Customers Demand, Yet are Denied Due-Process
It is hard to sell and position your offering if you do not know what you are competing against. Your fiercest competitor is share of mind. Your second biggest competitor is the status quo. You will only gain your customer's attention if their issue is on their radar screen. So screen customers for what their top priorities are, before you give them a glorious front row seat to a screening of your product.
Typically the reasons for change are very much below the surface, or if you like the subconscious. You need to mine deeply, patiently and methodically to bring it to the surface, or to the conscious level. The change-agent explores the big picture. They take into account all facets of change. Their influence and context is far beyond just the immediate needs of the customer. They deal with certainty and uncertainty. They do an open book analysis, and customers when fully engaged tend to reciprocate with an open book of sensitive and important information.
Traditional sales people are micro-sellers who deal with the immediate task at hand (convincing and persuading). Change-agents are macro-sellers, or enterprise sellers, who look at the whole environment and all the variables that will be touched by the proposed change. Orthodox sales people spend the majority of their time addressing exclusively external goals, while change-agents spend a lot of their time dealing with internal issues, such as the twin evil forces of change; inertia and inconvenience.
Change-agents are perception oriented. They work below the surface, instead of above the surface. They look for emotional triggers, instead of mainly rational and logical reasons for change. Traditional sales people rarely address the big variable in all change equations... the human irrational side of change. They treat the customer's decision process as a tangible affair, when in fact it is very intangible, messy, emotional and unpredictable. Change-agents help customers try to make sense of everything by synthesizing the logic with the predominant emotion. They do not try to force square pegs into round holes, because they sell with a purpose of being answerable to the customer's best interest and not their own quota.
We all know lots of customers who on a spontaneous whim decide to move in a new direction without doing any due-diligence on the reality of their course of action. The change-agent must bring them down to earth and give them a professional glimpse of reality, even if it means a lost opportunity for themselves. Change-agents generously apply "take it off the table" questions. These questions squarely address potential negative scenarios for customers and put them out into the open for discussion. Change-agents have nothing to hide and are very transparent, so they tend to earn a lot more trust and respect than mainstream sales people. Customers demand due-process and want a cost/benefit analysis, and they are generally not getting it from sales people because of their inherent need to look out for number one.
"No amount of rhetoric can force people to progress (change). A decision to take the next step is an individual choice, and we will make that choice when the problem is intense enough that relief becomes a major priority. Or it could be that the opportunity in front of us makes us restless with the concurrent state of affairs," says David Markum. Be aware that many customers choose the slow death of the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. They do not experience the full thrust of the problem because they let it slide slowly. They are like a frog who will not jump out of gradually boiling bucket of water because they have become immune to the intensity. Do not try to save customers who will not save themselves. "The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken," said Bernard Russell. Some customers will eventually get to their breaking point, but it is sometimes too late to do anything to stem the tide.
The change-agent takes a very holistic approach to sales, because they know everything is interconnected, so they ask a lot of questions that are outside the box that deal with alternative options, competing priorities, timing, political influence and inner motivations. What will drive change more than needs and wants are customer presuppositions, individual preferences and beliefs, past experiences, prejudices and past conditioning. The aforementioned have little to do with what most mainstream sales people spend their time on; outcomes, solutions, needs analysis, specifications, technical requirements and proof of concept. So get personal and find out how customers think, and get intimate with how they view their own little world. Conventional sales people are all about the product fulfillment part of their job. Unfortunately, it is the least important part of the puzzle.
Change-agents help customers dismantle their issues like a forensic pathologist. They walk their customer's problems backwards to the scene of the crime so they can really make sense of its consequences and actionability. Conventional sales people keep walking their solution forward in the hope all the issues around change will magically resolve themselves and all the stars will be properly aligned in their favor. If only it was that simple.
When customers connect what their problems are they will invariably consider the next problem, the problem of change. In many cases they are in a state of constant lack of clarity; I want to fix this problem, but I cannot, I want to make this a priority, but I have so many other pressing things going on. On and on it goes, the perpetual Catch 22; damned if you do, damned if you do not. The chain-agent helps customers make difficult choices and decisions with their prudent and practical oversight. They are trusted because they are not opportunistic and they do not behave as if they have an axe to grind.
Sales people who are enthusiastic and externally optimistic have a very difficult time managing customers who are likewise very enthusiastic, excited and optimistic about moving forward and changing when it is totally out in left field. The customer might be 100% committed to change and the sales person knows in their deep recessed subconscious that it will never happen, because they have not looked at the intangibles of the big picture. This type of deluded sales person cannot separate their need to make the sale and do what is best for the customer, and save both parties time, effort and resources. They thrive on false hope and unfortunately everyone loses.
"To play at the top of your game, you cannot be emotionally involved in the results," says Arnold Snyder. Do not be afraid to help your customer make difficult decisions. You need to help them calculate emotionally if the positives outweigh the negatives of change. It takes mental endurance to be decisive and conclusive with customers if change is not in the cards for their circumstances. Do not let them hide from reality.
In life as in sales, you cannot save customers from themselves. If they are not going to change, no matter what the negative consequences are, you cannot intervene and force them. The change-agent is dispassionate and disidentified with their offering and disassociated about success/failure of their efforts. They have the ultimate posture of credibility in sales; they have an attitude of no sale will make them, and no sale will break them.
Sales is all about openly discussing and exploring trade-offs for change. You need to address some of the typical blind spots of your customer's logic for buying. Help them cover all their bases by finding out what they are willing to sacrifice and give up. You betray your customer's confidence when you do not help them in this area. It is also in your best interest as far as efficiency and trust.
The process of change comes into play only when there is first a search for understanding. If the sequence is reversed and the process is initiated first by searching for results or solutions, commitment and trust is suspect. Conventional sales people are so obsessed at providing exceptional value after the sale (product fulfillment) has been made that they woefully are professionally negligent in providing value before the sale is finalized.
Change-agents do not act as if their customer's challenges are isolated. They do not turn a blind eye to any possibility, contradiction, inconsistency, or non-committed behavior. They are always probing for clarity and trying to minimize the typical inconclusive proof they get from customers.