Posts

Sharon Drew Morgen

Questioning Questions

Decades ago I had an idea that questions could be vehicles to facilitate change in addition to eliciting answers. Convention went against me: the accepted use of questions (framing devices, biased by the Asker, that extract a defined range of answers) is built into our culture. But overlooked is their inability to extract good data or accurate answers due to the bias of the Asker; overlooked is their ability to facilitate congruent change.

What Is A Question?

Questions are biased by the expectations, assumptions, goals, unconscious beliefs and subjective experience of both the Responder and the Asker and limit responses accordingly. In other words, questions can’t extract ‘good’ data. They’re certainly not designed to lead Responders through to real change or accurate revelations. (What? Did you really say what I think I heard? offers a broad discussion of bias.) Here are the most prevalent ways we limit our Communication Partner’s responses:

Need to Know Askers pose questions to pull conscious data from the Responder because of their own ‘need to know’, data collection, or curiosity. An example (Note: all following italicized questions are posed as a mythical hairdresser seeking business) might be: Why do you wear your hair like that?

These questions risk overlooking more relevant answers that are stored beyond the parameters of the question posed – often in the unconscious.

Pull Data Askers pose questions to pull a range of implicating data considered useful to ‘make a case’ in a ploy to obtain their desired results (i.e. sales, leadership, marcom, coaching). Don’t you think it might be time to get a haircut?

These questions run a high risk of missing the full range of, or accurate, responses. Certainly they offer no route to enabling choice, decisions, or collaboration/buy-in. They encourage resistance, partial/missed answers, and lies.

Manipulate Agreement/Response Questions that direct the Responder to find a specific set of responses to fit the needs and expectations of the Asker. Can you think of a time you’ve felt ‘cool’ when you’ve had short hair? Or Have you ever thought of having your hair look like Kanye/Ozzy/Justin? Or What would it feel like to have hair like Kanye/Ozzy/Justin? Wouldn’t you say your hairstyle makes you look X?

These questions restrict possibility, cause resistance, create distrust, and encourage lying.

Doubt Directive These questions, sometimes called ‘leading questions’ are designed to cause Responders to doubt their own effectiveness, in order to create an opening for the Asker. Do you think your hairstyle works for you?

These narrow the range of possible responses, often creating some form of resistance or defensive lies; they certainly cause defensiveness and distrust.

Questions restrict responses to the Asker’s parameters, regardless of their intent or the influencer’s level of professionalism and knowledge. Potentially important, accurate data – not to mention the real possibility of facilitating change – is left on the table and instead promote lost business, failure, distrust, bad data collection, and delayed success. Decision Scientists end up gathering incomplete data that creates implementation issues; leaders and coaches push clients toward the change they perceive is needed and often miss the real change needed and possible. The fields of sales and coaching are particularly egregious.

The cost of bias and restriction is unimaginable. Here’s an especially unfortunate example of a well-respected research company that delayed the discovery of important findings due to the biases informing their research questions. I got a call from one of the founders of Challenger Sales to discuss my Buying Facilitation® model. Their research had ‘recently’ discovered that sales are lost/delayed/hampered due to the buyer’s behind-the-scenes change issues that aren’t purchase-driven and sales doesn’t address – and yay for me for figuring this out 35 years ago.

Interesting. They figured this out now? Even David Sandler called me in 1992 before he died to tell me he appreciated how far out of the box I went to find the resolution to the sales problem (He also offered to buy me out, but that’s a different story.). The data was always there. I uncovered this in 1983. But the CEB missed it because their research surveys posed biased questions that elicited data matching their expectations. Indeed, even during our conversations, my Communication Partner never got rid of his solution-placement (sales) biases and we never were able to find a way to partner.

What Is An Answer?

Used to elicit or push data, the very formulation of conventional questions restricts answers. If I ask ‘What did you have for breakfast?’ you cannot reply ‘I went to the gym yesterday.’ Every answer is restricted by the biases within the question. I’m always disappointed when I hear sellers say “Buyers are liars” or coaches say “They didn’t really want to change.” Or therapists or managers or leaders say “They’re resisting”. Askers cause the answers they get.

  1. Because we enter conversations with an agenda, intuition, directive, etc., the answers we receive are partial at best, inaccurate at worst, and potentially cause resistance, sabotage, and disregard.
  2. There are unknown facts, feelings, historic data, goals, etc. that lie within the Responder’s unconscious that hold real answers and cannot be found using merely the curiosity of the Asker.
  3. By approaching situations with bias, Askers can only successfully connect with those whose conscious biases align with their own, leaving behind many who could change, or connect when their unconscious data is recognized. And conventional questions cannot get to the unconscious.
  4. Because influencers are unaware of how their particular bias restricts an answer, they have no concept if there are different answers possible, and often move forward with bad data.

So why does it matter if we’re biasing our questions? It matters because we are missing accurate results; it matters because our questions instill resistance; it matters because we’re missing opportunities to serve and support change.

When sellers ask leading questions to manipulate prospects, or coaches ask influencing questions to generate action, we’re coaxing our Communication Partner in a direction that, as we now recognize, is often biased. Imagine if we could reconfigure questions to elicit accurate data for researchers or marcom folks; or enable buyers to take quick action from ads, cold calls or large purchases; or help coaching clients change behaviors congruently and quickly; or encourage buy-in during software implementations. I’m suggesting questions can facilitate real change.

What Is Change?

Our brain stores data rather haphazardly in our unconscious, making it difficult to find what we need when we need it, and making resistance prevalent when it seems our Status Quo is being threatened. But over the last decades, I have mapped the sequence of systemic change. Following this route, I’ve designed a way to use questions as directional devices to pull relevant data in the proper sequence so we can lead Responders through their own internal, congruent, change process and avoid resistance. Not only does this broaden the range of successful results, but it enables quicker decisions and buy-in – not to mentiontruly offer a Servant Leader, win/win communication. Let’s look at what’s keeping us wedded to our Status Quo and how questions can enable change.

All of us are a ‘system’ of subjectivity collected during our lifetime: unique rules, values, habits, history, goals, experience, etc. that operates consensually to create and maintain our Status Quo; it resides in our unconscious and defines our Status Quo. Without it, we wouldn’t have criteria for any choices, or actions, or habits whatsoever. Our system is hard wired to keep us who we are (Systems Congruence).

To learn something new, to do something different or learn a new behavior, to buy something, to take vitamins or get a divorce or use new software or be willing to forgive a friend, the Status Quo must buy in to change from within – an inside job. Information pulled or pushed – regardless of the intent, or relationship, or efficacy – will be resisted.

For congruent change to occur – even a small one – appropriate elements within our Status Quo must buy into, and have prepared for, a possibly disruptive addition (idea, product, etc.). But since the process is internal, idiosyncratic, and unconscious, our biased questions cause the system to defend itself and we succeed only with those folks whose unconscious biases and beliefs mirror our own.

  1. People hear each other through their own biases. You ask biased questions, receive biased answers, and hit pay dirt only when your biases match. Everyone else will ignore, resist, misunderstand, mishear, act out, sabotage, forget, ignore, etc.
  2. Due to their biased and restricting nature, your questions will not facilitate those who are not ready, willing, or able to manage internal change congruently regardless of the wisdom of your comments or their efficacy.
  3. Without the Responder being ready, willing, and able to change, ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN CRITERIA AND SYSTEMS RULES, they cannot buy, accept, adopt, or change in any way.

To manage congruent change, align the Status Quo, and enable the steps to achieve buy-in – I’ve developed Facilitative Questions that work comfortably with conventional questions and lead Responders to:

  • find their own answers hidden within their unconscious,
  • retrieve complete, relevant, accurate answers at the right time, in the right order to
  • traverse the sequenced steps to congruent, systemic change/excellence, while
  • avoiding restriction and resistance and
  • include their own values and subjective experience.

It’s possible to help folks make internal changes and find their own brand of excellence.

Facilitative Questions

Facilitative Questions (FQs) employ a new skill set that is built upon systems thinking: listening for systems (i.e. no bias) and Servant Leadership. Even on a cold call or in content marketing, sellers can enable buyers down their route to change and buy-in; coaches can lead clients through their own unique change without resistance; leaders can get buy-in immediately; change implementations won’t get resistance; advertisers and marketers can create action.

Using specific words, in a very specific sequence, it’s possible to pose questions that are free of bias, need or manipulation and guide congruent change.

Facilitative Question Not information gathering, pull, or manipulative, FQs are guiding/directional tools, like a GPS system. Like a GPS they don’t need the details of travel – what you’re wearing, what function you’re attending – to dictate two left turns. They lead Responders congruently, without any bias, from where they’re at to Excellence. How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?

This question is a guiding mechanism to efficiently enable a route through the Responder’s largely unconscious path to congruent change.

Here’s the big idea: using questions directed to help Others efficiently recognize their own route to Excellence, and change as appropriate vs. using questions to seek answers that benefit the Asker. This shift in focus alone creates an automatic trust.

An example is a question we designed for Wachovia to increase sales and appointments. Instead of seeking prospects for an appointment to pitch new products (i.e. using appointments as a sales tool), we designed questions to immediately facilitate discovery of need, taking into account most small businesses already have a banking relationship. After trialing a few different FQs, our opening question became: How would you know when it’s time to consider adding new banking partners, for those times your current bank can’t give you what you need? This question shifted the response to 100 prospecting calls from 10 appointments and 2 closes over 11 months, to 37 invites to meet from the prospect, and 29 closes over 3 months. Facilitative Questions helped the right prospects engage immediately.

When used with coaching clients, buyers, negotiation partners, advertisements, or even teenagers, these questions create action within the Responder, causing them to recognize internal incongruences and deficiencies, and be guided through their own options. (Because these questions aren’t natural to us, I’ve designed a tool and program to teach the ‘How’ of formulating them.).

The responses to FQs are quite different from conventional questions. So when answering How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?, the Responder is directed by word use, word placement, and an understanding of systems, to think of time, history, people, ego, comparisons, family. Instead of pulling data, you’re directing to, guiding through, and opening the appropriate change ‘boxes’ within the Responder’s unconscious Status Quo. It’s possible Responders will ultimately get to their answers without Facilitative Questions, but using them, it’s possible to help Responders organize their change criteria very quickly accurately. Using Facilitative Questions, we must:

  1. Enter with a blank brain, as a neutral navigator, servant leader, with a goal to facilitate change.
  2. Trust our Communication Partners have their own answers.
  3. Stay away from information gathering or data sharing/gathering until they are needed at the end.
  4. Focus on helping the Other define, recognize, and understand their system so they can discover where it’s broken.
  5. Put aside ego, intuition, assumptions, and ‘need to know.’ We’ll never understand another’s subjective experience; we can later add our knowledge.
  6. Listen for systems, not content.

FQs enable congruent, systemic, change. I recognize this is not the conventional use of questions, but we have a choice: we can either facilitate a Responder’s path down their own unique route and travel with them as Change Facilitators – ready with our ideas, solutions, directions as they discover a need we can support – or use conventional, biased questions that limit possibility. For change to occur, people must go through these change steps anyway; we’re just making it more efficient for them as we connect through our desire to truly Serve. We can assist, or wait to find those who have already completed the journey. They must do it anyway: it might as well be with us.

I welcome opportunities to put Facilitative Questions into the world. Formulating them requires a new skill set that avoids any bias (Listening for Systems, for example). But they add an extra dimension to helping us all serve each other.


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

Why the Need to Build Relationships is a Myth

In 1937 Dale Carnegie published his celebrated How to Win Friends and Influence People – the first book suggesting sellers build relationships. 1937: with primitive transportation, sellers found clients closer to home; telephones were emerging (FYI – Morse Code was preferred for 40 years after the telephone was invented!); marketing avenues were limited, as was advertising (Sears Catalogue, Life Magazine, The Farmer’s Almanac, the local paper or general store). Obviously there was no technology, or global competition.

Selling focused on natural customers – face-to-face relationships with neighbors and friends. And buyers needed sellers for information and relevance. Relationships were vital.

It’s now 2016. We have a plethora of options to present our solutions. Our communications capability is global, cheap, and ubiquitous. With safe payment and delivery options, global competitors are pervasive. And – here’s the big one – our prospects have the ability to receive the information they need to easily choose a solution without us. Buyers contact us only when they’ve done their Pre-Sales change work and are ready. They don’t need a relationship with us.

The Ploy of Building Relationships

So why do we continue to think we must ‘build relationships’?? As a carryover from Carnegie, relationship building has been used as a ploy to manipulate a sale. If buyers like us, the thinking goes, they’ll buy. Here’s the reality:

Everyone knows you’re pretending. Until you’ve known people over time, through the good times and bad, you’re not in a relationship with anyone, especially when you’re trying to be nice so you can meet your own agenda.

Your ‘relationship’ will not facilitate a sale. Buyers cannot buy unless they have managed their internal change management journey that

  1. assembles all the people needed to be involved and hears their voices/concerns/criteria;
  2. gets buy-in from the Buying Decision Team that something must change;
  3. figures out how to meet everyone’s needs and make adjustments that fit without internal disruption.

Buyers can’t buy until they’re ready, willing, and able to bring something new into their status quo regardless of how ‘nice’ you are.

Buyers aren’t swayed by your niceness. It will, however, make you a preferred vendor WHEN ALL ELSE IS EQUAL and WHEN THEY HAVE REACHED THE POINT OF CHOICE.

It doesn’t work when your focus is a sale. Here is a real dialogue:

SELLER: HI SHARON! AND how are YOU today?? ?
SDM:[picking up the phone in tears, thinking it was my friend] My name’s not Sharon! And I’m rotten. I just put my dog down!

I offered an ‘authentic’ moment, useful as an opportunity to connect: he should have said ‘I’m sorry that happened. Obviously you can’t speak now. Is there a better time? This is a sales call and I’d like to discuss X when you’re feeling better.’

Whether for a large, complex sale, or a small personal item, buyers cannot buy until they have their internal ducks in a row, and then agree to seek an external solution (Step 10 of a 13 Step process). Because the sales model focuses on placing solutions – possible only after buyers have completed their Pre-Sales change management issues – we can’t discern where buyers are along their Buying Decision Path and buyers show up seeking a transactional connection. Our ‘niceness’ (which I’m differentiating from real customer service) is irrelevant; we just sound like everyone else trying to sell them something.

Differentiation?

I’m told sellers use the ‘make nice’ ploy to differentiate – difficult using the conventional sales route. Following acceptable marketing criteria of the era – words and phrases that are in vogue, graphics and colors that are deemed ‘what everyone is doing’ – it’s hard to be unique. And the myth of being a ‘Relationship Manager’ or ‘creating a relationship’ is supposed to show buyers why they should choose us over the competition. See?? I’m NICE!

Here’s the truth: buyers don’t start off wanting to buy anything whether it sounds like they have a need or not. They merely want solve a problem. But they have work to do before they’re ready. It’s only once they’ve determined their systemic change management requirements that they’ll buy – but by then they’ll haven chosen their list of vendors and solutions from online data or referrals.

By focusing on attempting to influence people to buy because we’re nice, we’re left out of their behind-the-scenes decision process and reduced to ‘being there’ when/if they show up (the low hanging fruit, or 5%). Not to mention chasing bad leads with folks who we think should be buyers (Prospects are those who WILL buy, not those who SHOULD buy.).

We can mitigate this and REALLY be nice by entering enter early and facilitating buyers along the route of their systemic change/Pre Sales path. I’ve coded the steps in their decision sequence and developed a model that facilitates Pre-Sales Buyer Readiness (Buying Facilitation®). You don’t have to use my model – create your own! But entering the buyer/seller interaction as a change facilitator will differentiate you and enable a true relationship.

Buyers would never buy from anyone else when a seller has taught the prospect how to assemble ALL of the folks necessary to be part of the Decision Team, or HOW to get everyone on board for change. Remember: they will do this anyway before they buy – they might as well do this with you.

There’s a way to make money AND make nice. It’s by being a true Servant Leader and change facilitator; by entering into a WE Space in which there is a tracit agreement that everyone will be served. Stop using ‘nice’ as a sales ploy. Stop focusing on the low hanging fruit. Add a change management focus and find real buyers who’ve already recognized a problem, and first facilitate them through their route to inclusive, congruent, systemic change. Then you can become part of the Buying Decision Team, make a difference, close more, waste less time, and act with integrity.


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 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

Sales, Marketing and Social Can Be More Successful: hint – it’s not about your content

Sales, marketing, and social marketing attempt to place solutions and create relationships by supplying great content, discovering likely prospects, and creating trust. Unfortunately sellers end up closing a small fraction – less than 5% – of those they reach, and marketers and social end up closing even less. Our products are terrific. So what’s causing our failure?

Problems With Our Current Thinking

Here’s a bit of flawed thinking that exacerbates the problems:

  • Sellers believe prospects are folks who SHOULD buy (those with a ‘need’) rather than those who WILL buy (those who achieve consensus and set up a way to manage any change a purchase involves, and are ready and able to buy regardless of urgency of need).
  • Marketers believe that content is king, that offering the right content at the right time enables a buying decision. But we don’t know the role the reader plays on the Buying Decision Team, how or when our content is being used, and if it’s making a difference in the buying decision (i.e. it might be just a resource);
  • Social believes that by engaging in relationships over time and developing trust, followers will come back when they are ready. But because we can’t know their decision path, or associates who need to buy-in to any change, or internal political issues, we can’t know if we are spending time wisely.

We can facilitate buying decisions by employing different thinking to avoid:

  1. Merely guessing at, or manipulating, our conversations or offerings without knowing where along their decision path our buyers are, and how many of their Buying Decision Team are on board;
  2. Playing a numbers game to find and pitch those with a supposed ‘need’, assuming our content persuades buyers to buy or take action;
  3. Neglecting possible actions that can facilitate a buyer’s off-line decision steps.

It’s time to add some new thinking to what we’re doing.

What I Learned In The Trenches

By focusing on placing solutions, we’re missing the first 9 specific steps in a 13 step buying decision path that have nothing to do with our solution:

  • People have complicated issues (personal, systemic, organizational, and all criteria-based) to handle before they can buy or change. They only buy when all issues are managed regardless of need (systems congruence trumps need);
  • Buying includes change; change means disruption; consensus helps manage the disruption before it’s a problem; each person involved brings unique criteria and voice and shifts the buying criteria (i.e. until the entire Buying Decision Team is formed, weighs in, and agrees, there is no way to accurately define ‘needs’).
  • Given politics, internal relationship issues, history and future, it’s challenging, but necessary, to design a route through to change (in this case a purchase) that includes the people, rules, relationships, and group outcomes to avoid resistance and fallout.

I learned this as both a sales person and an entrepreneur. When Merrill Lynch hired me a stockbroker in the 1970s, I became a million-dollar producer my first year. But I couldn’t figure out why everyone with a need (especially those I had a great relationship with) didn’t always buy what I thought they needed. Where did they go?
When I started up my tech company in London in the 80s I realized the problem: as a buyer myself, my direct needs were often superseded by the social, political, organizational, and relational considerations I had to manage. When sellers came to pitch they worked hard to understand my needs in the area their solution served, and gave fine pitches, but as outsiders had no way to handle or understand the fights I was having with the Board, or the issues the distributor was having with their sales force. Nor did anyone even try.

The sales model, I realized when faced with great pitches and lovely sales folks, was not designed facilitate the behind-the-scenes non-need-related issues I had to manage before I could buy anything. I realized that all the great content, all the lovely relationships, all the ‘needs’ I had that matched their solutions, were worthless if I couldn’t manage the off-line, ‘Pre Sales’ issues that would be involved if I purchased anything. So, “Yes” to need; “No” to Buyer Readiness. And the sales model has no skills that address this problem because it is personal, idiosyncratic, and systems-based, and lie outside of the focus of placing solutions. I’ve heard it said that 80% of buyers you’re following now will buy a similar product (not yours) within 2 years of your connection; that’s the time it took them to make decisions that wouldn’t disrupt – the time of the sales cycle.

I then developed a facilitation approach (Buying Facilitation®) for my own sales team to add to the front end of the sales model to first facilitate Buyer Readiness – the steps buyers would have to take internally anyway and without Buying Facilitation® take a helluva lot longer. My team then added a new focus, and entered conversations as change management facilitators first, then selling when/if buyers were ready (more were ready, and much, much quicker, with no chasing around and we were able to disengage very early from those who could never buy.). After all, until they were able to determine if they COULD buy (and still maintain systems congruence) they could never be buyers regardless of need (the reason folks with a real need don’t buy). I continue to pose this question: do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? They are two different activities, and the sales model only handles the sales end; the buying end is change management.

Rule: the time it takes buyers to manage their off-line, idiosyncratic change issues is the length of the sales cycle. We were then able to get onto the Buying Decision Team early, lead buyers quickly through their unique decisions, and became great relationship managers, not to mention servant leaders. Our sales tripled and the time to close was reduced by two thirds; our relationships with clients were cemented and we avoided competition and price issues.

The takeaway here for marketers and social is the recognition that we are largely ignoring the hidden, systemic issues going on within our buyers’ environments that are not available to outsiders yet fundamental for any change to happen. We keep pushing content, hoping and praying that it will reach the right people at the right time. So long as we continue to focus on solution placement, we lose sales that we needn’t. That is our Achilles Heel. And it doesn’t have to be.

What’s The Role Of Change Management?

Buyers and followers don’t know their journey to change when they begin and hence take longer than necessary to figure it out. But figure it out they must. And we can help them, and make our value proposition our ability to be their GPS, so long as our focus is to facilitate change, not push or manipulate to make a sale. Plus, it’s an entirely different skill set.

There are two elements of Buying Facilitation® that can be added to create a ‘pull’ that’s change- and decision-focused.

  1. Enter as a change facilitator. Instead of coding, noticing, tracking details that will help us guess at who’s reading, who’s a decision maker, where they might be in their sales cycle, etc. let’s begin listening for, and designing, tools that facilitate each step of the movement along the decision path that change decisions goes through; let’s ensure they discover the right people to be involved (some not so obvious) and help them build the necessary internal consensus. Currently we now listen for what we want to hear rather than listening for issues with decision making, change or choice. I’ve developed a new way to listen (Listening for Systems) that is non-biased.
  2. Guide buyers through change management at the start of the sales process. Regardless of the type or size of the solution, buyers cannot buy until they are ready internally, and sales doesn’t have tools to focus to handle systemic change management without bias. Facilitative Questions are a type of criteria-recognition tool that facilitates thinking using Servant Leader thinking. Conventional questions are biased in favor of the seller; Facilitative Questions are biased in favor of the buyer.

It’s possible to develop assessments, questionnaires, intelligent contact sheets, CRM tools that enter in the right place along the decision path, provide the capability to lead buyers and followers through the full complement of steps they must take, making it possible to send out just the appropriate data at the right point in the cycle, and facilitate the consensus and buy-in as they quickly ready themselves for change. We can add these to the sales, marketing, and social models to truly serve our buyers and followers and close more. It will be an addition, and the results will stronger relationships and more conversions.

The problem has never been your solution; the problem is that we overlook the idiosyncratic stages of Buyer Readiness that are not involved with using our solutions – helping buyers address their unknowable change issues (independent of need, and based on people, rules, relationships, history, etc.) so they can get their ducks in a row to buy anything. By adding a facilitation tool directed at managing change before we try to sell, we can find more clients, and sell more, faster. And we can become true servant leaders.


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]