By Sharon Drew Morgen

Did you ever wonder why all those folks who obviously need your solution don’t buy? No, really. Have you? Did you think it’s because they’re, um, stupid? or ill informed? How ‘bout your guess that when you get a chance to explain it better, or get in front of them, they’ll buy?Here’s a hint: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your solution. It’s great. And no, buyers aren’t stupid. And no, your information won’t help. Buyers buy exactly what they need, when they need it, and who they want to buy it from – your content is searchable and your site professional and data rich. Buyers are smart and your solution is great.


The way you’re using the sales model is the problem: everything you do is focused on selling. Indeed, selling doesn’t cause buying.

The very focus of the sales model restricts who will buy, leaving behind a vastly larger group of people who will buy once they’re ready. The sales model is great for after they’re ready – not for making them ready.

I suggest you employ sales at a later stage of the buying decision process, and first engage with the people who will become buyers but haven’t gotten there yet.

With a focus shift, you can find the people with a high propensity of becoming buyers early along their decision path, facilitate them through their Pre-Sales change management issues, and then sell when they’re ready. In other words, instead of waiting for them while they do this themselves (and the time it takes them to do this is the length of their sales cycle), put on a different hat and facilitate them through their necessary process. They’re going to do it with you or without you. And you’re wasting a valuable resource by ignoring it.

Don’t get me wrong. You’re a fine sales professional. You’ve just overlooked what goes on in the buying. And it has nothing to do with how you’re selling.

The sales model (the baseline being a tool to get solutions placed) is based on Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1937): find the folks who need what you’re selling, get into a relationship so they trust you, explain as many ways necessary so they’ll recognize your solution will resolve their need, and keep following up to remind them that you’re still there and here’s why they should buy your solution.

It’s not changed much in the intervening years, and indeed has enhanced the very same themes:

The sales process must analyze demographics to uncover areas with a higher probability of prospect need; maximize content/information distribution to match those demographics using whatever technology is most effective to garner attention; maximize buyer touch points to develop brand and trust to minimize objections; price the solution competitively; connect with these buyers personally when possible to create trust and build relationship; and beat the competition.

Notice that everything is focused on a seller’s need to sell. Here’s the problem with that. Every penny spent on recognizing buyer personas, or demographics, or buyer personality types, or ensuring your messaging is appealing for the recipients, assumes that a seller can/should convert that name to gold. And yet it only occurs 5% of the time in face to face sales, and 0.0059% in digital marketing. That success rate (No other industry would call that success!) alone should be a hint that maybe something’s wrong. There is.

It’s time to forego the singular focus on placing your solution and first connect to facilitate buying. Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They’re two different processes. One’s tactical, one’s strategic. And the tactical is moot until the strategic is completed. Starting with sales ensures you will only attract folks already buyers and ignore a much larger group (5x larger) of folks who are in the process of becoming buyers but haven’t gotten their ducks in a row yet.

Btw when I say ‘facilitate buying’, I don’t mean final purchasing considerations of price or vendor. I’m not even talking about learning more so you can ‘understand them’ better. Or leading them where YOU think they should go. I’m talking about the process they go through much earlier, before they’ve become buyers, when they’re people just discovering a problem, up through all the intricacies of making a decision to go ahead and bring in an external solution and includes stakeholder buy-in.

Believe it or not, it takes less time to facilitate (regardless of the size or price of a sale) the decision process that all people must go through before they’re buyers than deal with the consequences of competing for the low hanging fruit once they are.


I’d like you to consider that there are two elements to buyer’s buying. 1. traversing the stages of discovering whether a problem is worth resolving within their set of givens, and 2. the choice process if they can’t fix it themselves and need to make a purchase. First they’re just folks trying to resolve a problem with their familiar resources, and when all else fails they become buyers.

By limiting your outreach (marketing and sales) to #2 you’re restricting your success to the last few steps along the Buying Decision path and it’s costing you money, not to mention it’s a tremendous waste of resource.

Let’s go back to Carnegie. Even with all the cool technology and knowledge of demographics, the core sales thinking hasn’t changed. But the environment has. And so has the close rate (It’s going down.). Here are the limits of continuing to think only of placing solutions:

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

  • We don’t personally know our prospects. Oh, sure, we’ve got high tech methods to ‘find’ probable buyers. My research shows we’re ignoring 5x more real prospects using the sales model alone. Using the model I’ve developed to help buyers buy, Buying Facilitation® closes 40% of the same list selling the same solution, against the control group close rate of 5%. (In my client control groups, these same percentages have persisted for decades across all industries and product types.)
  • Our push to ‘create trust/relationships’ is silly. Everyone knows it’s not a real relationship, that it’s a ploy to sell, not to mention trust can’t occur when one person needs another person to act in a certain way. And frankly, just because someone likes you doesn’t mean they can convince their team to buy when half of them would be fired in the process.

B.    Carnegie stressed describing details of a new product/solution

  • There was no internet, no regular phone use, no content marketing, no search. Not to mention people looked forward to sitting down with sellers to learn to solve their problem. Now buyers search Google and don’t need sellers to explain anything. But once they’ve discovered what a solution must entail for them, you can then pitch or present using THEIR criteria for buying as opposed to YOUR criteria for selling – which might be very different.

C.    Buying decisions involved the seller, the problem, the product, and the buyer

  • It was simple then. Now there are layers of stakeholders and decision makers; buyers live in complicated systems of norms, rules, history, group/individual needs – all of which must be addressed before a buying decision takes place, even for small sales. Pushing solution content from the outside does nothing to facilitate group buy-in among prospective buyers (and trust me: no matter how many you think there are, there are double that number); it merely causes distrust with those not ready. Those seeking your solution can find what they need without you if your only job is to sell.

D.   A purchase was tactical

  • Now, unless it’s a small personal item, most purchases are strategic and involve a range of conscious and unconscious issues that must be managed first.

Here’s what we know that Carnegie didn’t know:

  • People don’t want to buy anything. They just want to resolve a problem at the lowest ‘cost’ to their status quo and will become buyers only when they recognize they cannot resolve the problem internally and everyone understands the ‘cost’ of bringing in something new.
  • Until people have determined they’re buyers, they have no inclination to read or hear a pitch because they haven’t yet determined the need or know if it can be resolved internally. They won’t read your information because they’re not aware they need it yet, regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution. Not to mention, pitching too early creates objections.
  • Need doesn’t determine who buys. Just because there’s a real need doesn’t mean it’s the right time, there’s the proper buy in, and the calculation of cost to the system: the cost of bringing in a new solution must be less than the cost of maintaining the problem. Not to mention it’s quite difficult for sellers to recognize real ‘need’ when they pose biased questions to obtain cues that obviate a pitch or follow up.
  • There’s no way a seller can know the unique, idiosyncratic issues going on within a buyer’s environment that dictate how their decisions get met. And until whoever will touch the final solution buys in to something new, a purchase will not be made. Hint: assuming you have a prospect because you interpret what you hear as a need doesn’t make someone a prospect.
  • It’s possible to facilitate the Buying Decision Path and partner with someone who WILL become a buyer – but not with the sales model which offers a solution before the full problem set has been scoped out and before there is stakeholder buy in.
  • If we can first show up as Servant Leaders and facilitate the change management portion, we can expand our value and beat the competition when they become buyers.


The crucial pieces buyers are missing are systemic; quite confusing because what until they figure that all out for themselves (Remember: we’re outsiders with an agenda.) they cannot buy:

  1. Buying an external solution has a cost. It’s much cheaper for people to fix the problem with known resources if they can. Until they figure this out, they will not buy.

Rule #1: Prospects aren’t always prospects.

2. Buying is systemic. People won’t become buyers until they have: the full set of facts that caused the problem and maintain it (or they can’t know the extent of the problem); a fair exploration of workarounds or internal fixes so they can resolve the problem themselves; an understanding of the downside of bringing in something new that must be implemented, learned, accepted, used. Until then they’re just people with a problem they want to resolve. Themselves.

Rule #2: Need has little to do with who is a buyer.

3. People with a problem won’t be researching your information unless it’s to learn from as they attempt their own fix – not to buy. While they will certainly seek out information once they become buyers, you’ve got that market covered with your site and your marketing. That’s the low hanging fruit – your 5% close.

Rule #3: Your content, your marketing, your emails, your requests for appointments will only be noticed by folks ready to buy now and be ignored by the much larger segment of folks who are on route but could be made ready much more quickly with your knowledge (not of your solution, but of your industry or environment).

4. Until or unless the entire stakeholder group is on board and buys in to any change that will occur once they implement the new purchase, they will never buy.

Rule #4: Buying is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue.

5. 40% of the folks you’re prospecting will buy your solution (maybe from a different provider) within about two years: the time it takes them to figure out how to figure it out is the length of the sales cycle.

Rule #5: Sales concentrates on placing solutions to the exclusion – to the exclusion – of facilitating change management portion of the buying decision process which is systems and change related, not product/purchase related.. This restricts sales to those ready now. The change process can be accelerated, but not with sales.

You can see now why you’re not closing more than you close. Seeking need isn’t working or you’d close more. Creating a trusting relationship isn’t working or you’d close more. Generating terrific content isn’t working or you’d close more. Finding the right demographic isn’t working or you’d close more. All of those tools will uncover those who are specifically seeking your solution now. That’s it. They will not expand your audience because people who aren’t yet buyers won’t pay attention.

So what parts of Carnegie are viable now? The solution placement part. Content management; pitching and presenting. Negotiating and closing.


It’s time to facilitate people through the change management end of the Buying Decision Path. I’ve been talking about this for decades and have successfully taught Buying Facilitation® to global corporations since 1987. It’s time to shift, to add a front end before you sell, and then sell only to those who are going to buy.

1.    Change the goal of your prospecting calls. Stop trying to find someone with a need or whom you can sell your product to. Stop trying to pitch, present, offer solution content until they are ready for it – after they’ve lined up their buying decision criteria.  Find folks considering change and problem solving in the area your solution handles –  easy to find if you stop trying to push your product or ask biased questions.

The time it takes them to figure this out is the length of the sales cycle. So help them figure it out. Then you’re already there when they become buyers.And THEN you can pitch to the full set of stakeholders who now know exactly what they need to buy.

2.    Facilitate potential buyers through the steps to change they they must go through (I’ve coded 13 steps involved in the Buying Decision Journey) before they become buyers. An overview of the steps they must traverse:

a. recognize the full extent of the problem, possible by assembling, and extract data from, the complete set of stakeholders (which you can never know);

b. attempt to fix the problem internally (which you can never do);

c. manage any disruption an outside fix would entail (which you can’t do for them).

I can’t say this enough times: a purchase is NOT about ‘need’; and no purchase will be made if the cost of the solution is higher than the cost of the problem/status quo regardless of their need or the efficacy of your solution. And an outsider, a seller, can never, never make any of those determinations – so long as the focus is on placing a solution.

3.    Stop posing biased questions. I invented Facilitative Questions which do NOT gather information, but point the client in the direction they need to consider on route to change.

Many folks in the sales field misuse my term Facilitative Questions (which I invented in 1993). Let me clear this up for you: If you haven’t studied with me, you’re using ‘susan’s questions’, or ‘joe’s questions’, not Facilitative Questions. Facilitative Questions take some training. They use brain function to lead people down their unconscious path to change and decision making. They do NOT attempt to gather information! They contain NO Bias. They are NOT a sales tool. And they use brain science: They contain very specific words in a very specific order, often with a time element involved, and always pulling data points in a very specific sequence from one memory channel to the next. The formulation of these took me 20 years to perfect. If you want to discuss, email me: If you want to learn, take a look at this learning accelerator.

The problem with using conventional questions, regardless of your intent, is that 1. They’re biased by your need to know and most likely overlook vast bits of knowledge; 2. They are restricted in scope by your outcome and languaging; 3. They cannot be heard as intended due to the bias that your communication partner listens through; 4. There’s a high probability that the real answer to what you want to know either doesn’t exist, or isn’t fully formed yet; 5. they’re used as sales ploys to extract just enough data to make a pitch ‘obvious’ and the Responder feels manipulated when answering.

So don’t use conventional questions until these folks are at the end of the change steps and have real answers to your curiosity. Facilitative Questions enable change. Conventional questions try to gather data – unnecessary until folks are already buyers and you both need specifics that can be elicited through normal questions.

4.    Stop trying to make an appointment. All you’re getting is folks who are either using your content to craft their own pitch to their team, or to compare against their internal, or historic, vendor. No one wants to waste their time to hear what YOU want them to hear unless they’re getting something out of it. And given the percentage of prospects who DON’T buy after you visit, you know you pitched to folks who wouldn’t buy. I’m not saying don’t visit. But only visit those who are real buyers, and the whole Buying Decision Team is present. That’s a great use of sales.


The sales model is great for people who have become buyers – the low hanging fruit. Unfortunately, it does nothing at all to engage or facilitate folks still in the process of trying to resolve a problem themselves and who have a good shot at becoming buyers when who have a good shot at becoming buyers when they’ve discovered they need outside help and have buy-in to make a purchase.

Why not find those who are in the process of becoming buyers and facilitate them through their Buying Decision Journey. You’re already sending vast amounts of product content to a wide audience, hoping to ensnare new folks who have no interest because they’re not yet buyers. You’re already spending time following up vast numbers of people who will never buy; why not find those who WILL become buyers (possible on the first call) and speed up their change process. You can even shift your content marketing tactics to address each one of their decision steps.

In summary, save selling until you’re communicating with actual buyers, and start by facilitating folks through their Buying Decision Path. Then you can sell! Not to mention the facilitation process takes a lot less time than pitching, trying to get an appointment, and following up.

Sales is a necessary model to introduce solutions and services beyond what’s possible on the internet. It’s just illogical to use as a prospecting or qualifying tool.

With 8x more real buyers on your lists, stop wasting time on those who will never buy, find the ones who will once they figure it all out, and help them figure it out. Then sell.

For those interested in learning about Buying Facilitation®, here’s a link to some articles. You should also considering reading at least two sample chapters in my book that explains this process: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. I’ve also got gobs more on

What is Buying Facilitation®?

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

Prospects Aren’t Always Prospects

Steps Along the Buying Decision Path

How, Why, and When Buyer’s Buy

Recognize Buyers on the First Call

Don’t You Realize Selling Doesn’t Cause Buying?


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

May 11th, 2020

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Every day, now, I walk up and down the one mile levee where I live on a houseboat on the Columbia River in North Portland. I’ve gotten to meet many of the neighbors these weeks: folks that used to go to the gym are now runners and walkers regardless of the weather; folks I’ve never met are now outside their townhouses on a nice day. I can now recognize dogs, appreciate gardens, identify relationships between people I hadn’t known were together.

Yesterday I walked past builders who were siding a house. Their radio played my very favorite Keb Mo song (She Just Wants to Dance). When I hear it I don’t have a lotta choice – my body just moves. So yesterday, in the middle of the street, I began wiggling just a bit. Then, hey, what the hell. Great music. Empty dance floor. Booty already shakin’.

I closed my eyes and danced. From the soul right into the hips. Ahhhhhh. Dancin in the soft spring sun with the sounds of water, birds and boats nearby. And Keb Mo! At some point I opened my eyes; four other people were dancing with me. A flash mob!

During my daily walk there’s been a series of activities. At the start of the quarantine period, the men seemed to be outside doing man-stuff on their houses and cleaning their cars; the women were weeding their small gardens. About 3 weeks ago the men seemed to disappear, and the women’s gardening became repotting, fertilizing, etc. And mind you, there aren’t really such things as gardens here. On our houseboats, many of us have potted plants in some sort of aesthetic configuration; on the levees, the townhouses have postage stamp sized gardens that are quite well cared for. Pretty.

This week there’s been another shift. More people-connecting: couples sitting out on their benches and talking or walking holding hands; folks in groups, at a safe distance of course, sometimes a street width apart. By now we’ve gotten to know each other (There are 153 houseboats and maybe 50 townhouses.) and I feel free to join whenever I see 3 people standing near each other. ‘Party?’

Folks seem rather chipper at these get-togethers. Gardens. Take-out. Webinars with clients. Zoom with family. Netflix. Everyone sharing, nodding, smiling. Happy.

When they ask how I am, I say I’ve been creative; lovely clients and colleagues; friends healthy; new book going really well. I’m certainly one of the lucky ones. But half of my heart is grieving. I share my sadness – the deep deep sadness that surrounds me these days – and my despair. My heart actually hurts, I tell them.

My neighbors get quiet, then begin sharing their truths. They too are sad, grieving. So much suffering. So many lives affected, ended. Families, companies, relationships, children, work – lives toppled one way or another. So much of it unnecessary.

And so. Seems we’ve all figured out how to live around the grief. Personally, I contribute what and where I can. I meditate and scream at the television. In bad moments I cry. And I wait. Not sure what I’m waiting for. As a good Buddhist and Quaker I know that Now is all there is. And yet it’s lurking back there, dark and gauzy with no fixed form, waiting for me after Keb Mo.


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

May 4th, 2020

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

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

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

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

“Are you going on vacation?” I asked?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

April 13th, 2020

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When my first book Sales on the Line came out in 1993, it was the 26th book published that focused on using the telephone in sales. Obviously that number has increased dramatically since then. But resistance to using the phone to develop trustworthy connections continues. And frankly, I don’t know why: it’s an excellent tool to develop rapport, facilitate decision making, and create win/win communication. We’ve just never been taught how.

And physiologically, the ear has more receptors than eyes and takes in information more quickly, albeit differently. But for some reason, there are fewer people who prefer auditory over visual as their main information gathering sense.


Personally, I get more information of what’s really being said through my ears; my visual seems to draw my attention haphazardly, restricts what I notice to whatever catches my eye, and interpret the bits I notice with bias. As a result I miss important cues that are obvious to me when I’m just listening. For me, the phone is my go-to professional tool where I’m able to

  • get into rapport quickly and invite my communication partner into rapport with me,
  • hear patterns of deciding, beliefs, habits I can’t notice with my eyes,
  • build relationships through voice rapport and matched beliefs,
  • facilitate discovery, decision making and change.

I’ve successfully taught large numbers of sales and coaching clients to use the phone as an efficient tool for prospecting, negotiating, change management, collaborative decision making, and relationship building.

Back in the 1980s when launching my tech start up in London I made hundreds of calls weekly around Europe (no internet, no email, no zoom); flying to a sales call was a huge time waster unless the prospect had already decided to be a buyer.

I became so good visualizing my communication partner on the phone that I was ‘one’ with it, even able to mentally visualize the colors and patterns on a man’s tie! True story: My US investor heard of my ‘skill’ and bought a bunch of new ties to trick me, so I couldn’t guess from the ones I’d seen him in. He called regularly for a few weeks, wearing a different tie each time, asking: “What color is my tie?” I always got it right. He’d then hang up on me, frustrated because he couldn’t figure out how I did that (My mental images are quite sharp, obviously.). I adore the phone. But I digress.


In these times of social distancing and working from home, sellers, healthcare providers and consultants, usually reliant on face-to-face contact, are using skype, zoom, and the telephone to connect. But their history of eschewing the phone has created two main problems. 1. the fields themselves have myths and assumptions about the necessity of in-person contact; 2. people haven’t been taught good skills to make phone use effective. I’d like to help make it easier. I’ll start with sales.

Sales has two major problems.

  1. It still follows the precept of Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People, 1937) that in-person meetings with prospects is essential. In those days, meeting in person was the only option, unless sellers wanted to be on a party line with the whole neighborhood listening in. But let’s be honest here: what else do you use from 1937? Obviously times have changed. And just maybe the phone can be a viable tool to help you do your job.
  2. The model only targets the low handing fruit, only those ready to buy. Because it’s limited to being a solution placement tool, it enters late in the buying decision path and overlooks the vast number of potential buyers who will buy once they get their ducks in a row (and don’t heed information or marketing because they’re not buyers yet). I successfully use the telephone with my Buying Facilitation® process to find and facilitate these folks through their Pre-Sales change management stages that precede their decision to purchase. I find it a dynamic tool that efficiently creates trust and rapport.

Healthcare and consulting are also done largely in person. And yes, I understand that docs and consultants need to be face-to-face with folks to get a full understanding of their concerns. But these fields also have their problems. Too often, professionals enter with agendas and assumptions that unwittingly challenge people’s unconscious beliefs and end up causing resistance, not to mention miss important data. But now, with in-visit meetings less frequent, the phone is a good option to gather information, create rapport, and facilitate win/win collaborative dialogues that enable buy-in and action.


Using a win/win value system, the phone can begin and enrich relationships, as well as enable Others to discover their own excellence (even sick people must ‘do it’ their own way). For those of you now needing to connect with folks you used to meet up with in person, here are some tips.

Rapport. Rapport building is vital for trust-building. But it’s done differently using the phone: you must use your voice and empathy to build rapport. Here are best practices that signal care and collaboration:

  • It’s vital to get into voice rapport immediately. That means tone, tempo, pitch, and volume; your normal speaking voice will feel comfortable only to those who speak like you do. Think about it: your close friends have voice volume and pace similar to yours, and it’s quite uncomfortable speaking with folks who speak a lot slower/faster, or louder/softer. Being out of voice rapport is one of the reasons telesales and robo calls feel so invasive – their products are usually fine.
  • There’s a very specific format to entering a call with a stranger (i.e. a prospecting call, or call with a new patient) to create rapport and avoid annoyance. First, introduce yourself with a very brief description of your goal, and ask if it’s a good time to speak. So:

Hi. This is Sharon-Drew Morgen. I go by Sharon-Drew. And this is a sales call. I’m selling a new type of change management program for sales. Is this a good time to speak?

Then, immediately upon hearing them speak, change your voice to your best approximation of their voice for instant rapport. I once had this series of exchanges with the training director at IBM, on a cold call:

Nancy: HELLO!!!!!!!!
SDM: [using her same rushed tone] You sound busy! When should I call back?
Nancy: TOMORROW AT 2:00
And we both hung up.
Nancy: [Next day, 2:00] HELLO!!!!!!!
SDM: [using same rushed tone.] Wow. You’re still busy. When should I call back?
Nancy: THURSDAY AT 5:00.
And we both hung up. I called back again Thursday.
Nancy: HELLO!!!!!!!!
SDM: You still sound busy.
Nancy: Who ARE you? And why are you calling?
SDM: Sharon Drew Morgen. And this is a sales call. I can call back.
Nancy: What are you selling?
SDM: A new sales paradigm that facilitates decision making. But I can call back.
Nancy: Can you teach my people how to do what you do?
SDM: What did I do?
Nancy: You respected my time, never pushed your own agenda, and created rapport. I trust you already.

And I trained large numbers of IBM sales people nationally for years afterwards. With no pitch, no presentation, no face-to-face visit, no money discussion. Just rapport, respect, and voice matching.

  • The next step is to make sure you’re using their correct name: say,

Can you please tell me how you refer to yourself so I can call you by the name you prefer?

Even if you see a name written in front of you, you have no way of knowing if it’s how they refer to themselves. My name, for example, is Sharon Drew Morgen. Folks who don’t know me mistakenly refer to me as ‘Sharon’ and I must admit it really annoys me. With just a little bit of homework on Google, or looking at my email address ( or reading any of my articles or profile, it’s easy to spot that I refer to myself as Sharon Drew. Calling me by the wrong name automatically puts callers out of rapport with me, and then they have to claw their way back. So unless you know the person, don’t assume you know the name they call themselves. Ask.

  • Given the time demands we all have these days, say upfront how much time you’ve got so everyone is working with the same parameters. So after you get their correct name, say

Hi, Joe. Glad we’re speaking. I’ve got about 15 minutes. Does that work for you? Or would you rather do it at a different time when we could speak longer?

This sets up trust that you’ll be honest and respectful.

Now that you’ve got the initial set up, let’s turn to more tools for a collaborative communication.

WE Space. I coined this term decades ago to represent the HOW of rapport building, comfort, and trust building. It’s about very quickly creating a feeling of familiarity. I’ve heard people say it’s ‘smooth’.

Begin with a conversational tone. And certainly don’t begin with questions to ‘assess need’ or assumptions, or begin sharing information you think they need. Openings like these make people defensive or annoyed if offered before they are ready to hear you. Listening to another person talk about something outside their comfort zone will break rapport and regardless of a ‘need’, they won’t listen. So ixnay on the pitch or ‘illuminating’, regardless of how ‘important’ you think your message is: the conversation must be reciprocal or the listener won’t hear it.

Don’t forget, you’re out of control on the phone and have no idea what the other person is doing. Are they listening? Are they on mute and working on their computer? Are they having lunch? Did their dog just die? I once got a cold call that went like this:

CALLER: Hi. I’m James with XYZ corp. And how are YOU today!?

SD: I’m terrible. I just had to put my favorite dog down (This was true.) I’m so upset

And he hung up. He could have used that opportunity to create rapport, but his only agenda was to sell something. Being human wasn’t in the mix. This is a great example of why you should never, never say “How are you?” to someone on a cold call that you don’t know. It’s a piker move. Shows you don’t care, aren’t sincere, and merely trying to create a fake sense of relationship to get their own needs met. Don’t do it.

It’s vital to have a real exchange that embraces both parties (Sender->Receiver->Sender->). And without both parties on the same page wanting the same outcome, you won’t be heard. This is especially challenging for sales folks determined to discover a ‘need’ to sell into, and merely end up annoying folks who may not know why they’re being talked at; and for patients and clients who haven’t been respected enough to be brought on board to a mutual discovery process. This brings up the next item.

Ask don’t tell.  Don’t enter a call assuming you have answers. I use Buying Facilitation® to help Others discover their own answers, their preferred behaviors, their assumptions and the beliefs they hold to maintain their status quo. Once they’ve figured out where they’re at, what’s missing, and what they need to change for excellence, I offer only data that matches.

  • To help them discover their answers, I developed Facilitative Questions, which do NOT elicit data, but helps uncover unconscious decision criteria instead of conventional questions that are biased by the Asker and restrict the full range of responses. So:

What has stopped you until now from considering other options around X? What skill do you have that might help you shift Y that you’d be willing to begin using? What do you need from me to help you achieve Z if you’re having difficulty?

I am aware that the term ‘facilitative questions’ is being used by now by folks who don’t know the origination of the term, so here it is. Decades ago I realized that conventional questions are biased by the Asker – in words, context, intent, languaging, outcomes, assumptions – and set up resistance, or extract only partial, or incorrect, data.

After decades of trial, I figured out how brains make decisions and developed Facilitative Questions to employ brain function to retrieve data from the unconscious. They use specific words, in a specific order, with a different goal and outcome than conventional questions, i.e. they’re not based on any curiosity or need of the Questioner. I’ve written an article on them, and developed a learning tool to learn how to formulate them. It’s not a natural use of questions, nor a natural use of the brain, but quite powerful as a way to not only build trust, but to enable Others to use their natural ideas and assumptions. After all, at the end of the day, you want your telephone partner to walk away with their own best solutions.

Change your goal. Instead of entering a call to achieve what YOU think is important, enter the call to do what THEY will benefit from – and as an outsider, you have no way of knowing what that is. I suggest you listen for what they have interest in changing; what their brand of excellence is and how they want to get there. Make it your goal to enter as a Servant Leader. Use the phone to help THEM discover what THEY need, exploring and discovering together a shared goal. Remember: the connection is about WE, not about YOU.

And trust me on this: even if you’re a doctor or consultant with necessary data or wisdom YOU think they need doesn’t mean THEY will agree. Especially if what you suggest goes against their instincts (which you cannot know), or they’re already frightened and don’t know who or what to trust. Rapport building and WE Space will handle the psychological issues you don’t normally deal with before you address their concerns. So:

I’d like to discuss what you’d like to get from this call. If you tell me what’s going on, I’d like to hear how you’ve been trying to fix the problem yourself and how that’s working. If there is a way I can help you do it the most comfortable way for you, I’d like to try.

For sellers, your pitches and qualifying questions are based on your needs. Remember: you’ve got nothing to sell (or share) if they’ve got nothing to buy (or learn/change). Certainly your biased questions won’t help them discover what they need to address to make changes, and will only create resistance. You now seek out folks eager to make changes but haven’t figured out how. It’s only when folks are ready and willing to change that they become buyers, regardless of a ‘need’.

One more important factor for any influencer: when you offer information the listener isn’t seeking, they can’t hear it outside their own biases. I wrote a book on this (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?). Here’s why they can’t hear you: words enter brains as chemical and electrical signals that have no meaning. These signals seek out existing synapses and neural pathways that have a close match; where there is insufficient matching, the brain discards the difference – and doesn’t tell us what parts it discarded causing misunderstanding and misinterpretation. And because we think we heard what was said, we have no choice but to respond to what we think we heard. So you might say ABC and my brain hears ABL. It doesn’t tell me it deleted C, D, E, etc. Hence, we all suffer the downsides of miscommunication.

This is what happens when you pitch or offer information before your communication partner recognizes what they’re missing and need from you, and you’ve developed the rapport and trust necessary for them to invite you to serve them. Regardless of how important your message, it will not be received regardless of the efficacy of the idea.

What to listen for. When we listen for what we want to hear, we’re overlooking a vast array of underlying data. With your Servant Leader hat on during a phone call, you can hear what your patients, prospects, and clients have omitted, the beliefs that aren’t serving them, and the reasons behind the choices they’ve made. Listening is a highly biased process. Mitigate this by speaking only when the Other has determined exactly what they need from you, regardless of what you think they need. And the phone is a great tool for this.

One more thing. As your phone call progresses, ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I forgetting to be curious about?
  • Why is s/he telling me this instead of something I find more important?
  • Am I hearing what’s being said or am I biasing my listening?

I hope I’ve shed some light on how to make the phone your friend during these troubling times. Should you have more questions, please let me know:


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

April 6th, 2020

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

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

Not to mention we use our biased questions, in our biased language choices, and listen through biased ears to ‘hear’ what’s being said as a ‘need’. In fact, given our predisposed assumptions and restricted inquiries, we have no way of knowing when, or how, or if the people we speak with are willing to bring in an outside solution regardless of a possible match or need. A decision to make a purchase is based on dozens of factors that go far beyond need. So rule number #1: need does not a prospect make.

Unfortunately, the sales model has no capability to go behind-the-scenes to facilitate buy-in from those within the buyer’s environment who don’t yet see a need, or don’t want to share budget, or want to address the problem in-house, or have their own agendas. And the sales model, used to attempt to place your solution, doesn’t have the tool set to enable prospective prospects to manage all these internal, hidden issues. Here’s rule #2: until everyone and everything that will touch the new solution buys-in to bringing it on board, there will be no purchase, regardless of a need.


People don’t want to buy anything, they merely want to reach excellence. It’s only when it becomes clear that they cannot resolve a problem internally that they’re willing to purchase anything, regardless of need or the efficacy of your solution.

As such, buyers have change management problems well before they have solution choice problems. A purchase is merely the last element in a chain of events that must take place, most of which are outside of a seller’s purview: assembling the right Buying Decision Team members, trialing many workarounds and reaching out to current vendors, getting buy-in, managing any disruption that would result from bringing in something new.

One of the biggest fallacies of sales is that someone is identified as a buyer when it seems they have a need that your solution might resolve. Because people merely want to resolve a problem, they must explore all avenues of an internal fix before recognizing a purchase is their only alternative. In other words, they have to know their route to change before considering purchasing anything. And the sales model does nothing to facilitate this.

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


Here are two situations in which I failed miserably (and lost quite a bit of money), prior to understanding that buyers (in companies and individuals) must know how to manage internal change before they can buy.

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

From my point of view it was nuts to give up vast increases in sales rather than figure out how to manage the change a new purchase involves. But this is where I had my ‘aha’ moment, where I realized the difference between what I had to sell, their ‘need’, and how they needed to buy: People need to maintain the equilibrium of their status quo at all costs – at all costs – regardless of the benefits of our solutions. If they have to fire a team to bring in new software, they have a decision: software or people. Do they need the software? Sure.


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

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

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

SD: Hello. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen. I’m calling from IBM. I’m a consultant for them and was reading the files they have on you here when they offered you a free Beta. Can I ask how your current computer is working?
B: Hi. Um, It’s ok.
SD: What’s stopping it from being better than OK?
B: Dad.
SD: Dad? I don’t understand.
B: This is a Mom and Pop shop. I’m the son. The owner is my Dad. He started the company 40 years ago, is now in his 70s, and has been handling all tech issues [Note: those were the early days of the net when there was so much confusion]. He’s retiring next year.
SD: Ah. So you can’t consider bringing in anything new that he might be uncomfortable with and will wait until he leaves to look into it?
B: Right. I would love to do your Beta as our system is so slow by now. I’ve just got to take care of Dad.
SD: I wonder if you and Dad would be willing to travel about 5 miles to X company on Y street. They are using it right now and are one of our Betas. Maybe you and Dad could go play with it a bit, ask them some questions, and see if Dad is comfortable?
B: Good idea.

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

No matter how much you think your solution matches with a ‘need’, your goal, your questions, your inquiries, are all based on what you’re selling and you’re not facilitating them in the first steps they must take – managing the change – before they become buyers. By this fact alone, you will only ever close those folks who need what you’re selling, the way you’re selling it, at the moment you show up, and you’re only closing the low hanging fruit.

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


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

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

or they cannot buy. Indeed: a prospect is someone who WILL buy, not someone who SHOULD buy. And ‘need’ has nothing to do with it.

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

As a sales professional, I never understood why ‘prospects’ weren’t buying as often as was logical. When I became an entrepreneur, I realized the problem buyers have when I had needs myself: how could I buy new software when the new programs I had just purchased weren’t yet accepted or used frequently by the users? When would be the right time to hire new folks since the last new batch wasn’t fully trained yet? How would a new manager blend in without disruption when the current team had been working so effectively as unit for so long?

When potential vendors came in to pitch new solutions to me, I understood the reasons I didn’t close as many sales as I thought I should have when I was a seller: the reason I couldn’t buy from these vendors had nothing to do with my need, but about managing my status quo effectively around a new solution; the vendor’s biased questions, assumptions of need, and pitch organized around what the seller was selling instead of addressing the change management issues I had to deal with as part of my buying decision process.

Everything these folks discussed, every question asked, was focused on selling me something. It never occurred to anyone that just maybe I wasn’t ready to be a buyer yet, that just maybe they had nothing to sell until I could clearly see my way through to a path to buy, even though I certainly needed their products.

Our time together should have been used to facilitate my steps to addressing my change management issues in the areas that I needed help with. And then not only would I have been a prospect, but I would have been a buyer.

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

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

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

And you’re pushing the last thing far too soon, certainly depriving yourself of a real possibility of become a servant leader , a relationship manager, and a true professional. I’m not suggesting you not sell. I’m suggesting you don’t begin by attempting to assess ‘need’ or ‘value’ when there’s no way for them to know the full extent of their need until they’ve gone through their change management and buy-in issues. Indeed, once they’ve got the entire fact pattern, they may indeed need to buy more from you.

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

Stop seeking those with ‘need’ and seek those who want to change. And then facilitate them through their process. When it’s time to buy, they’ll be ready, won’t worry much about price, and you’ll barely have to pitch.

Help prospective buyers determine how to change, how to get buy-in, how to bring in your solution. Along the way, you both will determine next steps, who needs to be included, and how to get everyone on board – with you! – to move toward the remedy will provide – even on a prospecting call! And then you can sell. Buying Facilitation® first, then sales. You need both. Then you can help buyers decide to be prospects – and they will buy.


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

March 30th, 2020

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Like most folks in the world right now, I’m homebound. Not homebound, exactly; the new term is ‘shelter in place’ or ‘home stay.’ But I’m not entirely in the house. Each day I take a 2 mile walk. I go out to buy groceries. Plus I live in a houseboat, and spend time daily sitting on my deck on the Columbia River, watching the ducks, sea lions and cormorants go by. Not to mention taking a daily paddle up the river. So I’m not staring at the walls all day.

I’m one of the lucky ones. My clients have shifted to phone work and WebEx meetings, but I still have work and I’ve always disliked flying anyway. Most of my days are spent writing – my weekly blog article and my new book that I finally have time to write – so I have a creative focus.

And frankly, I don’t mind too much. As an Aspie, I don’t seek out social connections anyway. I don’t go to bars, and eat out only occasionally with friends who are equally happy to share food in our homes.

But as someone who believes in the greater good, I believe if one of us is hurting we’re all hurting. And so many of us are now, or soon will be, hurting. Hourly workers won’t have money to pay rent; small business are closing and putting employees out of work; people who are ill can’t get the tests or medical attention they need; children can’t go to school causing a multitude of family problems. So many people. So much suffering. And this will go on for god-knows how long.

So I was thinking. For those of us lucky enough to be receiving regular paychecks regardless of whether or not we can get to an office; for those of us with spare time to serve; for those of us with enough money in the bank to make it through for the long haul, I believe we must serve those in need. I propose the following:

  1. Find a person, family, or group to donate to. It doesn’t have to be a large sum. Maybe help one family with the rent or a week of groceries. When there’s no money coming in, every bit helps relieve the stress and fear.
  2. Volunteer your time to babysit or ‘homeschool’ kids for a day or a week, so parents who are able to work on site can do so.
  3. Find ways to use the internet to support clients in a new way, or reach out to remain connected with friends so you’re not so isolated. Obviously this is a no brainer. But do it.
  4. Start a blog; share your thoughts, fears, experiences with friends, family, and neighbors. By communicating mutual concerns, by sharing your deep thoughts and worries, you’ll feel a bit less alone and the group consciousness may take over. Who knows, you might have a good idea for someone, or you might have an extra blanket, or a roll of toilet paper for a neighbor.

If we’re lucky enough to support our own ‘stay cation’ we must share whatever it is we’ve got with those who don’t. We’re all on the same ship. We’re all vulnerable in one way or another. Each one of us is dealing with the same issues, albeit differently. While some of us are bored, or missing the repartee amongst colleagues; while some of us feel confined by the ‘four walls’ we don’t quite notice in the few hours we’re usually home; while some of us (I’ve read) are eating too much junk food; we’re still alive and well and truly, we can’t complain.

Let’s share what we’ve got. I believe in a world where people care about each other and do what we can to minimize harm. There’s just no way to get around the fact that at this juncture, we can’t afford to be selfish. We’re a global family. We all have hopes and dreams, families and lives to be fulfilled. In these difficult times, let’s remember we’re all in it together. Let’s take care of each other please.


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

March 23rd, 2020

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Sales folks make a few incorrect assumptions about who a buyer is, including: 1. the name on the marketing automation or prospecting system is the name of the buyer; and 2. a receptionist or secretary isn’t a buyer. Not only is there rarely only one ‘buyer’, but whoever responds – yes, even secretaries and receptionists – might actually be on the Buying Decision Team (BDT). Indeed, if you ever attempt to ‘get through’ a receptionist or secretary, you’ll know for sure this person is a major decision maker.


Before anyone buys, they need buy-in from the full set of stakeholders – the BDT – who include those playing a role in managing any change a new solution generates. Each decision team member will face different hurdles: one team member might need to reorganize their team; one might need to fire someone or facilitate user compliance.

As outsiders we cannot know any of this, especially if we’re entering with a focus on placing a solution. But make no mistake: anything new brought into an environment causes some sort of irritation, and someone is responsible for resolving it; these issues need a plan for resolution before a purchasing decision is made.  And as outsiders we can’t know what’s involved or who on the BDT is handling it.


Entering to find someone with a ‘need’, or someone specific to sell to, limits sellers to seeking/finding those who are ready to buy at the moment the seller connects – the low hanging fruit. It ignores all those in the process of becoming buyers and those still figuring out how to manage the change who can be facilitated through to Buyer Readiness.

We can expand the group of possible buyers by a factor of 8 if we enter as change facilitators first and help them do whatever they must. Indeed, this large group doesn’t respond to the conventional sales tools and goals we employ: they can’t yet know the full complement of their need, and aren’t yet interested in any of our content.

By starting off with the goal of finding those still on their buying decision journey and not yet buyers, and lead them through the steps necessary to manage the change, it’s possible to recognize who will be a buyer on the first call. Indeed, by helping them traverse their route, they will become buyers quickly. Your pipeline will actually include real prospects, not suspects. But the definition of who is a buyer will need to change.

For knowledge on this subject, I’ve written articles on the model I developed to facilitate the elements of the buying decision path that differ from sales: Buying Facilitation®, the real buyer’s journey, and help buyers shift their status quo. In this article, I offer three case studies on how to sell by going beyond what the sales process considers ‘buyers’. One shows how I sold more than anticipated by not assuming the listed name was THE buyer; one tells how a receptionist got me business; one shows how I instigated a prospect to enlist the Buying Decision Team and become a buyer.


Years ago, I was training Buying Facilitation® to a sales group within a call center selling three of IBM’s software packages. In those days, sellers prospected using the names on coupons sent from folks requesting information (old school!). During the training, I suggested that participants not ask for the folks whose names were on the coupons, as there was no way of knowing who was actually on the BDT or who filled out the coupon.

During my one-on-one coaching session with John Megatz (one of the participants…. I’ll never forget him!) he called a small construction company to sell an accounting package, assuming they’d need one. He asked the woman who answered for Louis, the name listed on the coupon. “Not in” she said. “Please call back Monday.” I then called the number back. Here was the call.

SD: Hi. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen, and I’m calling from IBM in response to a coupon. Can you tell me how you’re currently handling your accounting, and if you’re seeking any additional tools to help? [Note: I always assume everyone is part of the BDT. I do this on all cold calls.]

Kathy: I’m doing the accounting. Me. It’s me. All me. Since May. Me. I was the one who filled out that coupon. I’m trying to convince my husband to buy an accounting package within the next week, or I’ll not only quit, but I’ll divorce him. We’re a Mom & Pop shop here, and I took over the accounting when our accountant left last May (it was December). It takes up too much of my time and I hate doing it. Louis promised me I’d only have to do it for a month. So if I can buy a package now, it would save my marriage.

Kathy: Oh. Louis just walked in. Hey Louis! Pick up the phone, will you? It’s IBM with a solution to save our marriage.

Louis: Hi. This is IBM? Do you have an accounting package we can buy? I need to buy one today or she’ll divorce me.

SD: Hi Louis. Yup. We’ve got one. We need to check if our package fits your needs. But before I discuss it, I’m wondering if you also could use a Project Management package. It’s pretty cool. The project managers on client sites could log hours and create client invoices from the field. Or a Payroll package that would automatically write checks electronically. I see you’re a small construction business and can’t tell if anything we’ve got is anything you need.

Louis. Wow. I need all three! Can you tell me about them?

SD: Since I’m just a trainee, can we wait until Monday when the product managers for each package would be available to discuss the packages with you? I’m only the one with the mouth; they’ve got the brains. [Note: I really said this. I had no idea how to pitch any of the products.]

Louis: No. Is there any way we could do it today? [Note: It was 5:00 Friday afternoon.]

SD: Give me fifteen minutes. I’ll call you back.

John and I ran up two flights of stairs. Ran (and somehow I lost a very expensive Tiffany pen during the trot). We got to the sales group as they were walking out the door for the weekend. John grabbed the two sellers from the Project Management and the Payroll packages, and we ran back downstairs and called Louis back. To be honest, I knew almost nothing about the products.

Turned out, they bought all three packages. Right there and then. But they might not have if John had waited until Monday for Louis, or hadn’t assumed the woman answering was a secretary instead of co-owner. And John was set to restrict his sales effort to the accounting package.


I once made a cold call to an engineering firm. The receptionist answered. I used my Buying Facilitation® model on her as I do with every person who answers a phone; I can never know who is part of the BDT, how their buying decisions get made, or even if they’re in the process of seeking new skills. You’d be shocked to know how much information these front line people have and how helpful they’re willing to be when respected:

SD: Hi. My name is Sharon Drew Morgen, and this is a sales call. I wonder: how are you folks adding new skills to the ones your sales folks currently use, for those times you want to shorten the sales cycle?

Susan: Wow. Cool question. Could you teach our folks to do that?

SD: Sure. That’s what I do. And I know you’re at the front desk and it’s probably busy. But I’m happy to see if what I offer and what might enhance your business would be a fit. Is this a good time?

Susan: No. It’s mayhem around here always. Would you mind sending me some sort of a packet and I’ll get it to the sales director? I promise I’ll do it. I like what’s going on in this conversation.

So I sent her a packet. She called me a week later.

Susan: Hi Sharon Drew. Thanks for the packet. I put it on our Sales Director Joe’s desk. But he was fired an hour later. I went into his office after he’d gone and he’d cleared everything out, including your packet. Sorry to ask you this, but would you send me another one?

I sent her a new packet. A week later I got a call from Gary.

Gary: Hi Sharon Drew. I’m sitting here with Susan who says I have to call you because whatever it is you’re doing sounds like we should be teaching our sales folks. This is my first day as Sales Director, and Susan has made sure this is my first act at my new desk. In fact, she’s standing here right now. You must have made quite an impression on her. Is this a good time for us to discuss?

I ended up training their company, not only in Buying Facilitation®, but in change facilitation. And even though she wasn’t an obvious stakeholder, Susan was on the Buying Decision Team and brought in other team members without me having to look for them.


I once got a call from the Director of Training at KPMG. He had just read one of my books, and said he intuitively believed his team needed Buying Facilitation®. With a 3 year sales cycle and only 1000 possible companies large enough to spend $50,000,000 to buy their tax minimization service, he wanted to stop blowing through his limited number of prospects and shorten the sales cycle.

“What has stopped you from figuring this out on your own until now?” said I.

Steve didn’t have an answer, but said he’d think about it and call back. Next time he called, he had 2 others on the phone. I posed another question about how they could resolve the problem internally and get the buy in that any change would require. We’ll think about it and call back, Steve said. This process continued for two months; each time Steve called back he had more people on the phone and more answers, until one snowy day at 7:00 a.m. while I was on a client site in Rochester NY (in winter!), he had 15 people on the phone from 4 countries.

We did our normal thing of me asking a question that no one had an answer to. During the silence of ‘no answer’ one of the participants started this conversation:

Man: Hey Steve. What’s she selling?

Steve: I have no idea. Hey, Sharon Drew, you haven’t pitched me anything yet. Why not?

SD: I had nothing to sell if you had nothing to buy. Now there’s a larger percentage of your stakeholder buying team present; you have more knowledge of what’s stopping you from having a more effective selling process; you understand the issues that will come up when you add my facilitation system; and who needs to buy in moving forward. Now you’re ready to hear my content.

Then, for the first time mentioning what I was selling, I pitched to the group who was ready to buy. They brought me in, and I trained the global team for 2 years. With my help, they reduced their sales cycle to 4 months.

Remember: until or unless the entire BDT is present (which might be more complex than obvious); until they know if they can/cannot fix any problems themselves or how to manage the change an external solution will bring with it; they’re not buyers.

Trying to sell to one person who you THINK might be a buyer because they were in the right demographic, or because they responded in a way to your manipulative questions that caused you to assume they had a need, or because you attempted to be their ‘best friend’ or ‘relationship manager’ won’t get you more than your 5% close – the low hanging fruit. Not to mention wasting 95% of your time hoping and waiting, asking the wrong questions, to find those who SHOULD buy, and don’t.


For those of you who spend hours/days/months attempting to get to the person at the top, stop. That person has probably delegated the responsibility to the appropriate team, and more importantly, even if s/he is one of the decision makers, there are several on the BDT. During the time you spend trying to get to THE person, you could have been speaking with one or more folks on the BDT who will then bring the rest of the team into your discussion, so long as you use your time with them to help them facilitate their change to excellence and not try to pitch or pose manipulative questions.

It’s time for us to stop assuming that there is only one person who is THE person we need to speak with. You’re losing business, wasting time trying to find that ‘one’ person, and (when trying to get around or through a receptionist or secretary) not realizing the number of people who must be involved in making a buying decision. Remember: a buying decision is a change management issue before it’s a solution choice issue, so there are many folks who must be included. That will expand your audience of potential buyers by a factor of 8.


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

March 2nd, 2020

Posted In: News, Sales

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I hate unrequested ‘feedback’. Personally, when I want to better myself I seek feedback from folks I trust. Here is a conversation I recently had after sharing annoyance with a group. I was quite surprised no one responded to my wrath, but I did get one comment afterwards from a friend who was in the group:

“If the time comes you ever want to learn how to get the group’s attention in a way that they can hear and respond, I’d be happy to offer suggestions. I’ve been a member of the group for a long time and they have a certain pattern to their sharing. I’m here if you need me.”

To me, that’s great feedback. Gives me information and choice, not to mention a great resource to learn from; no blame, no insult, no assumptions, no bias. And he trusted me to discover my own timing for learning. Win/Win/Win.


These days it seems acceptable for one person (the Giver) to tell another (the Receiver) how to improve when acting in a manner deemed ‘unacceptable’ to the Giver. Indeed, books on feedback explain how to ‘overcome’ the Receiver’s issues such as fear, distress, distrust, and ‘lack of perspective’. For me, this is quite insulting. It assumes

  • the Giver is right (and the Receiver wrong),
  • the Giver has the moral entitlement to judge the Receiver,
  • the Giver’s viewpoint is accurate (and the Receiver should heed it),
  • the Giver has THE answer (based on his/her idiosyncratic beliefs),
  • the Giver uses the best verbiage to be understood accurately, without resistance,
  • there is no bias involved,
  • the Receiver doesn’t have the tools, skills, or understanding to do what’s ‘right’ on their own.

Everyone has the right to speak their mind of course. But I don’t know anyone who welcomes what might be spurious comments based on another person’s biases. The idea of someone telling Another that they have a problem and the Giver has THE answer, assumes it’s ok for the Giver to use their own biases to try to convince the Receiver to change. And that is well outside of my personal, moral beliefs.

I’m aware that often a boss needs to help an employee make adjustments, or a parent needs to modify a teenager’s unsuccessful choices. But the baseline remains the same: No one has the right to proclaim a moral high ground, to expect anyone else to change because of personal feelings, biases, and assumptions, to assume the Receiver has no say, no unique judgment, no relevant thought process that could become part of an agreeable solution. And there are no conditions under which one person should tell another what to do without their agreement and cooperation.


Of course, because we’re not perfect (although we each think we are), we sometimes need a reality check. For those times, there’s a way Givers can create feedback that will enable win/win conversations and excellence. Here are several issues that must be overcome:

BIAS: The assumption that feedback is needed is often based on a Giver wanting a Receiver to change as per the Giver’s unique beliefs and values. Sure, if there is a danger involved, a Receiver must ultimately choose new behaviors. But in general, when a Giver assumes the ‘right’ road without identifying a path to partnership, or recognizing there might be a specific reason the Receiver made their choices, any discussion becomes win/lose.

WRONG ASSUMPTIONS: Too often a Giver’s feedback assumes the Receiver is wrong, or doesn’t possess the skills or tools to do it better, and goes forth pushing their own agendas. With these assumptions, any feedback will most likely be ignored, especially if it offends, insults, or in some way harms the Receiver. This certainly doesn’t set in motion a path to positive behavior modification.

RIGHT VS WRONG: What makes one person right and one person wrong? Just asking. While it might be clear in the Giver’s mind, it’s often up for interpretation.

WRONG LANGUAGING: How does the Giver know for certain that their approach to instigate change is the best approach? My book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? discusses how brains misunderstand, mistranslate, and misinterpret incoming information based on the listener’s mental models and brain synapses – nothing whatsoever to do with the facts or content coming in. Unfortunately, we all assume our speech is ‘easily understandable’ and others should hear what we mean. Nope.

ME VS YOU: Why should I listen to you, or make changes in my normal behavior patterns, when I don’t agree with you and you make no sense to me?

WHO’S OUTCOME IS IT? Sometimes the Giver is working from different, hidden, or unconscious outcomes. Why would the ‘offender’ heed the feedback if s/he is meeting her own outcomes? And how can a Giver understand differences between them with a goal or bias that restricts the ability to listen or be flexible enough to go through discovery together?

Are you getting the point here? Feedback is biased; people are all doing the best they can do at any given moment; the only people who will be compliant are those who are already on the same page (and those folks don’t usually need feedback) or those fearful of consequences. And fear is a poor motivator.


Before you offer feedback, consider the distance between what someone is doing/saying vs what you believe should be done/said. Is it merely an opinion they should do something different, or will it actually resolve a problem? Is there a way to mutually discover a solution to accomplish this without causing fear, distrust, and annoyance?

When a problem occurs that needs to be fixed, a collaborative discussion will enable the Receiver to discover their own route to change.

  1. Enter the conversation with curiosity:

I noticed X was occurring and find it problematic (for the job, for our relationship, for the outcome). Would you be willing to discuss it with me to figure out if there is actually a problem or there’s another way to look at the situation?

  1. Be prepared to drop biases, expectations, needs, and opinions and clearly state intentions. There’s no place in a collaborative communication for any offense:

I find I’m having reactions to what happened, but come with an openness to finding the best route to excellence. If you feel like I’m being biased or disrespectful, I’d like to hear your thoughts so we end up on the same page with the same goal. It’s not my intent to disparage you in any way. I just want to find the best way to both feel comfortable going forward.

  1. Tell your side of what you feel about the incident, without further commentary, and clearly state your need for the conversation:

When X happened, it seemed to me your reaction caused [a bigger problem/unexpected fallout, etc.] and it scared me. I wonder if we could discuss both our needs and assumptions and see if there is a path to end up with something we can both live with and neither of us considered.

  1. Listen without bias. Make sure you repeat what you think you heard as it’s quite possible your brain might have misinterpreted what was said:

Let me see if I heard you accurately. I heard you say X. Did I get that right? Or am I misunderstanding something? Please correct my interpretation. I want us to be on the same page.

  1. Discuss your needs in relation to what you heard, and begin creating a plan:

Sounds like you and I have similar outcomes but different ways of expressing it. That’s what I had the problem with, but now see your choices were just different from mine. What do you think about doing X as a middle path? I think that might meet the goals. What do you think? Do you have any other ideas to suggest?

  1. Put it all together:

I think we’ve reached a route that we’ll both benefit from. Is there anything you need from me going forward to make sure we collaborate through to excellence?

I recognize there are times when the Giver is a boss, a parent, a leader needing specific results. But if there’s no collaboration, if there’s bias about right and wrong, if there’s no way to hear each other, neither Giver or Receiver can be the driver toward excellence. Use feedback as a route to excellence.


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

February 24th, 2020

Posted In: News

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There’s been an age-old argument in the communication field: who’s at fault if a misunderstanding occurs – the Speaker communicating badly, or the Listener misunderstanding? Let’s look at some facts:

1. Speaking is an act of translation: putting into words what’s going on internally (the unspoken feelings, needs, thoughts) to enable others to understand our intent – choosing the most appropriate words for that particular listener in that particular situation to best convey what we wish to share. But the act of choosing the communication vehicles that will convey our intent is largely unconscious and may not render an accurate representation to our listener.

2. Listeners translate what they hear through a series of unconscious filters (biases, assumptions, triggers, habits, imperfect memory) formed over their lives by their:

  • world view,
  • beliefs,
  • similar situations,
  • historic exchanges with the same speaker,
  • biases on entering the conversation (like sellers listening exclusively for need).

To make things worse, sound enters our ears as electrical and chemical signals without meaning. These signals are matched for commonality with existing synapses that carry similar signals already residing in our brain. There are two problems with this: 1. the matched synapses most likely don’t have the exact same meaning as the incoming message; 2. our brains don’t account for any differential between the intended meaning and the matched message.

Indeed, the brain discards the differential between the two without telling us. So we might hear ABL when our communication partner said ABC! And because our brain only conveys ABL, we have no way of knowing it has discarded D, E, F, etc.! No wonder we think others aren’t hearing us, or are misunderstanding us purposefully!

Because our brain fails to tell us what it has misinterpreted, we’re left with no option but to believe that what we thought we heard is accurate.

What a listener “hears” is fraught with so much unconscious filtering that their ability to accurately hear what’s meant is untrustworthy, except, possibly, when speaking with someone known over time.

3. According to David Bellos in his excellent book Is That a Fish In Your Ear?, no sentence contains all of the information we need to translate it.

Think about all the impediments to hearing others accurately: even when we want to, even when we’re employing Active Listening, or taking notes, between words, language, synapses, signals, the odds are bad that we will accurately understand what someone is trying to tell us. So as a listener, I may not be accurately understanding what my communication partner intends to tell me and hear a message I’ve unintentionally misinterpreted.

As a speaker, I may not be using the best languaging patterns for my communication partner, and assume that because I believe my word choices best convey my message, that I should be understood.


Since communication involves a bewildering set of conscious and unconscious choices, accuracy becomes dependent upon each communication partner mitigating bias and disengaging from assumptions.

My book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? focuses on listening and accurately hearing what others intend to convey, starting with how we mishear, misunderstand, and otherwise misinterpret, where and how the gap between what’s said and what’s heard occurs and how to avoid misunderstanding. I also share a way to supercede old biases.

While researching and writing the book I realized that the responsibility for effective communication seems to be weighted in the court of the speaker. But if listeners don’t catch or prevent their biases or unhook from all subjective filters, the speaker’s words and intent are moot; they may be misconstrued regardless of their accuracy.

It’s an interesting problem: since they believe what they think they hear is accurate, the listener has no idea what the speaker intends to convey, there’s no way they can know if what they’re hearing – through the fog of synapses, neural pathways, misunderstandings and misinterpretations – is accurate. So the speaker is the one who must notice that the listener has misunderstood, and choose a different way to convey their intent.

So the answer is: the responsibility for an effective communication lie with the speaker.

That means, during any communication, a speaker must notice, through the words and verbalization of the listener’s response, as well as body language where possible, if the response is appropriate within the realm of their intent.

If it seems the listener might not have understood fully, the speaker can then just say, “Can you please tell me what you heard so I can say it better in case there’s a misinterpretation? It seems to me you might have misunderstood and I want our communication to be accurate.” That way you can keep a conversation on track and not assume the person just isn’t listening.

And, if as a listener you seek clarity for hearing and responding accurately, to make sure you heard and responded accurately, ask: “I’d like to make sure I heard you accurately. Do you mind telling me exactly what you just heard me say so I can make sure we’re on the same page going forward?”

Using either of these tactics, there’s a good chance all communication partners will go forward from the same understanding.

Here is our question: As listeners, are we translating accurately? Is it possible to avoid bias? As speakers, are we using our best language choices? As you can see above, the odds of communication partners accurately understanding the full extent of intended meaning in conversation is unlikely. The best we can do is figure out together how to manage the communication.


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

January 27th, 2020

Posted In: Listening, News

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People don’t really want to buy anything. We’d much rather maintain our status quo if possible: it’s worked; it’s comfortable; it’s normalized; we’re set up to keep on keepin’ on. Indeed, the goal of a buyer is to solve a problem with the least ‘cost’, using the least resources (money, time, human power, culture, etc.) and causing the least disruption. And a purchasing decision is far, far more than good information, collaboration, or good decision making practices.

Adding, choosing, buying anything new means change to the status quo, always fraught with risks that are unknowable before a purchase is made. Indeed, a buying decision is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue. And the ‘cost’ of bringing in something new must not exceed the ‘cost’ of maintaining the status quo. How can you know this before making a purchase?


Years ago, I was a consultant at KPMG training a team of Senior Partners in my Buying Facilitation® model. My contact, Dave, called to say he’d not returned my call because they’d received their first RFP from Boeing (who’d always used Arthur Anderson as their consulting partner) and a group of them were madly trying to compose an impressive proposal.

“What’s stopping them from using AA again this time?” I asked. Dave didn’t have an answer and said he’d find out. He called back to say Boeing was indeed going to use AA again, but had sent them the RFP because they needed a second bid. (Note: do YOU know how often that happens?)

With my assistance, they stopped writing the proposal and instead sent a letter saying since Boeing would be using AA, we wouldn’t be submitting a proposal. Instead we offered them a couple of pages of my Facilitative Questions (a new form of question I invented that works with brain function to discover criteria) which led them to discover how to avoid resistance and disruption during the large-scale, global change they were seeking.  This included how to

  • avoid disruption and resistance during implementation,
  • recognize and involve the complete set of stakeholders from the beginning to ensure the entire fact pattern was collected and the success criteria designed to elicit buy-in,
  • notice, manage, and avoid the project/change risks,
  • maintain the change over time.

KPMG knew it was risky to approach the RFP as we did, but since they weren’t getting the job anyway, they decided it was a good risk to take as the questions exhibited their ability to lead. And it was indeed a good risk: Boeing called after a couple of months to give them the job (without a proposal or price discussion, I might add).

“When we saw your questions, we realized we never even considered those sorts of issues and just assumed our vendors would handle that stuff. And we consistently had problems in those areas you mentioned but never knew it was possible to avoid them. We just didn’t know what we didn’t know, and didn’t know how to include those elements in our RFP. When AA came in to start the project, they had no plans to manage anything but the exact end-result specs we asked for. From your questions, we know now that a few extra steps can be taken at the start of a project to ensure buy in and trouble-free adoption. We certainly didn’t know it was possible to set up the right components from the beginning to avoid the problems later on. Realizing the size of this project and the numbers of people and teams involved, we don’t have tolerance for any dysfunction, so we fired AA. Can you come in and start from the beginning and factor in all of the items you mentioned in your letter?

Whether an individual or part of a Buying Team, somehow buying choices get narrowed down to one. How do you do that? And is there anything you could have included in your decision process to assure your selection comes with minimum disruption and maximum buy in for after you’ve made your selection?


Outside of small personal items, the only time we consider buying anything is when we’re absolutely certain we can’t fix a problem any other way AND we have comprehensive buy-in. The risk of the new causing imbalance is just too high. ‘Need’, price, features and benefits are important, of course, but secondary; purchasing something new must maintain the status quo as well – problematic since anything new faces the possibility of disrupting the equilibrium. It’s a systems thing.

Every person, group, family, company, is a systemTo maintain themselves, systems need balance (homeostasis) and work hard to ensure its norms and values are carried forth through actions. (For those unfamiliar, this is called Systems Congruence). The last thing a system wants to do, the challenge we all face when we recognize something needs to change, is how to bring in an unfamiliar element (certainly a risk) and maintain our status quo. And the time it takes for all the elements that will touch the final solution to agree to something new and know how to integrate it, is the time it takes to choose.

It’s not about price or features until it is; it’s about the dynamics of change. And without taking these steps, the risk of resistance is high as it puts the system out of balance.

One thing is certain: before any decision to buy anything occurs, a set of ‘soft’ criteria – rules, norms, beliefs of the underlying system, if you will – must be met that go beyond the tactical – factual – specifics of the requirements. We get so focused on ‘hard’ criteria we put every buying decision at risk, including:

  • environment not able to integrate or use the new adequately and causes disruption;
  • environment not ready to accommodate change congruently causing relationship and output problems;
  • goal that initiated the purchase in jeopardy;
  • resistance when implementation causes change that hasn’t been accounted for.

Regardless of the need or the efficacy of a new solution, if the risk of disruption to the system is higher than the need for change, no purchase can be made. But as you’ll see, it’s possible to change without resistance or disruption.


In the Boeing story, the Buying Team’s RFP focused on the facts, the outcomes, of what they thought would solve their problem, but overlooked the ‘soft’ issues – the systemic issues. It’s the same problem with individual purchasers: Have you ever thought about how you decide to buy THIS one instead of THAT one? Have you specified your criteria to ensure the new will fit with the old – and a way to notice when there is an integration issue? Have you captured the specific steps you’ll need to do something different than your normalized habits?

An online search for ‘buying process’ explains the conventional approach: recognize a need, research and evaluate the choices (price, features, etc.), and buy. Seems so simple. But it’s not simple at all.

For smaller decisions, weighting and evaluating features and choices works just fine. But sometimes, especially when Buying Teams must choose a new item or vendor, or something wholly different that shifts the intent of the status quo, is required, we don’t always address the unconscious elements that cause us to accept or reject choices. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. But sometimes it does.

For those times there’s less leeway for error, for when implementation can be fragile (i.e. there’s resistance to change before any decisions have been made), or when numbers of people will be involved, it’s possible to manage those unconscious elements upfront. Sure, facts, needs, features and outcomes are necessary. But the non-obvious data points may lurk without recognition until they come back to bite us or harm performance. Here are the challenges: We:

  • compare the purchase of a new solution against what’s already there, but might forget to add in how to manage what happens when the new criteria changes our outcomes, actions, job descriptions, management needs, downtime, learning curve;
  • seek to find something equal-ish to what’s being replaced without considering how the new will alter our status quo over time or how it will change performance in unexpected ways; 
  • gather initial data only from obvious stakeholders without expanding the group to those who will ultimately touch the final solution, and face resistance;
  • have feelings about a choice if our jobs or ego-needs will be affected, causing unspoken resistance that comes out through sabotage or interference;
  • sometimes acquiesce to a group’s choice and hold hidden biases that will rear their heads later or cause an ineffective decision making;
  • resist a purchase due to an ‘intuitive’ feeling (fear of change, dislike of implementation practices being discussed, distrust of vendor being selected, etc.) that makes the status quo feel safer, and procrastinate making a decision.

There are actually specific steps to all buying decisions that take into account the full panoply of criteria – hard and soft – to make congruent buying decisions. Along with the practical and factual details, these steps make conscious the unconscious elements that ensure a successful conclusion, regardless of the size or price of the purchase or the complexity of the implementation.


Note that if everything were working perfectly there would be no need to buy anything. In fact, people only buy when they cannot fix a problem with a known solution. Making a purchase is the last thing anyone wants to do. But when it’s necessary, the outcome must include the maintenance of Systems Congruence, or the cost of failure is too high.

I’ve put together steps below to address systems functionality, more factors than merely need, price, or vendor selection. [Note: for those interested, I’ve written a book on this: Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell] By including all steps, you’ll discover the unconscious factors, the risk factors, the change management factors, so they can be addressed, either individually or with the Buying Team, as part of the actual purchasing decision. Take a look.

  • Specified Outcome: What is the status quo you’re trying to change? While this might seem simple, and come to you defined by a user, this is far from simple. It requires:

a. The entire stakeholder team be included so they can discuss all of the elements that caused the problem, and understand why it hasn’t been fixed until now. The love of the existing processes? The habits incurred by many? The attitude of being ‘good-enough’? Whatever is in here is the reason a new solution is needed now. If this is an unknown, a solution might be purchased that doesn’t address the baseline problem. (i.e. If there is a ‘rules’ problem and it hasn’t been resolved, the same problem will occur with the new solution.)

Often the same factors that have kept the problem in place will cause implementation or acceptance and use issues: the entire group of folks who will use the purchase must understand all possible problems and outcomes. Of course this will bias the ultimate choice to purchase.

b. If any stakeholders are left out from the early stages, it will be harder and more disruptive later on when they join. When I urged British Airways to include their HR manager in a large software rollout, they said “OH! We always forget her, and then need to play catch up when she needs things changed.” Precisely.

  • Status Quo: It’s rare that a problem exists, or a new enhancement needed, without there being something in the status quo that has, or must be, changed and will resist when it’s threatened. The only way to discover the precise factors is by leading the stakeholder team through a thorough examination of how they got where they are.
  • Criteria: What criteria need to be met for the problem to be resolved? Again, all stakeholders must work together to figure the criteria out and reach agreement as to how to manage it before going forward to list the criteria for a purchase. Here are some criteria that my clients manage before putting out an RFP or moving forward with a project:

a. Minimal disruption: How will the new replace the old to ensure minimum disruption? What needs to be in place, or accepted, or shifted?

b. Buy In: Who needs to be involved to implement efficiently? Who needs to buy-in?

c. Resource cost: Who will analyze the resource cost of the new to make sure anything new will cost less than maintaining the status quo? And how will this be gauged when weighting choices?

d. Disruption management: What disruption will take place when the new is brought in? No, really. The stakeholders MUST know this: What EXACTLY will be the disruption and how will it be mitigated? By whom? How will you prepare the people, groups, situations that will be effected? What does that look like? This must be handled specifically, point by point, by all stakeholders or you face resistance or non use.

  • Workarounds: Until everything known is tried and failed, it is irresponsible to consider bringing something New in as the risk is too high for disruption. Of course all new purchases create disruption. But the New must match the norms and carry the rules of the system.

When considering fixing the problem, what options have been tried already from within the existing structure of choices? What stopped these workarounds from working well-enough to not need something from outside? What would a new option need to do differently than the workarounds that have been tried? Did the trials and choices of the workarounds come from the entire stakeholder team?

  • Problem Recognition: It’s not until all of the above have been addressed is there a clear understanding of what needs to be purchased. Sometimes Buying Teams are given a fact sheet, or send out an RFP, blithely assuming it’s accurate, only to have the end result fail when one or two stakeholders scream because they were never contacted, or didn’t understand the consequences for them. This is a huge problem in Buying Teams. Sometimes folks do research, make calls, meet with vendors, without having handled steps 1-3 and can’t figure out why they’re getting such resistance.
  • Research: When the entire fact pattern is understood, when all stakeholders are aware of the consequences to them when the new is purchased, when there is agreement they can’t fix the problem themselves, it’s time to do initial research. Delegate out different research modalities among the different stakeholders. We know that different people get different searches as per their past history, so assign several folks to the same topic. But also research other departments, friends, reliable vendors.
  • Evaluation: The entire stakeholder team must buy in to the new. Until there is agreement that the new matches the values and norms of the underlying system, and the cost of bringing it in is known and addressed, there will be no purchase.

Purchasing a service or an item is relatively easy. The difficult part is making sure the new fits into the status quo with minimal disruption and cost. Add the systems element to your buying decisions to ensure an easy integration and use. Otherwise, you might end up failing when you don’t need to.


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

January 20th, 2020

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