It is Difficult to Get a Customer to Change When Their Job Depends on Not Doing It
The change-agent sales process is based on the idea that you measure a customer's fit not on your ability to help them, sell them, or deliver a superior solution, but on their reasons, motivations and their ability to change and take action. This process is a rebuttal to the futility of conventional information selling.
You have the chance to sell more, waste less time, stress less, when you transcend your product's offering. The change-agent sales strategy raises the bar and ups the stakes for what a meaningful sales call looks like, feels like and sounds like.
In 2011 they brought out a new Broadway release of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. This could be the theme of the change-agent; it does not seem like you are trying, because all the effort is demonstrated by the customer to prove to themselves whether it is advantageous for them to consider changing or not. This process is an inconspicuous sales process which is why it is so effective and at this same time so scary to conventional sales.
At the 2011 Northwestern University commencement address Stephen Colbert commented that during his first job in Chicago doing improvisation that to be successful you had to believe that you were the least important participant in a skit. Once you did that you could deeply pay attention to others and serve them and their goals. This is the essence and spirit of the change-agent sales process.
De Tocqueville said people listen when "self-interest is properly understood." The change-agent gets their hands around the customer's self-interest, whether it supports or not their product/service offering. This sales strategy attempts to position sales people to a higher calling. With noblesse oblige, sales people work for the betterment of their customer by helping them really understand what is in their best interest based on their goals and unique circumstances. This process encourages and facilitates self-diagnosing by customers because they will invariably trust their findings, before they trust yours.
The change-agent strategy is a process of oversight for both parties. It is a very measured approach, fair and valued. It represents the voice of moderation and subscribes to the notion that sales people should be impartial and impassionate in order to remain objective to give sound advice. Because the strategy is unscripted, you have to be very adaptive in always going with the flow even if you do not like where it is going. You will be amazed even when you go down blind alleys it can be very instructive.
You need to be willing to address all the counter-weight issues the customer is experiencing and let them feel ownership for their decisions. It is not unusual to see customers being interested one moment and the next they are not. They are returning calls one week and the next week they are ignoring you for good. Outside of extenuating circumstances, all these things happen mostly because sales people frequently do not help customers resolve their own conflicts of interest.
The change-agent knows that customers are often unreliable witnesses to their own reasons for changing. So they ask a lot of questions that go way below the surface. They help the customer look for blind spots that they are glossing over that will prevent change. Their value is being neutral and unsentimental; they are not afraid to bring up objections, and they are cautious and noncommittal until they get to the bottom of the reasons to change or not. The change-agent questions lazy assumptions and inconsistent thinking on not only the part of the customer, but themselves.
Because customers do not have the time or the inclination to step back and prioritize their action goals, it is more important than ever to help them assess what is pressing and what is not. Customers rarely take the time to look at the big picture. Change-agents are reductionist. They reduce problems and questions of change to their lowest common denominator; cost/benefit analysis, timing, motive, competing initiatives, value of problem. Notice there is no discussion about the solution.
At the end of the day, sales is a game of subtractions, not additions. The subtraction process removes one by one the barriers to change before there is any talk about the addition of a solution. The change-agent is always talking in practical terms. It is good ole Yankee Pragmatism.
The change-agent is very comfortable with ambiguity on the front-end of a sales call, because they are just learning for the first time their customer's personal version of their issues. For conventional sales people ambiguity is an anathema. They avoid it like the plaque because they need to be in control. Yet as they exercise their control they rarely get to the truth. The change-agent allows a lot of ambiguity to be worked at the onset of a sales call so they are able to be very exacting towards the back-end and only work with qualified opportunities.
When you do not follow the change-agent process you are vulnerable to basically leaving your customer to their own devices, you are throwing them out to sea without a life preserver. You are saying to them to figure it out on their own, hope it works out well for both of us. This is a frustrating way to earn a living for a sales person.
You want to help customers understand better what they really want and do not want. You want to hold them accountable to the reality of their situation because customers like to lie to themselves. It is a natural defense mechanism both from the optimistic side and the negative side. They can be like Apollo astronaut Michael Collins when he told mission control while sailing over the sea of tranquility; "Listen babe, everything is going just swimmingly," when it was anything but. Customers are like everyone, they process a lot of information irrationally thinking they are making rational choices. A lot of unconscious forces act upon customers without their awareness. Your job is to bring as much as possible to the surface for mutual examination and clarity.
When you really look unabashedly at your customer's reason to consider change there are so many loopholes, inconsistencies, contradictions and a lot of things that just do not add up. You need to do a lot of fact checking and emotional checking in an attempt to make order out of chaos. Remember, customers are severely under diagnosed.
It is the nature of customers to oversimplify and to make things too complex. Your role is to play the middleman and be the voice of neutrality and reason. Do not think in terms of your unique selling proposition (UVP), rather think in terms of your customer's unique change proposition (UCP).
The change-agent strategy is a fully integrated sales approach because it does not just cover solution/problem, but cost of change and practicality. This is a strategy that can separate the pretenders from the contenders because of its depth and insight.