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Sales as a Spiritual Practice

Monday, 3 February 2020

With untold millions of sales professionals in the world, sellers play a role in any economy. While our jobs are nominally to place solutions, we are uniquely positioned to make a difference: as the intermediary between clients and providers, we can make sales a spiritual practice and become true facilitators and Servant Leaders (and close more sales).

WHAT’S WRONG WITH SALES?

The current sales model is a time-waster, restricts success, and is horribly inefficient. We close 5% of our sales and waste 95% of our time (approximately 130 hours a month per seller); our product data is well-represented online so pitches based on product details may be irrelevant; we connect with only those who are ready to buy, and ignore the possibility of facilitating and serving people en route to becoming buyers.

Until people have tried, and failed, to fix their problem themselves, and then figured out how to manage any disruption that a new solution might cause their environment,  they aren’t buyers. It’s only when:

  • they know exactly how to manage and recognize any change that bringing in something new creates,
  • they’ve calculated that the cost of bringing in something new is lower than the cost of maintaining the status quo,

will they seek help through a purchase. Indeed, buying is a change management problem before it’s a solution choice issue.

People don’t want to buy anything, they merely seek excellence and will buy something only if that’s the only way to achieve it, and they are absolutely certain they cannot fit it themselves. And the sales model, using eyeballs, content, price, and needs assessments seeks to place solutions, ensuring that the only people they find are the low hanging fruit – those who have already gone through their process of determining they need an outside solution.

Because sales focuses on only the final steps of a buying decision, and overlooks the change process necessary to get to that point, it’s only possible to attract interest from those who have ended up there. Others who may need us eventually won’t even heed our messages, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. As a result, we end up closing 5% and wasting a helluva lot of time being ignored and rejected.

It’s not what we’re selling that’s the problem – our solutions are just fine. It’s the process of pushing solutions rather than first helping those who will become buyers facilitate their necessary change process that’s misplaced, mistimed, and misguided, leading to the win-lose quality of sales: sales becomes a product/solution push into a closed, resistive, private system, rather than an expansive, collaborative experience between seller and buyer wherein both attain a win-win.

And we end up seeking and closing only those ready to buy at the point of contact – unwittingly ignoring others who aren’t ready even though they may need our solutions, and just need to get their ducks in a row before they’re prepared to make a decision.

Imagine having a product-needs discussion about moving an iceberg and discussing only the tip. That’s sales; it doesn’t facilitate the entire range of hidden, unique change issues buyers must consider – having nothing to do with our solutions – before they could buy anything. Failure is built in.

But when we begin our conversation at the point where people are considering change in the area our product resolves, and lead them through their change management before selling, we are in a position to truly facilitate them through all of the issues they must resolve (even those that aren’t obvious), have all stakeholders in the loop from the start, and help them figure out how to address the disruption of bringing in a new solution. Then we are true servant leaders.

IS SELLING PREDATORY?

Seller’s restricted focus on placing solutions, the listening for needs rather than for ability to serve, all but insures that kindness, respect, and true facilitation are unwittingly overlooked as we focus on selling instead of facilitating buying. A major factor is our one-sided communication:

  1. Prospecting/cold calling – driven by sellers to gather needs/information and offer solution details (all biased by the need to place solutions). It ignores the full unique fact pattern of the buyer’s environment and change issues and enlists only buyers seeking THAT solution at THAT time at THAT period of readiness, omitting those who could buy if ready or knew how to include the solution congruently into their current plans.
  2. Content marketing – driven by the seller to push the ‘right’ data into the ‘right’ hands at the ‘right’ time according to their biased interpretations of ‘right’, but really only a push into the unknown and a hope for action. Wholly seller-centric.
  3. Deals, cold-call pushes, negotiation, objection-handling, closing techniques, getting to ‘the’ decision maker, price-reductions – all assuming buyers would buy if they understood their need/the solution/their problem, all overlooking the real connection and service capability of addressing the person’s most pressing change issues. Wholly seller-centric.
  4. Real communication involves each communication partner, in this case a buyer and a seller, being equally served; sellers can facilitate buyers through their private change management issues first as they travel towards a purchase (rather than try to extract a purchase from those who have gotten to the point of buying), thereby facilitating Buyer Readiness, AND developing a win/win connection, AND closing more sales. Win-win.

I’ve been a seller, trainer, consultant, and sales coach since the 1970s, been a buyer as founder of a tech start up 1983-1988, and have personally worked with dozens of global corporations and untold thousands of sellers. I see sales as a near-predatory job: sellers spend their time seeking and following, pitching and positioning, networking and calling to find those few set up to buy something, and ignoring a large population of potential buyers who merely aren’t ready, but could be with true facilitation.

The model is fraught with guesswork and hope, manipulation and persuasion, white lies and exaggerations – not to mention highly ineffective when the time spent vs sales closed ratio is examined. Not only are we wasting time pushing/chasing folks we’ve deemed prospects (A real prospect is one who WILL buy, not someone who SHOULD buy; the current sales model doesn’t know the difference.), but the global nature of staffing patterns and decision makers in our client’s environments causes closing to take 30% longer. And the very nature of the web makes most pitches and presentations moot. In fact, buyers often know more than sellers.

Sales unwittingly ignores the real problem: it’s in the buying, not the selling. The sales model’s focus on placing solutions keeps us from using our positions as knowledge experts and Leaders to facilitate buyers down their own path to excellence.

Truth is, as outsiders we can never know all the elements that have created and maintained their status quo, or what needs to happen internally for them to be ready to make a purchase. We might ‘know’ how our solution would make a difference, but we can never know how they will buy. And here is where we can truly serve.

SALES IS SHORT-SIGHTED

Indeed, the job of ‘sales’ as merely a solution-placement vehicle is short-sighted.

  1. Buyers can find our products online. They don’t need us chasing them.
  2. Our solution isn’t the problem – it’s the buyer’s behind-the-scenes timing and change management process that gums up the works.
  3. 80% of prospects will buy our solutions (but not necessarily from us) within two years of our connection.
  4. The lion’s share of the buying decision (9 out of the 13 step decision path) involves buyers traversing internal change with no thoughts of buying anything until there’s consensus.

But we can truly serve clients AND close more sales, by adding a Change Facilitation capability that expands our entry points into the buy cycle, makes the buying decision process much more efficient and makes sales a spiritual practice (that closes dramatically more sales in a fraction of the time). Here’s my definition of ‘spiritual’:

  • the whole is greater than the parts;
  • we’re all here to serve each other;
  • everyone has their own unique excellence;
  • no one has an answer for someone else.

Different from sales, which

  • purpose to be win/win but often is ‘win-lose’,
  • believes the parts might be greater than the whole,
  • causes buyers to feel pushed with content and contacts,
  • considers their solution the ‘right’ answer,
  • only addresses the tail end of a larger (and unknowable to outsiders) system of rules, internal politics, relationships, and status quo.

To elaborate:

Aspiring to a win-win

Win-win means both sides get what they need in equal measure. Sellers believe that placing product or resolving a problem offers an automatic win-win but that’s not wholly accurate.

Buying isn’t as simple as choosing a solution; buyers first must resolve the entire system that created and maintains their problem (problems never occur uniquely). The very last thing they want is to buy anything, regardless of their apparent need. As outsiders we can’t know the tangles of people and policies that hold their problem/need in place. The time it takes them to design a congruent solution that includes buy-in and change management is the length of their sales cycle. Buyers need to do this anyway; it’s the length of the sales cycle. They will do this with us or without us, so it might as well be with us.

If we enter first as Change Facilitators and help buyers efficiently traverse their internal struggles (that we can never be a part of per se), we can help them get to the ‘need/purchase’ decision more quickly and be part of the solution – win-win.

We’re wasting a valuable opportunity to share this process with them by only wanting to sell – and then wait and hope, while competitively chasing after those who show up after they’ve completed their internal work without us.

If we enter earlier, work with them as Change Facilitators (with wholly different skills and goals) to help them facilitate their change, we can spend our time capturing and serving more real prospects, and spend less time seeking out the low hanging fruit. We can use our time more profitably to develop real buyers and simultaneously serve them, rather than fighting to find those who are ready. Let’s shift gears and enter earlier with a different hat on.

Believe it or not it becomes a very efficient process and great time saver: no more chasing those who will never close; no more turning off those who will eventually seek our solution; no more gathering incomplete data from one person with partial answers. We can enable those who can/should buy to buy in half the time and sell more product – and very quickly know the difference between them and those who can never buy. Win-win. [All the change issues buyers must address are in my book Dirty Little Secrets].

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

There are several pieces to the puzzle here.

  • The buyer and the system the buyer lives in, including people, policies, job titles, egos, relationships, politics, layers of management, rules, etc. that no one on the outside will ever understand and are focused on excellence, not on buying anything. It’s never as simple as just changing out the problem for a new product; their focus is to have the best situation possible and will buy a solution only when they’re certain they can’t fix their own problem.
  • Resolving the problem needs full internal buy-in from the system before being willing to change (i.e. buy) regardless of the efficacy of the fix. A purchase is not necessarily their best solution even if it looks like a fit to a seller.
  • The ability of the buyer to manage the disruption that a new purchase would incur on the system, people, and policies. A fix, or purchase, might be worse than the problem.
  • The seller and the seller’s product may/may not fit in the buyer’s environment due to idiosyncratic, political, or rules-based issues, regardless of the need.
  • The purchase and implementation and follow up that includes buy-in from all who will experience a potentially disruptive change if a new solution enters and shifts their job routines.
  • The sum of these parts is the whole; seller and buyer can work together to facilitate systemic change first. Surprisingly, this is a very quick process, uncovering real prospects almost immediately. Win-win for all.

We are all here to serve each other

Sellers understand enough about the systems in our areas of expertise to help buyers traverse their change route that could lead to a sale. With an entry point of systems excellence rather than solution placement, buyers immediately recognize the benefits from a collaboration with the seller and are happy to invite sellers onto their decision team and not seek other competitors. Win-win. The Facilitative Question I developed for Wachovia’s Small Business Banker’s cold calls helped prospects immediately realize a problem they had to resolve rather than say ‘No’ to an appointment request:

“How are you currently adding banking resources to the bank you’re currently using for those times you seek additional support?”

With no disrespect, no push, no information gathering or asking for an appointment, this Facilitative Question above (as one of several asked in a specific sequence, using specific words) merely pointed to the problem they might have to resolve over time. [Note: I invented Facilitative Questions to lead brains through to change, rather than conventional questions that elicit biased data.] The results were astounding: against 100 prospecting calls and a control group: 10% appointments vs 27%; 2 closes in 11 months vs 19 closes in 3 months; we facilitated discovery immediately and served: we actually helped folks figure out their own configuration for change. And we only visited those who could close.

One more note: people are happy to buy in a short time frame once they know, and figure out how to manage, the full set of change issues they’ll have to deal with (Fire a team? Retrain users? Get rid of software they’ve used for years?). As I’ve said above, they must do this before they can buy. And we’re not helping them. But we could. And truly serve them in the process.

There is no right answer

Sellers often believe that buyers are idiots for not making speedy decisions, or for not buying an ‘obvious’ solution. But sales offers no skills or motive to enter earlier where buyers are not at the point of even knowing if – let alone what – they might buy. We must expand the definition of a buying decision as the route down the 13-step path from the status quo through to congruent change. Includes the people, policies, relationships, and history – the systems issues that insure Systems Congruence – that maintain the status quo and must be addressed before they consider buying anything.

Once buyers figure out their congruent route to change, they won’t have objections, will close themselves, and there’s no competition: buyers are the ones with the ‘right answer’; sellers facilitate change management first and then sell once everything is in place. No call backs and follow up and ignored calls. Win-win.

No one has anyone else’s answer

By adding decision facilitation, everyone focuses on uncovering the right questions. Collaborative decisions get made that will serve everyone.

Let’s change the focus: instead relegating sales to a product/solution placement endeavor, let’s add the job of facilitation to first find people en route to becoming buyers, then lead them through to their own type of ‘excellence’ through their internal change process first, and then using the sales model when they’ve become buyers. Then buyers make better, quicker, more congruent decisions – with more/quicker sales, less tire-kickers, better differentiation, and no competition, and sales close in half the time.

THE NEW WAY

As a seller and an entrepreneur (I founded a tech company in London, Hamburg, and Stuttgart in 1983), I realized that sales ignored the buying decision problem and developed Buying Facilitation® to add to sales as a generic change management to be used as a Pre-Sales tool.

Buyers get to their answers eventually; the time this takes is the length of the sales cycle, and selling doesn’t cause buying. Once I developed this model for my sellers to use, we made their process far more efficient with an 8x increase in sales – a number consistently reproduced against control groups with my global training clients over the following decades.

With Buying Facilitation® we can add a new capability and level of expertise and be a part of the decision process from the first call. Make money and make nice.

We no longer need to lose prospects because they’re not ready, or cognizant of their need. We can become intermediaries between our clients and our companies; use our positions to efficiently help buyers manage their internal change congruently, without manipulation; use our time to serve those who WILL buy – and know this on the first contact – and stop wasting time on those who will never buy. Let’s stop merely trying to place our solutions, and use our knowledge and care to serve our buyers and our companies in a win-win. Let’s make sales a spiritual practice.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, author NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell), listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.