The Greatest Enemy of Selling is the Illusion of It
To buy or not to buy, that is the question. How many sales people proactively help their customers ponder a cost/benefit analysis in a neutral way? Most sales people push their biased agenda to sell; when, why and how fast.
A change-centric sales person does not show the customer the most direct path to change (buying), but rather pursues an irregular path, and shows them what is first deterring change, because as in Machiavelli's The Prince, the innovator has for enemies all those who derived advantages from the old order of things.
Traditional sales people exclusively take on the role of the protagonist thinking the good guy routine will carry the day. In actuality the professional antagonist is the one who saves the day. The antagonist, who is change-centered, challenges, offers up opposition and provides divergent thinking to really get the customer to examine the full scope of the consequences of change, not just the benefits and positive outcomes. A change-agent knows it is not about charging to a new solution, it is first and foremost about addressing the thinking and the attitudes that got the customer in their predicament in the first place. Sales people rarely mutually explore with customers the root causes and the underlining issues, because they are concerned they will uproot damaging information to their sales agenda. This is why they can so often not be trusted.
"Salespeople should use the medical profession's Hippocratic principle of first do no harm. If your product is not a good fit, if they lack the ability to implement it, then you need to step away from the sale. That is the inverse of going for yes," says Jeff Thull. Conventional sales people dwell on the easy external issues of the customer at the exclusion of the more difficult and messy internal issues; politics, timing, buy-in, priorities, means and competing initiatives. "Buyers expect trusted suppliers to point out over specified products, unnecessary wastage, or inefficient usage," says Diane Woodward.
Lots of sales people have oversized personalities that truly served them well in the pre-Internet era. They achieved success primarily with a bottomless well of self-confidence and information selling. Whereas, change-centered selling is about stepping into the background and has the potential to undo the fundamental premise that sales people hold near and dear to their heart (selling and telling). In the information economy conventional sales people are finding that their greatest strength is now their greatest weakness. They are now victims of their own success. Today, sales people's success lies in their ability to convey integrity, trust and respect, not in conveying confidently and enthusiastically product information. Google handles that role very well thank you.
Can you abandon your sense of self-importance regarding your product, your company and yourself? Once you can begin the journey of your customer's sense of self-importance; their problems, vision, commitment and timing, the sales process becomes a lot more collaborative and less manipulative. To embrace the pragmatism of the change-agent posture you have to look at your offering as disruptive, intrusive and an intervention that is just one more thing for customers to worry about and prioritize. Even when they decide to buy to get rid of their problems, they just have a another thing to worry about; which is the successful implement of your solution. However, when you look at your offering as a no-brainer, be-all solution you have the luxury of not having to delve deeply into your customer's business and their problems, and finding out that changing is not practical or sensible for them. Selling with solution authority may appear very easy on the front end, but it is very difficult on the back-end when the rubber hits the road regarding making final decisions.
The change-agent brings up early risks and exposures to bring balance to the sales equation. Sales people who have integrity do a balanced assessment that is rarely delivered by mainstream sales people. Change-centered sales people take the position of neutrality and believe that there are no easy right answers or wrong answers for their customers. Most sales people press hard for the right answers and in turn so often get the wrong answers from their customers. They primarily sell from a position of strength and distinct advantage, resulting in the customer feeling insecure and pressured.
The accidental sales person or the reluctant sales person is not arbitrary, opinionated, impervious or dictatorial. They do not run around as if they have the magic bullet or emperical evidence to prove their selling points. They are selling experts by being able to simplify complex issues by way of getting to the heart of the customer's problems and options.
The change-agent carries a different burden of proof than the traditional sales person, which is to prove product superiority over the competition. The burden of proof for the change-agent is to prove and or disprove the feasibility and action-ability of customer's problems. The bad news is this requires a lot more emotional intelligence and empathy that most traditional sales people do not possess. It takes poise and maturity to be in the background and to be anonymous compared to trigger-happy sales people who love to bask in the limelight while proudly vending and showcasing their wares in a dog and pony routine. The change-agent is understated and very balanced, which is conducive to constructive communication.
The sales person's own maturity and understanding of the dynamics of change and their own position in resolving it in their personal and professional life will have a strong bearing on how they deal with their customer's conflicts of interest in dealing with change. It really requires a lot of self-awareness, self-knowledge, emotional intelligence and self-reflection to pull it off.
The change-centered sales person does not first strive for influence, but first tries to establish an environment of cooperation, reciprocation and trust. This takes high integrity. When you work this way you attempt to collaborate and work hand-in-hand with your customer. Your gesture of good faith and goodwill is your willingness to operate without a security net. Like an invading army that burns their boats at the beach to reinforce their commitment that there is no turning back, you up the ante to put your customer's goals and needs first.
"Research has shown that customers are more likely to decide to take action when they reach clarity regarding the risks and consequences of a business solution, rather than by only understanding the mechanics of the solution," says Jeff Tull. Change is an anathema to your customer's hardwiring. They feel most comfortable in a static environment. You need to find out what they are fearful of and what the risks are to change from their unique perspective. To find the truth, you have to investigate everything that stands in the way of change.
"Internal issues have to be resolved and customers won't change until they are. 90% of prospects don't buy not because the product is not right or because they don't trust you. They don't buy because their internal issues have not been reconciled or resolved. You need to lead them through this unconscious decision criteria. All the people and policies that are in place that touch the identified problem have to be in agreement; old vendor issues and relationships have to be addressed in order to have change happen," says Sharon Drew Morgen. So you need to have a fully integrated sales strategy that addresses all aspects of change; inconvenience, competing initiatives, commitment to take action, authority, internal and external buy-in, lack of resources and time, sense of urgency, timing issues, conflicts of interest and severity of problems to justify the problem of changing. Customers through trial and error, and analysis of pros and cons, need to know all other options, otherwise they will change like the queen in a bathtub.
The change-agent seeks to achieve startling clarity in exploring all the customer's potential pros and cons for changing. Change-centric sales people know that solutions are going to be resisted and looked upon as a threat to those who are uncomfortable. Sales people who view themselves and their role as a savior will not ask tough questions that will potentially put their sales agenda at risk. Remember, no one decides to change just for the sake of change. No one decides to improve their lot just for the sake of improving their lot. No one seeks to have more just for the sake of having more. All changes are driven by some form or version of discontent. All change is a function of moving from bad to good.