It's said that the human species has risen to the top of the food chain because we have the ability to ask "why" and solve problems in teams. In complex sales especially - mastering the art of finding the why and collaborating is key to success.
I’ve written about complex sales being change management. In order to initiate, guide and maintain a change, we first need to find motivation. So what is motivation and what creates it? In short, motivation is the drive to move away from pain or move towards pleasure. The endurance of motivation is determined by the strength of the desire, perceived reward and expectations set by one self or others.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
Not all people are motivated the same way. Research explains the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Also, one person can be more motivated to move away from pain (away-from motivated) while another person finds motivation in moving towards pleasure (towards-motivated). Example of “towards extrinsic motivators” could be money and praise from peers; “away-from extrinsic motivators”: the fear of being punished or humiliated in front of others. An example of “towards intrinsic motivation” could be studying because you like it, or solving problems to show yourself that you have it in you. Dan Pink, in his popular book Drive, made the point that extrinsic “carrots and sticks” don’t improve the performance of complex tasks and that compensation programs can actually be counter-productive in environments such as complex solution-solving.
Emotional or rational?
While we may believe that we make rational decisions, the fact is that most decisions are emotional, controlled by unconscious factors in our mind. As a sales professional, you’ve experienced this many times. You have proven a bullet-proof business case that any rational-thinking person agree to, yet your potential customer choses the status quo. Where’s the logic?
Figure out the logical level
By asking “why” something is important to a person a number of times, we get closer to underlying beliefs that dictates motivation and behaviors. A model that comes to mind is the "logical levels of change" created by pioneers in the space of NLP (neuro linguistic programming). All people have been shaped to have an identity, beliefs and a world-view based upon their experiences. Sometimes, a change in the lower levels may affect the higher ones, but, a shift in higher levels, like your identity and beliefs, will most likely affect the lower ones.
Solving symptoms or problems?
It’s common to see people who are trying to solve symptoms and not getting to the actual problem. For instance, moving to a new office is probably not going to increase your sales efforts if the problem lies at the capability of behavioral levels. And sending your sales people to a three-day sales training to increase their knowledge will not be sufficient if their belief system says that your product is too expensive or that it’s the global economic situation that is the problem…
How do logical levels affect pricing?
If you sell to the higher levels, you can price your product higher and hopefully achieve higher profit margins. Take Tesla’s electric sports sedan as an example. It is more than just transportation. It appeals to your identity and beliefs. Saving the environment is important, right? And you want to be an innovative person who protects the environment, don’t you…? Heck, just pay the premium! (Tesla probably was a poor example of high margins, but you get the point ;).
Problems arise when we try to solve high-level problems but charge low-level prices… That’s usually a lose-lose proposition, but can be a good idea if you’ve broken down the problem into pieces. Start small and work your way up as the insight about the real problem, which might not be there at the beginning, arises.
At which levels are you problem-solving?
The higher up the pyramid you go, the more difficult it becomes to make a change. Try convincing a religious extremist that the concept of a god is questionable… You are messing with the person’s higher purpose, identity and belief system. Do that with a whole boardroom of extremists. Not for beginners.
Changing the environment is much easier – but be aware, it may not create the level of change and commitment you were hoping for.
Taking a holistic approach with multiple levels
A good idea is to tackle problems from multiple levels, while taking the relationship between them into consideration. In sales, we do this by providing software (environment) to introduce process (influence behavior) and content (to improve knowledge and skills). Combine this with quality coaching (to replace limiting beliefs with helpful ones) and strengthen the identity (as a professional sales person), you can achieve true progress and increase the revenues of most companies with 20-30%, unless they’re already super-performers.
Luis CK climbs the logical levels pyramid
This video (thanks to Dave Kurlan for the link) is a good example in where Louis CK has breakfast with his daughter and she asks a simple question to make him climb the pyramid well - A must-see for everyone in sales!