By David Zahn, President, Zahn Consulting, LLC
The standard approach to employee development, management, and even selling is to break tasks down to observable components, provide the logical rationale behind completing the job according to that standard, and expect the factual evidence to be sufficiently overwhelming to convince people of the logic of the need to change. Unfortunately, that approach will be ineffective and lacking because it fails to meet a key need of the receiver of the message. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, training in an understanding of irrationality is needed.
An executive was frustrated by the inability of her sales force to achieve quarterly targets even though the opportunities existed. In exasperation, she once again reviewed the following fact-based tools with the team:
Sensing her desperation at working so hard without results, I asked if I could share an insight developed over 25-plus years of training. Even in her impatience to progress, she relaxed a bit as she listened to my story:
I began in sales training believing it was incumbent upon salespeople to uncover needs, diagnose the issues, and then prescribe a solution that would link product or services to those needs. For years, I refined my skills in honing the ability to zero in on the proper questions to ask, the “bridge to a close,” and the sales process methods to gain agreement, etc.
I conduced two-day workshops where I introduced forms, profiles, processes, etc., all designed to reinforce “best-in-class” skills. All the while, I believed the answer to sales success lay in the application of the skills being trained. Skill in rapport was something that was “hired in” as it was not easily trained. Either someone “had it, or not.” Sure, we trained people on how to do the steps mechanically (shake hands, make eye contact, look for pictures or trophies in the buyer’s office to comment on, etc.), but it was less important than the critical success factors (CSFs).
Over that time, I got quite good at creating exercises, job aids, reference materials, case studies, etc., designed to enhance the competencies of the sales forces I trained to follow the path of “Fact-based selling/Consultative Approaches/Solution-based techniques/etc.”
Truth be told, the results of that effort rarely led to a change in performance across the majority of salespeople trained.
It was not until I applied research from experts outside business or sales (attorneys, therapists, and others) who exposed me to a different insight on what compels people to act, how to align with others, ways of building trust, develop relationships, etc., that I understood that what we have lost in our sales approach is the understanding of the importance of the non-logical, emotional, and non-rational components of decision-making.
Building Relationships Starts With Trust
While there is a need for the skills covered in the traditional way salespeople are taught to sell, there also needs to be awareness of how to appeal to the emotional decision-making requirements the buyer has to have met. For example, one of the key challenges for a seller is to build a relationship with his or her prospect. But to do that, one needs to develop trust. Trust does not happen solely by the sharing of data or facts. No one forms a relationship with a data sheet, spreadsheet, or even ROI calculations. Building trust requires the six Cs:
When logic, data, quantitative input, and facts are offered, we tend to want to challenge, argue, and dispute them. However, when we are told a “story,” we relax, listen for how it mirrors our own reality, are willing to share experiences, and the conversation becomes a dialogue of equals—and not a salesperson trying to sell something to a resistant buyer.
Putting It Into Action
Rather than the standard factual/rational/logical sales presentations, the executive was told to include the following few things:
The irrational success the executive’s team experienced prompted her company to make a logical choice and promote her.
David Zahn, president of ZAHN Consulting, LLC, is an author, consultant, professor, and connoisseur of Buffalo Chicken Wings. He can be reached at http://www.zahnconsulting.com.