If you’ve ever had a conversation with Sharon-Drew Morgen, you know she doesn’t mince words when it comes to what sales leaders get wrong about sales. For more than 40 years, she’s been a thought leader and a provocateur, challenging the way we think about what we do and how we do it.
Recently, I spoke with Iiro Pohjanoska, an expert in change management, about what we can learn from his industry. To follow up on that conversation, I gave Sharon-Drew a call, knowing that she’s been speaking about the change management aspects of selling for as long as anyone in the industry.
Here are the remarkable insights and challenging thoughts that arose out of that conversation.
When Sharon-Drew listened to the interview with Pohjanoska, her response was that even his expert approach to change management is missing something.
“He said that we need to think differently, according to the needs of the leader,” says Sharon-Drew. “He ignored saying that we need to think differently according to the needs of the people.”
She tells the story of being a child, undiagnosed with what she much later learned was autism spectrum. She knew that other people’s behavior seemed odd and out of alignment, yet she would get in trouble for following rules while others were left alone even when they broke the rules. So she began taking notes to try to be more like the others, in order to stay out of trouble.
What she found was that she could do it for a little while. Once or twice, she could mimic what others were doing and get it “right,” but then she would forget or get it wrong, and go back to the old way of doing things.
So she began reading and studying to understand what her brain was doing, and why she couldn’t make the changes she wanted to make. In that research, she learned that it wasn’t for lack of desire or discipline, but because the brain is a system, and systems work to maintain equilibrium.
“Systems are elements that all belong to the same set of rules and agree to the same set of norms,” she says. “You’re a system, your family’s a system, any group that has its own set of rules is a system.”
One rule of systems is that they work hard to retain their equilibrium, in a process called Systems Congruence. This means that any given system will resist change when it comes from the outside, and will yield to change only when it determines that the cost of the change is less than the cost to remain the same.
“So when people come from the outside into an organization,” says Sharon-Drew, “and try to change the people, they forget that there’s a system involved that wants to maintain the status quo, even if the people involved want the change.”
When the change agent comes in and asks the system to change according to the needs of the change agent, the system resists.
“That’s why change gets resistance and failure,” she says. “Because it’s pushing from the outside in. People like change - what they don’t like is having change done to them rather than becoming change agents collaborating to create their own new norms and achieve their own desired outcomes.”
Systems require a balance, and everything is a system. Your sales team is a system. Your buyers exist within a system. And systems will always resist change until the cost of the change is demonstrably lower than the status quo.
When sellers think in terms of buyer facilitation instead of change management or sales enablement, they can begin to get at the root of what really prevents most buyers from buying.
Sharon-Drew tells the story of a time when she had done a 3-month trial with a client in Edinborough that had gone very well. But at the end of the trial, the buyer called her and said they weren’t going to buy after all.
Sharon-Drew called the client to find out why, and the client said: Because of my migraines.
This reason would have been invisible to Sharon-Drew without the investigation, and at first seemed to make no sense. But it turned out that the buyer had been having trouble getting along with the HR director, and every interaction with that person caused a migraine. After a while, the buyer stopped interacting with the HR director altogether.
In the end, that meant that she wasn’t able to purchase the solution that Sharon-Drew was offering, even though she knew that it would help them and even though the trial had gone well.
“It rarely has to do with the product,” says Sharon-Drew. “It’s the system involved.”
In this case, the cost of the solution was much higher for the buyer than it would otherwise have been, because it would require her to work with someone who gave her migraines. So she chose the “cheaper” option, which was to stay with the status quo.
“Salespeople go looking for a need,” says Sharon-Drew. “And people have all kinds of needs. But that doesn’t mean they’re buyers. We have to stop focusing on needs, and create buying enablement that helps facilitate the buying side to reach a buying decision.”
Sharon-Drew says that almost all sales leaders are making a series of bad assumptions that are damaging their ability to sell.
“We have to change our skillset, our tool set, and our focus,” says Sharon-Drew.
She says that another thing she learned in her research about brains is that we don’t ever actually hear what is being said. We just hear puffs of air, and our brains interpret it. The brain has a circuit that scientists call “close enough” - this circuit closes any gaps between the sounds that are coming in and the sense that is being made. If there is too much noise, the brain cuts it out to create meaning. If there are gaps in the words, the brain fills it in with snippets from previous conversations.
Because of this, we often misunderstand, misinterpret, and completely mess up in hearing what the other person says. Very often, this misunderstanding is due to not having the circuits established to actually hear what’s being communicated.
“When people are going through change management,” says , “they’re building new circuits in their brain at the same time. So they can’t hear what you’re sharing until they’re ready to hear it. Currently, there is nothing on the sales side that facilitates the buying side to hear what we’re actually saying.”
Sharon-Drew says that traditional curiosity questions from salespeople don’t get at the heart of what buyers need. Instead, they focus on what the seller wants to know.
A new type of question, which she details on her website and in her work, focuses on helping potential buyers figure out how to take their next steps toward change that they want. She says these questions are critical because no salesperson can fully understand the unique system and personalities of the buyer. Only the buyer can create the steps they need to move toward the change they want.
Along with these facilitative questions, sales and marketing teams can create content that facilitates the journey from the buyer’s perspective, to help the buyer achieve their own goals.
In fact, Sharon-Drew suggests, perhaps it’s time to create an entire new class of professionals, whose job is to understand how to facilitate buyer journeys from a buyer’s system perspective. If you’re curious to know more, you can hear how the rest of that conversation went by tuning in to the episode here.
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. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.
Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn