Posts

Sharon Drew Morgen

Listening Biases: How Influencers Unwittingly Restrict Possibilities

Do you enter conversations with a goal, or set of expectations? Do you assume you’ll have solutions for your Communication Partners (CPs)? Do you listen carefully to pose the best questions to enable you to fulfill your expectations? Do you assume the responses to your questions provide an accurate representation of the full fact pattern – ‘good’ data – to base your follow-on questions on? Do you assume your history of similar topics provides a route to an optimal outcome?

If any of the above are true, you’re biasing your conversation.

  • By entering conversations with assumptions and personal goals,
  • and listening according to historic, unconscious, self-directed filters,
  • you unwittingly direct conversations
  • to your range of expectations and familiarity
  • and potentially miss a more optimal outcome.

In other words, your unconscious inhibits and biases optimal results. But it’s not your fault.

Our Brains Cause a Gap Between What’s Said and What’s Heard

The most surprising takeaway from my year of research for my book on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard was learning how little of what we think we hear is unbiased, or even accurate. Indeed, it’s pretty rare for us to hear precisely what another intends us to hear. Yet that doesn’t stop us from translating what’s said into what we want to hear.

Employing biases, assumptions, triggers, memory tricks, and habit (filters that act as information sieves) our brains take a habitual route when listening to others, alter and omit at will, and don’t even tell us what’s been transformed, regardless of our desire to be neutral. So the Other might say ABC and our brains actually tell us they said ABL. I once lost a business partner because he ‘heard’ me say X when three of us confirmed I said Y. “I was right here! Why are you all lying to me! I KNOW she said that!” And he walked out in a self-generated rage.

Indeed, as outsiders, we cannot ever know the full range of givens within our CPs innermost thinking. Every person, every situation, every conversation is unique. And given variances in our beliefs/values, background, identity, etc., our inability to accurately hear exactly what is intended causes us to unintentionally end up working with data of unknowable accuracy, causing a restricted, speculative route to understanding or success.

Net net, we unwittingly base our conversation, goals, questions, intuitive responses and offerings on an assumption of what we think has been said, and we fully succeed only with those whose biases match our own. [Note: for those who want to manage this problem, I’ve developed a work-around in Chapter 6 of What?)

Entering Conversations Without Bias

The problem is compounded when we enter and continue conversations with unconscious biases that further restrict possibility. Because of the potential constraints, we must take extra care to enter and guide conversations without bias. But our natural listening habits make that difficult:

  1. by biasing the framework of the conversation to the goals we wish to achieve, we overlook alternative, congruent outcomes. Sellers, coaches, leaders, and managers often enter conversations with expectations and goals rather than collaboratively setting a viable frame and together discovering possibility.
  2. by listening only for what we’re (consciously or unconsciously) focused on hearing, we overlook a broader range of possible outcomes. Sellers, negotiators, leaders, help desk professionals, and coaches often listen for what they want to hear so they can say what they want/are trained to say, or pose biased questions, and possibly miss real opportunities to promote agreement.

Once we have expectations, success is restricted to the overlap between our needs and the CPs; the real problems and solutions lie outside. Here are some ideas to help you create conversations that avoid restriction:

  1. Shift your goal as an influencer to facilitating the route to change. You’ll never have the full fact pattern, or the weight and implications of each element that has created and maintains the status quo. But you can lead a route to change using systems thinking and enabling your CP to engage their own change, congruently.
  2. Enter each conversation with a willingness to serve the greater good within the bounds of what you have to offer, rather than meet a specific outcome. Any expectations or goals limit outcomes. The Other’s outcome will become obvious to them.
  3. Enter with a blank brain, as a neutral navigator, servant leader, change facilitator.
  4. Trust that your CP has her own answers. Your job is to help her find them. This is particularly hard for coaches and leaders who believe they must influence the outcome toward a goal, or use their expertise to help the person change the way the influencer believes they should. (And yes, all influencers, sellers, leaders, negotiators, and coaches are guilty of this.)
  5. Stay away from data gathering. Stick to understanding how the status quo became established, and directing systemic change from there. Your biased questions will only extract biased answers. Use questions focused on change because you’ll never gather the full fact pattern anyway. Neutral questions like “What has stopped you from making the change before now?” is an example of a question addressed to systemic change. [Note: I’ve developed Facilitative Questions that eschew information gathering and lead systemic change through unconscious thinking patterns.]
  6. Make ‘discovery of a route to congruent change’ your goal, not a specific behavior.
  7. Get rid of your ego, your need to be right or smart or have the answers. Until your CP finds a way to recognize their own unconscious issues, and design congruent change that matches their idiosyncratic ‘givens’, you aren’t helpful regardless of how much you think you know.

Here are the steps everyone goes down to discover their own answers:

  1. What is the complete landscape of the status quo? The hidden elements that caused, and perpetuate, the current state?
  2. How has the person attempted to fix the problem until now? What caused her to fail? How has she continued to maintain her current behaviors? Why isn’t this still working now (regardless of success or failure, all systems create and maintain their status quo for Systems Congruence)?
  3. What internal capabilities does he have, but may be used for other actions, to substitute more helpful choices? What has stopped him from making this substitution until now?
  4. What does the client think he’s missing to get him to success, and how might he use you to help?

By assuming your client has his own answers hidden in his unconscious that just need to be found, by acting merely as a facilitator, by eschewing information gathering questions and pitches, you can help Others design their own fix, avoid bias, stop wasting time on those who will never buy-in, and truly serve another. You won’t have the type of control you’re used to, but thinking with a systems brain, you’ll have a much more powerful control: you’ll be facilitating real change.


About the Author

Sharon Drew MorgenSharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]

Sharon Drew Morgen

Control: What does it give you? What do you lose? Where is the real control?

Recently I listened while a coaching client pitched his solution precisely when he could have facilitated his prospect through the contingent issues she had to handle before she could buy anything.

SDM: Why did you pitch when you pitched?

CL: It gave me control over the conversation, and gave her the data she needed to understand why she should buy.

SDM: So what sort of control did you achieve?

CL: Now she knows how our solution will meet her needs.

SDM: Do you know if she heard you? Did your pitch convince her? How do you know she knows she needs your solution? Has she assembled the appropriate folks to begin discussing problems or change? Have they already tried a workaround that proved impractical and now must consider a purchase? Have they resolved any implementation/user issues that a new solution would cause? Have they reached consensus? Or if they’re individual buyers, have they addressed their own internal change issues?

You’re assuming a need before the buyer gets her ducks in a row: she can’t understand her needs until she’s handled her contingent change issues; she can’t hear about possible solutions – your pitch – until she knows what to listen for. Just because she fits your buyer profile doesn’t mean she’s a prospect.

A prospect is someone who will buy, not someone who should buy. You spend too much time chasing folks who fit a profile but will never buy; you can’t recognize a real buyer because you’re only listening for ‘need’ and forgetting the work they must do to prepare for, decide upon, and get consensus for, a purchase. And that stops you from finding/creating those who can buy but may have not completed their buying decision process. This prospect can’t do anything with your information – unless you got lucky, and found one of the few who have completed their groundwork at the moment you connect with them.

CL: I know what they need.

SDM: That’s not possible. She doesn’t know what she needs yet. You don’t know her buyer readiness or if she’s representing everyone else involved or where/if the team is stuck somewhere along the Buying Decision Path. You don’t live with them; only they can amalgamate all of the voices, givens, change issues, or future considerations and come up with the full fact pattern of a ‘need.’ People merely want to resolve a problem, not make a purchase. Buying anything is the very last thing they’ll do, regardless of the need or the efficacy of your solution.

CL: But our solution is a perfect match for her needs.

SDM: Having needs is different from being ready, willing, or able to buy. She’s got a lot of work to do before she’s ready. Instead of first focusing on selling, start as an unbiased coach. Facilitate her route through consensus and change so you’re there at the right time with real prospects and never waste time on those who can’t buy. You could even speed up the decision path and enable/facilitate those who would have bought later.

CL: I have no idea where she is along her Decision Path. Isn’t that just price, vendor or solution type?

SDM: Buying is the last thing she’ll do. She must first assemble everyone to design a solution that fits everyone’s needs and avoids major disruption. Folks would much rather maintain their status quo if the price of change is too high – and you can make it easy for her to manage her change so she’s ready to buy if possible. If it’s not possible for her to get consensus, you’ll know in about 10 minutes she’s not a buyer, so long as you stay away from discussing your solution. She has to do this stuff anyway.

Giving her data too early doesn’t help: no matter how good or relevant your data is it’s useless until they’ve carefully determined they can’t fix their problem without some outside help. This is the length of the sales cycle. Be involved early as a Buying Facilitator and have real control. Or keep closing the same 5% that show up as the low hanging fruit.

What Control Do You Have?

As sellers or influencers, here’s what we’ve got control over: pitch, solution data, content, questions, listening biases, assumptions. Focusing on understanding and biasing material toward Marketing Mary’s ‘needs’ is specious: we’re outsiders and can never understand the unique composition of anyone else’s culture that has created, and maintains, the ‘need’ and would have to change to bring in something new.

Here’s what we can’t control: The prospect’s internal ill-defined decision-making process; the assembly of the people, problems, vendor issues, interdepartmental politics, relationships, balance sheets, corporate/team rules; their history; what criteria a solution must meet; consensus and change issues. Until buyers make sense of this they can’t responsibly buy. Even individuals of small items go through this process in a simple way.

No matter how good our content, presentation, pitch, or marketing is, it will only be heard by those ready for it and then you’re playing a numbers game. By trying to control the elements YOU think should be involved, or offering information/content where YOU believe it’s needed, you’re restricting successful outcomes to your bias of what you want to achieve, and will sell to only those who match your restricted criteria.

You can only have an outsider’s superficial understanding. Folks who need your solution but haven’t completed their change work will be turned off, not hear you, not understand how you can help, regardless of whether they need you or not. Even offering a price reduction will only attract those who have done their Pre-Sales change work first. The cost of change is higher than your price reduction.

You have no control over others; mentioning your solution details doesn’t give you control over the Buying Decision Path.

You can, however, have real control by facilitating prospects down their Decision Path to design their own change process that includes you as the natural provider – or eliminate them quickly if it becomes obvious they can’t ever buy. You can either wait for those who’ve completed their Decision Path to show up, call/chase enough people to find those who are ready, or become a Facilitator and help the real buyers through their path quickly and shorten the sales cycle.

They must do this with you or without you. Use your need for control to facilitate them in discovering their own best solution, not manipulate them into using yours. Where they are the same, you’ll make an easy sale.


About the Author

Sharon Drew MorgenSharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]

Sharon Drew Morgen

Listening Biases: how we restrict opportunity

I got to the gym yesterday only to find that my regular treadmill had been replaced by a new-fangled computer machine thing. I asked the young woman next to me how to start the damn thing as it wasn’t obvious. Here was the conversation:

SDM: Where’s the start button on this thing?
Woman: Over there. You’ll want to start on 2.3 miles and…
SDM: Thanks for showing me. I’m good now. Thanks.
Woman: You’re starting too high! Plus, you’ll want to put it at an incline of 1% to start, then…
SDM: No. Really. I’m good.
Woman: I’m telling you the right way to do this! I’m a professional trainer! I know what I’m talking about!
SDM: I’m sure you do. But I’m good. Thanks.
Woman: What’s your problem, lady??? You asked me for my advice! I’m just responding to your question! I’M A PROFESSIONAL!

That woman converted my simple request to start a machine into a request for her expertise – what she wanted to hear rather than what I meant – and she was so out of choice (see article on How vs What) that she couldn’t recognize my attempt to disengage from the conversation – three times! But we all do this sort of thing.

Biases

Far too often, we shove what someone means to convey into the small box of what we’re listening for and end up tangling or misdirecting conversations – certainly limiting possible outcomes. We’re actually filtering what we hear through our unconscious biases. Let me introduce you to some of the more common ones out of the hundreds of recognized biases:

Confirmation bias: we listen to get personal validation, often using leading questions, to confirm to ourselves that we’re right; we seek out people and ideas to confirm our own views and maintain our status quo.

Expectation bias: we decide what we want to take away from a conversation prior to entering, causing us to only pick out the bits that match and disregarding the rest; we mishear and misinterpret what’s said to conform to our goals.

Status quo bias: we listen to confirm that we’re fine the way we are and reject any information that proves we may be wrong.

Attention bias: we ignore what we don’t want to hear – and often don’t even hear, or acknowledge, something has been said.

Information bias: we gather the information we’ve deemed ‘important’ to push our own agendas or prove a point. When used for data analysis, we often collect information according to expectation bias and selection bias. (This biases scientific and social research, and data analysis.)

And of course, we all have a Bias Blind Spot: we naturally believe we’re not biased – just Right! And anyone that doesn’t believe we’re Right is Wrong.

Our Brains Bias Autonomously

When researching my book on how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, I discovered that our brains only allow us to understand a fraction of what others mean to convey (Note: the fraction depends on different types of familiarity, triggers, history, beliefs, etc.). because our brains seek to ‘protect’ us; unfortunately they don’t even let us know that what was meant isn’t being correctly received. So the woman in the opening story actually heard me ask her for advice.

I believe our success is regulated by our listening biases and our ability – or not – to recognize when/if our biases are getting in the way (I wrote a chapter in What? that offers a skill set on how to do this). Certainly our creativity and opportunities, our choices of jobs, mates, friends, etc. are restricted. The natural biasing we do is compounded by the tricks our brains play with memory and habit, making the probability of factual interpretation, of an intended meaning, pretty slim.

If we can avoid the trap of assuming what we think has been said is accurate, and assume that some portion of what we think has been said might contain some bias, we could take more responsibility for our conversations. Here’s what we’d do:

  • At the end of each conversation, we’d check in with our Communication Partner and get accuracy agreement.
  • Whenever we hear something that sounds like an agreement or a plan, we’d stop the flow of the conversation to check that what we think we heard is accurate.
  • At the end of meetings, we’d check in that our takeaway plans and their outcomes are agreeable.
  • When we hear something ‘different’ we won’t assume the other person wrong, but consider the possibility that we are the ones who heard it wrong.

Knowing the difference between what we think others are saying vs what they actually mean to convey takes on great importance in meetings, coaching calls, negotiations, doctors, and information collection for decision analysts. Let’s get rid of our egos. Let’s begin to put our need to collaborate, pursue win/win communication, and authentic Servant Leadership into all our communication. Otherwise, we’re merely finding situations that maintain our status quo. And we lose the opportunity to be better, stronger, kinder, and more creative.


About the Author

Sharon Drew MorgenSharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the NYTimes Business BestsellerSelling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]

Sharon Drew Morgen

Successful Fundraising: getting chosen over the competition

Your important nonprofit or exciting startup helps the world be a better place. But now you’ve got to raise money. You’ve created a terrific pitch deck, have a highly competent management team and terms, and have identified donor prospects with major gift potential. You’ve designed a multi-channel approach to build relationships with small investors to excite them to becoming large investors. Why aren’t you raising all the funding you deserve?

  • It’s not you, your message. or your organization;
  • It’s not the strength of your relationship or who you ‘know’;
  • It’s not the market, your competition, your return potential or your marketing materials.

Somehow your investors must choose between investments that seem equally promising.

Criteria vs. Content

Ultimately, investors choose opportunities based on their own idiosyncratic choice criteria; your marketing efforts may be entering the wrong way, with the wrong goal, offering the right data and asking the right questions at the wrong time.

Investor funds are not sitting there waiting for you to show up, no matter how compelling your information or terms. You may be requesting funding that:

  1. is earmarked for something else;
  2. needs stakeholder buy-in;
  3. may be outside their internal goals, relationships, strategy, or agreements.

Sadly, as an outsider, you have no access to their hidden or historic arrangements or political mind-fields. And asking them about their criteria will only get you the obvious answers. The more successful choice is to first, collaboratively, discern their values-based, unique decision/choice criteria and then offer the exact pitch to match it. After all, most pitch decks and requests for funds will sound somewhat similar. If nothing else, your ability to facilitate a collaboration will set you apart from the competition.

Alignment Criteria First

Decades ago I realized the difference between choice criteria (personal, idiosyncratic) vs content (data). As a sales professional on Wall Street I was frustrated with the seeming gap between what I thought prospects needed (my solution, of course) and their willingness to buy. Once I started up a tech company in London and became The Buyer I realized the problem: before any decision to buy or fund, investors use an idiosyncratic set of choice factors familiar only to them.

As a Buyer, before I bought anything I had to align my values-based criteria with my team’s often divergent and – conventional choice benchmarks aside – subjective, criteria. Whether we met before a vendor meeting or afterwards I learned to never ignore this team alignment: our vibrant conversations always brought more considerations to the table than I would have considered myself; sometimes we discovered as-yet-unforeseen fallout that needed to be handled prior to any action.

And then the problem with marketing materials. As a sales professional they were a tool to exhibit the data I believed relevant; as a buyer they were biased by the facts the presenters wanted me to know, but often missed my unique buying criteria.

I used this realization to change the course of my own selling and fundraising; I first uncovered and discussed decision criteria and then matched my pitch content accordingly. Rather than designing pitch material based on what I thought they wanted to know, I designed flexible materials that made it easy to fit my content into their choice criteria.

Buying Facilitation®

As a result of my findings, in 1985 I developed a decision facilitation model and guidelines for designing presentation materials for my sales staff. With my new realization as a buyer, my Asperger’s systems- thinking brain, and some testing, I coded the path of internal/group decision making and invented Buying Facilitation®, a generic, ethical, facilitation tool that expedites decision making and choice.

I’ve been teaching and writing books on Buying Facilitation® as a front-end to the sales model ever since. Used in fundraising, Buying Facilitation® helps investors determine all aspects of their choice criteria while encouraging win/win collaboration.

NOTE: Investors and buyers go through this process anyway – with you or without you. You can either use Buying Facilitation® to facilitate choice more efficiently (even during your presentation) or just keep smiling and dialing until you find the low hanging fruit who have finally gotten their ducks in a row.
Buying Facilitation® works on the following assumptions:

  1. Outsiders (sellers, fundraisers, etc.) can never understand the behind-the-scenes, idiosyncratic criteria used to decide. Each group has their own unique sets of rules, beliefs, values, vision they choose from;
  2. Until the idiosyncratic choice criteria are factored, no decision to buy or invest will be made;
  3. Information is only relevant when it fits into defined idiosyncratic initiatives and parameters.

Using Buying Facilitation® first enables collaboration through the full range of systemic decisions necessary for buy-in and choice; THEN customized content must meet their specific criteria.

Presenting with Buying Facilitation®

Here are a few tips:

Your first job is to be a consultant (even on cold calls or group meetings) to facilitate decision making. Otherwise, you’re offering data into a black box of unknowns. Stop trying to have a ‘relationship’ or gather and share data up front; money goes to those opportunities that first match their hidden criteria regardless of how likeable you are.

  1. On your first calls, use Facilitative Questions to help whomever you speak with (yes, even the associates and gatekeepers) recognize how they choose, and achieve consensus for, new investments. This is not a simple Q/A session, as much of their decision making criteria is unconscious. Even if they usually fund projects like yours, they still need agreement to choose which of the available choices to give their finite dollars to.
  2. Still on the phone, use Buying Facilitation® to help your Communication Partner figure out how to help his/her team prioritize areas such as management, industry fit, partnership issues, and communication. If you have a great solution but don’t meet other criteria you may not get funded. Or you might. It’s a roll of the dice. And again, asking about these rather than facilitating the Other’s answers will get you biased answers from the person you’re speaking with which may not represent the entire group.
  3. Work toward getting the full Stakeholder group to your presentation if possible, or your data will be ‘lost in translation’ when they discuss it later with the absent associates.
  4. Face-to-face visit: Pitch/present in accordance with what was discovered prior to the meeting. Marketing materials must be developed to cover any possibilities and used appropriately. So if the group deems Communication a #1 criteria, you’ll have a slide on Communication ready to go.
  5. Collaboratively discuss how your situation matches the investor’s criteria; where it’s lacking see if you can figure out, together, how to mitigate the fallout.

NOTE: if you’re in a group pitch situation, do #1-3 as your opening gambit. It still must be done before you proceed with your pitch.

Ultimately, there is one important question to ask yourself: Do you want to pitch your solution? Or help investors give you money? Two different activities. And you need both.


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. (www.newsalesparadigm.com). She is the visionary behind Buying Facilitation®, the decision facilitation model that enables people to change with integrity. A pioneer who has spoken about, written about, and taught the skills to help buyers buy, she is the author of the acclaimed New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: Why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it.

To contact Sharon Drew at [email protected] or go to www.didihearyou.com to choose your favorite digital site to download your free book.

Sharon Drew Morgen

Buying Decisions, Buying Decision Path, Buy Cycles, and Pre-Sales

I’d like to set the record straight. In 1985 I coined terms that I’ve written extensively about in best selling books, magazines, and hundreds of articles. Unfortunately, when finally adopting them, the sales field defined them differently than originally intended, causing important concepts to be lost. This article presents the intended definitions and explains how I came to coin the terms.

In 1979 I became Rookie (stockbroker) of the Year at Merrill Lynch with 210 accounts (the market was 777). I couldn’t understand why prospects who ‘should have’ bought didn’t buy. When I started up a tech company in London in 1983 and became a ‘buyer’ I realized the problem and developed a new skill set to migrate it. Here’s how I figured it out.

HOW SALES IGNORES BEHIND-THE-SCENES BUYER’S REAL ISSUES

As an entrepreneur with needs, I invited sellers in to pitch me. But regardless of their professional skills or my potential need, I couldn’t decide what or if to buy before

  • the people involved shared their thoughts and concerns, and bought-in to any changes a new solution would involve,
  • we discerned any fallout to the company, relationships, people, policies etc. that change would incur and figure out ways to minimize it,
  • we tried workarounds and determined we couldn’t fix the problems with known resources.

Even though we were only a $5,000,000 company, I had a closely knit team and flourishing business to consider before bringing in anything that might rock the boat with my employees, investors, clients, company strategy, bottom line, brand, daily routines and systems. With a focus on placing solutions and ‘understanding’ needs (impossible to answer accurately until we all comprehended the scope of the givens) the sellers pitched solution data I didn’t know how to consider responsibly and potentially lost me as a buyer. That’s when I realized the problem I had had with buyers not closing:

The sales model focuses on placing solutions (seeking folks with a ‘need’ who ‘should’ buy) and ignores the confounding human-, policy-, and system-specific issues buyers must handle before a purchase could even be considered (folks who ‘will’ buy). By entering only during the final element of choice (vendor, solution), sellers squander the ability to influence the major portion of a buyer’s decision process which has little to do with needs or purchase.

Indeed, the sales model promotes the cart before prospects even know if they have a horse or have mapped out a destination, ensuring only those who have their cart ready to go (knew the obstructions, route alternatives, and danger signs) would buy. Promoting solutions, and asking questions in service of a sale, merely captures the low hanging fruit – those ready, willing, and able to buy – and ignores the possibility of influencing, enabling, and serving the early, Pre-Sales components in the decision-making path (whether selling/marketing online or through customer contact) – not to mention loses untold amount of business.

I realized all buyers must do this; and as I seller I had been sitting and waiting while buyers did this on their own, without me. Indeed, the time it took them to complete this was the length of the sales cycle. I figured if I could facilitate the buyer’s decision path, I could accelerate their decisions to ‘buy’ or ‘not buy’, stop wasting time, close more sales (quickly) and really serve. So I coded the entire change/decision arc (13 Steps, 9 of which [70% of the decision process] are outside the scope of how/what we sell), learned how systems make decisions to change, coined some new terms and developed some new models for questioning and listening without bias, and built this into a front end to sales so I could enter, facilitate/serve, and influence, earlier. I named this process Buying Facilitation® to denote the difference in focus between ‘selling’ and ‘buying’ and help buyers do the initial stuff they had to do anyway, but without sellers:

  • assemble all appropriate stakeholders ((Buying Decision Team) to get their input;
  • get consensus for types and levels of change manageable;
  • research options;
  • discover easy, economical workarounds where possible;
  • decide how to identify handle any disruption a new addition would cause;
  • weight risks with stakeholders to discern the efficacy of buying anything (Buy Cycle);
  • choose solutions and vendors.

To be fair, the sales job has never been about facilitating change, using a restrictive ‘solution-placement’ model since its inception without recognizing the low close and enormous time wastage is anything more than a problem finding buyers. This singular focus has been so endemic that sales hasn’t accounted for either the idiosyncratic issues buyers must address prior to buying anything (even for inexpensive items) or the opportunity to influence and serve buyers much earlier than the final point they might reach to buy, believing that if they find creative ways to offer content earlier it will mitigate the problem. But it doesn’t.

The industry close rate of 4% has always been an indication of a problem: the centuries-old bias toward placing solutions (How can we accept a 96% failure rate [from first contact] as standard?) ensures all sales models, including Challenger, create resistance, potentially turn off real buyers who need your solution (80% of prospects buy a similar product within 2 years of your interaction), and ignore the ability to influence 70% of the Buying Decision Path.

Indeed, buyers don’t want to buy anything, they just want to resolve a problem congruently, without major disruption to that which works well. Indeed a purchase happens only when there is no alternate resolution; and we haven’t had a skill set that blends with the sales model to help: except for visionary areas within the global companies I’ve trained over the last 30 years, the sales field found my ideas and newly coined terms pointless. But sellers who added Buying Facilitation® to their sales activities experience upward of a 6x increase in sales as they truly facilitate buying decisions. My dream has always been that Buying Facilitation® be taught as part of sales training for all sales professionals.

Buying Facilitation® Facilitates 70% of Buyer’s Decisions

I taught my sales team how to add Buying Facilitation® to their current sales skills; we quickly experienced a 40% increase in sales (from first call) and I only needed half the sales staff. My tech team used the material to involve all the right people immediately and extract the most vital information quickly, making programming and implementing more efficient, and insuring early project completion and no ‘user errors’. I began teaching the material to clients, coaches, and managers.

Approximately five years ago my terms began entering the sales field. But, as happens when a new idea enters mainstream, the terms were not defined as I defined them, but re-defined to be a part of the very concepts I was fighting against.

Terms Defined

I have no illusions that the mis-definitions will continue and some mainstream sellers will think they ‘do this’ already. Hopefully some folks will seek to learn the material (and training is required as the model employs entirely different thinking and skills). But just for my own piece of mind, I’m offering the definitions of the terms I coined in 1985. They include some form of the word ‘buy’ to denote the disparity between the act of buying and the process of selling. And the underlying belief is that as sellers we should be using our unique positions as corporate representatives and knowledge experts to be servant leaders and truly serve buyers to discover their own path to excellence, hopefully, ultimately, with our solution (But if not, we end quickly and gently. Otherwise, we close in half the time.).

Buying Facilitation®. A generic change management model for coaches, sellers, managers, etc.) that enables efficient, congruent change, that employs a specific type of listening (Listening for Systems), and new form of question (Facilitative Questions – not information gathering), used in a specific, coded sequence, for facilitators to enable excellence through congruent change. It manages all of the unconscious, upfront, endemic change issues that would have to accede for change to happen. Until buyers (or anyone) know how to manage this, they cannot agree to change/buy, hence the length of the current sales cycle.

Helping Buyers Buy. The term comes from the first Buying Facilitation® training I delivered in 1988 to KLM. By ‘helping buyers buy’ we facilitate the full Pre-Sales Buying Decision Path.

Buying Decisions/Process. The outcome of resolving all of the change/decision issues into an action: consensus of all stakeholders who will touch the new solution; the route forward to change without disruption or resistance; deciding to move beyond their workaround; AND THEN the solution/vendor choice issues. The term is being misdefined by sales to merely include vendor/solution choice issues.

Buying Decision Path. 13 steps that traverse the elements of change management: starting with an idea (Step 1) through to a purchase (Step 13). It includes people, systems, implementation, resistance, workarounds, relationships – and comes well before any decision is made to buy anything, and quite separate from any ‘need’. The sales field uses this term erroneously to denote how buyers choose one vendor/solution over another, line up the funds, etc. – a usage dynamically opposite to the original definition.

Buy Cycle. The entire set of givens necessary for buyers to end up with excellence (either internally or with a purchase). Again, it’s not only the solution/vendor choice issues.

Buying Decision Team. The full set of stakeholders – some not obvious, some not ‘decision makers’ – who will touch the final solution and need to add their ideas, concerns, knowledge, and feelings to the discussion. Usually sellers (or change agents) aren’t privy to the internal machinations necessary before a purchase (or any change) can happen. Hence the 4% close rate.

Buying Patterns. The way the buyer has traditionally bought/changed in the past. Do they always use known vendors? Will they never take cold calls or meetings with sellers? Sellers traditionally use their comfortable selling patterns and cannot connect with buyers with divergent buying patterns.

Marketers currently use the term Buyer Persona to denote ‘influencers’ who will enable a sale. This ignores most of the early decisions buyers make and keeps marketing from entering effectively much earlier. Using different types of content it’s quite possible to influence different points along the Buying Decision Path.

Time for Change

Think about it. Are you happy with your low close rate? Your horrific waste of time and resource running around after people who will never buy (and who you could know on the first call weren’t buyers) or responding to RFPs that fail? The time waste seeking prospects who will take an appointment only to have one person on a data gathering mission show up – and then you never hear from them again (not to mention the hours planning for the meeting!)? Have you never wondered where buyers go when YOU think they have a need?

The current sales model closes a fraction of people who need your solution, and costs much more than necessary on wasted resources (large sales forces, presentations, proposals). The problem isn’t finding the buyers; the problem is facilitating those who can buy. As an example, using Buying Facilitation® at Kaiser, sellers went from 110 visits and 18 closed sales in a month, to 27 visits and 25 closed sales, an increase of 600%, not to mention the time saving.

I go back to the original question I posed decades ago: Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities. And I’ve developed terms that help sellers think through the steps that help buyers buy. Maybe it’s time to begin learning the ‘how’ of helping buyers buy, the ‘what’ of the buying decision path, and the ‘who’ of the buying decision team. Let’s begin using the terms properly and stop ignoring such a large piece of the puzzle.


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is founder of Morgen Facilitations, Inc. (www.newsalesparadigm.com). She is the visionary behind Buying Facilitation®, the decision facilitation model that enables people to change with integrity. A pioneer who has spoken about, written about, and taught the skills to help buyers buy, she is the author of the acclaimed New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: Why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and what you can do about it.

To contact Sharon Drew at [email protected] or go to www.didihearyou.com to choose your favorite digital site to download your free book.