Here's how to be less like a predator and more mycorrhizal fungus

George Brontén

Every sales leader appreciates a great salesperson who can “hunt” and "close more logos” than anyone else. But in the complex b2b world, sometimes your team needs to be less hunters and more mycorrhizal fungus. Here’s why–and how.

What exactly do you mean by ‘mycorrhizal fungus,’ George?

This is a great question! A few weeks ago, I had never heard the word, and I certainly would never have dreamed of comparing your salespeople to mushrooms. Then, one day, I helped my son with his biology homework.

He taught me about a type of fungus that lives within the soil, specifically in, on, and among the roots of trees and other plants. These fungi penetrate the cells of the plant roots and “steal” sugars and other nutrients that the plant has created through photosynthesis.

But it’s not really stealing, because the plants willingly accommodate the fungus, and the fungus provides a service in return. The fungus extracts water and minerals from the soil more efficiently than the plant can do for itself, and provides some of these products back to the plant.

In addition, the fungi make it possible for plants within an ecosystem to exchange nutrients and information, making the ecosystem more resilient to drought, adverse weather conditions, animal predation, disease, and pests–to the benefit of every living thing in the ecosystem.

As if that weren’t enough, some species of mycorrhizal fungi attract and kill insects that then provide an additional source of nitrogen for the plants to use in growth.

In short, the relationship between plants and mycorrhizal fungi is complex and highly beneficial to everyone involved (except maybe those insects).

When scientists study these relationships in the lab, they find that plants grown without mycorrhizal fungi don’t grow as fast or as vigorously as plants allowed to have mycorrhizal relationships, and the non-mycorrhizal plants are more susceptible to disease, pests, and other problems.

How does this apply to sales?

The sales industry as a whole tends to wrestle with a bad reputation. If you ask any random person on the street what job they associate with sleaziness or predatory behavior, there’s a good chance they’ll tell you some version of a sales job.

This is in part because many salespeople approach the job as if we were predators. Sometimes, we even use the language of predation. We hunt and pursue and kill and bag. We bring home the bacon.

This might work for some salespeople, in simple environments, such as used cars or electronics sales, for a short while. But if your organization sells products and services that have an intrusive impact on the buyer’s business, that involve a large number of decision makers and a high level of inter-organizational trust, and if you want to have more than a transactional relationship with your customers, predation is not the right metaphor or approach.

Why the predator-prey relationship is the wrong model for sales

In a predator-prey relationship, each interaction between the predator and prey is a one-off. Planning for, waiting for, and completing the hunt may be complex, but once the hunt is over, the relationship is over.

Salespeople with a 'mycorrhiza approach' create a highly beneficial growth environment.
George Brontén

The predator doesn’t care what happens to the prey animal after the hunt is complete. It either escapes, and the predator finds a new “prospect” elsewhere, or it dies, and the predator finds a new “prospect” the next time it’s hungry.

The prey, for its part, is better off if the predator never pursues it. Even if the prey animal escapes an attempted hunt, it wastes time and energy that would be better used foraging or raising young, and may expose itself to other dangers in the process of escape.

This is exactly what happens in some predatory sales environments, where the “game” of the relationship is for the buyer to find the best possible deal they can find while evading all the traps and manipulations of the salesperson who wants to sell them as much as possible at the highest possible price. In this environment, the salesperson doesn’t care what happens to the buyer after they buy, as long as the seller gets to go home with a juicy, fat commission to feed their family with.

The relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and their host plants is different. Once the fungus and the plant decide to work together, they commit to a long-term relationship that benefits each other as well as the rest of the ecosystem.

Now, imagine that your entire sales team was focused on finding ways to provide value in exchange for value. What if they were focused on what your organization can do to ensure the customer benefits and thrives because of the relationship. What if they brought in resources and opportunities that the customer can’t access on their own? What if they made life better in every way for the customer?

Wouldn’t your customers be more willing, in this case, to give you access to their supply of sugar (ahem, money)?

This type of relationship creates longer, better relationships, as well as higher profits and greater stability and resilience for everyone involved.

Now imagine this relationship, but involving an entire ecosystem of your sales team, your service team, and your partners and other tools and systems and providers that also contribute to the symbiotic relationship and thriving ecosystem?

Here’s how to do it

Converting your organization’s hunter mindset to a mycorrhizal (or symbiotic) mindset requires four key components. Fortunately, they’re the same four components that form the backbone of any world-class complex b2b sales organization.

  1. Mindset & culture
  2. Structure
  3. Enablement
  4. Coaching

1. Mindset and culture

Limiting beliefs and unsupportive mindsets are one of the most formidable barriers to effective sales. From the top to the bottom of your organization, focus on instilling supportive mindsets and a supportive culture that encourage a symbiotic approach to sales and service. Recommendation: take OMG’s assessments to find out if your team have limiting beliefs that stand in their way. And follow up with their checkpoint assessments to measure progress over time.

2. Structure

Give your salespeople an effective sales process and methodology that supports a symbiotic relationship with customers, with actionable steps, milestones, and checklists that guide them through the relationship-building, and decision-making process. Check out our sales process whitepaper for more on structure.

3. Enablement

Provide the sales team with training and technology that reinforces the right skills and behaviors, and that serves up training content and enablement content in context. Make it easy for salespeople to engage in the behaviors that create symbiosis. Learn more about what sales enablement should enable here.

4. Coaching

Create an effective coaching culture and support best practice coaching behaviors on your leadership team. Align coaching with the principles of creating symbiotic relationships with customers. Download our coaching white paper for more on this topic.

Also, keep your eyes open for an announcement in the next few weeks about my upcoming book, Stop Killing Deals, which provides a simple framework for creating better, more symbiotic relationships.

George Brontén
Published November 20, 2019, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

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