By Sharon Drew Morgen

Change - Selling Solutions

I’ve recently heard sales folks complain that the status quo was the ‘enemy’ of buyers buying. Nonsense. It’s just another element along the buyer’s decision path that must be addressed, and can be directed, codified, and influenced – but not with a sales hat on. Let’s consider the, um, status quo: When does a buyer buy? When they’re ready – regardless of their need. When is a buyer ready? When their stable status quo recognizes it cannot fix any problems with known resources and is prepared to change in a way that won’t cause irreparable disruption. A buying decision (any decision, frankly) is a change management problem. Here are the basics:

Ready: Ready means that

  • the status quo has carefully determined (through trial, error, and agreement) that it cannot fix recognized problems with anything familiar (current vendors, current software, other departments, different people),
  • there has been systemic buy-in and the status quo is ready, willing, able to incorporate something new into the current operating procedures,
  • a new solution can fit without major disruption (or it will be rejected regardless of the need or the efficacy of the new),
  • the ‘new’ matches the rules, values- and systems-based criteria that identifies it.

In other words, even if buyers need your solution, they can’t buy if the cost of disruption is higher than the cost of the solution implementation. And here is the frustrating part for us: Any change must be initiated, managed, and maintained from within the system because no outsider can understand the nuances of a status quo they are not part of.  Here is a rule: until they know how to manage any change that would be incurred as a result of a purchase, prospective buyers cannot buy regardless of need.

Status quo: The status quo is

  • the established conglomeration of elements that define our unique, largely unconscious, human operating system,
  • made up of idiosyncratic rules that determine the habits, patterns, agreeable behaviors, and organizing principles that enable us to get up every day as the same person/team we were yesterday,
  • a representation of the beliefs, values, history, assumptions, moral structure, cultural/educational standards it embodies,
  • stable, unique, idiosyncratic, complex, and mysterious (especially to outsiders).

The status quo keeps us operating congruently every moment of every day. It doesn’t judge right or wrong; it doesn’t recognize good or bad. It’s just ‘what is’. To become a different ‘what is’ it would have to change. And change means disruption, potentially a breakdown or interruption of normal operating. Although a natural occurrence – we move house, make new friends, take a new jobs, buy new clothes – we won’t substantially change unless we are assured we avoid disruption, confusion, and uncertainty.

THE PROBLEM WITH CHANGING THE STATUS QUO

The norms and values within a status quo have been normalized; right or wrong, good or bad, we function in a pre-ordained way day after day.  Anything – anything – threatening this habitual functioning will be resisted. I remember sitting on the floor of a hut in the Ecuadorian Amazon, sharing a meal with an indigenous family. My women travel friends were warned not to smile at the local boys who showed up to stare, as a smile was an invite to bed. After imbibing liberally on the local and highly fermented ‘chi cha’, everyone was drunkenly smiling – a cultural imperative for Americans – and the boys surrounded us like bees in a flower garden. Our host had to usher the swarming, eager boys out, offering a frustrated glare at us en route. The rules of our cultural status quo included being friendly to strangers; the rules of their status quo included avoiding women unless invited.

As individuals, our status quo has been formed by our subjective life experiences: the rules, beliefs, and thinking that we learn from our parents and grandparents, our schooling and birthplace, our education and work life, our friends and family. Our life choices, our communication patterns, our choice of mates and jobs all maintain our status quo. Doing anything different threatens our very core.

As members of teams, groups, or relationships, our status quo has more moving parts, including individual needs, rules for collaboration and communication, politics, corporate regs, and the historic relationships. For our clients, it’s imperative they maintain their status quo or they cannot get up day after day and run a business.

At the point we meet clients they are a walking bouquet of normalized elements that make no sense to anyone outside the group (or even inside the group sometimes). When we try to push change, the offered information is seen as foreign and will be resisted regardless of its efficacy. Until or unless the status quo knows how to add something new in a way that conforms to its baseline (and unconscious) rules, and understands that no permanent damage will occur, it won’t be willing/able to shift behaviors, learn new habits/patterns, or accept new ideas or solutions. In other words, no change can happen.

SALES, BUY-IN, CHANGE, AND THE STATUS QUO

Changing the status quo is a challenge of Systems Congruence; the new must fit comfortably with the habitual so the person or team can continue functioning normally.

For buyers, the time it takes them to figure out how to do this is the length of the sales cycle. It’s a systems/change thing, not a purchase/fix thing. But facilitating congruent change hasn’t been part of the sales skill set: with our solution-placement agenda, we limit our prospect population by seeking those who may be ready now or soon; too often we wait (and wait and hope) while those we deem appropriate complete this. We don’t take into account that sellers (or any influencers) are outsiders who can never understand how the status quo is kept in place, or add something to it.

Offered too early our data, or pitch, or ‘rational argument’ is not seen as a reason to buy but as threats to the balance of the status quo when it may not be prepared to change. Sometimes our solution is not recognized as being needed because the Buying Decision Team hasn’t yet been fully assembled and needs haven’t been fully elicited. Sometimes they know they have a need but haven’t determined how to change congruently yet, or tried out all of the internal workarounds that might offer a resolution.

It’s certainly possible that at the time we’re getting “No’s” our prospects are merely at a stuck stage and can easily move beyond it once they get understanding or internal agreement. When I hear sellers say that the status quo is ‘the enemy’ I know they are attempting to push against it with data, contacts, media. As I said above, nothing – not our brilliant pitches or presentations or charming personalities – from the outside will sway this stable beast.

But there is a way to help our buyers facilitate the 13 steps to congruent change as part of our initiative. Instead of spending so much resource seeking only those who are ready (the low hanging fruit), we can recognize, and enter earlier, with those who will buy, and help them shift their status quo from within, using their own values and rules to seek and accept new solutions. It will require, however, an addition to the status quo of the selling model.

HOW THE STATUS QUO CHANGES

Let’s begin by understanding how the status quo adopts change (I wrote a book on this. Read two free chapters: www.dirtylittlesecretsbook.com). And, regardless of the size or complexity of the problem, the path to congruent change is the same for all systems. It begins when something within recognizes something awry. It must then find a path to congruent change that includes consensus and change management. Knowing what needs to shift, having ‘good’ data on why the shift is necessary, or having a few elements willing to shift (without complete buy-in) does nothing to create change. There must be a thorough understanding of all the moving parts (i.e. you can’t get where you’re going until you know where you’re at).

Rule: status quo must recognize rules, beliefs, norms, that must be maintained before considering change to avoid resistance and systems incongruence.

To add anything foreign from the outside, the new must get buy-in from any people, policies, rules, and politics that would be affected. All change must be accompanied by a re-weighting of the norms of the status quo. The status quo itself must know exactly how it will be effected by anything new, and if it’s worth it to spend the energy mitigating itself to adopt. For this, everyone involved in maintaining the status quo must have a hand in defining the elements and understanding how change would effect it.

Rule: assemble everyone/everything that makes up the status quo to determine how, if, why, when any change would be required or accepted.

Once the status quo is coded, everyone/everything has bought in to change, the fallout from change must be considered and strategized. Change must be systemic and based on the values and rules that maintain it. Certainly no one from outside can cause the change.

Rule: every element within the status quo must understand the potential fallout to change, and be willing to consider ways to adapt to, or align with, the new, or it will resist change regardless of the rewards.

Unfortunately, the sales model doesn’t include this level of change facilitation; it occurs privately within the buying environment, during what sellers call the Pre-Sales, hidden, and highly personal portion of a pre-buying decision. I developed a model (Buying Facilitation®) that gives sellers a new tool kit to use with sales to manage systemic change and buy-in. I’ve trained it with terrific results for decades. But make no mistake: it’s not a normal part of the selling process.

The question is whether or not you want to change: to continue seeking those who have already accomplished this change management, or seek those you can lead through it as a change consultant first. You’d need to avoid gathering data and stop pitching until this has occurred and instead, begin by listening for systems and facilitating change. But then you’d have approximately 40% more real prospects who are ready, willing, and able to buy.

Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities. To facilitate buying, you must enter earlier as a Servant Leader and be willing to first be a change agent. Then you’d find and facilitate the journey with those who really need your solution but haven’t completed shifting the status quo yet. Potential buyers must first do this, with you or without you, as we sit and wait, or miss the opportunity entirely. Instead of seeking those who have already finished this and are in the 5% you can sell to, why not find those who WILL buy, facilitate them through their change, and become part of their status quo. It actually takes less time and closes more. So much easier, kinder, and more profitable than chasing the low hanging fruit. You’d just have to change your status quo.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is the developer of Buying Facilitation® – a generic change management model for influencers that facilitates the journey through the status quo to enable congruent, systemic change. It includes Listening for Systems, formulating Facilitative Questions, and enabling choice. She has trained the model to 100,000 sales folks in companies such as KPMG, IBM, DuPont, Clinique, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, FedEX, GEIS, HP, Wachovia, Morgan Stanley, and Bose. Sharon Drew is the author of 7 books on this including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestseller Dirty Little Secrets. Sharon Drew’s most recent book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? breaks down the gap between what folks say and what is heard. She is an original thinker and visionary who trained, speaks, consults, and coaches. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com. 1700 articles appear on www.sharondrewmorgen.com

 

 

January 6th, 2020

Posted In: Communication, News, Sales

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In 1996 my sister called to say she’d made an online purchase. I was surprised: in those early days it was not only difficult to search for anything on the new internet, there wasn’t much to search for. Certainly, purchasing anything seemed illogical – we had no way of knowing if ‘secure lines’ were, well, secure. Curious, I asked my sister to explain her decision process.

J: I needed a simple Y connector, and decided to see what online purchasing was all about. This was my test case. I found three companies with the exact same product at the same price.

SD: How did you choose which company to buy from?

J: Since the price and products were identical, I decided I’d trust the company with the best customer service so I’d be cared for if I had a problem. Because none of the websites mentioned customer service, I decided to call them and ask. The first company kept me on hold for 23 minutes before I hung up. The second call put me straight through to a voice message. A sales rep answered my call in the third company, asking me if I had questions. So it was an obvious choice. There was only one company that took care of me.

I then realized there were three problems with the current (1996) search capability: 1. Site visitors had only a haphazard method of finding what they wanted; 2. People occasionally didn’t recognize their unconscious criteria for resolving their query, even if they could find what they initially thought they wanted; and 3. Sites could only meet the search criteria imagined by the site designers, sometimes overlooking criteria sought by visitors. In other words, if people were happy with the information a site offered, they were satisfied. For those folks not entirely clear, or had needs outside the obvious, there was a probability they couldn’t find what they really needed and would leave the site.

I decided to create a tool to help site visitors become aware of the unconscious criteria (i.e. not top-of-mind) they needed from a specific site, and be led directly to the page(s) that offered the exact answers they sought – with just a click!

MY SEARCH INVENTION DEFIED THE NORM

Enter Hobbes. With a few sequenced facilitated questions, a simple backend tree, and carefully culled choices of criteria-based options, my search tool Hobbes could lead people to both their unconscious factors and intended take-away to the one or two site pages that fit their search. For those who chose to use Hobbes, this would keep them on the site and help them walk away buyers or satisfied visitors. It would also cause companies to do their homework to learn what visitors truly needed and add those responses to their sites. On my site I had a 54% use rate.

Specifics: Hobbes employs a sub screen which posed 3 or 4 Facilitative Questions (a new type of question I designed to elicit unconscious criteria for decision making in the sequence of brain change) focused on decision making criteria in each industry (i.e. in buying a car – price, color, etc. plus possibly Environmental Factors; in software – features, functions, etc. plus possibly Integration with Current Technology, etc.). Then site pages would be tagged to respond.

Here’s an example. Suppose you wanted to buy a red shirt online. In addition to searching for styles, price, etc., you could also be guided through your decision making with 3 Facilitative Questions representing types of choice criteria. You’d choose a category, then you’d answer 3 brief questions that linked you to the right (tagged) site page. For example, one selection might be:

What would you need to see from us to trust we can take care of your needs?

  1. An explanation of who makes our shirts and our fair trade practices;
  2. A selection of colors and materials with testimonials proving our quality;
  3. Customer service and return policies.
This would lead visitors directly to what they needed so long as the tagged menu items included visitor criteria beyond merely what the company naturally offered. Way outside of normal, especially for 24 years ago.

And therein lie the problem. My thinking, my models, my ideas, went outside Perceived Wisdom; few people understood why it was needed; everyone else just found it weird. Obviously, the Perceived Wisdom believed, people only need the facts.

WHO AM I? AND WHY DOES CRITERIA MATTER?

Before I continue my story, let me stop for just a moment to give you a thumbnail sketch of who I am. When I was age 11, I recognized that I think differently than others – thinking, listening, and understanding in systems, seeing the world in beliefs, values, relationships, norms, and metamessages, in circles that gave me a wholistic understanding. So different from how conventional people experience the world – in content, with a linear understanding.

Wanting to show up as normal, I began what would become my life’s work: coding the systems involved with how brains cause us to make choices – the sequenced steps of decision making, the internal neuronal/synaptic connections in our brains that match our unconscious belief-based criteria, and cause us to do what we do and think what we think. Once I understood the foundational differences in thinking and assumptions between me and others, I used my ideas to teach myself to choose behaviors closer to the norm – a practice I use to this day.

Since then, I’ve developed several original facilitation models (some folks refer to me as a genius, but for me it’s just normal thinking) that teach influencers in several industries (in sales as Buying Facilitation®in leadership as change facilitation and choice, and in healthcare to help folks permanently change behaviors) to enable influencers to

And none of it uses information, storytelling, or any sort of push based on the information, needs or assumptions of the external influencer. It offers parents, sellers, coaches, and leaders the skills to facilitate others through the brain elements necessary for them to make their best change decisions based on their largely unconscious criteria. I’m happy to discuss this or send you further articles on it: sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

Note: I recognized decades ago that an outsider can never understand anyone else’s unconscious criteria, but they can – with an unbiased skill set – help others make their own best choices using their own hidden criteria.

HOBBES COULDN’T BE FUNDED

To continue my story: Hobbes in hand, I went forth to raise funds. I created a one sheet for it and pitched wherever I could. Heidi Roisen, then at PeopleSoft and one of the only women VCs, offered $15,000,000 if someone else would put in $1,000,000. I couldn’t find that million. Why would anyone need such a tool? I was asked frequently.

And who was I pitching to? Men. The VCs in the tech boom were by and large men. It was only years later that I learned that in the internet boom, women received merely 2% of VC funding (Now women get about 6%!). I was a woman, ahead of a new curve that even then rewarded men instead of ideas. In the Perceived Wisdom of the new internet, with no/few women present, women weren’t perceived as smart, competent, innovative regardless of the importance of the ideas.

Btw there’s an addendum to the story that’s even sadder: several years ago, decades after I developed Hobbes, I spoke with Stefan Weitz, then head of Bing (a major search tool). He saw Hobbes and said, “Cool! Nothing else helps people sort for their criteria. We could have this up and running in days.” I spoke with him days later: his folks didn’t think anyone would use it – that no one sorted for criteria.

And Hobbes remains unused as site owners seek ‘questions’ to extract visitor data. Personally, I believe helping visitors/buyers trust them is a more potent sales ploy. But that’s just me: I do not welcome uninvited spam, I’ve never bought a single thing from spam, nor will I (and many people I know) ever fill out any form or answer those manipulative questions. And yet those fill-in forms, the questions, are part of the new normal – the Perceived Wisdom of the day seems to be get what you want from site visitors without giving anything back.

WHAT IS PERCEIVED WISDOM AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

My Hobbes story provides a background for my newest grumble. This essay is meant to start a discussion about how the Perceived Wisdom (PW) of the internet restricts our worlds, rules our assumptions and restricts creativity.

I’ll begin with my definition of Perceived Wisdom. PW is another way of saying ‘the norm’, the accepted myths, practices, ideas that constitute the immediate assumptions we make without questioning them. It’s the accepted convention, the normal.

PW is perpetuated in every sphere of our lives. We learn it as infants and it permeates our education, cultures, religions, what we buy and wear, who we marry and where we live. Our thinking, our behaviors are often based on accepted norms that have become ubiquitous. * Do you avoid white after Labor Day? (Silly) * Do you feed a cold and starve a fever? (Wrong) * Do you avoid answering phone calls from numbers you don’t know? (What if some important tried to reach you?) Calories in determines weight (proven false). * Behavior Modification works to help you lose weight, exercise, change habits, yadayada. (There’s no scientific evidence anywhere that it does) * Do you fail to display a contact number on your site, seeking to collect names for marketing outreach – assuming people are happy to fill out your form and accept your spam? (Thereby turning away folks with real interest who refuse to fill out those things.) Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I once asked my mother if she nursed me. ‘I would have, but everyone said it would harm you. So I didn’t. And now I’m sad about it.’

PW meets our foundational criteria of belonging: it offers comfort, safety, absence of uncertainty, and no risk of encountering scorn or derision. And because PW is aimed toward the middle (where, according to the late great, Molly Ivins, exists only yellow stripes and dead armadillos), we spend our lives unwittingly maintaining and recreating a specious status quo that causes us to lose our uniqueness.

PW keeps us locked in. Our language, our conventional assumptions, keep us like gerbils, going round and round the same ideas and conventions regardless of their success or failure. So in sales, a 5% success rate is acceptable, and the matching 95% failure rate is not even mentioned; in leadership and coaching, the assumption that the person ‘in charge’ has the knowledge that Others must conform to, and their resistance is something to be managed. Even great Harvard thinkers like Chris Argyris and Howard Gardner have written books on managing resistance, using the baseline assumption that all change involves resistance. Nonsense. Another faulty fact we’ve normalized.

While we think our personal beliefs are specific to us, they are invaded by the PW in the customs we live in. It’s where we get our racial biases, our assumptions about education, class, age, history. We’re so hamstrung by PW we’ve become tribes, where our politics and beliefs keep our ‘team’ on the good side and we hate everyone else, like sports fans.

And since it’s endemic we find no reason to reject it, even going so far as passing down these baseless concepts through generations and unquestioningly resisting anything that’s different. But worst of all, it restricts our creativity. Indeed, from health, to sex, to climate change and politics and relationships, almost every area of life is circumscribed by PW. It’s pernicious.

THE PERCEIVED WISDOM OF CURRENT SEARCH CAPABILITY

This is a huge topic, involving our health and healthcare system, our financial system, the environment, education, privacy – the list goes on. I’m going to limit this article to a narrow discussion how PW has kept our search use hamstrung to monetize our news and restrict data. PW assumes, even expects, our personal data will be extracted to send spam.

PW assumes our search will be restricted and monetized. It didn’t start out that way, but as monetization and demographic compartments became ubiquitous, we didn’t even notice. Most of our online interactions are now suspect: even simple searches lead us to knowledge selected by algorithms that contain us to the demographic we’ve been thrust into, causing facts to seem like fake news.

Our use of Google as a search engine is ubiquitous. This company, more than any, determines what we read, the information we have access to (the full range of data available only after dedicated search and rescue), the news in other countries. Even scientific facts are fed to us according to where we live, who we vote for, what we read.

And here’s the worst part. Google’s standard monetizing procedures tag us into a demographic and sends us what it can make money on. Rarely do we find the full range of possible solutions, answers, or ideas. I recently was led to a site that seemingly had the data I needed only to receive a phone call WHILE I WAS STILL LOOKING AT THE SITE from a sales person FROM THAT SITE who wanted to sell me something!

Surely we should care about accurately nourishing our curiosity without fear of spam and Robo calls. Surely it’s time to change our criteria.

WHAT COULD BE DIFFERENT

We’d like to believe that the internet and social media are the glue that stimulates the flow of information around the world. Yet we don’t have full access to it and it’s vulnerable to manipulation. Why have we come to accept this? Why is it ok to have our curiosity monetized? Why is PW so deep-seated that we sit back and allow it? Where are the voices that scream in the empty space where new ideas and creativity and innovation once lived? Are we all that lazy? Or don’t we care?

I can’t believe that people with terrific ideas aren’t grousing as I am. Yet none of us are doing anything about it. Why do we put up with this? Is our criteria for belonging so fierce that we’re willing to give up our personal criteria to be all we can be?

I wonder how search would have been different if Hobbes (or something like it) were one of the search tools we all had at our disposal – the ability to freely search for what we wanted to know, plus the ability to make sure our criteria were being met on each site we visited.

And I wonder why companies aren’t putting service before data extraction. Site designers are now inundated with requests to add ‘questions’ to their sites that allow them to grab data to send out god-knows-what. Always trying to push, to sell, to influence; always outside-in, using the criteria of the sites about pushing data enough times to instigate a buy.

What if our companies shifted their criteria toward excellence, and sought to make money the old way, by offering great solutions and service. Why wouldn’t sites want to spend their time/energy proving to site visitors they’re trustworthy, creating companies people want to engage with – facilitating user service instead of data extraction? What if the company criteria were integrity: to help visitors be served. I, for one, immediately disengage from sites trying to pull data from me.

Our Perceived Wisdom is faulty. And until we begin thinking differently and stop acting as if PW is true, it cannot change.

THE MISSING VOICE ON THE INTERNET

One other aspect of PW bugs the hell out of me, and that might supply answers to my ‘whys’: Have you realized that men – the male human of our species – designed, developed, and generated the internet and social media – and continue to do so? The Perceived Wisdom is the male view of the internet; we use it (and it abuses us) by the requirements, the criteria, of men. And we all buy into it.

How different would it be if women’s voices and ideas – currently a tiny fraction of the design of the internet – had been involved in the creation of our technology? Has the male viewpoint become so much a part of our culture that we all just assume that’s the way it is and should be (PW), and never stop to consider the results if women played their representative percentage in designing it?

Seriously: how would the internet or social media be different if it had been designed by women? Or designed by 50% women? Or designed in equal measure by people of color, people from different cultures, people of different levels of education. We’ll never know. What we do know is that the internet is the Perceived Wisdom of White Men in Silicon Valley. And we’ve normalized it as being The Way It Is.

WHY GO BEYOND PERCEIVED WISDOM?

Of course, going outside the box is hazardous. After recognizing the craziness of PW in several industries, I find myself writing articles yelling “But seriously! You have no clothes on!” and getting beat-up on, ridiculed, ignored and made stupid. But disputing PW is vital:

  1. Obviously, there’s nothing in the middle of the road except yellow lines and dead armadillos. Who would want to be there anyway?
  2. New ideas can’t come from the middle. New ideas always come from the ends.
  3. There’s no debate, curiosity, creativity, free expression in Perceived Wisdom.
  4. Things change. Time, ideas, technology culture. Wisdom must change too or we stagnate.
  5. Perceived wisdom is linear. Real life occurs in systems.
  6. Perceived wisdom is what u get when everything is thrown into the middle and becomes moderate enough to please most. Vanilla.

New ideas come from the ends – ends that are loud enough, insistent enough, and interesting enough to push into the middle, eventually change, and become part of, the PW. But getting there – the journey – is the creative part. And those of us willing to take on the job must have very tough skins. Instead of our criteria being comfort, we must shift our criteria to truth and integrity, collaboration and serving.

What, exactly, is so powerful about Perceived Wisdom that whole industries (healthcare, sales, coaching, leadership) prefer to suffer failed strategies rather than add anything new to ensure success? What would we need to believe differently to be willing to question our long held assumptions? How can we tell if a long held assumption is wrong, or incomplete, or could be expanded, or worth thinking of something different? And how would each of us need to be different to be willing to hear fresh ideas and new voices that seemingly conflict with all we think we hold dear?

The good bit is that going against the norm is fabulous. I’ve been doing it for many decades, and the rewards make up for the pitfalls. I urge anyone with original ideas, passion for truth, and a hunger for diversity, creativity, and integrity, to shout that the perceived wisdom is wrong, and put forth

  • Diversity of ideas,
  • Fresh ideas from different cultures, ethnicity, countries, educational backgrounds,
  • True creative thinking that pushes industries (sales, coaching, leadership, listening, change) to new vocabulary and (slowly slowly) new thinking,
  • Expanded possibilities for innovation,
  • Ideas that inspire other ideas that wouldn’t have otherwise been stimulated.

The internet and search are now normalized, locked in place by our groupthink, maintained by the needs of Silicon Valley. But there must be a way we can find solutions that are both ethical AND make money. The internet, search, can be used for problem solving, not divisive rhetoric or monetization, for collaboration instead of discord. And yet we shame people who tell the truth because they don’t follow PW.

If our criteria is for better, more authentic ideas, for equality and integrity, we must go outside PW where innovation comes from. PW is merely the group/tribe acceptance of the status quo that has been standardized by the masses. Let’s all be innovators; let’s all shout out new truths and challenge the norm. And let’s all listen to the dissenters because they may be shedding light on new truths.

Let’s discuss this. I’m happy to discuss should anyone want to contact me. Sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com or 512 771 1117.

______________________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, visionary, inventor, and genius of note. She has developed new models for sales (Buying Facilitation®, how to lead people through their change management issues as they become buyers); listening (closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard); leadership and coaching (enabling followers to develop their own path to change); change and healthcare (generating new behaviors consciously by creating new neural pathways in the brain that replace old habits).

Sharon Drew is the author of many books, one of which (Selling with Integrity) was on the NYTimes Business Bestseller’s list, and two of which were on the Amazon bestseller’s list (Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?). Her award winning blog, sharondrewmorgen.com is populated with 6 original articles/essays a way that illustrate new ideas that go against the perceived wisdom. Sharon Drew is available as a trainer, coach, sales strategist, and keynote speaker.

December 16th, 2019

Posted In: Communication, News

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A coach’s job is to facilitate potential change, usually done by asking questions to identify the components of the problem, choosing between solutions to discuss, and offering ways to make, and keep, any changes while maintaining a trusting relationship.

To achieve the excellence that all coaches seek, it’s vital they avoid the ear’s natural, unconscious listening filters that could prejudice an interaction, such as:

Bias. By listening specifically for issues – problems, hopes, missing skills or motivation – a coach will merely hear what s/he recognizes as missing. This causes a problem for a client: if there are unspoken or omitted bits, if there are meta patterns that should be noticed, if there are unstated historic – or subconscious – reasons behind the current situation that aren’t obvious, the coach may not find them in a timely way, causing the coach to begin in the wrong place, with the wrong timing and assumptions, leading to suggestions that may be inappropriate, potentially creating mistrust (best case) or harm (worst case).

Assumptions. If a coach has had somewhat similar discussions with other clients, or historic, unconscious, beliefs are touched that bring to mind specific questions or solutions, coaches too often offer clients flawed or inadequate suggestions.

Habits. If a coach has a client base in one area – say, real estate, or leadership – s/he may unconsciously enter the conversation with many prepared ways of handling similar situations and may miss the unique issues, patterns, and unspoken foundation that may hold the key to success.

And it’s all unconscious. None of us, especially coaches who truly care about their clients, ever mean to harm anyone. As I write in my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? the problem lie in our brains. Once we listen carefully for ‘something’, consciously or un-, we restrict all else that’s possible to hear as our brains interpret the words spoken according to our bias (led by the electrical/chemical signals sent to our historic neural pathways), often missing the client’s real intent, nuance, patterns, and comprehensive contextual framework and implications.

To have choice as to when, whether, or how to avoid filtering out possibility, we must disassociate – go up on the ceiling and look down – and remove ourselves from any personal biases, assumptions, triggers or habits, enabling us to hear all that is meant (spoken or not).

In What? I explain how to trigger ourselves the moment there is a potential incongruence. For those unfamiliar with disassociation, try this: during a phone chat, put your legs up on the desk and push your body back against the chair, or stand up. For in-person discussions, stand up and/or walk around. [I have walked around rooms during Board meetings while consulting for Fortune 100 companies. They wanted excellence regardless of my physical comportment.] Both of those physical perspectives offer the physiology of choice and the ability to move outside of our instincts. Try it.

For companies wanting a one-day program on listening to ensure teammates hear each other accurately, to help customer-facing staff to hear clients better, let me know. For those individuals seeking to listen without bias, read What? and take the guided learning that leads you through exercises in each chapter, to teach you how to notice, and get rid of, your listening bias.

_______________

Sharon Drew Morgen is the NYTimes Business Bestselling author of Selling With Integrity and 7 books how buyers buy including Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® a decision facilitation model used with sales to help buyers facilitate pre-sales buying decision issues. She is a sales visionary who coined the terms Helping Buyers Buy, Buy Cycle, Buying Decision Patterns, Buy Path in 1985, and has been working with sales/marketing for 30 years to influence buying decisions.

More recently, Morgen is the author of What? Did you really say what I think I heard? in which she has coded how we can hear others without bias or misunderstanding, and why there is a gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She is a trainer, consultant, speaker, and inventor, interested in integrity in all business communication. Her learning tools can be purchased: www.didihearyou.com. She can be reached at: sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com 512-771-1117 www.didihearyou.comwww.sharondrewmorgen.com

November 25th, 2019

Posted In: Listening, News

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS CHANGE?

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

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

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

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

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

WE IGNORE THE SYSTEM: HOW BIAS AND INFORMATION PUSH CAUSE RESISTANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

#2 What are Systems and How Do They Influence Change

WHAT IS RESISTANCE?

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

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

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

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

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

WHY BUY-IN IS NECESSARY AND HOW TO ACHIEVE IT

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

  • matching the new with the values and norms of the status quo,
  • shifting the status quo to adapt to something new,
  • facilitating buy-in from everyone who will touch the new addition,
  • working from inside out by aligning with the core values and norms of the system.
[Note: I teach this change process as Buying Facilitation® to sellers to facilitate Pre-Sales buying decisions, and coaches as a tool to generate permanent change.] Until this is accomplished, resistance will result as the system attempts to defend itself.

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

HOW TO AVOID RESISTANCE, DISRUPTION, AND FAILURE

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

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

#5 A Radical Approach to Change Management, Real Leadership

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

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

_______________________________________

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

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

November 18th, 2019

Posted In: News

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Training Your Team, Training In BusinessDid you ever wonder why training fails more often than not? When important material, meant to improve or educate, is not learned or acted upon? Why perfectly smart people keep doing the same things that didn’t work the first time? The problem is the training model.

Current training models are designed to offer and present data, not help folks learn. Let me explain.

Current training models successfully educate only those who are predisposed to the new material. Others may endeavor to learn during their classroom study but may not permanently adopt it. The problem isn’t the value of information or the eagerness of the learner: It’s a problem with both the training model itself and the way learners learn. It’s a systems/change problem.

HOW WE LEARN

We all operate out of unique, internal systems comprised of mental models (rules, beliefs, history etc.) that form the foundation of who we are and determine our choices, behaviors and habits. Our behaviors are the vehicles that represent these internal systems – our beliefs in action, if you will. So as a Buddhist I wouldn’t learn to shoot a gun, but if someone were to try to kill my family I’d shift the hierarchy of my beliefs to put ‘family’ above ‘Buddhist’ and ‘shooting a gun’ might be within the realm of possibility

Because anything new is a threat to our habitual and carefully (unconsciously) organized internal system (part of our limbic brain), we instinctively defend ourselves against anything ‘foreign’ that might seek to enter. For real change (like learning something new) to occur, our system must buy-in to the new or it will be automatically resisted.

The design of most training programs poses problems for learners, such as when

– learners are happy with their habitual behaviors and don’t seek anything new,
– fear they might lose their historic competency,
– the new material unconsciously opposes long-held beliefs
– the new material may butt heads with a learner’s long-held beliefs, ego, or knowledge base.

Our brains are programmed to maintain our status quo and resist anything new regardless of the efficacy of the required change. Much like a sales pitch, training offers good data – and learners, like buyers, may not know they need it or be able to congruently make the change the new information requires. But there is another way to go about training that incorporates change. Let’s begin by examining the beliefs inherent in the training model itself.

HOW WE TRAIN

The current training model assumes that if new material

  • is recognized as important, rational, and useful,
  • is offered in a logical, informative, interesting way,
  • allows time for experience and practice,
  • offers enough experiential learning,

it will become accepted and habituated. But these assumptions are faulty. At an unconscious level, this model attempts to push something foreign into a closed system (our status quo) that is perfectly happy as it is: it might be adopted briefly, but if it opposes our habituated norm, it will show up as a threat and be resisted. This is the same problem faced when sellers attempt to place a new solution, or doctors attempt to change the habits of ill patients.

Until or unless the unconscious system that holds our beliefs and values and habits in place is ready, willing, and able to adopt the new material, any change will not be permanent and learners will resist. Effective training must change beliefs first. And beliefs can only be changed by the learner making internal shifts, separate from the new information provided.

LEARNING FACILITATION

To avoid resistance and support adoption, training must enable

  1. buy-in from the unconscious system of beliefs, habits, rules and history;
  2. the system to discover its own areas of lack and create an acceptable opening for change

before the new material is offered.

I had a problem to resolve when designing my first Buying Facilitation® training program in 1983. Because my content ran counter to an industry norm (sales), I had to help learners overcome a set of standardized beliefs and accepted processes endemic to the field. Learners would have to first recognize that their habitual skills were insufficient and higher success ratios were possible by adding (not necessarily subtracting) new ones.

My training design is called Learning Facilitation. I’ve used this model successfully for decades. (See 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). Here’s how I design courses:

  • Day 1 helps learners recognize the components of their unconscious status quo while identifying skills necessary for greater excellence: specifically, what they do that works and what they do that doesn’t work, and how their current skills match up with their unique definition of excellence within the course parameters. Once they learn exactly what is missing among their current skill sets, and they determine what, specifically, they need to add to achieve excellence, then they are ready to learn.
  • Day 2 enables learners to create a route to supplement their current skills then tests for, and manages, acceptance and resistance. Only then do new behaviors get introduced and practiced.

Course material is designed with ‘learning’ and belief change in mind (rather than content sharing/behavior change), and looks quite different from conventional training. For example Day 1 uses no desks, no notes, and no lectures. I teach learners how to enlist their unconscious to facilitate buy-in for new material.

Whether it’s my training model or your own, just ask yourself: Do you want to train? Or have someone learn? They are two different activities.

 __________

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

Sharon Drew is also the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller ‘Selling with Integrity’ and 7 other books on how decisions get made, how change happens in systems, and how buyers buy. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® a facilitation tool for sellers, coaches, and managers to help Others determine their best decisions and enable excellence. Her award winning blog sharondrewmorgen.com has 1500 articles that help sellers help buyers buy. Sharon Drew has recently developed 3 new programs for start ups.
She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com  512-771-1117

November 11th, 2019

Posted In: Listening, News

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For some reason, it’s an accepted norm that presenting details of an idea or solution will prompt action. It goes something like this: you want someone to buy or do something, or fund you; you want a team to organize in a certain way, or a teenager to change behaviors. In other words, you want someone to do something they’re currently not doing. You decide on a story, a pitch, a tactic, a presentation, that will influence them to change their current behaviors to do what you want them to do. So you

  • formulate the ‘right’ message, in the right way – according to their demographics or personal characteristics – that (you assume) represents their ‘needs’ and will motivate action;
  • develop the ‘right’ supplemental materials or stories;
  • pitch, present, tell a story, offer indisputable research and superlative references that prove your value.
  • You then assume your ‘relationship’ with the listener – your status, brand, assumed expertise, history – offers you authority to be granted what you ask for. And then you wait. And then…nothing.

In case you’re wondering why you’re not getting the results you deserve, it’s because it’s all based on you.

WHAT – PITCHES CAN’T BE HEARD

Just because you may be ‘right’, have the essential information and capability to fix a problem, your message won’t be heard unless the listener recognizes they want to change, that they cannot resolve their own problem using familiar resources, and they’re ready to seek an external fix.

Indeed, until they know precisely when, why, what, and how to change their current thinking and behaviors, until they recognize that the ‘cost’ of adopting a solution from outside the status quo is lower than the cost of maintaining the problem, there’s a case to be made that your suggestions will be ignored or resisted.

Here’s the problem. Your pitches and stories:

  1. try to persuade others according to your needs and goals (As a listener, if don’t think I have a need, why should I listen?);
  2. are misunderstood and mistranslated as per unconscious listening biases (As a listener, if I misinterpret what you’re talking about, what is my takeaway? And how will I know what I think I hear isn’t what you’re saying?);
  3. provide an answer according to what you believe is needed (As a listener, I’m offended when you think you know more than me about what I need.);
  4. use biased verbal and graphic forms to represent the message you think will be effective (As a listener, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t think that way.);
  5. reflect your need for them to take action NOW (As a listener, I haven’t figured out if I need to change anything. So why are you pushing me to take action?);
  6. probably don’t resolve the potentially broken internal rules and historic choices that created and maintain the problem (As a listener, I know I need to resolve this, but it’s always been this way and so many things are dependent upon it. What will break if I try to do something different?).

Notice it’s you and your biases determining:

  • the information you’re sharing – which may not be the best set of facts for that listener;
  • the particular words, graphics, presentation used – which may not be the best for the listener’s understanding;
  • the assumption that the problem needs to be fixed – and fixed the way YOU think it should be fixed;
  • that YOU are the one (an outsider with no true knowledge of the full data set of what’s going on internally) who has THE content to fix them – and aren’t recognizing any possible avenues for them to fix themselves;
  • the intended outcome YOU believe needs to be met – which may not be the same outcome or agenda the listener condones.

In other words, with no accurate idea of how your information is being received OR the actual underlying fact pattern that has both created and maintained the status quo, with no ability to understand the historic, systemic issues that keep the status quo functioning well-enough to not have considered change, you’re trying to tell folks to do what you want them to do using your own criteria for them to change.

You certainly have no control. You have no way of knowing the rules, relationships, background, of what you can only see parts of from outside the system. You have no idea how you’re being heard, or if your chosen languaging and presentation is what the Other will respond to. Indeed, you have no way of knowing that your message is ‘right’ for that person at that time.

I contend that by entering a conversation fraught with your own biases, goals, needs, and limited understanding, you’ll only succeed with those who already believe the way you do, are seeking change, and are looking for exactly what you’re presenting. And those who really might need your message will ignore it if it’s mistimed, runs counter to the current operating rules or agreements, or uses the wrong languaging.

This can be amended. You can prepare listeners to accurately hear and be motivated to act on what you want to share; you can language your information according to the best chances to be heard, at a time when the listener is ready, willing, and able to hear. But you need to add a new mindset.

WHY – CAN’T YOUR PITCH/STORY BE HEARD?

Right now it seems your listeners are ignoring you, or resisting; that they misinterpret or forget on purpose. But that’s not the case. They just cannot respond to what you are telling them. The way they hear you is a big part of the problem.

Simplistically, brains take in spoken words through your ears as chemical and electrical signals devoid of meaning. These signals

  • travel down neural pathways
  • seeking similar-enough signals
  • that match with the incoming signals
  • to an unknowable (greater or lesser) degree,
  • and may have a different meaning
  • that’s some degree ‘off’ the incoming message,
  • but matches historic decisions and beliefs
  • that have been built in to current choices, status quo, and accepted norms.

In other words, there’s a high probability your intended message will be misheard, misunderstood, or mistranslated as per the meaning attached to the neurons and synapses a listener’s brain automatically chooses to match with your words; you have no idea what others hear when you speak, your clarity, personality, and messaging aside.

Those with no interest at all, and regardless of your attempts to inspire attention, may notice only a fraction of what you offer and certainly won’t care if they’re getting it wrong. For those who are trying to listen, they don’t know what parts of your message they’re missing or misinterpreting. Their brains won’t tell them they’ve got it wrong.

In fact, people can’t know that they DON’T accurately hear what you’re saying. As per above, their brains don’t tell them which words or concepts were omitted or mistranslated during their normal brain/listening process. So if I say ABC, you might actually hear ABL and your brain won’t tell you it haphazardly discarded E, F, G, etc. during its signal matching process. I actually wrote a book on this called WHAT? Did you really say what I think I heard?.

In other words, even if people try to hear you, even if you’re messaging is terrific, all listening is unconsciously biased by your listener’s brains regardless of what you say. And using normal conversation, or pitching/storytelling, you have no control. When you merely pitch

  • what you want them to hear
  • AND your listener has not heard what you intended them to hear
  • AND your listener is not in agreement or doesn’t know how what they think they heard relates to their situation,

there’s a good likelihood you’re unwittingly fostering resistance and resentment.

But when listeners have agreed they want new knowledge, when they know how to manage any disruption that would result from bringing in something new, their brain will connect with the correct neural pathways to listen through and accurately hear what you’ve got to say.

Your first job is to get them ready to hear you. I can’t say this enough: regardless of how much Others need to hear what you’ve got to say, no matter what problem it will resolve, no matter how urgently they need the information you have, they cannot, cannot hear you accurately unless they unconsciously match what you’re saying with their unconscious listening biases.

WHEN – SHOULD YOU SHARE INFORMATION?

Begin by getting on the same page as your listener. That means your normal pitch, your normal presentation materials or deck, may need to be amended to include factors on THEIR side of the table. Do research with current clients. Come at this from the standpoint of the listener, the buyer, the funder:

  1. recognize it’s your responsibility to help the listener hear you accurately; their brains won’t know what’s accurate.
  2. create the path to ensure listener buy-in before mentioning your idea.
  3. assume you will be resisted if what they hear doesn’t match their current beliefs and historic rules about the subject.

I continue to be shocked that I rarely meet a marketer OR a seller who knows exactly how their buyers buy: the types of internal change issues they must manage before they can do anything different; the possibilities they have of fixing their own problems; the relationship and power and buy-in issues going on amongst stakeholders that influence (in)action. Or folks seeking funding: what criteria will funders use to choose you over the competition? It won’t be based on your pitch – they’ve heard it before. Or influencers: what historic actions or cultural norms are fixed in the status quo that would need to shift for them to buy-in to change?

Until you know this, there’s no way for you to be certain the proper technique to use to pitch, and you’ll only be successful with the low hanging fruit. I wrote a book on this that will teach you all of the stuff going on behind the scenes: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. But make sure you do research. Or let me know and I can help you gather the right data and give you a report.

Once you understand the ‘lay of the land’ behind the scenes, your conversation must begin by engendering trust so they’ll begin to turn off their guarded ear and open up a bit. And the only way you’ll engender trust is to really care about them. They will have no need to care about you unless you do. Something like this:

For some reason, it’s an accepted norm that presenting details of an idea or solution will prompt action. It goes something like this: you want someone to buy or do something, or fund you; you want a team to organize in a certain way, or a teenager to change behaviors. In other words, you want someone to do something they’re currently not doing. You decide on a story, a pitch, a tactic, a presentation, that will influence them to change their current behaviors to do what you want them to do. So you

  • formulate the ‘right’ message, in the right way – according to their demographics or personal characteristics – that (you assume) represents their ‘needs’ and will motivate action;
  • develop the ‘right’ supplemental materials or stories;
  • pitch, present, tell a story, offer indisputable research and superlative references that prove your value.

You then assume your ‘relationship’ with the listener – your status, brand, assumed expertise, history – offers you authority to be granted what you ask for. And then you wait. And then…nothing.

In case you’re wondering why you’re not getting the results you deserve, it’s because it’s all based on you.

WHAT – PITCHES CAN’T BE HEARD

Just because you may be ‘right’, have the essential information and capability to fix a problem, your message won’t be heard unless the listener recognizes they want to change, that they cannot resolve their own problem using familiar resources, and they’re ready to seek an external fix. 

Indeed, until they know precisely when, why, what, and how to change their current thinking and behaviors, until they recognize that the ‘cost’ of adopting a solution from outside the status quo is lower than the cost of maintaining the problem, there’s a case to be made that your suggestions will be ignored or resisted.

Here’s the problem. Your pitches and stories:

  1. try to persuade others according to your needs and goals (As a listener, if don’t think I have a need, why should I listen?);
  2. are misunderstood and mistranslated as per unconscious listening biases (As a listener, if I misinterpret what you’re talking about, what is my takeaway? And how will I know what I think I hear isn’t what you’re saying?);
  3. provide an answer according to what you believe is needed (As a listener, I’m offended when you think you know more than me about what I need.);
  4. use biased verbal and graphic forms to represent the message you think will be effective (As a listener, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t think that way.);
  5. reflect your need for them to take action NOW (As a listener, I haven’t figured out if I need to change anything. So why are you pushing me to take action?);
  6. probably don’t resolve the potentially broken internal rules and historic choices that created and maintain the problem (As a listener, I know I need to resolve this, but it’s always been this way and so many things are dependent upon it. What will break if I try to do something different?).

Notice it’s you and your biases determining:

  • the information you’re sharing – which may not be the best set of facts for that listener;
  • the particular words, graphics, presentation used – which may not be the best for the listener’s understanding;
  • the assumption that the problem needs to be fixed – and fixed the way YOU think it should be fixed;
  • that YOU are the one (an outsider with no true knowledge of the full data set of what’s going on internally) who has THE content to fix them – and aren’t recognizing any possible avenues for them to fix themselves;
  • the intended outcome YOU believe needs to be met – which may not be the same outcome or agenda the listener condones.

In other words, with no accurate idea of how your information is being received OR the actual underlying fact pattern that has both created and maintained the status quo, with no ability to understand the historic, systemic issues that keep the status quo functioning well-enough to not have considered change, you’re trying to tell folks to do what you want them to do using your own criteria for them to change.

You certainly have no control. You have no way of knowing the rules, relationships, background, of what you can only see parts of from outside the system. You have no idea how you’re being heard, or if your chosen languaging and presentation is what the Other will respond to. Indeed, you have no way of knowing that your message is ‘right’ for that person at that time.

I contend that by entering a conversation fraught with your own biases, goals, needs, and limited understanding, you’ll only succeed with those who already believe the way you do, are seeking change, and are looking for exactly what you’re presenting. And those who really might need your message will ignore it if it’s mistimed, runs counter to the current operating rules or agreements, or uses the wrong languaging.

This can be amended. You can prepare listeners to accurately hear and be motivated to act on what you want to share; you can language your information according to the best chances to be heard, at a time when the listener is ready, willing, and able to hear. But you need to add a new mindset.

WHY – CAN’T YOUR PITCH/STORY BE HEARD?

Right now it seems your listeners are ignoring you, or resisting; that they misinterpret or forget on purpose. But that’s not the case. They just cannot respond to what you are telling them. The way they hear you is a big part of the problem.

Simplistically, brains take in spoken words through your ears as chemical and electrical signals devoid of meaning. These signals

  • travel down neural pathways
  • seeking similar-enough signals
  • that match with the incoming signals
  • to an unknowable (greater or lesser) degree,
  • and may have a different meaning
  • that’s some degree ‘off’ the incoming message,
  • but matches historic decisions and beliefs
  • that have been built in to current choices, status quo, and accepted norms.

In other words, there’s a high probability your intended message will be misheard, misunderstood, or mistranslated as per the meaning attached to the neurons and synapses a listener’s brain automatically chooses to match with your words; you have no idea what others hear when you speak, your clarity, personality, and messaging aside.

Those with no interest at all, and regardless of your attempts to inspire attention, may notice only a fraction of what you offer and certainly won’t care if they’re getting it wrong. For those who are trying to listen, they don’t know what parts of your message they’re missing or misinterpreting. Their brains won’t tell them they’ve got it wrong.

In fact, people can’t know that they DON’T accurately hear what you’re saying. As per above, their brains don’t tell them which words or concepts were omitted or mistranslated during their normal brain/listening process. So if I say ABC, you might actually hear ABL and your brain won’t tell you it haphazardly discarded E, F, G, etc. during its signal matching process. I actually wrote a book on this called WHAT? Did you really say what I think I heard?.

In other words, even if people try to hear you, even if you’re messaging is terrific, all listening is unconsciously biased by your listener’s brains regardless of what you say. And using normal conversation, or pitching/storytelling, you have no control. When you merely pitch

  • what you want them to hear
  • AND your listener has not heard what you intended them to hear
  • AND your listener is not in agreement or
  • doesn’t know how what they think they heard relates to their situation,

there’s a good likelihood you’re unwittingly fostering resistance and resentment.

But when listeners have agreed they want new knowledge, when they know how to manage any disruption that would result from bringing in something new, their brain will connect with the correct neural pathways to listen through and accurately hear what you’ve got to say.

Your first job is to get them ready to hear you. I can’t say this enough: regardless of how much Others need to hear what you’ve got to say, no matter what problem it will resolve, no matter how urgently they need the information you have, they cannot, cannot hear you accurately unless they unconsciously match what you’re saying with their unconscious listening biases.

WHEN – SHOULD YOU SHARE INFORMATION?

Begin by getting on the same page as your listener. That means your normal pitch, your normal presentation materials or deck, may need to be amended to include factors on THEIR side of the table. Do research with current clients. Come at this from the standpoint of the listener, the buyer, the funder:

  1. recognize it’s your responsibility to help the listener hear you accurately; their brains won’t know what’s accurate.
  2. create the path to ensure listener buy-in before mentioning your idea.
  3. assume you will be resisted if what they hear doesn’t match their current beliefs and historic rules about the subject.

I continue to be shocked that I rarely meet a marketer OR a seller who knows exactly how their buyers buy: the types of internal change issues they must manage before they can do anything different; the possibilities they have of fixing their own problems; the relationship and power and buy-in issues going on amongst stakeholders that influence (in)action. Or folks seeking funding: what criteria will funders use to choose you over the competition? It won’t be based on your pitch – they’ve heard it before. Or influencers: what historic actions or cultural norms are fixed in the status quo that would need to shift for them to buy-in to change?

Until you know this, there’s no way for you to be certain the proper technique to use to pitch, and you’ll only be successful with the low hanging fruit. I wrote a book on this that will teach you all of the stuff going on behind the scenes: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. But make sure you do research. Or let me know and I can help you gather the right data and give you a report.

Once you understand the ‘lay of the land’ behind the scenes, your conversation must begin by engendering trust so they’ll begin to turn off their guarded ear and open up a bit. And the only way you’ll engender trust is to really care about them. They will have no need to care about you unless you do. Something like this:

I have something I’d like to share. But I’m not sure if you need to hear it. How are you currently thinking about X right now?

This lets the listener know they have their own valid viewpoint and you won’t foist your beliefs on them; pushing your data too soon encourages resistance and resentment. Continue with some of these:

I hear you currently believe X? Did I hear correctly?

If there is a time when you consider change, how would you plan on handling X?

I notice that you didn’t mention X. Do you have any thoughts on how you might incorporate any needed new choices? I have a solution/idea that would offer new thoughts on this subject should you want to consider new choices.

The hard part is to keep yourself from talking if their responses seem to naturally lead to them adopting your solution: until they have agreed to add something new or consider change, until they realize they might be missing a piece, you’ve got nothing to say.

How many times have you walked through booths at conferences and heard folks wasting their breath pitching pitching pitching, hoping hoping hoping their message will be heard by someone?!?! Well, there’s a good chance you’re doing the same thing. Stop wasting your breath; save it for those who want to hear it and then language it according to their listening patterns.

Wait until you’re certain your listener wants to learn/do something different before pitching. Even for you folks seeking funding: before you pitch, help them determine the criteria they’ll use to choose someone to fund and then match that criteria. For parents seeking to change a teen’s habits: what’s stopping them from implementing what they promised? For sellers: what do they need to do internally to get the buy-in for any proposed change? How will they determine if an outside fix is less costly than maintaining the status quo? What can they do to fix the problem themselves first?

Until people know if they’re ready/able to do anything different, that the ‘cost’ of change is manageable, they aren’t available to listen to what you have to say. When you begin with a pitch, you’re restricting your audience to those who have already decided to change – the low hanging fruit. Until people know how to listen without bias you can’t be heard accurately. Sorry.

HOW – SHOULD YOU PITCH?

Of course it’s necessary to share specific details when needed:

  • to take action (The space for the desk is 8 feet long.);
  • to recognize a fit between items (We will be serving fish, so bring white wine.);
  • to explain penalties (If you come home after midnight, you’ll be grounded.);
  • when someone seeks you out to answer their curiosity (How do you cook that?)
  • to know what to do when an action has been agreed upon (Our first action will be to…);
  • to know content details (I now recognize I cannot solve a problem myself, know how to manage the fallout from bringing in something new, and have the buy-in to learn, buy, think, add something new).

It’s necessary to language your pitch so you’re understood when information is needed. Once the listener has shared what they already believe to be true about the topic you’re discussing, use their words, their beliefs, and what they think is missing, to populate your pitch. Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re selling email organization software.

You: How are you currently organizing your email?
Prospect: I use my folders in my email software.
You: I assume that’s working fine for you or you would have added new capability before now.
Prospect: I know I should do it, but I can’t get my head around adding any new software than I already have. I’m overwhelmed.
You: I know. All of us are. I sell an email organizing product that’s simple to install and seamlessly works with most existing software. If you want, we can discuss it if your stakeholders would consider adding the organizing capability to what you’ve got now.

Notice when it was time to speak I focused my pitch to only the comments my listener mentions. If I used my entire pitch, I’d be breaking trust.

I’ve spent decades training sales folks, another decade as a life/business coach, and more recently as the developer of a unique change model that enables folks to generate congruent behavior change. I developed an entire generic change management model (Buying Facilitation®) that teaches sellers how to facilitate any buying decision, coaches to facilitate congruent change, and helps leaders and parents expedite requests and promises. And I also developed a new form of question (Facilitative Questions (above) that help others discover their own answers with no bias from the questioner other than a facilitated direction for brains to find answers.

I understand how difficult it is instigate change in others. Remember that when you’re pitching, or sharing a story to initiate another to take action, you’re asking them to change. Please consider the problem from a different angle. Help your listeners change by helping them change their brains. Stop thinking your brilliant content will be enough; serve them by helping them figure out how to use what you’ve got to say to become better.

_______________________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, inventor of Buying Facilitation® and Facilitative Questions, trainer, coach, and consultant. She is the author of 9 books, including NYTimes Business bestseller Selling with Integrity. Sharon Drew can help you develop, perfect, and present your message for optimal success.

November 4th, 2019

Posted In: News

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

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

WHAT IS OUR JOB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONTROL

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

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

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

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

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

STRUCTURE VS CONTENT; CONTEXT VS COMPONENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STARTING UP A COMPANY AS A LEADER/FOLLOWER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRUST

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

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

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

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

THE HOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________

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

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

October 21st, 2019

Posted In: News

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13 steps people take between discovering a problem and choosing/buying a solution as they seek to resolve a problem in a way that minimizes disruption to their culture.

A buying decision is a change management problem well before it is a solution choice issue. People don’t want to buy anything; they want to resolve a problem in the least disruptive way. Indeed people only become buyers when they’re certain they cannot resolve the problem using familiar resources, and explore every avenue to fixing the problem themselves first. Buying anything is the very last thing people do.

In case you’re one of those sales folks who try to motivate a sale by pushing your information, or lowering the price; or you’re wondering why your prospect isn’t returning calls or in the pipeline for so long; or thinking they’re in pain; this is what’s going on: they’re doing necessary work behind the scenes to find the most efficient route to resolving their problem in a way that ensures maximum buy-in and the least disruption.

I can’t say this enough: people buy only if they’ve determined they cannot fix a problem themselves with known resources AND a purchase will ‘cost’ less than the cost of the disruption they’re facing in their status quo.

This article lays out what people go through en route to buying anything, regardless of need or the efficacy/size/price of the solution, whether buying a new car, choosing an external trainer, buying software or a new phone, or deciding on family therapy. And because they’re recurrent and generic, I consider these steps to be a pattern.

BUYERS HAVE NO PAIN

I don’t understand why ‘pain’ is so often paired with why/how buyers make buying decisions. Indeed, the ‘pain’ issue has been invented by sellers who assume potential/targeted buyers would function better if they bought the seller’s solution, and by not buying they’re obviously in pain. This is bogus.

A buying decision is a systems issue; it’s not a pain thing. If adding an external/new solution causes too many problems that the stakeholders believe will leave them worse off, they will not buy regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution. They must weigh all the issues involved and get buy-in from the stakeholders before any action is taken or not. And the sales model doesn’t enter into this Pre-Sales, hidden, unknowable area as it’s not product/solution-related. But with a different hat on, it’s quite easy to be involved and facilitate the route to a purchase.

David Sandler called me in 1993 to buy me out before he died. He said he’d made an error stating that ‘buyers are liars’ and saying ‘buyers are in pain’, stating that after reading one of my books, and looking at the problem from the buying decision/change management side, he finally understood the focus should be on facilitating the buying steps. “I thought I had gone outside the box with Sandler Sales; I realize now I was still considering sales from a solution placement perspective. I didn’t understand how far outside the box I needed to go to include the buying decision process.”

Think about it. Before you buy a new car, you try to fix the one you have; make sure you’ve got the funding; try to sell the current one; make sure your spouse is in agreement, etc. You don’t start off with a purchase, regardless of the problems with your current car. Or in business, if you need a new CRM system, for example, you don’t begin by buying a new system: you begin by meeting with the managers and users to determine why the current system is problematic; trying to get the current one fixed; finding workarounds to try to resolve the problem easily; and making sure that there’s a process in place to manage any user, technology, training, time disruption that might come with bringing in new technology. Again, buying anything is the very last thing that happens.

SELLING VS BUYING

Choosing a new solution is a systems problem that involves careful orchestration, even when some of the process is unconscious. As a frustrated sales person, I developed a new model called Buying Facilitation® to make the journey through the steps of change, choice, and buy-in, conscious. I’ve identified each step and carefully defined what’s involved in each step to make it possible to intervene in any segment so sellers can assist people in navigating the journey first, before trying to sell anything. This sequence – Buying Facilitation® first, sales second – ensures you’ll find (and quickly close) a much larger number of people who WILL buy (rather than those who SHOULD buy) and keep you from wasting time on those who will never buy (but you think they ‘should’ because you think they’re ‘in pain’).

People who may become buyers must do this anyway, and due to the solution-placement focus of the sales model and avoidance of all things ‘change management’, do it by themselves as we sit and wait. But we can find the people who WILL buy on the first call, and help them traverse their journey. But we need a different hat on before we begin selling. Again, we wait while they do this anyway – why not add a new skill set before selling, and then just sell to the ones who will buy?

Here’s a simple story to explain what’s going on behind the scenes.

In 1995 I was running a Buying Facilitation® training at IBM. One day my client asked me to help enlist a new Beta site for one of their new systems. There was a small ‘Mom & Pop’ shop (i.e. family run business) located nearby, and from their records they knew this company was using a system far too small for the growth they’d incurred over the past years, causing very slow response times. Letting them have a free new system in exchange for IBM having them close by to test, would be a win/win. But even after two sales folks had visited them with the promise of a new, free, system that would substantially speed up their response times, the company had no interest. Could I try to get them to become a beta site?

Here was our conversation:

SDM: Hi there. I’m a trainee calling from IBM and have a question for someone who is using your computers.
SON: Hi. I’m Joe. I’m one of the owners. Maybe I can help.
SDM: Thanks. I wonder how your current system is running?
SON: It’s ok.
SDM: I know our folks were out there offering you a faster system to beta and you weren’t interested. I’m curious now what’s stopping your current system from being better than OK?
SON: Dad.
SDM: DAD? I don’t understand.
SON: I know our system is very very slow. But my father is in charge of the technology here, and he’s 75 years old. He’ll be retiring in a year or so, and I don’t want to overwhelm him with learning anything new. So I’ll make whatever changes necessary after he leaves.
SDM: Ah. So what I hear you saying is that your main criteria is not to overwhelm Dad and don’t mind how slow the system is in the meantime.
SON: Right.
SDM: You already know we want to give you an upgrade in exchange for being a beta site for us. From what I know about it, they’ve made it very simple to use and easy to learn. Maybe you and Dad could visit another beta site here in Rye to see if Dad likes it and finds it easy to use? I’d be happy to pick you up and take you there. And if Dad is happy, then maybe you’d be comfortable accepting it to beta test for us?
SON: Oh. I wasn’t aware we could do that. Your colleagues were trying to sell me on the features of the new capabilities, and that wasn’t my problem. Sure, Dad and I would be willing to go to the beta site. Thanks. Having a quicker response time would be great for us if we could make that happen and Dad is comfortable with it.

Focused on placing a solution through the strength of the product, through assumed needs and pain, the emphasis was ‘features, functions, and benefits’ instead of the real, unknowable criteria; there was no way an outsider could guess that Dad was the problem that had to be solved. Offering product or price (free) details were moot. The group’s Buying Patterns were systemic, focused on ensuring their culture remained operational. And every buying experience uses the same process, obviously in different scales of complexity.

By overlooking the full set of Buying Patterns to focus merely on placing solutions, sellers automatically restrict their full set of prospective buyers: people who will become buyers haven’t yet decided to go outside for a solution and have no reason (other than research into different ways they can fix the problem themselves) to heed your content/pitch. That’s why content marketing is spectacularly unsuccessful (close rate 0.00059%).

SELLING DOESN’T CAUSE BUYING

Please understand this: there is no way for outsiders to fully understand what’s going on behind the scenes in any person or group’s route to a decision. We don’t live in the prospective buyer’s environment; we cannot know the system, the relationships, givens, rules or priorities, of the people involved. Until they figure out how they need to resolve their problem, there is no way a seller can determine how, or why, your solution would benefit them; even they can’t know the full fact pattern until they’ve gone through their steps. And your pitching and biased questions, will only uncover the low hanging fruit who have managed the first 9 of their Buying Patterns and already become buyers.

Obviously when it’s time to buy, buyers take very specific actions as they choose one solution over another, choices based on price, reputation/brand of the solution, decision makers, etc. This is when the conventional sales tools of pushing information and content details, explaining features and functions, finding optimal demographics etc. are vital. Selling depends on information sharing. But selling doesn’t cause buying.

I’m aware that many sellers believe Buying Patterns are how buyers buy. But by focusing merely on the final stages when they actually choose a solution, you restrict your ability to facilitate those who will buy but haven’t completed their process and could use your help. Once you understand and recognize

  • the full range of steps people go through as they become buyers (Pre-Sales),
  • how the buying decision path begins much earlier than choosing the solution, with very specific stages that can be tracked,
  • the point at which the change issues have been factored in and it’s agreed to seek an external solution,

you can facilitate them through the process to become buyers. Then you can employ your sales strategy as well as your marketing and digital offerings to target each stage. By ignoring this, you’re severely restricting your market.

STAGES OF BUYING PATTERNS

Here are the Pre-Sales areas folks go through as they become buyers. And note: as outsiders we cannot be directly involved in their internal process, but we can use our knowledge of these steps to facilitate the progression so long as our first focus is to facilitate change:

WHAT’S THE STATUS QUO; WHAT’S MISSING: until or unless every element of the status quo is understood by the prospective buyer, they cannot identify exactly what’s missing. In the Dad example, what was missing was not the computer issue, but the ability to have Dad learn how to support a new one; a delay in purchasing new software is most likely not a technology issue, but might be a recent reorganization, or a merger, or a change in leadership. And an outsider can never, ever understand because they’re, well, outsiders. It’s like asking someone to know if any pieces are missing in a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle by looking at the picture on the closed box. Sure, an outsider can know what it will look like when completed, but cannot know if anything is missing until the puzzle is almost completed by the users. This stage includes meetings, research, identifying stakeholders.

RULE: a seller can facilitate someone through the process of recognizing the full fact pattern of givens within their status quo, including the people, culture, and rules, to help them learn what is keeping them from having an optimal environment. In other words, help people, in a way that does not bias their discovery, recognize if anything is missing from their status quo. Until or unless they can see this in an unbiased way, they will prefer to maintain their status quo. And posing questions biased by a seller’s need to place a solution cannot do this. The focus must be to facilitate change, first.

GATHER THE FULL SET OF STAKEHOLDERS: until or unless everyone involved with creating the problem and using any new solution is brought in, the full problem set cannot be understood. Too often only recognized leaders take the lead, or only one person recognizes a problem and fights with the status quo to be willing to change (This is often the one person we speak with, and we can’t really know if s/he’s speaking for the entire Buying Decision Team or just for him/herself, even if we ask.). Everyone’s voice must be included – Dad, and Joe in accounting. This stage includes meetings to determine who will touch the final solution and agreement as to how to involve them.

RULE: a seller can facilitate a prospective buyer through a discovery to ensure every single stakeholder is included to buy-in to any change. Until all folks who will touch the final solution are included, there is no way for them to understand their needs. Speaking with anyone about needs before this has occurred is a waste of time (i.e. all those names on your call back list and pipeline].

TRY TO FIX THE PROBLEM WITH KNOWN RESOURCES: until it’s fully understood that the problem cannot be resolved with anything that’s already been accepted by the culture – other departments or items, familiar vendors or products – and all workarounds have been tried, they will never consider bringing in anything brand new as it will be disruptive to the culture. It’s a systems thing: systems work hard at maintaining their status quo (homeostasis) as anything new runs the risk of creating problems by not fitting in. This stage includes internal research, and delegating folks to outreach for familiar resources: can our old vendors fix this? Do our colleagues know anyone they respect? Can the other department help? Until a workaround is sought and dismissed, there will be no initiative to make a purchase.

RULE: people never start off seeking an external solution but must try to fix the problem themselves. Sellers can help folks discover how to fix their own problem: What’s stopping you from using the vendors you used last year? Have you tried getting help from other departments? They are going to do this anyway as it’s part of their process. They’ll do it when you hang up, in fact. Either you help them through this, or are relegated to sitting helplessly while they do it themselves as you continue to think they’re prospects and put them in your pipeline. By helping them, you can provide further support and help them speed up their own process. In reality, this is the simplest stage, as if they could fix it, they would have done so already.

MANAGING CHANGE TO AVOID DISRUPTION.: once folks realize 1. They have a problem that all stakeholders have fully defined and agree is a problem; 2. They cannot fix it themselves, then it’s necessary to go ‘outside’ for a solution.

This is the most problematic step in the Buying Pattern because anything new will cause some sort of disruption: technology might not integrate; users must agree to use and get trained; familiar patterns of use will be scrapped for new routines; people fallout must be managed.

The cost of the new must be calculated against maintaining the status quo – if they are going to have to fire a whole department when bringing in new software, is it worth it just to speed up their output? When they figure this element out, they’re ready to choose a solution. This stage includes lots of research within the group/company/family to ferret out problems that change would incur, and figuring out the cost of each.

RULE: facilitate people to recognize what might be in jeopardy if something new is brought in. Until they weight the risk between the status quo vs a fix, and can calculate that bringing something new is has a lower cost than maintaining the status quo, they cannot buy anything as the risk is too high.

CHOOSE A VENDOR/SOLUTION: This is the last stage – where sales now enters! Once it’s calculated that it will cost less to bring in a new solution than maintaining their status quo, AND there is buy-in from the stakeholders, they become buyers. This is the low hanging fruit. These folks are ready for a pitch because they know how to manage the change and understand the costs of buying something. This stage involves sellers pitching, content marketing, website design, etc.

These elements comprise Buying Patterns. And to lead folks through these stages I my ‘new sales paradigm’ Buying Facilitation® uses a new form of question called a Facilitative Question that avoids any bias from the Asker and leads people through their Buying Patterns steps to design their own, unique, solution criteria that can then be easily matched by our products.

So one question for the Managing Change phase might be “How will you and your Buying Decision Team go about identifying the elements a new solution would need to include, to avoid disrupting your status quo?” instead of “Let me tell you how my product can help you fix that.”

First facilitate their journey through their Buying Patterns, facilitate Buyer Readiness – and THEN sell to those who are ready. You’ll avoid chasing people who will never buy, and speed up the buy cycle for those who will buy. And you’ll get results: my students using Buying Facilitation® close 40% against the control groups closing 5% using the same list and the same solution. By focusing on the tail end of the Buying Decision Path, sellers restrict their close rate by a factor of 8.

SALES VS FACILITATING BUYING PATTERNS

I always ask: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities. People become buyers ONLY when there is no way to resolve their own problem AND they know the cost of bringing in something new. There will be NO purchase until the entire series is handled somehow, even on a small item purchase. It has nothing to do with pain, or the marketing efforts, or the pitch deck, or the product. You’re products are great. The problem is you’re only focusing on those who already show up as buyers and ignore managing the full set of Buying Patterns where a far larger group of real prospects reside.

Note: trying to understand these yourself is a frustrating exercise, as we can do little more than pose questions biased by our own curiosity and generally have no way to even consider the unique situations within each potential prospect’s environment, i.e. Dad.

I understand that the sales industry doesn’t consider these elements part of the sales process. Sales continues to assume a purchase is based on how we position our solutions, when in fact that relegates us to picking off the few who show up. Let’s help those who will/can buy, facilitate them through their Buying Patterns, and when it’s time, THEN pitch to those who are ready to buy it.

I know you’re all getting accustomed to the definition of Buying Patterns now circulating. But by forgetting the original intent of the term, you overlook the change management portion of Buying Patterns: by merely focusing on the low hanging fruit, you’re missing an opportunity to prove your value by facilitating them through the process. By focusing on this small group, you’re losing the opportunity to facilitate that percentage of people on your lists will become buyers once they get through their Pre Sales change issues. You can speed it up with them, help them get it right, and then be there when they are ready to buy.

Shift the focus from selling based on the value of the solution, to first managing change: It’s a wholly different initiative and strategy using different terms, different goals, different outcomes and a different set of skills (i.e. Listening for systems Facilitative Question, etc.) . Because net net, until people understand the entire range of internal issues that will be activated as a result of adding something new, nothing will be purchased. It’s not about your solution. And as long as you continue to merely focus on that final element, you’ll only close the 5% you’re currently closing.

People who will become buyers must go through this process anyway, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. But they do this without us, as we wait, hope, push, and pitch, and lose an opportunity to both serve and differentiate ourselves. We assume they’re in pain because they’re not responding to our efforts.

Instead of the time and resource we use pushing content, why not use a different skill set (i.e. Buying Facilitation®, or some form of facilitation model that’s manages change) first to help them become buyers. Using a change management focus at the beginning you’ll even be able to recognize who WILL become a buyer on the first call, reducing your prospecting time to one quarter the time you’re now using, and close 40% of the list you’re now closing at a 5% rate.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, thought leader, trainer, coach, consultant, speaker, and author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? As the inventor of Buying Facilitation®, Sharon Drew has been changing the sales industry since 1987 when she first trained KLM in a program titled Helping Buyers Buy. Sharon Drew is also the thought leader behind the HOW of Change. She lives on a houseboat in Portland OR.

October 14th, 2019

Posted In: News

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Writing a proposal is an accepted norm in many industries: as a vendor, you receive an RFP, or get a call from a client site to bid on a job; you either take direction from the RFP or gather data on specs from a customer; you then go forth writing a proposal to explain exactly how you’ll achieve their stated goals; and figure out a competitive price that’s as low as you can go – a fight to the bottom – and still make a few shekels.

Then you sit back and wait. And close far less than you deserve, sometimes losing to folks who you know wouldn’t have done as good a job as you would do.

How do customers choose a vendor? I suggest that 1. It’s not based on your proposal (except possibly if it’s a government RFP), 2. It’s not based on your price. I believe that the process of writing proposals is not only irrelevant, but has a cost: neither you nor the customer gets the results you deserve. Here are some truths:

  • People don’t buy on price, unless all else is equal and it’s their only determining factor. They will pay to get the exact results they want.
  • RFPs are usually sent to help the client figure out exactly how to reach their goals.
  • Too often, only a fraction of the folks using the end result are involved, either to write up the RFP or discuss the project, and you have no way to know.
  • Too often, the client doesn’t have the full set of criteria for excellence needed to choose the best vendor, and the RFP/bid process often overlooks the inclusion of use, collaboration, resistance, and disruption factors that often occur during/following the project.

WHAT’S MISSING FROM AN RFP

The problem with a proposal is it only addresses the completion portion of the underlying problem to be resolved. Sure, a finished solution is needed, and that solution will have a cost. But until the entire set of stakeholders is involved to not only collaboratively define the acceptable parameters of a result, and buy in to the resultant disruption and change, any outcome will be plagued by resistance and implementation issues. Unfortunately, these important considerations are too often left out of the RFP/bid process:

  • How involved were all (ALL) the stakeholders developing the RFP, or parameters of the project?
  • Have ALL those who will touch the solution bought-in to, and understand, the full fact pattern of the entire process involved?
  • How does the new solution disrupt the status quo and what can be done to alleviate problems upfront?
  • How will integration be managed?
  • How will the vendor be connected with the customer during the process to make sure all problems are managed immediately before they fester?

I contend that most vendors will come up with a decent proposed execution and cost, but fall short during the process of developing and implementing it because the upfront work was incomplete and different types of resistance ensue unnecessarily. This is where the RFP/proposal/bid process falls short, and it’s your competitive edge.

Think about it: if you’re going to do a house remodel, you assume whoever sends a proposal will be some level of competent. But which one will make your life difficult/easy during the build? Will any of them sit down with you and the recipients of the remodel BEFOREHAND to make sure everyone has a say and is committed to the process? To make sure you’ve managed your expectations for what’s involved and find new choices if necessary? If you knew that one contractor would begin by ensuring all stakeholders had a voice in the outcome and process, led you all through the potential disruption, and designed a communication channel to minimize fallout during the process, would you mind if this group charged 15% more than the others?

Years ago my partner was a famous landscape architect who did major land rebuilds as he put in ponds, mountains and waterfalls, Chinese tea houses, etc as his landscaping. He came home daily grumbling about his clients’ anger. Knowing how brilliant his work was, I decided to follow him around for a couple of days to find out why clients were so unhappy: while his designs were magical, the clients didn’t know upfront the amount of mud, noise, filth, access problems, etc. that would take over their lives for months. I helped him understand the problem and his process changed. Before he even submitted a proposal, he sat down with the potential clients and helped them come to terms with the levels of chaos that would be involved and submitted designs and timing plans that incorporated their needs. His business doubled, and the grumbles subsided.

If you seek a new training partner for a leadership program, for example, you might send out an RFP, and seek references (separate from the price) to help make your best choice. But imagine if, before responding, one of the vendors set up a meeting asking the full set of stakeholders (or their representative) be present and helped them determine their own criteria for success, what they’d need to understand about the process and delivery of a program and how it would meet their values, and how to include post-training maintenance to ensure a learning culture would be maintained.

Years ago, when I still wrote proposals, I was friendly with my closest competitor. When we received an RFP, we agreed on a similar price to submit (usually within a few hundred dollars from each other) to make sure we were chosen specifically on our merits, not on price. I personally met with the client to include all stakeholders and manage the change upfront, and got a greater share of the business, based on my merits.

The question is: how can you be the one to assure customers get their full set of needs met – especially when they’re not always cognizant of the ‘cost’ as they send out their project for bid?

OUTCOME VS PROCESS: HOW KPMG CHANGED THEIR PROPOSAL PROCESS

Years ago, my client at KPMG didn’t return my call for many days. When I finally got ahold of him he said he was suddenly busy: a large team of the consultants were working on responding to an RPF from a company that had never used them before, always using their biggest competitor Arthur Anderson (no longer in business). “What’s stopping them from using Arthur Anderson this time?” I asked? Dave said he’d find out and call me back.

Next day Dave called: They ARE using AA. They just needed a second bid.

We went into action. Since it now made no sense for KPMG to respond to the RFP (saving a team of 4 people almost a month of time), but they really wanted to be considered for future business, we sent a cover letter stating that we’d not be sending a proposal, but instead help them recognize what they needed to do internally to ensure buy-in from all stakeholders before, during, and after the final implementation; how to ensure minimal disruption; and the specifics of how to alleviate resistance or fallout by managing relationship, compliance, and change issues BEFORE they started the project.

We sent them a list of a form of question I invented called Facilitative Questions that lead Others to discover their own best answers, rather than conventional questions that are biased by the needs of the Asker (Example: What would we all need to know, and agree to, moving forward, to recognize a glitch or resistance early and avoid fallout?). My FQs facilitate the HOW for any situation of change and went far beyond the details – the WHAT – the RFP required including:

  • input from the stakeholders who will touch the final solution,
  • the arc of change during the course of the project, from status quo through to completion, and how it collides with the people and status quo,
  • the downsides of disruption for each group, set of stakeholders, change in routines,
  • the team collaboration needed in each phase of the implementation to ensure buy-in,
  • a list of elements necessary for folks to buy-in to the final solution.

We didn’t hear back for two months. Then KPMG got a call asking them to begin the job. “We hired AA as planned. But when they started, they didn’t address the topics of your questions, where we always seem to experience fallout and resistance. We never thought about those issues before we started a project and always suffered fallout from ignoring them. Your questions taught us how to think of the whole project as a coordinated structure not just an end result. Thanks. Can you do the job for us?”

From then on, my clients at KPMG used the same questioning structure whenever they received an RFP, and never sent out another proposal – and got more business. And btw the RFP was for multimillion dollar work that involved global stakeholders; the process is equally effective with small jobs.

WHAT DO CLIENTS/CUSTOMERS REALLY WANT?

People want a job done well for them, executed in a way that will cost them the least downsides, in a way that’s acceptable to those who will be part of the process. It’s not a money thing, not an output thing; it’s a system thing. And the way proposals are now approached, it becomes a money/output thing.

Let’s think it through: people would prefer to resolve all problems themselves, but in some cases they need outside help, and as per the size of the project, need outside help.

  • Do customers know what will happen while getting from here to there? The people/jobs that will be disrupted, the time it will take and how that will affect them, the working conditions that might change? Do they know, exactly, what any disruption will look like to them?
  • Do they know how their folks will be confronted with disruption, each step along the way, or how a new implementation will collide with the existing situation?
  • How can they be certain, up front, that the vendor they choose will work in a way to maintain their stability and minimize disruption?
  • How can they get the buy-in from everyone to agree to the necessary changes?
  • Does their stated outcome represent the full set of stakeholders, or only a small group of decision makers, leaving those who may face disruption in the dark until a problem surfaces?
  • Who chooses the vendor? A small set of leaders, or the entire stakeholder team? And what’s the fallout if just a small top heavy group that ignores the internal change issues? How can you resolve this?
  • Do vendors get chosen in terms of how they’ll manage disruption, implementation, or resistance?

The reality is, unless the full set of stakeholders is involved and has a say in the process and fallout, unless there is a known route through the change/disruption/implementation process, there will be a mess for the contractor as the voices that have been silent get raised in protest.

Most folks sending out an RFP or talking to a contractor don’t include the whole group, and do NOT understand the full set of givens necessary for a good job. They are trying to choose a vendor based on referrals, websites, reputation, without actually knowing what the hell is going to go down.

But imagine if you can lead them through to the entire set of circumstances, the gathering of the right stakeholders, the understanding of the downsides to the sort of result they seek, the route through to facilitating buy in so the fallout is minimal. Imagine if you do that – and none of the other vendors do. Is it not possible they won’t need to look at other vendors? That price won’t be an issue?

In reality, you don’t really know the full set of stakeholders when you receive an RFP or get called in to price a job; you have no idea how close the specs are to the needs of the full set of those who will touch the final solution and who may be unhappy when a new solution is thrust on them; you have no idea how the implementation will play out in terms of buy in and resistance; you have no idea what level of chaos is involved under the sheets, as it were. In the same vein, neither do your clients. Help them first determine the full set of their own needs and issues, and then writing up a few details and costs will be simple. You would have already paid for yourself, and saved a lot of time writing up proposals.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, thought leader, consultant, trainer, speaker and coach. She is the author of 9 books, including a 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?Sharon Drew works across industries, using her generic Buying Facilitation® model to enable sellers, healthcare professionals, leaders, coaches, etc. to facilitate others through to their own best decisions. She lives on a houseboat in Portland OR.

September 30th, 2019

Posted In: Communication, News

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Working with a partner in Amsterdam recently, I was one of a small team of communication experts offering a day of skills for executive leaders. Wanting to make sure my contribution would work interdependently with the other consultants, I asked my Dutch partner Thomas Blekman the topics my colleagues would be presenting. Voice and Storytelling, I was told. Did I need to contact either of them to discuss how to best fit my content in with theirs? Nope. “Just teach your great stuff.”

Hmm…. From the topic titles, it seemed the client company wanted the leaders to learn the best tools to facilitate audience buy-in. To add my knowledge appropriately, I developed an agenda that enabled these leaders to be heard without bias and encourage maximum information/idea adoption. Given my work on the unconscious biases involved in our brain’s physiologic listening processes (I wrote a book on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard – WHAT? Did you really say what I think I heard?), I know that people can accurately interpret only a percentage of what’s said. I wanted to help these leaders make sure their outreach efforts would be heard as per their intended outcomes.

Twenty minutes prior to my session, I met the man teaching Storytelling. Except it wasn’t Storytelling. He was teaching How to Pitch. He introduced himself as the winner of The Netherlands Pitching Competition.

PITCHING VS STORYTELLING

What? Not Storytelling? The blood drained from my face. Thomas noticed immediately: “You’ve got a bias against pitching. Admit it,” he whispered. I was so overwhelmed by the enormity of my misunderstanding, and the consequences to the participants, I merely agreed. But I had to very quickly try to figure out how to reconfigure what I’d developed to more accurately address the new situation.

Different from the listening skills I would now be teaching, I’ve spent 35 years training sales folks in my Buying Facilitation® method, and my pitching program teaches 1. very specific skill sets to facilitate an audience’s ability to make a new decision and be ready to act before a seller pitches anything, and 2. how to develop pitch materials that match the responses of the audience. In other words, not pushing content at them as per the speaker’s outcome, but helping them determine the type of content they’d need in order to consider making a purchase now, then giving them that exact content. Quite the opposite of conventional pitching.

For me Storytelling and Pitching are entirely different concepts. In Storytelling, the speaker shares a narrative that will hopefully facilitate audience buy inand connection, potentially shift thinking, and maybe consider new ideas. Pitching means there is a manipulation going on – with precisely chosen words and images – to get Others to act according to the speaker’s agenda. While both are potentially forms of influencing, Storytelling has an idea-shift outcome while Pitching is a persuasion tactic designed to cause an action desired by the presenter.

Had I understood the real program title was Pitching, I would have designed a very different program, including role plays to teach how to formulate the new type of question I developed (Facilitative Questions) that facilitates decision making, to use before they pitched; and then ways to develop presentation materials for their pitch that matched the audience responses rather than traditional pitch decks that focus on the seller’s information choices.

While I was able to add some new material to my original design, my presentation left the audience confused as to where my stuff fit. Not to mention that without discussing his content to see how I could collaborate, I was flying blind against The Best Pitcher in The Netherlands. Obviously, an upfront discussion weeks prior to the program would have given me the data I needed to design the best skill sets to complement his.

While there was no blame involved here (I don’t think Thomas intended to mislead – he most likely just translated wrong.), there was a cost to my misunderstanding. The participants didn’t get what they deserved because I had misunderstood my mission. The fact that it wasn’t my fault is irrelevant.

HOW WE GET IT WRONG

Often in our communications we make assumptions, mistranslate another’s words or meaning, or misunderstand the nature of a message, and unwittingly end up causing harm.

While sometimes – maybe 15% of the time – the problem isn’t your fault because you can make faulty assumptions from the facts you’re given; or you have such an entirely different world view that you cannot fully comprehend the full fact pattern. Most of the time you unconsciously bias what you hear, causing a gap between what’s said and what’s heard. It’s your brain’s fault.

  1. What you hear enters your ears as chemical/electrical signals that trigger your unconscious biases- historic, systemic, physiological – leading to flawed assumptions. You don’t even recognize that what you think you heard is inaccurate: your brain doesn’t tell you how it has ever-so-kindly (re)translated the incoming message, leaving you to believe the speaker actually said what you thought you heard even when it was never said. When you think someone’s not hearing you, that’s not true: they are hearing you, but their brain is sending your message down an incorrect synapse and discards what doesn’t fit – and then neglects to tell us what it omitted. Oops.
  2. Sometimes we translate what’s been said into an entirely different world view than intended. Recently I asked a friend – a techie – to read over a draft article to tell me if he could understand the way I explained something, or if it was confusing. After an hour (should have taken 10 minutes max) and a missed meeting, as I waited for his response (the article was time sensitive) I called him. He said he was still editing my article. What? Did he hear me ask him to be my editor? “Well I heard you say to just read it, but that’s what people say when they really want me to fix it for them.” Why didn’t he first check with me if that’s what I meant? “Why? I knew that’s what you really wanted.” His faulty assumption cost me a meeting.

So net net, it’s quite difficult to know for certain if what you think you hear is accurate without checking; when you believe your understanding is accurate, it’s pretty hard to get curious about the possibility of a misunderstanding. [Of course it’s only when an influencer can consciously recognize fact from personal, unconscious bias that it’s possible to truly understand what’s been said. For those wishing to learn how to do this, I have a chapter on this (Chapter 6) in WHAT?.

But whether it’s because a situation has occurred outside of your choice, or because your own unconscious bias caused you to misunderstand, the results are the same: when your actions are based on a fundamental misunderstanding that results in you causing harm, you must fix it. Otherwise you lose trust.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

To fix a misunderstanding, you must take responsibility for it, regardless of whether or not you believe you’re at fault. Many years ago, when leaders still made unilateral decisions, I was working with the inside sales reps at Bethlehem Steel. Over the months, it became very clear that the entire group was deeply angry. Earlier that year they had been ordered to move: leave their homes and lifestyles, and move to either Burns Harbor, MI or Sparrows Point, MD. They were given two months to sell their houses, pack, buy new houses, move their families, find new schools and new jobs for spouses, in the middle of a school year. Two months! Obviously, families split up to remain behind with kids in school, houses weren’t sold in two months, or packed, or purchased. The reps were living in rentals, flying to their families on weekends. Or the spouses moved and left teenagers to finish out the school year with neighbors, etc. A mess.

The reps lived in daily resentment, unconsciously (or consciously) dragging their heels getting things done, forgetting to do stuff. Sales numbers plummeted. They took a lot of sick time, took days off to visit their families back in their old houses, got weird illnesses like emotional blindness (Who knew that was a thing!), etc.

Because my client Dan was the instigator, I decided to do something about it. One day, Dan came out of his office to meet his mystery lunch guest. It was me. I had arranged everything with Dan’s secretary, and flew in on my own dime.

Dan: Hey, SD. You’re not supposed to be here today, are you? Are you my lunch date?

SD: No. And yes. And you’re paying.

During our lunch I explained how angry everyone was, and how he had disrupted their families and lives. Dan didn’t get it. “I gave them each $5,000 compensation to move!” Obviously he needed a bit of a push. I told him I’d set up a meeting at 2:00 that afternoon with him and the rep’s leadership team, and handed him a speech to say to them.

Dan: This is an apology!!! I’m not saying this!

SD: Yes you are.

Dan took the paper, and began pacing around the restaurant, reading. He paced for 20 minutes. Then said he was ready to go. We didn’t talk in the car. In the meeting, I sat in the back. At the table, he stood up, looked over at me, cleared his throat, and said to everyone:

It seems I overstepped my bounds and didn’t consider your needs when I forced you to move on such short notice, find other houses to move into, pack, move in the middle of the school year, and didn’t respect your family obligations.

That was all he had to say. The entire group got up and cheered. Some of the men starting crying. They all went around him to hug him. “We just needed to hear you apologize. We felt overlooked and disrespected. You didn’t seem to care about us or our families. We just needed you to take some responsibility for your mistake.”

Dan had totally misunderstood the system involved in families moving house across country and how children needed to find schools, parents needed to find playgroups, the time it takes houses to sell. The misunderstanding harmed his team. They needed an apology. They needed to be respected.

Net net. I don’t care if you believe you misunderstood anything or you believe you’re ‘right’. If there is a problem under your watch, you’re responsible.

THE HOW

Here’s what you’ll notice if there might have been a misunderstanding:

  • Something is amiss. You may not know exactly what it is, but it will feel like something is a bit off center. People will try work with the givens, but they’re not particularly happy, and not particularly at their best; they might be late for work, forgetting to do promised stuff, ignoring deadlines, etc.
  • You’ll hear people grumbling and their issues don’t seem to make sense.
  • Suggestions for change will be made in areas you believe to be stable.
  • People won’t look you in the eye, or they’ll make themselves unavailable.
  • People will not necessarily complain, but they won’t necessarily be compliant either.

Net net, there will be something wrong and you won’t know what it is. Gather the group, or the leaders, and ask if there is something you did that caused confusion or annoyance that you need to clean up. Is something wrong that you need to make right?

  1. Make sure you don’t have any attachment to being right; your goal is to make sure whatever problem has occurred will be resolved. You’ve got a ‘people’ criteria here, not a ‘right’ criteria.
  2. Listen with an unbiased ear. It’s helpful for you to walk around while you’re listening – it puts you into Observer, and will supersede your unconscious biases.
  3. Let the outcome, the fix, come from the people that are experiencing the hurt.
  4. Make sure you repeat what they say to make sure you hear them accurately and you work from their suggestions.
  5. Get agreement from everyone for the fixes, and make sure everyone is on board.
  6. Ask if there is anyone still left hurt or angry – and ask them what they’ll need from you to feel the problem resolved going forward.

Your responsibility is to have a well-functioning, thriving group, an outcome in which everyone is creative and collaborative, a conclusion that everyone can buy into and become better for. Blame, fault, mistake, are not operative. It’s just your job.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, sales visionary and inventor of Buying Facilitation®, and author of 9 books including the NYT Business Bestseller Selling with IntegrityDirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?Sharon Drew works with companies to facilitate congruent change and collaboration, with healthcare providers to facilitate patient buy-in, with folks seeking permanent change by facilitating them through their unconscious to design a conscious route to permanent change (The HOW of Change). She is a consultant, coach, trainer, speaker, change maker and award winning blogger (www.sharondrewmorgen.com). She lives in Portland, OR on a houseboat. Reach Sharon Drew at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

September 23rd, 2019

Posted In: News

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