No Problem is a Big Problem
Understanding what motivates prospects to change is the most important step in the sales process. Prospects always change for one of two reasons. The first reason is the justification for benefit, advantage and opportunity. The second reason is to avoid problems, fears, doubts, insecurities and dissatisfactions. The latter is what drives change. Psychological studies back this tenet up. It is basic human nature, whether making a personal commitment or a professional commitment to change, that we are more concerned and driven to first deal with loss versus opportunity. Only true visionaries and progressive entrepreneurs are driven by opportunity. However, behind all goals of opportunity rests the potential problem of not getting there. The pursuit of opportunity is an attempt to escape one's problems.
Behavioral scientist Abraham Maslow’s research proved that people move faster away from problems, fear, insecurity than they will toward growth, opportunity and possibility. Prospects obviously are no different. They are far more likely to be emotionally attached to fear than opportunity. One sees this every day in the stock market. Investors are more emotionally involved in losing $10,000 than they are being overjoyed in gaining $10,000.
Let's pretend that I am a heroin user. It is wreaking havoc on my health, career, marriage and family life. My family intervenes and agrees to pay for the finest care money can buy. Can you guess why I am not going to take them up on this once in a lifetime offer? Because the suffering of going to rehab represents a greater suffering than that of a deadly heroin addiction. There is always a payoff for not changing and staying with the status quo.
Generally speaking, if you are happy and content, you don’t strive to be happier. If you are full from a sumptuous four-course French meal, you don’t keep looking for food to eat and satisfy yourself. However, what you will find are prospects who strive to guard and protect their state of being content and satisfied. And that is just another form of their problems. So within reason, some form of underlying fear, and discontent drives all action. Find it, uncover it, explore it, examine it and understand the level of intolerance and you are on the way to an easier life in sales. Keep in mind for most prospects, the truth and their reality are found in the heartfelt, the emotional, not in cold facts, figures, logic, rational and intellectual reasoning.
The challenge for most salespeople in making the transition from a product pusher to a change agent (strategic seller) is that it will require them to rely less on their personality and charm and more on their ability to ask thought-provoking questions and be patient listeners. For many salespeople this is a challenge because they love to talk and they tend to be very egocentric. The irony is, feature and benefit selling provides the exact opposite effect than is intended. Therefore salespeople must resist the temptation to sell at all costs.
Salespeople are not accustomed to giving up so much control and predictability in the sales cycle. Since the process relies so heavily on questions they feel uncomfortable with the fact that they can’t control the answers and the different directions it may take them.
Since salespeople and their offerings are secondary in the process they believe they will not shine and this can be troubling to their egos. This problem-finding strategy does not credit the salesperson as much as the prospect. But as Ronald Reagan said, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets credit.”
Be aware that the more problems they have, frequently the stronger the denial. So don’t be frustrated when you run into denial. Many prospects would rather experience frustration and be in control and at least have it be predictable and manageable than change and feel out of control. There is always a payoff when in denial. By being attentive and inquisitive you give your prospect the greatest gift or compliment of being heard without you trying to fix or change anything. You allow them the respect and freedom to find their truth whether they buy or not.
Prospects maintain a strong identity with their viewpoints and problems. They frequently have a vested interest in the status quo. Things from the outside represent a threat. As a matter of fact salespeople represent problems in the eyes of prospects because no one savors change. Salespeople must find a way to include and acknowledge all the prospect’s views and opinions. To accept their ideas is to show respect and trust. By taking this position you have nothing to prove and you build ultimate confidence with your prospects. That way, when you experience your ideas it will be easier for others to acknowledge, respect and act upon them. Prospects more often than not don’t want to change because it is a known quantity. The devil you know is always better than the devil you don’t know. Given the choice, most prospects are committed to the status quo because it is predictable and manageable. If they are not willing to admit to a problem or don’t have one, then you have to make an important business decision as to what, if any, is your exit plan. You may decide to exit and reprioritize your prospect from an (A) to a (B) account. Or you may hang in there, knowing your chances are slim to nothing.
The process of helping your prospect find their problems is a self-initiation process for them. We create a safe space for them to make independent decisions as to whether change or not. That is why selling is a mutual examination of someone’s ability to buy, change and act, rather than a process of persuasion. The salesperson becomes a conduit for the prospect to use for self-discovery. Helping the prospect understand the causes of their challenges takes incredible trust, rapport and relationship building skills. By being an instrument of change, salespeople provide a sympathetic ear, emotional support, an understanding of frustrations, and represent an opportunity for the prospects to collect their thoughts by talking the prospects through their issues. Prospects must have their problems thoroughly heard and understood in all its emotional and political complexities and as a precondition to have their problems solved before they will listen to the salesperson’s advice. Jumping the gun and quickly going to a solution before the prospect has voiced all their issues is professional suicide for salespeople.
A lot of trust is also required for salespeople because they take on a non-selling posture of not having immediate answers for their prospects. This change agent mentality honors the prospect’s independence to come to their own conclusions. When discussing problems the salesperson and the prospect ideally are equals. The salesperson helps the prospect stay focused and facilitates the prospect with the possible resistance or the coming to terms of the forthcoming change. This process requires a commitment to the truth and to being fully present. So salespeople have to put their own agenda to the side. The salesperson understands that both parties can decide not to participate if it is no longer useful or beneficial to either one of them. The prospect must be willing to take responsibility for the problem, and if there is too much resistance and push back, the salesperson can decide to opt out.
For prospects, the discussion of problems allows them to have their goals, issues and challenges, when ready, self-reveal. The salesperson is willing to support the prospect where the prospect believes they need to go. Sometimes that is in the exact opposite direction of their agenda. For example: “No problem, I can help you. However, I don’t believe, in my humble opinion, that it is the most effective thing for you to do for now. But we can work on it as you’d like as a short-term goal and see where it goes from there.” Just because you can have a thorough understanding of their problem and you have the perfect solution to fix it, doesn’t mean they will change. This is a very common fallacy that follows many salespeople. Sharon Drew Morgan says, “Only the prospect who lives inside their own day-to-day problems and experiences its consequences, can chose to resolve it. Only experienced change agents have the confidence to take on the posture that they can’t change their prospect’s mind when it isn’t wanted.”
Most sellers fancy themselves as serving prospect’s needs and objectives. But there is a huge incongruence between the belief, the skills, the strategies and the execution. Salespeople often are trying to solve problems that are not the real problems.One of the biggest frustrations in talking to customers about their problems is when you finally find a prospect who has legitimate actionable problems, only to learn after the fact that the deal fell through because of pre-existing political circumstances that the salesperson breezed over. As a change agent, your primary mandate is to determine if the conditions are ripe, favorable and conducive for your prospect to effectively and efficiently execute change.
As Sharon Drew Morgan states, “Buyers live in a system or enterprise, not a vacuum. Buyers can bring in something new to their system only if pre-existing conditions exist that are favorable to change. Generally if something new comes in, either something else goes out or it is placed on hold.” She goes on to say, “People only make change when they know they can manage the resulting chaos that will affect their turf.” Too often in the eyes of your prospect your solution represents too much disruptions of existing systems that are firmly in place.
If you adopted this non-selling posture you would never take your prospect’s optimism and enthusiasm at face value. Instead you would recognize that the thinking that led them to be where they are needs to change before they would be ready to adopt anything different. “Until then, all issues about your products and services will not get a fair hearing until the environment is favorable to change,” says Sharon Drew Morgan. To be an effective catalyst of change, it is important to understand all the variables around the environment that you will be selling into: Are they considering any other initiatives that will pre-empt your initiative? Or, maybe they are doing a manufacturing initiative and it is preoccupying all their time and focus. As you ask questions about the consequences of their problems and how it stacks up against other problems they are facing, you and your prospect can get your hands around the overall buying environment, the political nuances and the present conditions that may effect the implementation of your proposal. There is always a cost benefit analysis in relationship to change. Your job as a neutral change agent is to allow your prospects, in a safe environment, to self-discover, independent of your selling agenda, the cost of change and the cost of the status quo.