, and expecting people to undo their habituated triggers because they ‘admit’ to, or recognize ‘bad’ behaviors, uses the wrong thinking. Changing core biases permanently is not a behavior change issue; it’s a core Identity/Belief problem that must be resolved at the source, within the system that created it. I’ll lay the problem out for you piece by piece, then introduce a solution for permanent change. Basically, this level of change is a systems problem.
WHAT IS A SYSTEM, AND WHY IS IT NECESSARY TO ADDRESS IN BIAS TRAINING
A system is a conglomeration of (historic, unique) elements (consisting of our norms, culture, history, values, beliefs, dreams, etc.) that we hold largely unconsciously. They are formed during our lifetimes starting from birth, and as in all systems, are made up of elements (beliefs, values, cultural norms, ethics, morality, etc.) that operate from the same set of rules. Indeed, we live our lives in cities alongside others of similar political beliefs, marry people of similar education, and even listen with biased filters that keep out uncomfortable ideas.
Systems are congruent (Systems Congruence, Homeostasis) entities that always seek stability; they define our politics, our mate selection, even where we live and how we listen to others. Because systems seek to maintain congruence, they have a finely tuned unconscious organizational structure of filters that seek out, and avoid, situations that make them uncomfortable or they find incongruent. Attempting to shift them causes resistance as this level change causes the system to be incongruent, regardless of the seeming need to do something different or the efficacy of a new/better solution. In other words, our status quo shows up every day to maintain itself and we will do whatever it takes to maintain it. It’s who we are.
For permanent change to occur, for new behaviors to be exhibited and chosen, there must be a change in core beliefs before new skills or situations are offered because anything ‘new’ would have no place to fit in our largely automated ‘system’. Current bias training uses methods don’t facilitate this change:
And herein lie the problem. Because of the complexity and sophisticated combination of the elements above, merely doing something different because we are told to, or even want to, won’t change our behaviors or our systems permanently. It’s the equivalent of trying to get a forward moving robot to move backwards because we tell it it needs new options, or think it would be better if it did, or show it pictures of other robots who do move backward. To change behaviors permanently it’s necessary to change the system, the programming, which created them to begin with. And this cannot be accomplished by trying to change the output of the problem itself. Remember Einstein? Trying to change behaviors with the system that created them won’t permanently change behaviors.
CHANGE IS A SYSTEMS PROBLEM
Change is the alteration of something that has existed in a certain way, using specific and accepted norms, in a specific configuration, for a period of time. To amend our responses to bias, we must first recognize, then modify, the specific triggers (historically produced for a reason) that have been developed to operate unconsciously as the norm.
It’s basically a systems problem: for permanent change to occur, we must reconfigure the system that has created and maintains the status quo, and has operated ‘as is’ for some amount of time. Anything new coming in to our system (any problem to fix, any new information that creates disruption, any new activity the system is asked to take) demands changing the status quo. Indeed, any new decision is a change management problem. The way we are addressing the problem of changing people’s unconscious biases is not enabling permanent change.
Change means that a system (by definition stable) must go through a process to become something different:
Does any element of the original need to be kept in place? How will the system know? How would any change effect the whole? How will the bits that need change shift while still maintaining its core values? The system will fight to maintain itself. If all of the above aren’t managed, the system will fill in the blanks with something comfortable and habituated (regardless of its efficacy). In other words, if there is not systemic agreement, no known way to resolve the problem using its current givens, no known way to incorporate something new to the existing system so the system doesn’t implode, no change will happen regardless of the need or the efficacy of the solution.
Indeed, you can’t change a behavior by trying to change a behavior. And all of the current bias training involves a focus on getting behaviors changed without addressing the source that created the behaviors and triggers to begin with.
WHAT IS A BEHAVIOR?
Current Bias Training attempts to get behaviors changed by using ‘rational’ means: showing learners biased situations, offering data and research, and playing videos to learn what bias looks like. In other words, offering Information: showing and telling people what’s wrong with what they’re doing and what ‘right’ would look like – all of which can be misinterpreted, misread, or objected to, regardless of our intent. While it certainly can make people more aware, these attempts will not cause permanent change: they develop no new habituated triggers or neural pathways to set off a new response to a stimulus. Let’s delve into this a bit.
Behaviors are what we do – transactions automatically initiated by our core system of beliefs, norms, and experience, to act out and express, who we are. We all develop behaviors that ‘be’ who we are, to represent us. Behaviors are the output, the forward movement of the robot, the actions others see.
If asked in a vacuum if we want to harm anyone, few of us would want to. And yet in small and large ways, our unconscious behaviors too often end up unjustly ignoring, being mean to, or harming someone because of their gender, or race or or… I once heard Malcolm Gladwell, who is bi-racial, say that when tested for unconscious racial bias, he came up biased. We all carry some biases. The question becomes 1. Do we notice when, or before, problems occur, and if not what would we need to know or believe differently to notice, and 2. Once we notice (or not) can we have choice over our actions and avoid biased behaviors or make adjustments at the time, or just before, they occur.
To permanently change a behavior, a system must:
To change our unconscious, automatic responses that cause us to respond defensively, the system that has created and maintains the status quo must be reconfigured to produce alternate outputs while still maintaining Systems Congruence. And unfortunately, information-based training (showing, feeling, telling, explaining) is ineffective.
Offering any sort of information before the system knows why, how, when, or if to do anything different – a belief change – will only inspire resistance as the system won’t know how to apply it as it’s ‘just fine, thanks.’ It’s a belief change issue. We’re asking the system to repopulate its status quo that created the problem to begin with, design new behavioral responses, and develop a new set of triggers to tell the system it’s time to behave differently. Initially the system doesn’t know what it doesn’t know and has no inherent desire to do anything different.
In pursuit of excellence, people need some sort of stimulus to begin a process. It’s only during this process the holes in their knowledge become clear: what’s the distance between its current norms and something new and why isn’t the status quo good enough; between what’s been working and what’s now accepted as not working; the old behaviors and responses and designing new ones.
It’s only in the distance between here and there, one set of givens vs another, a known against an unknown, is there’s a desire to change something. And here is where it needs information. If it’s believed that all is well, regardless of any evidence otherwise, the system will not seek out, or pay attention to, any information, regardless of its efficacy.
As per my robot example, if you think the robot should have the option of moving backwards, telling it when and how to know when or if to move backward, giving it scientific data as to why it should move backward, or pushing it backward, will not cause the robot to change. The programming must be changed. And so it is with all of us: when we change our habituated beliefs and norms (our programming), our behavior will automatically change.
CHANGING BEHAVIORS DOESN’T CHANGE BEHAVIORS
Real change demands a systemic shift to create new triggers, new assumptions, new neural pathways, and ultimately, as an outcome, new behaviors. No one, no information, no person, from outside is able to go into someone’s unconscious to (re)create all these things. And permanent change will not happen until it does. The goal is not to train someone to rid themselves of unconscious bias; it’s to teach the system itself how to discover where it is designating the bias and facilitate it through to new behaviors a way that maintains the foundational norms of the system. It’s using the old to trigger the new. Both/And, not Either/Or. I know this is a lot to understand. Call me and I’ll discuss. 512 771 1117.
Basically, to alter the foundation that will develop new behaviors, the brain must change itself. Over the past decades, I’ve coded the 13 steps that constitute the route to systemic, human change so people can make their OWN internal changes that will lead to new choices, i.e. new behaviors. I’ve taught this model in sales as Buying Facilitation® to global corporations (KPMG, Morgan Stanley, IBM, P&G, Kaiser, etc.) for over 30 years, and written several books on it. The book that details each of the stages is Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell.
We must become Facilitators, not Influencers. We must teach folks to create and habituate new neural pathways and filters.
I’ve developed a new way to train that facilitates self-learning and permanent change from within the system. For those wishing a full discussion, I’ve written an article on this that appeared in The 2003 Annual, Volume 1 Training (I’m happy to send you a more specific discussion of this if you’re not already bored) Just note: my process leads people, without any bias, to those places in their brains, into their system of beliefs and cultural norms, which made the decisions to employ their biased behaviors to begin with, and teaches them how to reconfigure their system to adopt something new (so long as its aligned with their beliefs). We are making the unconscious conscious and developing more appropriate triggers and behaviors.
How will you know that by adding systemic change elements to your training that you can enable more people to make more appropriate behavioral choices around their bias?
If you would like my help in designing a program that resolves unconscious biases permanently, I’d love to help. I believe it’s an important task. I believe it’s time we had the tools to enable learners to permanently change and become non-judgmental, accepting, and kind. And above all, cause no harm. All of our lives depend on it.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, change agent, author of 9 books, including one NYTimes Business Bestseller (Selling with Integrity), and two Amazon bestsellers (Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?). She is the inventor of the Buying Facilitation® method that gives sellers the tools to help buyers navigate through their Pre Sales change management issues (an area of the buy cycle that sales overlooks), and has trained over 100,000 sales people and leaders internationally. She also developed a listening capability that enables all communicators to hear others without bias. Sharon Drew’s award winning blog (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) has original, thought leader articles on the skills of change, negotiation, questions, sales, buy-in, and negotiation. She is a coach, speaker, trainer, consultant, and inventor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Drew Morgen October 8th, 2018
Our jobs as influencers is to help Others achieve their own brand of excellence, using their own unique values and standards. Sadly, too many of us – coaches, leaders, sellers, consultants, doctors, parents – try to get Others to accede to our viewpoints and suggestions, believing we have information or solutions that offer ‘better’ choices than the ones they’ve made. We’re telling them, net, net, that we’re smarter, that we think our ideas are better than their own.
And the results aren’t pretty: we end up restricting possibility and creating resistance, conflict, antagonism, or disregard, regardless of the efficacy of what we have to offer. In this article I’ll explain why and how we end up creating the very resistance we hope to avoid, and introduce new skills to enable us to truly serve.
WE CONNECT THROUGH OUR OWN SUBJECTIVITY
Regardless of the situation, when we try to effect change using our own viewpoint or beliefs, our biases and expectations cause us to inadvertently alienate those who might need us. As a result, we ultimately influence only a percentage of those who need our help – those who already basically agree with us. Here’s how we restrict our interactions:
Biased listening: We each listen to Others unconsciously, through unique and subjective filters (biases, triggers, assumptions, habitual neural pathways, memory channels), regardless of our concerted attempts to accurately hear what’s intended. As a result, through no fault of our own, what we think we hear is often an inaccurate translation of what was meant and not what the speaker intended. So our Communication Partner (CP) might say ABC but we actually ‘hear’ ABD (And yes, we often hear something quite different than what was said although it shows up as ‘real’. Read article on how this happens.) and our brains don’t tell us we’re misunderstanding.
I wasn’t fully aware of the extent of this until I researched my book on how to hear others without bias. With the best will in the world we end up only accurately hearing, and thereby responding to, some percentage of the message our CPs intend. It’s outside of our conscious awareness. But it’s possible to remedy by listening with a different part of our brain. More on this later.
Fact #1. We hear Others through our subjective biases, assumptions, triggers, habituated neural pathways, and beliefs, causing us to unintentionally misinterpret the message intended, with no knowledge that what we think we’ve heard is mistaken. Obviously this effects both sides of a communication (i.e. Speakers and Listeners).
Subjective expectations: We enter into each conversation with expectations or goals (conscious or unconscious) thereby restricting or misinterpreting what’s been said, and often missing avenues of further exploration.
Fact #2. Entering conversations with goals or expectations (conscious or unconscious) unwittingly limits the outcome and full range of possibility, and impedes discovery, data gathering, and creativity.
Restricted curiosity: Curiosity is both triggered and restricted by what we already know, i.e. you can’t ask or be curious about something you have no familiarity with to begin with. Using our own goals to pose questions that are often biased, assumptive, leading, etc. we inadvertently reduce outcomes to the biases we entered the conversation with; our subjective associations, experiences, and internal references restrict our ability to recognize accurate fact patterns during data gathering or analysis.
Fact #3: We enable Others’ excellence, and our own needs for accurate data, to the extent we can overcome our own unconscious biases that restrict the range and focus of our curiosity.
Cognitive dissonance: When the content we share – information, ideas, advice, written material – goes against our CPs conscious or unconscious beliefs, we cause resistance regardless of the efficacy of the information. This is why relevant solutions in sales, marketing, coaching, implementations, doctor’s recommendations etc. often fall on deaf ears. We are unwittingly causing the very resistance we seek to avoid as we attempt to place perfectly good data into someone’s idiosyncratic, habituated belief system that runs different to our own.
Fact #4. Information doesn’t teach Others how to change behaviors; behavior change must first be initiated from beliefs, which in turn initiates buy-in.
Systems congruence: Individuals and groups think, behave, and decide from a habitual system of unconscious beliefs and rules, history and experience, that creates and maintains their status quo. We know from Systems Theory that it’s impossible to change only one piece of a system without effecting the whole. When we attempt to offer suggestions or advise that runs counter to the normalized system, we cause Others to risk systems congruence and internal disruption. Hence, resistance.
Unfortunately for those of us trying to effect change in Others, it’s important to remember we’re outsiders: as such, we can never fully comprehend the ramifications of adding our new ideas or solution, especially when every group, every person, believes it’s functioning well and their choices are normalized and habituated. Just because it seems right to us doesn’t mean it’s right for another. Sometimes maintaining the status quo is the right thing to do for reasons we can’t understand; sometimes change can occur only when internal things need to shift in ways we cannot assist with.
Net net, we pose questions biased by our own need to know, offer information and solutions that we want to be adopted/accepted, and focus on reaching a goal we want to reach, all of which cause resistance: without buy-in and a clear route to manage any fallout from the potential change that a new element would cause (regardless of the outsider’s belief that change is necessary), congruent change can’t occur.
Fact #5: Change cannot happen until there appropriate buy-in from all elements that will be touched by the change and there is a defined route to manage any disruption the change would entail.
We are indeed limiting all of our interactions to helping only those few who are entirely set up to change (the low hanging fruit) and failing with those who might need us but aren’t quite ready.
INFORMATION DOESN’T FACILITATE CHANGE
As influencers, we mistakenly believe that by offering ‘good’ (relevant, accurate, instructive, empirical) information, the Other will not only interpret it the way it was intended, but know how and why to use it. But our CPs can only hear us through subjective filters and may not recognize, or will feel compromised by, what we’re trying to say. Remember: Others will not considering changing in ways that challenge their status quo.
We can, however, shift from having the answers to helping others achieve their own type of excellence (regardless of whether or not it shows up looking like we envisioned). In other words, we can help our CPs change themselves. Indeed, by thinking we have the answers, by driving our own outcomes, we lose the opportunity to serve, enable real change, and make a difference.
Don’t take the need to maintain the status quo lightly. Even patients who sign up for prevention programs have a history of non-compliance: with new food plans, or recommendations of exercise programs that challenge the behaviors they have habituated and normalized (for good or bad), they don’t know how to remain congruent if they were to change. (Note: as long as healthcare professionals continue to push behavior change rather than facilitate belief change first, non-compliance will continue.)
It’s possible to facilitate the journey through our CPs own hierarchy of values and rules, enable buy-in and agreeable change, and avoid resistance – but not by using conventional information gathering/sharing, or listening practices as they all entail bias that will touch only those with the same biases.
To enable expanded and managed choice and to avoid resistance, we must first help Others recognize how to congruently change their own status quo. They may have buy-in issues or resource issues; maybe their hierarchy of values or goals would need to shift, or their rules. By focusing on facilitating choice/change first we can teach Others to achieve their own congruent change and then tailor our solutions and presentations to fit. Otherwise, our great content will only connect with those folks who already mirror the incoming data and overlook those who might have been able to change if they had known how to do so congruently.
THE SKILLS OF CHANGE
I’ve developed a generic Change Facilitation model, often used in sales (Buying Facilitation®) and coaching, that offers the ability to facilitate change at the core of where our status quo originates – our internal, idiosyncratic, and habituated rules and beliefs. Developed over 50 years, I’ve coded my own Asperger’s systemizing brain, refitted some of the constructs of NLP, coded the system and sequence of change, and applied some of the research in brain sciences to determine where, if, and how new choices fit.
Using it, Others can consciously self-cue – normally an unconscious process – to enable them to discover their own needs for change in the area I can serve, and in a way that’s congruent with the rules and beliefs that keep their status quo in place. I’ve trained the model globally over the past 30 years in sales, negotiation, marketing, patient relationships, leadership, coaching, etc. Below I introduce the main skills I’ve developed to enable change and choice – for me, the real kindness and integrity we have to offer. It’s possible to lead Others through
For those interested in learning more, I’m happy to chat, train, and share. Or feel free to use my thoughts to inspire your own model.
Listening for Systems: from birth we’re taught to carefully listen for content and try to understand the Other’s meaning (exemplified by Active Listening) which, because of our listening filters, often misses the underlying, unspoken Metamessage the speaker intends. By teaching the brain to disassociate and listen broadly rather than specifically, Systems Listening enables hearing the intended message at the root of the message being sent and supersedes all bias on either end. For those interested, read my article on how our listening restricts our worlds.
Facilitative Questions: conventional questions, used to gather data, are biased by the Speaker and interpreted in a biased way by the Responder. The intent of Facilitative Questions (FQ) is to lead listeners through a sequential discovery process through their own (often unconscious) status quo; not information focused and not biased, they are directive, and enable our CPs to discover for themselves the full range of elements they must address to achieve excellence. Here is a simple (out of sequence) example of the differences between conventional questions and FQs. Note how the FQ teaches the Other how to think:
1. Conventional Question: Why do you wear your hair like that? This question, meant to extract data for the Speaker’s use, is biased by the Speaker and limits choices within the Responder. Bias/Bias
2. Facilitative Question: How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle? While conventional questions ask/pull biased data, this question sequentially leads the Other through focused scans of unconscious beliefs in the status quo. Formulating them requires Listening for Systems.
Using specific words, in a specific order, to stimulate specific thought categories, FQs lead Others down their steps of congruent change, with no bias. Now we can be part of the process with them much earlier and use our desire to influence change to positive effect. We can actually help Others help themselves.
Steps of change: There is a habitualted, idiosyncratic hierarchy of people, rules, values, systems, and history within each status quo. By helping our CPs navigate down their hierarchy they can discover and manage each point necessary to change without disruption or resistance. Until they know how to do this – and note, as outsiders we can NEVER understand this – they can take no action as their habitual functioning (their status quo) is at risk. Offering them our information is the final thing they’ll need when all of the change elements are recognized.
To me, being kind, ethical and true servants, being influencers who can make a difference, means helping Others be all they can be THEIR way, not OUR way. As true servant leaders and change agents we can facilitate real, lasting change and then, when Others know how to change congruently, our important solutions will be heard.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the developer of Buying Facilitation®, a generic change management model used to facilitate congruent change. She is the author of 9 books, including one NYTimes Business Bestseller (Selling with Integrity), an Amazon Bestseller Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and her newest book What? Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard? which unravels the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Sharon Drew has trained Buying Facilitation® to many global Fortune 500 companies; she is a speaker, trainer, and coach. To contact Sharon Drew: email@example.com 512-771-1117 Visit her award winning blog and read original content from an original thinker with 1600 articles: www.sharondrewmorgen.com
Sharon Drew Morgen September 28th, 2018
Have you ever attempted to implement a procedure with a group, or move toward some sort of change that everyone approved of, or get a prospect, client, or patient to agree to adopt a new solution and ultimately fail due to lack of Buy In? It happens all the time:
97% of software implementations are considered failures (and it’s blamed on the group).
The sales model fails to close 95% of assumed buyers, even those who really need their services (and it’s blamed on the ‘stupid’ buyer).
Coaches lose clients who didn’t get the results they wanted (and it’s assumed the clients didn’t really want to change).
Negotiations rarely end up with both sides feeling they were treated fairly (and it’s blamed on the Other being selfish/vindictive, etc.).
Healthcare practitioners fail to convince ill patients to switch to lifesaving regimens (and it’s blamed on the patient not wanting to be healthy).
In each of the above situations, Buy In, permanent Behavior change, compliance, and better decision making could have easily been facilitated by the Influencer. But not with the approaches used.
THE COST OF NON-COMPLIANCE
Failure to elicit Buy In is costly. We certainly try: to ensure success we encourage open dialogue, pose questions, request suggestions; we provide necessary details, data, and incontrovertible reasons; we carefully data-gather to ensure we understand the full fact patterns involved in any change; we request new Behaviors that will implement the new ideas. And yet something happens between our efforts and Another’s actions. What’s happening? We’re:
As Influencers we’re pushing from the outside before the inside is addressed; we’re requesting modifications from the very place that created and maintains the issue we seek to change, in a way that could cause instability.
To garner Buy In and avoid resistance, it’s necessary to help the status quo – the underlying system of rules, Beliefs, relationships, goals, people, etc. – configure its own change process before we begin our implementation, or close a sale, or modify eating/exercising habits for patients (or or or). Currently when we try to influence Others, we’re attempting to CAUSE change to comply with OUR goals – pushing from the outside/in – and unwittingly pushing against the normalized status quo which will automatically resist. Sort of like trying to convince a forward-moving robot to move backward before reprogramming it.
To get real change with no resistance, to garner Buy In, agreement and permanent compliance, we need to help Others ELICIT their own change – inside/out. We need to help others reprogram themselves. And just like with a robot, we cannot do it as outsiders pushing our agendas against their established norms.
INFORMATION DOESN’T ELICIT CHANGE
Our current process to elicit Buy In includes sharing information about our goal: we offer the right details, at the right time, presented the right way, with the right languaging, assuming people will understand its importance and generate new Behaviors. We’re offering what WE want them to know and do, so they will take the action WE want them to take (but may initially seem damaging for them personally).
Information is useless as a stimulus for change until the underlying system that maintains the status quo has prepared itself to change and seeks that specific bit of data to complete new activity. So the robot wouldn’t need verbal instructions from us to move backwards when confronted with a wall, for example, until it already had the capability of moving backward. The robot will break, or just stop working, if we start by trying to push it backwards. Information is the very last thing needed once a route through to congruent change has been designed and the system understands the exact information it will require for Excellence.
Unfortunately, our efforts often fail because we use reasoning, rationale, stories, scientific arguments, numbers crunching, etc. as the ‘rational explanation’ to incur Behavior change and compliance. I was once consulting with Inside Sales at Bethlehem Steel after they moved 90 people from their homes in individual states into one of two centers (Sparrows Point, MI, or Burns Harbor, MD). The Bethlehem Team had ‘incontrovertible evidence’ that teams were more effective when working around each other. They gave the sales folks one month to move house, relocate, sell their homes and buy new ones, get new schools for their kids, etc. The people were furious. Many quit; some had heart attacks. One woman actually became ‘emotionally blind’. All were separated from their families and pets for months while family members were left behind to finish school, pack, sell their houses. My client couldn’t understand why they were so upset. He had, he reasoned, paid all their expenses and gave them $5,000 for their upheaval. The information that detailed the reasoning wasn’t the problem.
CHANGE IS AN INSIDE JOB
All systems (and each of us are a system) are set up to be stable and habitual as per Homeostasis. Systems can’t even recognize anything is wrong, as they are self-perpetuating and ignorant of the problems they’ve already baked into the ‘operating’ system. Fish don’t recognize the water they’re in.
Before any change, or new decision, our unconscious system must be assured its norms will be preserved, its core objectives will be met, its Beliefs and core principles will be maintained, and it will suffer minimal disruption. Buy In requires the core norms and rules of the system remain intact; it demands systemic agreement for core change, and a reconfiguration of the habituated internal configuration that created and maintains the status quo (and the problem being resolved). Only when the system is reconfigured with new rules and Beliefs and norms, will it design the new output, choices, and Behaviors that we require.
The way we’re going about it, we’re inadvertently setting up non-compliance by pushing in against the norm before the system has determined how or why to make changes and actually causing the resistance we get. For congruent change and Buy In, (human) systems must design their own route to determining if they seek change, and if they do, they must understand how to reconfigure their unconscious norms in a way that maintains Systems Congruence; they will not, cannot, hear, understand, or apply what we want from them until all this is handled.
Our normal influencing and communication tools that collect data, share ideas, suggest new Behaviors, and promote dialogue challenge the status quo.
Questions pull a fraction of a fraction of the real answer, if they even find any pay dirt at all. To remedy this problem, I’ve developed a new form of question (Facilitative Questions) that eschews information exchange or pull, and acts as a directional device, guiding the Other through their own unconscious (and beyond their biased listening) to cull their own responses and reorganize their internal hierarchy of choices accordingly. They actually lead the brain to sequentially capture each element of memory and Beliefs, highlight each decision necessary in the right order, and develop each necessary action, that all systems must take in order to recognize the elements of their unconscious change. All systems take these internal, unconscious steps anyway, while outsiders wait or push. With Facilitative Questions, outsiders can actually serve Others in making their own best decisions. [Note: I’m happy to discuss this new question if you’d like to contact me.] It’s toward the end of this process they seek the information they need.
Until or unless every element that maintains the problem and causes the current Behaviors that need changing agree to, and have a route through to, change, no Buy In can occur.
BEHAVIORS ARE NOT THE WAY IN
Most people certainly are willing to change to become ‘better’ if they know how to change without major disruption and that they’ll maintain Systems Congruence. Change involves disrupting the status quo in a way that causes different Behaviors to emerge. But new Behaviors cannot emerge without the foundation that stimulates them changing as well. Changing behaviors is not so simple as changing behaviors.
Behaviors do not exist in a vacuum. They are merely the output, the translation, of our unconscious Belief system – we ‘do’ what we ‘do’ because our system needs a physical representation of who we are. Because we’re each unique, we each exhibit different Behaviors to interpret our unconscious Beliefs. And an outsider sees only the output (i.e. the action, the Behaviors) without understanding the underlying values that created them. I repeat, as this is a hard one: there is no way for an outsider to understand, or change, Another’s Behaviors because the system that developed them is unique for each person.
To enable agreement and change, we must facilitate the Other to change its own system, to design new Behaviors, and re-assess the norms, rules, and Beliefs that developed the Behaviors to begin with. There are actually 13 steps necessary for real change to occur. I’ve coded these steps of change and have scaled them, teaching them in the sales and coaching fields (as Buying Facilitation® over the past 35 years. The Change Facilitation model I’ve developed gives influencers the tools to
For Buy In and compliance, we must stop trying to influence or cause the change, but enable Others to develop their own change. It might not look exactly like we hoped, but it will carry our goals forward in a way that becomes a welcome part of the status quo, habituated and accepted immediately. Healthcare providers will elicit permanent healthy Behaviors from patients; buyers will know how to buy quickly; implementations will occur effortlessly and quickly. Our problem has been our focus on changing Behaviors our way. Let’s enable Others to design their own change. And then they will happily Buy In to becoming their own brand of Excellence.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and the developer of Buying Facilitation®, a generic Change Facilitation model she’s taught in dozens of global corporations (Kaiser, Bose, IBM, KPMG, Wachovia, etc.) to sales, coaching, and leadership teams. She is the author of 9 books, including NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the sales standard: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. Sharon Drew also decoded how our brains keep us from hearing others (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) and offers a route through to closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. Sharon Drew is currently developing a route to wellness and healthy eating by facilitating a healthy identity. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 512 771 1117. Read other articles on change, sales, leadership, decision making, and creativity at her award winning blog: www.sharondrewmorgen.com
Sharon Drew Morgen September 10th, 2018
INFORMATION CAUSES RESISTANCE
For some reason, we maintain a long-standing belief that if we offer the right people the right information at the right time, presented in the right way, those it’s intended to influence will be duly impressed and adopt it. But that’s erroneous. Just think how often we
and how often our brilliant delivery and logical (and probably accurate) argument is not only ignored but rebuffed. Certainly the ineffective behaviors continue regardless of the logic of the information we offer. Are they just stupid? Irrational? We’re ‘right’ of course: we’ve got the rational argument and data points; what we have to share is what Others need to hear.
But is this true?
It’s not. And we’re wrong. We’re actually creating resistance, losing business, destroying relationships, and impeding change. Here’s why. When we present rational data, or make arguments based on logic or wisdom or knowledge, and hope it will sway an opinion or get a new decision made to, say, change a behavior, we’re putting the cart before the horse. While the data itself may be important, we are merely using our own biases, needs, control issues, etc. as the motivation to offer it, not to mention our timing may be inappropriate.
We sometimes forget that the organizing system that holds the problem in place – the people, rules, relationships, goals, etc. that make up the status quo and created the problem to begin with – has maintained itself in that same format through time and has developed and normalized it’s own series of biases, habits, assumptions, etc. In fact, the organizing system regards new information as a threat to it’s status quo: until it discovers a way to change so stability is maintained, it will automatically resist anything from outside. You see, until there’s internal buy-in for change, and until the system that holds the problem in place is assured it will not face chaos with change, people have no place to put the new information. The system is sacrosanct, regardless of the need or the efficacy of the solution/information; since it’s functionality has become normalized, it won’t seek, understand, use, or welcome new information.
We believe that part of our jobs as leaders, sales professionals, coaches, managers, or even parents is to be the arbiters of change, with information a main ingredient. And we tend to think that if we offer appropriate data – rational, proven, useful, well-delivered – as the reason for change, the Other will adopt it. But information in and of itself does not teach someone how to change: information promotes knowledge that may not be understood or pursued by that person at that time. Not to mention that people listen through subjective filters and can only hear/understand new information in direct relation to the same beliefs that caused the problem to begin with.
Change requires a systems overhaul. It’s not possible to permanently change behaviors by changing behaviors.
Let me explain. Everyone – people and teams, companies and families – possesses unique internal beliefs, values, histories, biases (representing our status quo, or our unique, personal, unconscious system) that are idiosyncratic and determine our behaviors (behaviors being the translation, the representation of, our unconscious system). Indeed, these internal systems are so clearly defined, habituated, and defended that our lives are actually determined by these: our unconscious listening filters are so subjective that we don’t even know how to listen when information is offered that’s outside our conventional thinking (See my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? about how our brains are organized to listen subjectively and mishear/misunderstand anything outside our norms).
And I cannot say this enough, so please disregard this repetition: Regardless of how important, necessary, or life-saving our information is, it will be resisted until/unless there is internal buy-in for it and an identified route from the problematic status quo, through to buy-in for change, through to execution, is developed in a way that maintains Systems Congruence.
OFFER INFORMATION ONLY WHEN SYSTEM READY FOR CHANGE
It is only when parts of our system seek a new level of excellence and get buy in from the habituated parts of us, that we’re even ready to consider thinking, listening for, and opening our eyes to anything different. There is no direct route between hearing new information and acting on it, unless we’ve already determined that THAT DATA at THAT TIME is worth the disruption of change.
Certainly it’s necessary to figure out how to change without disruption before any sort of change be considered, regardless of our initiatives as outsiders to influence the change. If the system had recognized the need to change and knew how to fix it congruently it would have fixed the problem already.
Here are some specifics. At the point the need for change is considered, even by a small part of the system, the system must get buy-in from everything and everyone that will touch a potential new solution and knows how to change its underlying rules in a way that insures minimal disruption. In other words,
no buy-in/no agreed-upon safe route forward = no change considered = no information accepted.
The new information doesn’t fit anywhere, can’t be heard, can’t be understood. We end up pushing valid data into a closed system that doesn’t recognize the need for it. Information is the very last thing needed once the route of change has been designed.
Telling kids why they should clean their rooms, telling prospects why your solution is better, telling managers to use new software, telling patients to lose weight or exercise, doesn’t create the hoped-for change, regardless of how cogent the information except where the kids, buyers, managers, or patients were already set up to/seeking change and know how to move forward congruently (i.e. the low hanging fruit).
Here are a couple of simple examples.
It’s not about the need or efficacy: change cannot happen until a system knows:
In my book Dirty Little Secrets I lay out the steps to change and decision making in a buying decision. It carefully details how systems fight fight fight to maintain themselves – homeostasis – regardless of their problems which have been baked in and accepted (i.e. not recognized as a problem); anything that pushes the system out of balance will create resistance (whether the system needs the change or not – remember: the system ‘is’, and gets up daily maintaining itself) as the normalized functioning is threatened.
Giving information too early, before a system can learn how to adopt change so any disruption is integrated, merely causes resistance as the system fights for balance. Not to mention if the new information is well outside of our conventional beliefs or experience, it cannot even be heard accurately.
And so, our brilliant, necessary, cogent information gets ignored, resisted, objected to, or misunderstood and we must handle the ubiquitous objections and resistance that we have created (and sadly miss real opportunities to facilitate change). Hence long sales cycles/lost sales and implementation problems, ignored advice, ill patients not complying with necessary behavior changes, and lost opportunities. So: help people/groups manage change first to set up the agreement, congruency, and buy-in; then offer information.
Conventional sales, marketing, training, coaching, parenting, healthcare, and leadership models use sharing and gathering information as their core, and first, activity, assuming people will be willing to change by being offered rational, necessary, data. But facilitating change goes well beyond information.
I’ve developed a generic Change Facilitation model (called Buying Facilitation® in sales) which works with each step of systemic change to generate buy-in of all elements, people, rules, etc. that will touch the new solution, and enables a system to design it’s own route through to congruent change; information is offered once there is agreement for adoption – and by the time you offer it, there is already eagerness for change and an eagerness to adopt and listen to your information. If you’re a coach, negotiator, seller, purchasing agent, leader, doctor, or implementer add it into your current skills. Then when it’s time to offer information, your clients will be ready for it.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the author most recently of What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew is also the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and 7 other books on how decisions get made, how change happens in systems, and how buyers buy. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® a facilitation tool for sellers, coaches, and managers to help others determine their best decisions and enable excellence. Her award winning blog sharondrewmorgen.com has 1500 original articles with original thinking on systems, collaboration, buying, leadership, etc. Sharon Drew is a visionary, trainer, coach, consultant, and speaker. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.
Sharon Drew Morgen July 23rd, 2018
Posted In: Communication
When researching my book on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, I was surprised to learn how little of what we hear someone say is unbiased, or even accurate. Seems we hear what we want to hear, and not necessarily what’s been meant; too often we don’t know the difference. There are several elements that conspire against accuracy. And sadly, it’s largely out of our control.
THE PROBLEM WITH LANGUAGE
Let me begin with my definitions of ‘language’ and ‘communication’:
In dialogue, language is a translation process between a Speaker’s thoughts – translated and verbalized into a delivery system of ideas, words, voice (tone, tempo, pitch), and the unspoken goal/bias of the outcome sought – and the Listener’s filtering system.
A completed communication is a circle – Speaker -> Listener -> Speaker: the Speaker translates an internal thought/idea through language to their Communication Partner (CP) who listens through their own unique and subjective filters, and responds to what they have interpreted. Until or unless the Speaker’s message has been received accurately, the communication is not complete.
Language itself is one of the problems we face when attempting to accurately understand what a Speaker means:
Arguably the largest detractor of accuracy for understanding our CPs intended message are the cultural, experiential, belief, education, and intimacy gaps that create subjective and unconscious filters in us all. These filters – biases, assumptions, triggers, habituated neural pathways, and memory channels – unconsciously and automatically sift out or transform what our CP says that’s uncomfortable or different from our beliefs, our lifestyles, etc., or aren’t in line within the goal of what we’re actively seeking in the exchange.
While we each assume that what we ‘hear’ is an accurate representation of what’s been said, often it’s not. With our subjective listening filters uniquely interpreting what others say, we can’t help but
and on and on. As sellers we ‘hear’ that people are buyers; as coaches we ‘hear’ people complain of stuff we know how to fix; as leaders we ‘hear’ our teams convey they’re on-board (or not) with our ideas; as change agents we ‘hear’ rejection rather than alternate approaches or shared concerns; as parents we ‘hear’ our teenagers making excuses.
OUR BRAINS TRICK US
Simplistically, here’s our unconscious listening process:
And because we’re only ‘told’ what our brains ‘tell’ us has been said, we end up ‘certain’ that what we think we hear is actually what’s meant. So if someone says ABC we might actually hear ABL, without knowing what our brains added, subtracted, or muddled. I once lost a business partner because he ‘heard’ me say X when three of us sitting there, including his wife, confirmed I said Y. “I was right here! Why are you all lying to me! I heard it with my own ears!” And he walked out in a self-generated rage. His brain actually told him I said something I never said and he never questioned it, even though three people told him he misheard.
I know this is disconcerting but it’s important to understand: Listeners always assume what they (think they) hear is what has been said. And where this diverges from the Speaker’s intended meaning, we end up responding to an inaccurate understanding, blaming our CP for miscommunicating, and never consider that just maybe we unwittingly got it wrong.
It all happens automatically and unconsciously, and we end up involuntarily misunderstanding without realizing, until too late, that there is a problem. Indeed we have no conscious ability to tell our brains what to search for when we’re listening, causing us to potentially hear a fraction of a fraction of what’s meant; we then compound the problem by responding according to what we THINK has been said. So we might get self-righteously angry, or perceive we’re forgiven; we hear people as racists or healers or sarcastic or buyers; we feel slighted or complimented or ignored; we think ideas are stupid and opinions absurd. And in each instance, we miss the possibility of a partnership, or a new concept, or a conversation or relationship that might have been.
In summary: the structure of language itself causes confusion when listening to Others; our subjective filters – biases (of which there are hundreds), assumptions, and triggers – are unconscious impediments to what we think we hear; our neural pathways, habitual associations, and memory channels automatically, and subjectively, get triggered by a word or phrase and go down their own well-traveled path to seek a match, potentially eschewing more relevant or accurate routes to understanding; our brains don’t tell us what it’s omitted or transformed, leaving us potentially misunderstanding – without question – what our CP meant to impart.
And it’s all unconscious. According to Sarah Williams Goldhagen in Welcome to Your World, our unconscious (or ‘nonconscious’ as she calls it) is approximately 90% of our attention, and only 10% “…patterned and schematized in a way we can interact with others.”(pg 59) So misunderstanding is virtually built into our communication.
LISTENING FOR METAMESSAGES INSTEAD OF WORDS
Unfortunately we have no automatic capability to hear a Speaker’s intended message accurately, regardless of the Speaker’s word choices or the Listener’s commitment to listening ‘carefully’, regardless of the costly wordsmithing done in many industries to lure Listener buy-in. But as Listeners can take an active role in consciously managing our listening filters to encourage greater understanding. For this we must circumvent our biased listening; we must learn the skill of avoiding listening for meaning solely from the words.
From birth, we’re taught to carefully listen for words (and Active Listening has a part to play in this predisposition), assuming, falsely, we’ll translate them accurately. We can, however, circumvent our normal filtering process by shifting our attention from listening to words to listening for meaning; listening for what’s meant, rather than for what’s said; listening less to the words and more for the Speaker’s underlying intent.
Let’s walk this back. Remember that Speakers speak to impart an underlying thought (I call this the Metamessage) and then unconsciously select the most precise words – for that situation, for that Listener – to do so. But these word choices might not be the best ones to garner accurate understanding in that particular Listener. Certainly, a Speaker has no idea how a Listener’s filters will interpret the sent message. This becomes more obvious when speaking to a group and some members understand, others misunderstand. To circumvent misunderstanding, to have a greater chance of hearing what’s meant and eliminating the factors causing misunderstanding, we must take filters out of the listening process.
There’s a higher probability of hearing others accurately if Listeners bypass the normal filtering process and instead focus on the Speaker’s intended meaning. I learned the basic concept while studying NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming – the study of the structure of subjective experience) and expanded it in my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? When listening we can actually go beyond the brain and experience a broad view (not intimate details) of what’s being meant.
To avoid our listening filters, to get the broader meaning behind the idea intended, we must go ‘up to the ceiling’ and listen as a Witness/Observer. A very simple example would be if someone said ‘I wish you would be on time more often’, the Metamessage might be ‘I hate that you’re late again. And I’m getting tired of waiting for you all the time!’ We do this naturally when speaking with a small child, listening with for what they mean to tell us, rather than focus on their possibly unskilled wordsmithing. Or when we overhear a conversation in a Starbucks. In both instances we’re Observers.
We don’t know how to consciously choose; the problem is we don’t know how to consciously choose to do so. To choose the Witness/Observer viewpoint, think of a time when you’re aware you were listening without any personal agenda and break down how you did that – how you knew when it was time to disengage from the words, what you noticed that was different, how it shifted your communication exchange. If it’s something you want to learn, I’ve written an entire chapter on this (Chapter 6) in What?.
LISTENING FOR MEANING VS WORDS
Here are two cold call interactions that exemplify the difference between listening for words vs for Metamessages. The first is a dialogue of a coaching client in which I was teaching him how to sell with integrity. He started out fine, but then dissolved into his old push technique when he interpreted the prospect’s words according to his own filters:
BROKER: Hi My name is Jeff Rosen. I sell insurance and this is a cold call. Is this a good time to speak?
CLIENT: Hi Jeff. Thanks for calling but I’m just walking out the door.
The prospect hung up.
SDM: What was that????? You started off great! And he responded kindly.
BROKER: I had to talk really fast because he said he was busy.
Listening for the spoken words through his filters, my client only heard a time constraint and didn’t ‘hear’ that the prospect stayed on the line and didn’t hang up. Listening from a Witness/Observer position he would have heard that the prospect was polite and hanging in with him, and made another choice: “I’ll call back when it’s convenient.” Or “Thanks. What’s a better time?”
In a very similar situation, I made a cold call to the Chief Training Officer at IBM; you’ll notice that both of us listened for the Metamessage instead of the words:
NANCY: [The world’s fastest] HELLO!
SDM: You sound busy. When should I call back?
NANCY: Tomorrow at 2.
And we both hung up.
This continued for 3 days with the exact same dialogue. Finally we had this exchange on day 4:
SDM: You still sound busy.
NANCY: Who are you?
SDM: Sharon Drew Morgen, and this is only a cold call. I can call you back when you’re not so busy.
NANCY: What are you selling?
SDM: Training for a facilitated buying model to use with sales.
NANCY: I’ll give you 5 minutes.
SDM: Not enough.
NANCY: 10 minutes.
SDM: Not enough.
NANCY: OK. I’m yours. But I want to know how you just did what you did. How did you get me to speak with you? How do I feel so respected when you’re cold calling me? How did you get me to give you so much time? And can you teach my sales team how to do that? Can you come next month? [Note: I ended up training with them for two years. I didn’t even have to pitch.]
Both of us listened with our Witness hats on. Nancy heard my Metamessage: by immediately hanging up after getting a time, she ‘heard’ me say that I respected her time. Calling back at the requested time told her I was responsible. Telling her it was a sales cold told her I was honest and wasn’t going to manipulate her. And by me abiding to her time frame she abided to mine. Indeed, I ‘said’ none of those things in words; the meaning was the message I intended to send. My goal was to connect if possible and serve if able. To connect, I’d have to value her time, not push; to serve I’d be honest and responsible. So she ‘heard’ me, beyond the words. It was win/win.
So here’s a suggestion: For those times it’s important to understand the underlying meaning of another’s communication, and you cannot risk biases and assumptions that might significantly alter the outcome, I suggest you go up to the ‘ceiling’ and listen from Witness/Observer.
This is a great tool for those of you who are Active Listening proponents. When listening to correctly capture the words spoken, understand your brain will bias how you interpret them and you may not achieve clarity as to the intent of the message. In my experience, AL doesn’t ensure understanding and too often puts the ‘blame’ of misunderstanding on the Speaker.
Try listening from the ‘ceiling’ from Witness/Observer. It might make a difference. And if that’s not comfortable at least clear a way to understanding in each important conversation:
Before we continue, I just want to make sure I understand what you mean to say.
Here’s what I heard…. Is that accurate?
Communication is delicate, as are relationships. Take the time to ensure you and your Communication Partner are on the same page. And delight that a shared understanding inspires possibility.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, and author of 9 books, including the New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets – why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? She is the developer of Change Facilitation, used in sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching, leadership, and management – any influencing situation in which integrity, ethics, and collaboration are involved. Sharon Drew is a speaker, trainer, consultant, and coach for sales and listening. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.
Sharon Drew Morgen April 24th, 2018
Because of your sophisticated tracking and targeting, you know who’s reading your content. But do you know why they’re reading it? And how are you accessing those who could/should buy but are ignoring the articles your sending them?
Content is written with different reasons in mind: for Buyer Personas to learn about your solution as early along their decision path as possible; for brand recognition; to gain followers; to make a sale. We write with a narrow focus to reach our target market and use every means at our disposal to distribute and track it, hoping that it will help us make a sale or find more followers.
DATA VS DECISIONS
But how do you know if this content, with these ideas and these words, written in this style, will enable those seeking a new solution to recognize they need you? Not only are you seeking a reader you can’t fully know (Why are they reading the content? No. Really. Why? And how many possible buyers reject it because they’re not ready yet?), you’re hoping, guessing, tracking, targeting, and crossing your fingers in hopes it will get into the right hands at the right time to take action.
But your glorious content – sometimes little more than a thinly veiled advertisement – may not be getting you all the success you deserve. You have a ceiling of a 5% success rate (less than 1% for content marketing) because you’re limiting your readership to those who have already decided on their next actions. By sticking to data push, you’re missing an opportunity to make your content an interactive experience that enable the act of decision making. With a few adjustments, you can create content that can be used to facilitate a sale and expand and enlist your audience.
The problem starts with the use of content marketing as part of your sales/solution placement toolkit. Certainly content marketing is great for explaining, pitching, writing about, introducing, and presenting data about our solutions. But this usage limits our target audience to those who are ready to buy, and are also perusing competitive data.
When you think about the early activity within the act of buying – the Pre-Sales, change management, decision issues that include 13 steps to consensus/action (9 of which are Pre-Sales and not ‘needs’ or ‘buying’ related) – there’s a huge swath of prospective buyers who aren’t reading your content as it is because they’re not ready, but could easily be made ready with content that fits into the route of their Pre-Sales change management decisions. You can develop different types of relevant content so you’re with them each step of the way, even before they’re aware they might need you.
See, prior to deciding on a solution, buyers have some change work to do that’s systemic in nature and vital to them maintaining Systems Congruence – the rules, initiatives, relationships, and history of their culture and environment. They can’t just wake up one day, see your content, and drop everything and everyone mindlessly to do what you want them to do. No one buys like that.
Thinking that a prospective buyer ‘needs’ your content, or will be convinced or influenced to take action before they’re ready, is magical thinking and needlessly restricts your audience. Obvious, no? Before anyone buys anything they do research, get input and alternate ideas from friends/colleagues, discern the potential fallout, trial different possibilities, and ultimately get agreement to move forward. You content is only relevant when they’ve handled all of this. By pushing your message, you’re restricting buying. You can use content marketing to facilitate the process.
When it was time to begin marketing my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? I had a problem. Known for my Buying Facilitation® material in the sales industry, I had no obvious audience in communication or listening. I had to attract a new audience: find new readers AND shift from being a ‘sales’ expert to a ‘communication’ expert. My goal was to offer corporate teams a one-day Listening Without Bias training. To do that I needed readers to first buy my book.
Realizing I’d need buy-in to run an in-house program, I wrote an article that would attract the largest population of readers because of the universal problems involved: meetings. I wrote a very helpful article on meetings that offered both a clear description of the inherent problems and offered very creative, tough, usable solutions to make them creative, collaborative, and results-oriented. I never mentioned anything to do with listening. There was no manipulation or commercial overlay in the article, no links to listening/book links appeared only in the footer.
I got dozens of ‘Thank You’ notes from readers I’d never heard of, saying they’d sent/shared my article among hundreds of employees, friends, and colleagues. Many, many people shared the article on social media, bringing me new readers and subscribers outside my natural market. The article was ranked as one of my best-read articles, with thousands reading it the first few days. And my book sales went through the rood: I had a 51% conversion rate.
So yes, content is vital. But it can be read by more prospective buyers, earlier in their decision path. Start by understanding each of the Pre-Sales issues (i.e. systemic changed-based, not ‘need’ based or solution-based) your buyers must address with their colleagues and partners, and then write articles that will help them along their normal route to making the internal decisions they’d need to make before they can buy. Then you’ll have proven your worth and be familiar to them. By the time they’re ready to buy and have all their internal ducks in a row, they’ll seek out your content.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker and visionary in systemic change in sales, coaching, leadership, collaboration, and listening. She is the author of 9 books, including Selling with Integrity and What?, as well as 1700 articles on buyer readiness, decision facilitation, and collaboration on her award-winning blog sharondrewmorgen.com.
Sharon Drew is the developer of the Servant Leader change model Buying Facilitation®, that gives sellers the tools to help buyers (and clients, and patients, etc.) manage their Pre-Sales/Pre-Change decisions. Sharon Drew has worked with many Fortune 1000 companies such as IBM, DuPont, Kaiser, Bose, and GE. She is a speaker, coach, consultant, and original thinker. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.
Sharon Drew Morgen April 16th, 2018