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Customers are an Enigma Wrapped Up in a Riddle

The change-agent sales process demystifies the buying process for customers by addressing one of the biggest deficiencies in the sales profession—probable cause. Without probable cause; means and motivation, all parties will be barking up the wrong tree, and end up beating a dead horse to death. As a change coach,you are a moderator between the customer and their decision to change, or not to change. Because customers are an enigma wrapped up in a riddle, you help them weigh all the sides of their issues and challenges.

When you conduct a risk/reward analysis, you help customers entertain all hypotheticals, inconveniences, variables and possibilities. Because it is largely an internal, issue driven process, you need to be open to the inclusion of all points of view. This process is not a 100 yard dash. It is more like a marathon. Since you are essentially a middleman, or a hub of the wheel, you will need to rely heavily on the power of shrewd observation and common sense inquiry.

The change-agent is like a savy reporter, they let the facts of the customer's circumstances speak for themselves after they have been carefully and delicately teased out. Good sales people limit their editorializing. Their strategy is very independent and self-contained. Their process is not burdened with product information and hype. Its goal is simple and refined; qualifying opportunities instead of selling, assessing compatibility, focusing on motives, and minimizing the need for proof of concept. Customers value insight more on the why (change), versus the what (product solution). Traditional selling is the inverse, and that is why all parties often look like they are beating their heads against the wall.

When you stop pushing and pitching, and play the role of a change coach, you help the customer formulate their pre-change criteria. To do this you have to balance two very different personalities; "A skeptic who questions what is realistic and achievable and sets expectations based on the philosophy of under promise and over deliver. The other personality is the one who inspires everyone to action with exciting visions of what is possible," says Brett Carr. Only 5% of sales people deliver on both.

To be successful with the change-agent strategy you have to be in a total learning mode. You need to believe "you know nothing" until the customer shares with you their unique rendition of their story, or their problem storyline. This strategy is all about being a life time learner on each sales call, no matter how much you think you know. You really only know something of value only after the customer has fully confirmed it logically and emotionally.

Orthodox sales people almost exclusively help customers with external issues regarding placement of their product. Change-agents know that little happens with facts and figures, and a lot happens when internal issues are first addressed; timing, budgets, authority, priorities, alternative realities around change, political influence and risks and rewards.

Unlike traditional, hands-off sellers, the change agent is very hands-on because they have to get their hands dirty, and sift through all the muck of what is possible and not possible for their customer. The change-agent takes a grassroots approach knowing that there is a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to customers making the emotional and psychological investment to change. When sales people treat change as a mere formality, or forgone conclusion, things can get very ugly. The change-agent process forces you not to short-shrift the due process of change. It is truly a no, nonsense approach with no room for blues-skying it.

I see the change coach, communication model as transferring nothing into something. Because you start with nothing, you have to focus 100% on your customer. The change coach does not suffer the pretense of knowledge. They let customers define the meaning of their situation, and let them form their own opinions, and draw their own independent conclusions. Because there is no imposing of ideas, or divine intervention of beliefs, it allows for dialogue and ideas to move and connect surprisingly in unexpected and unpredictable ways. This gives you a jump-start on getting bad news quickly, and helps minimize getting good news in dribs and drabs over time.

Be careful what you wish for. Too many customers, with the best of intentions, or out of sport, will tell you virtually anything you want to hear, to your heart's content. Most customer's egos thrive on novelty. Their ego will explore many options and opportunities as avoidance activity. Your job is to help them sort out what is real, and what is just a mere flight of fancy. Change-agents help customers explore all contingency plans, and help them seriously look at all extenuating circumstances and realities that could come up that would make change very challenging. Mainstream sales people along with the customers they cultivate, suffer from a lot of sins of omission. Both pay blatant lip-service to irrational conclusions, with the hope that if they gloss over them, they will not rear their ugly head down the road.

Also be careful with customers who are sourcing dictators or simple anarchists. These types of customers have an information, locked vault mentality; they are going to give you nothing. Without an open source of information, you are teetering in the commodity zone, or as I like to call it, the e-commerce zone, where price reigns and sales people languish.

The change coach explores openly the pain and suffering that most customers try to deny. Most mainstream sales people will avoid this at all costs because they are so self-conscious. They are finely attuned to their goals, quotas, product superiority, at the exclusion of being conscious of the customer's situation. Change coaches help find latent and unconscious motivations/demotivations that brew below the surface for customers.

You put all these hypotheticals, pro and cons on the table so customers do not have to feel pressure that they are being sold from the sales person's best interest. Throw out alternatives about whether a project can be done internally or with existing suppliers. The change-agent has a patient, but savagely objective process of elimination. The mainstream sales process has a woefully long and loose process of inclusion and over acceptance. The mentality is if we build it, or explain it well, they will come. Mainstream selling is all about facing down customers, giving them what you want, and trying to help yourself. They love to fight the good fight. There is no objectivity, transparency, self-control, because it is so self-centered and self-absorbed.

"Try to play the role of the shock absorber in the automobile by inserting yourself between conflicting views – in other words, be a broker or a diplomat," says Brett Clay. Help the customer to keep all their options open until you have both determined what is in their best interest. Look at yourself as one who does damage control; assessing positives and negatives, giving out short-term and long-term options. In other words, be the voice of reason and common sense. It is a lot more fun this way and easier.

The change-agent strategy is a safeguard against conflicts of interest. It is a way to determine who is intellectually curious, but not emotionally serious. It helps stabilize some of the suffering of rejection because you are not involved in direct intervention or pushing your agenda. It also greatly increases the equity of your brand; being a neutral agnostic consultant.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com